"My husband has turned our sexual relationship into a horror for me," says Caroline, the 34-year-old mother of three, who's been married to Jon for 17 years.
When they first married -- Caroline was only 17 and Jon 21 -- Jon was gentle and considerate. But over the years, says Caroline, "satisfying his erotic whims has taken precedence over everything."
When Caroline gave birth to their children, Jon tried to prevent her from nursing. "He argued that breast-feeding would injure my health and spoil my figure. I was shocked that he could be so jealous and resentful."
Jon assumes, Caroline adds, that her body belongs to him and that she should want sex the minute he wants it. "He expects my feelings to be a carbon copy of his," Caroline says.
She's tried to explain that she doesn't have much interest in sex unless they have complete privacy, but as far as he's concerned, the time and place for lovemaking is when and where he feels like it.
Caroline knows her husband "had it tough as a kid. He was raised by his grandmother and hardly saw his parents, who lived 80 miles away. But I feel trapped," she says. The minute she sits down, he's pushing his leg against hers and whispering in her ear. If she's preparing dinner, he's pressing her against the sink and caressing her back. "I doubt any woman could cope with Jon's suffocating possessiveness," she says.
Jon is flabbergasted that Caroline feels the way she does. In fact, Jon believes his attitude about sex is healthy. "Caroline is too modest and prudish," he declares. More than anything, he yearns for the days when "we'd lie in bed for hours and she never tired of lovemaking. We'd drift off to sleep in each other's arms," he recalls.
But now, Caroline is tired or stressed all the time. "In the middle of lovemaking I sense her mentally pulling away from me," he says. "She lets our kids pop in and out of the bedroom. Their constant interruptions at the slightest pretext gives Caroline just the excuse she needs."
Sex after babies
"Just about every couple, even those whose sex life has been strong and powerful, is shocked at the way everything changes once a baby enters the picture," notes Jane Greer, a New York marriage and family therapist. It can take as long as a year before a couple resumes an intimate relationship.
However, this natural postpartum lack of desire, especially when accompanied by emotional withdrawal, can threaten a marriage unless both partners take steps to remain close. These strategies helped this couple re-establish a strong sexual connection that felt right for both of them:
* Face the facts. Instead of yearning for the way you used to be, accept the reality that your lives have changed. You can't fit a baby into the old mold, but you can create a new relationship that's still exciting. Be aware of the normal changes that affect all couples, but work hard at establishing intimacy as soon as possible, even if you're not especially in the mood.
* Validate each other's needs and feelings. Jon was so desperate for love and nurturing that he resented Caroline's devotion to the children. He needed to respect that there were times she simply wasn't interested in having sex, and times when, because of the need to attend to the children, they simply couldn't. At the same time, Caroline had to take steps to plan for sex. That means scheduling lovemaking and putting a lock on the bedroom door.
* Don't let other issues get in the way of your sexual pleasure. Whenever problems erupt in a marriage -- concerns about money, battles over chores and responsibilities -- they will be mirrored in a couple's sex life. Anger and resentment can overwhelm sexual interest, so make an effort to honestly communicate what's troubling you.