The birth of your children is supposed to be the pinnacle of married life. So, after almost 20 years of marriage and with two fantastic daughters, am I thanking my lucky stars that my wife and I made the leap from partners to parents?
In short, no. A shocking thing to say? Yes, absolutely. But there’s more: the truth is, deep down, I don’t think any man ever wants to swap those heady days of coupledom for becoming a family unit.
Who can deny that children introduce stress and strife into a relationship? And parenthood often turns a formerly loving couple into, at best, exhausted comrades in arms — at worst, adversaries.
In particular, it spells disaster for the one area of a marriage that many men believe to be the most important: your sex life.
So, I wasn’t surprised when TV presenter Kate Humble revealed this week that she thinks the secret to the success of her 30-year marriage is not having children. She went on to explain that not becoming parents has given her and husband Ludo ‘a liberation that parents don’t have’.
I’m sure I can’t be the only husband and father silently shaking my head at the all-too-familiar flipside. Namely, a relationship so constrained by children that spouses have become little more than business partners (often warring ones at that).
And I’m also convinced I can’t be the only man who has been driven to stray — or at least felt sorely tempted — as a result.
I’ve been married for 20 years and over the past five, I’ve had several affairs and numerous flings. And — be as disapproving as you like — I don’t regret it.
My wife used to make the effort to seduce me, doing her hair, make-up and striving to look her most attractive. But post-kids, all efforts dropped off a cliff
Deep down, I don’t think any man ever wants to swap those heady days of coupledom for becoming a family unit (stock image)
In my mid-40s with a decent career in human resources, how do I get away with it? Well, my wife already pays scant interest in me, so it’s not exactly hard to hide things from her.
Of course, things haven’t always been so bleak. I went into my marriage deeply in love and with every intention of remaining committed.
I’d fallen for my wife after a couple of not-so-serious relationships in my late teens and early 20s and we married after four years together.
At first, everything was great. We had lots in common, enjoyed spending time together and had a great sex life, making love every day. Sex with her was the best and always left me feeling satisfied, like I could take on the world.
Within a year of marriage, our eldest daughter arrived and, two years later, we were a family of four.
Raising two daughters changed me profoundly — in good ways, to begin with. I became much more patient and tolerant, knowing I had to put them — and my wife — first, which I did happily. Yet it also changed my wife in ways I didn’t like.
Suddenly, the woman I desired, and who used to desire me, would barely touch me. If I tried to initiate sex she would move away or say she was tired, leaving me upset and frustrated.
It turned out we differed on how to raise the children, too. I believed they should slot into our lives, not the other way round. But she was more interested in mother-and-toddler groups and swimming lessons than us or me.
Four years into our marriage, we had a two-year-old and a baby — and a non-existent sex life.
Before, my wife used to make the effort to seduce me, doing her hair, make-up and striving to look her most attractive. But post-kids, all efforts dropped off a cliff. She would live day-in, day-out, in baggy T-shirts and jogging bottoms. If I’m honest, I felt cheated and deprived.
When I suggested we go out on date nights, dressing up to remind ourselves of the young people who had found each other so attractive, she complained that I didn’t understand how tired she was.
I offered to pay for a babysitter, to take her on holiday, and said she was welcome to cut down on her working hours in her management job if she was stressed — but nothing changed.
Although I tried to talk about it with her, soon it would only come up in arguments; if women find it difficult to talk about issues in their sex life, then men find it even harder.
I was expected to carry out the hard but necessary jobs around the house — washing the car, emptying the dishwasher and, of course, helping out with the childcare (stock image)
I had hoped things would improve as the children grew older and became a bit more independent. But instead it got worse, with her preferring to prioritise school PTA meetings and after-school clubs
She accused me of being selfish and only thinking about my needs.
All the while, I was expected to carry out the hard but necessary jobs around the house — washing the car, emptying the dishwasher and, of course, helping out with the childcare.
You expect to do these things as part of family life and, when you have a satisfying sex life, you don’t mind. But I had no sex life and I minded that very much.
I had hoped things would improve as the children grew older and became a bit more independent. But instead it got worse, with her preferring to prioritise school PTA meetings and after-school clubs.
When I hit my mid-30s, it was as though a switch had been flicked. Suddenly, I realised I was still young, fit and good-looking. I was in my sexual prime but I wasn’t getting any sex.
I don’t expect a medal, and I’m no saint, but I endured this for 15 years before I thought about straying. Then one night, after yet another bedroom knockback (I offered her a massage and she recoiled as if I had suggested she run down the street naked), I took stock.
