| | | Effective PR

Dear Bert and Gert: after 40 years of marriage, why are we drifting apart?

When I was 23, I had a science degree (unusual for a woman), a busy social diary and a bright shiny young marriage to my sixth-form sweetheart. In the next 40 years, we had successful careers and three wonderful children who are, themselves, all pursuing their dreams. We had nice cars, houses, holidays and although we are not rich, we have no money worries. But something has gone wrong.

I don't know what is going wrong. I've asked my husband if he feels the same and he agrees. He says he's is not having and never has had an affair or even a one-night stand and I believe him; nor have I. We feel like we are on a slippery slope and we don't want to slide any further.

Gert says You have not given us two important, perhaps even vital, pieces of information. The first is whether one or both of you has recently retired and the second is anything relating to your sexual relationship with each other.

But you have given us a clear indication that you are about mid-sixties.

I strongly suspect that these missing pieces of information are at the root of your problems and because of that, I have a short brutal answer to your question.

You've both had busy lives and have probably known only selected parts of each other's personalities, likes and dislikes: basically, you had little free time and so it was easy to fill that up with what I call "collision decisions" - that's where you almost run into each other in passing and find things to do that you both enjoyed. Filling up half-an-hour chopping veg and laying the table for the whole family once a week is light years away from doing it for just two people three times a day, seven days a week. Where the joy of spending Sunday morning reading snippets out of the Sunday papers to each other was a bonding experience, the same thing every morning quickly loses it charm and can become irritating. You've lost the daily chat about how your days at work went, both good and bad. Your days were punctuated with schedules imposed by work and school but now those have gone leaving your days unstructured.

And you've found that your friends, the people with whom you enjoyed occasional drinks or meals have turned out to hold little interest and you have begun to get the feeling that you see each other while both couples make a desperate plea saying "entertain us so we don't just get rat-arsed and die from boredom."

With a general lack of excitement in life, that endless grey that acts like a miserable fog over your life drains everything, including the will to prepare for sex. So sex either stops or becomes a prosaic, even pedestrian activity that is neither physically or intellectually satisfying.

People who advise in this situation usually advise based on their own agenda. And I guess I'm going to do the same. But mine isn't the idea that you do something sexual that challenges your notions of decency and does not involve surrounding yourselves with people that you imagine are like you and therefore should provide you with cultural norms.

My advice is much deeper: I don't think you have every really got to know each other. I think you have been a bit like Olympic rings, intersecting at relevant areas but those areas are a small part of the whole. There is a huge voyage of discovery awaiting you both. Now while it's not sensible for me to advise that you go bungee jumping, etc. I think you do have the chance to ask each other to make a plan, of something the other wants to do, on an entirely selfish basis, to which the other agrees, blind, to do.

It will teach each of you something about the hopes, dreams, even aspirations of the other that have lain latent as you progressed through school, university, careers and parenthood.

Can I summarise your problems in one sentence? I think so: you have both dedicated your lives to something other than yourselves and there has not been enough selfishness. I bet you never thought you'd read that !

Bert says I agree. Decide who will make a plan for tomorrow and who will be taken by surprise. But the important thing is this: the plan is for the one making the plan to decide what that person wants: taking the other one to a favourite restaurant for champagne brunch is lovely - but it's the kind of thing people do to surprise the other with something they would like.

So if the you want to go and stand, freezing, ankle deep in mud watching club rugby in the local park, then that's what you both do. And your husband will have to realise that he had no idea you wanted to so such things. And if he wants to go to a cake decorating class, then that's what you both do. And you will have to realise that he has an artistic ambition that he has never developed.

And when you are having fun, being excited about things, laughing together, you'll be amazed how naturally that will, from time to time, turn into sex without any feeling of obligation on the part of either of you.

And of course you can find something you both enjoy doing together: Gert and I have - and we've been married more than 60 years.

Write to Bert and Gert: