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Has my husband a bit on the side?

Dear Dr Victoria, My husband and I have been married for 3 years and we have an 18 month child.

The demands of returning to a full time job, juggling childcare and looking after our home and husband have left me completely exhausted and the last thing I'm interested in the evening is a passionate night with my husband.

We both recently jetted off to the US for a 10 day break to have a good old heart to heart and rediscover our lost passion. However, rather that raises the topic we dodged it and didn't have sex once. 3 weeks have passed since returning home and I have recently discovered a text and contact number on my husband's mobile to an extra martial dating organisation. Being very IT savvy, I discovered his password and my friends are currently monitoring how often he is logging in.

When I confronted him, he tried to deny it but eventually admitted he is only doing this because I am not interested in sex any more. He claims not to have actually met anyone yet and that it was merely titillation for him but I don't believe him and am extremely hurt. I asked him to leave the house a few days ago so I can think about what the future holds for us, if anything.

I really do not know if I still love him as I am so hurt and feel betrayed. He says he still loves me and wants us to stay together but I don't know what to do. I am torn between the fact that my son needs his father growing up but is this a good enough reason to take him back and stay with him.

I really feel confused; do you think I am weak even considering taking him back?

Dr Victoria replies:

Your husband has hurt you badly. He may feel that the lack of a sex life between the two of you justifies his actions but what he needs to understand is that it really doesn't – in fact far from it. The recent chain of events – having a baby, being three years into your marriage, being back to work, the tiredness leading to an understandable decrease in your libido – may have made what your husband did more likely, but he's a grown adult and he has choices. He could have talked to you, shown you more affection, been understanding, and asked you what you needed to start feeling passionate again. The difficulty is that once you start seeking solace from someone else besides your partner, rather than releasing the tension it can make you stop wanting to improve the relationship. The sooner he wakes up to this, the better.

But there's another side to this too. What your husband has been doing isn't right and can't be justified, but in terms of what led up to the current situation, if you're going to be able to get through this there will come a time when you both need to accept some responsibility for any relationship difficulties. It's ok to be angry with him now and to argue it out but when it comes to resolving the underlying problem – and the work of getting your relationship back on track after having a baby, blaming each other is futile.

This isn't just about sex or the lack of it. There's a common pattern after having a baby that affects most couples to a greater or lesser extent. To simplify, it can be incredibly stressful and tiring looking after a small baby. Men can often feel slightly left out. Not that they expect to be the centre of attention at all times, but it's a change to get used to. And this change in the relationship dynamic takes time to settle and reach a new equilibrium. It can take months, sometimes even years or more if there are additional factors like financial or health problems or post natal depression to contend with.

If you do feel particularly stressed out or exhausted I would urge you to see your GP just to discuss things. It's not unusual for depression to linger on if there are relationship problems but you should also have a check up to rule out other causes of extreme tiredness like anaemia or thyroid problems which are common after you've had a baby. But most likely it's all down to the stress, sleepless nights and juggling that goes with having an 18 month old child.

Regarding your husband and what to do next, don't feel you need to make any life changing decisions straight away. There's no rush. You're hurt and angry and this is an appropriate reaction to what has gone on. Make sure you tell him exactly what you think about his actions. Better to get it all out now than let it all drags on for years. Hopefully in the not too distant future you can start to move forward with this together.

He needs to realise that looking for sex or thrills or whatever else he wants to call it elsewhere, is not only hurtful, it's counter-productive to your relationship. If he can start to be more understanding of your position, the stresses of motherhood, that you need to feel understood, valued, attractive and have your husband showing you affection before you want to have sex, then you will be able to open up about how you feel. You need to be affectionate and understanding of your husband in turn (ok, maybe not right at this moment in time, but once things are getting back to normal).

To get your sex life back on track (maybe the last thing on your mind right now but when the time is right) accept that this is something you both need to make an effort with to begin with. You might not feel overwhelmed with passion but if that's what you're waiting for you might be waiting another 5 years. It might not be what you're used to have to seduce each other or make the effort but once you get back into the swing of things you'll wonder why you waited so long. I'm suggesting this because you mention your healthy sex life before having your son. For other people, if there have been long-standing or previous sexual difficulties or a history of trauma or abuse then seeing a qualified sex therapist can be more appropriate.

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