By this point, every attempt to raise the matter ended in rows and retreating to separate bedrooms. Though I did use porn for a while, this felt empty and unfulfilling. And, believe me, when a man is trapped in a sexless marriage, sex is all he thinks about.
I did not want to cheat. Despite everything, I still loved and fancied my wife and adored our family. But there are only so many times you can hear a woman say how tired and exhausted she is before recognising that the problem isn’t with you, it’s with her. Something in my brain shifted.
Frustration wasn’t the only side-effect of abstinence — I also felt increasingly disconnected from my wife. This allowed me to entertain the idea of cheating in a way I wouldn’t have done had we been intimate.
It struck me that if my wife didn’t want to meet my needs, perhaps I could find someone else who did.
So I decided to go along to some work drinks, having previously always declined the invitations. I enjoyed myself and started going out with my colleagues more often — a couple of times a month to clubs, where I would talk and dance with women.
At first, I felt scared, cautious and, above all, guilty. But I loved the flirting, the courtship ritual of paying and receiving compliments. I was experiencing — and enjoying — the thrill of the chase again.
I enjoyed myself and started going out with my colleagues more often — a couple of times a month to clubs, where I would talk and dance with women
By the end of the evening, after dancing with various women, I would end up in a clinch with at least one of them.
I tried to keep it to this — at first. But within six months I was out at a club at least one night every weekend. I would chat to countless women each evening. Some I would see again, others I would flirt with over text messages because I was enjoying the attention.
I kept a separate phone so I wouldn’t be caught. I also avoided going out locally, so there was no risk of walking down our High Street with my family and having a woman I’d kissed approach me to say hello. How I dressed on nights out was different, too; I kept my new wardrobe hidden in the office. I was already in good shape, and started buying more expensive clothes, tailored to enhance my physique.
The biggest difference was that my confidence — along with my sexual mojo — was back.
At home things changed, too: I wasn’t so frustrated with my wife, nor was I as needy. I was more patient with her — a better husband, in fact — but also more cautious about what I said.
I was a better father, too — simply because my sexual needs were being met.
I’m fairly sure my wife noticed I was paying myself a lot of extra attention and I suspect a part of her resented me for it. But she never brought it up.
Things really changed when I started a new job. Leaving my wedding ring in my pocket, I could reinvent myself as a single man without children. People only knew I was married if they asked.
I was confident there was no way my wife could find out as she didn’t know my colleagues and hadn’t ever shown any interest in meeting them.
My body language and eye contact certainly told my female colleagues I was single. And when my interest was returned, I felt alive again.
It might sound pathetic, but this woman was ten years younger with an incredible body and she made it clear she was very interested in me. The sexual desire was overwhelming.
Had there been even a glimmer of hope in the marital bedroom, I would have chucked my spare phone away and put my wedding ring back on. But my wife still showed zero interest in me. Unlike this woman.
I started wining and dining her. Before things progressed further, I did tell her I was married with children; I wanted her to go into things eyes wide open. She didn’t bat an eyelid.
We met every day after work for sex, including one very sexy night at a hotel. I dreaded telling my wife I was staying at a ‘friend’s house’, but she accepted it at face value.
We saw each other for three heady months. Then I ended things when she began to fall for me — it needed to be carefree.
It wasn’t long before I approached a fitness coach I met on Instagram. She was 32 and lived in the North, far from my own home. We had three hot nights of sex over one weekend before things petered out.
There have been a few other women I’ve met in real life and online. I always ensure affairs last less than a month — never long enough for them to truly fall for me, like the first one did.
I do struggle a bit with guilt, because cheating is wrong. But my wife is just as guilty as I am for letting things slide.
We’ve had a few counselling sessions to try to iron out this massive wrinkle in our marital bed, but they’ve only proved how far apart we are.
At one of the sessions, my wife asked why sex is so important to me. I wanted to ask her why breathing is important to her.
Surprisingly, my mother-in-law heard us arguing about our sex life and sided with me. She was shocked that, 16 years into our marriage and a year since I first started cheating, my wife preferred a separate bedroom.
I think her generation believe you should make an effort in bed to please your man.
Despite the cheating, I still believe marriage vows mean something, especially when children are involved.
There’s a part of me that still loves my wife and wants to play happy families. I certainly don’t want a divorce — only seeing my daughters at their mother’s whim — or to break up a family home.
Infidelity is my coping mechanism, if you like. I’m not arrogant, I’m just like millions of fathers who are stuck in sexless relationships and who have come to rely on short-term affairs to maintain some semblance of a sex life.
There are more of us out there than you think . . .