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Ask Ellie: Open discussion is key when making change in relationship

Relationships can be very frustrating for either party when one person changes what went before.

Dear Readers: The following response to a Reader’s Commentary illustrates the disconnect between reading facts and interpreting through personalized outrage.

Regarding the man upset because his wife is no longer interested in sex (April 27):

Reader: “What gives him rights over his wife’s body?

“There’s nothing “disrespectful” about this man’s wife, or any other wife or partner of any gender, not wanting to have sex. That’s their decision.

“But it’s as much (if not more) about the other partner caring more about getting their rocks off than about the feelings/comfort of their spouse.

“I can see the value of seeing a therapist/gynecologist/whatever else, if someone wants to discover more about themselves and their sex drive.

“But nobody’s entitled to someone else’s body, no matter how long their marriage. That is disgusting to suggest.”

Disgusted

Ellie — I truly appreciate an impassioned response to a column, when the reader has noted what was actually said by the letter-writer, and in my response … not what’s imagined.

Relationships can be very frustrating for either party when one person changes what went before. They have every right to make that change, but open discussion, explanation, or considerations of going separate ways, are all decent, healthy ways of dealing with change, discomfort, and personal preferences.

Also, both parties have the right to end their relationship — a kinder way to deal with a need for change than just ending what was fine previously, then staying within the relationship, distanced.

But avoiding all discussion on a sensitive matter that was once mutually agreed, is disrespectful.

Your response was related to your feelings, not the couple’s. Neither you nor I know whether the husband’s only interested in “getting his rocks off.”

He could have achieved that regularly through masturbation or finding other sex partners, but instead he declared, “I love my wife.”

Also, neither the letter-writer nor I said or considered there’s “entitlement to someone else’s body.”

There appears more in your personal reaction to this couple’s situation that has to do with your own experience, than with theirs.

FEEDBACK regarding the woman who wrote her own relationship advice (April 30):

“I believe that respect and trust are essential before marriage. But we also need honesty to determine whether respect and trust are justified.

“Many potential mates, however, are perfectly honest about their significant failings but the prospective partner doesn’t listen. Too many of us seem willing to deceive ourselves. As the poet Maya Angelou famously warned, when someone tells you who he is, believe him.

“When he shows you who he is, believe that too. We have to be honest with ourselves about the candidates for our love, and not just expect that if they’re honest, the problem is solved.

“We must look past the pretty face and admit the presence of deal-breakers instead of pretending they’re not there, or secretly planning “to fix” them.

“Commitment is somewhat iffier. Many people are committed — almost addicted — to very harmful relationships so it isn’t a virtue on its own.

“Meanwhile, healthy communication is the ongoing food and water that will sustain respect and trust. But if they’re not there to start with or disappear over time, then past a certain point there wouldn’t be much use in it.

“While it can make us more understanding, even if not accepting of perceived serious problems that emerge in our relationship (e.g., adultery, criminal behaviour, addiction, or whatever).

“So, while it might not hold the union together, it could make a breakup less vicious.”

FEEDBACK regarding a belief that sex must be mutual (April 27):

Reader – “You’re obviously unaware of the normal aging process. While the letter-writer’s wife was still young, it’s very common for women and men in their 70s and 80s to have less or no interest in sex.

“I’m a very healthy/active 76-year-old. However, my desire for sex has waned.

“My husband, 80, has interest but not as much as in our younger years and more difficult to satisfy.

“Many of my friends and their partners are no longer interested. This has nothing to do with anything “wrong.” It’s often a natural process of aging.”

Ellie — I know from readers older and/or much younger, in both camps. Some lose interest, others find renewed passion even in their late-70s and 80s. There’s no uniform response.

P.S. I don’t write the headlines. Relationships can survive less or more sex, given mutual agreement.

Ellie’s tip of the day

We can only learn from others’ experiences if we get the information correctly.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca.