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Lack Of Affection And Intimacy


Hello Dr.

So, I’ve been married to my High School sweet heart for about 17 years now, and been together for nearly 21 years. We both have good careers and we have 4 wonderful children. On the surface everyone sees us as the happy, completely in love couple. We are seen by our friends as the ideal married couple. But, for over seven years now things just haven’t felt right.

Emotionally and physically my wife is, most the time, very distant and cold. She continues to say that she is happy and still loves me. But her actions and her body language send me a completely different message. Yet, when we are, on occasion, out with friends she is flirtatious and playful with my guy friends and other men we meet while out. She once again becomes that outgoing, fun loving, playful woman that I fell in love with and married. But in the privacy of our home things are cold and dry with almost no affection, no flirtations, nothing even remotely resembling physical attraction.

I come from a very emotionally and physically affectionate family, so, my understanding of what actions constitute affection are different then her upbringing. I’ve discussed this issue with her on several occasions throughout the last seven years. I’ve also done so through various communication types. I’ve written letters, sat down and talked to her, I’ve cried, and I’ve even fought with her over this. All efforts have been fruitless. She makes partial efforts for a week or two then back to normal. Things such as a random hug or kiss, the random cuddle while sitting on the couch, these are all missing in our marriage unless I initiate. But even then it’s as if she’s just letting me be affectionate. She doesn’t reciprocate.

Things were quite different when we first married. She was very affectionate and, although sexually shy, I still knew she desired me and felt passionate toward me. I need this level of affection and see this type of physical contact as how you show a person you love them. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that our sex life is, in my opinion, non-existent. I understand that my drive is about 100 times stronger than hers. But is it wrong of me to expect some level of desire and sexual interest in me? Its not like I’m asking for sex everyday, which by the way, I’d be happy with. But I do understand that would be too frequent for her. As I’ve told her, its not the frequency, I’d be happy with twice a month, its more the nearly complete lack of interest on her part that bothers me. When we are intimate, it feels like I’m the only one there most the time. ItS like she’s just waiting for me to get it over with so she can go back to TV or Facebooking or go to sleep.

I feel completely unattractive to and unwanted by my spouse. All the while she continues insinuate that I’m the one with the problem and that she hasn’t changed. Her biggest response, “this is just the way I am, I can’t change that.” And now I have a close relative, someone who raised me for half my life, who is nearing the end of her life and I need more affection and love than I could possible hope for from my wife.

I’m nearing the point of no return with regard to my marriage. I haven’t even gotten a simple gesture of concern or a checkup from her as to whether I’m doing OK or not. It’s just life as usual. How am I supposed to approach this topic again? The last time I did so it almost tore our marriage apart. She got defensive and I got angry and then depressed. I’m learning to let go of ANY expectations I have regarding her. But I fear that eventually I’m just going to let go all together.

I’m still in love with her, but I truly feel that, at this point, maybe I’d be in a healthier state as a single dad of 4. I just don’t want to ruin my children’s life, or my own, by giving up.

Where do I go from here? Is there a point when, from a professional’s opinion, its time to give up? If she doesn’t love me anymore then, fine, but she could at least be honest about it and I’ve also told her. She again insists she’s happy and in love with me. I’m just so confused.

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It has been observed by many mental health professionals that, after the first seven years, the initial excitement and romance of the marriage, wears off as people get to know all about each other and as they become set in their daily routines. While this is just normal for this to happen there is the danger that two people start to take each other for granted. When that happens, one or both begin to feel ignored and dissatisfied. It seems as though something like this has happened to one or both of you.

What complicates your marriage is the fact that, according to what you explain about your wife, she is shy about sex and always has been. Contrary to what you believe, this is not what most women feel. In fact, people have varied amounts of libidinal energy with some men and women feeling less urgency about sex while others experience a steady and strong desire even after many years of marriage. This variation has little or nothing to do with being male or female. Apparently, you have a stronger libido than your wife. If that is true then there may have been a mismatch between the two of you.

The problem you are faced with is deciding whether you want to work on repairing this marriage or move on with your life. You need to know that all the studies show that children are not damaged when their parents divorce. This is especially true when parents remain fully involved with their kids. This is made easier if the divorced parents cooperate in providing the children with the necessary parenting and love.

It appears that neither you or your wife are capable of solving your issues without professional help. This is why I am suggesting marriage therapy for the two of you. This way there is a chance that the two of you could end the deadlock and adjust to a happier married life. Because it’s always each spouse who contributes to marital problems, marriage therapy could help you in learning the things you need to know, things your wife is not happy with. Remember, it’s not just her, it’s you too.

In the end, if you believe there is no way to resove your problems then there is separation and divorce. No professional can tell you if this is what you should do or when to do it. Those are for you to answer. Having said that, it is also important for you to know that divorce does not have to mean ruining your life. Yes, it’s extremely stressful and even depressing. However, people are resilient and, as most people discover, once they bounce back from divorce, life continues and, and people regain their sense of purpose and happiness with how they are living.

In my opinion, it is important to give marriage therapy a chance. In addition, there is a wonderful book I recommend you and your wife read called “The Myths of Happiness” by Sonja Lybomirsky, clincial psychologist. I think you will find the entire first section very helpful, in addtiton to the rest of the book.

Good Luck

More "Ask Dr. Schwartz" View Columnists

  • Ed

    I have great empathy for the person who asked for help. I feel like I am married to a person who has no capacity for affection and senses that a spouse who does need this as mentally unbalanced. Thanks, Dr Schwartz for the book recommendation "Myths of Happiness". After reading pages 45 and 46 on the importance of touch, it seems that starving a spouse of affection (I am not talking about sex here) really does constitute a form of spousal abuse. Marriage gone bad in this way can be extremely unfair in that it deprives the victim of a human need for affection as well as the freedom to get that need fulfilled outside the marriage. I can testify to how quickly this exacts a mental toll on even a strong well-educated person and that the stress eventually damages physical health. Just how long should counseling be permitted to continue if the abuser continues to withhold affection? The damage at home is still being done so long as it goes on.

  • Wife of 28 Years

    I have been married 28 years. Reflecting back on our dating days, my husband never was as affectionate and intimate as I was and right after we came home from the honeymoon we were in marriage counseling. The counselor back then said we should have never gotten married as we were of two different minds and he would never fulfill my desire for affection or intimacy in the bedroom. Even when it came to the bedroom, it was up to me to initiate. At the time, I was comfortable with accepting who he was as long as he didnt turn me away when I wanted to hug while laying on the couch during a movie, or if I had a bad day at work, or even if I wanted to make love. By the time we reached the 10 year mark it was all over, but we had three small children and was relocating across country away from all family so we decided staying together for the kids was the right thing to do. I gave up my work to raise the kids and we were fine with that all these years. After all, we made the decision together and he made a good salary. Now that the two older ones are off in college and the third is in high school here I am wondering where life went. From probably the third year of marriage till today, Im pretty sure I received no more than a handful of hugs only if I initiated them, with the reciprocal being a pat on the back or plain avoidance if possible. Sex ceased for at least 20 years. My days are filled with depression as I crave affection just for those bad days where you just need an end-of-the-day Its going to be okay! hug to get you through. Ive given up on the idea of sex in my life, as sad as that seems since Im still quite young. We're still together, but Ive asked for a divorce and release from what I now classify as a living hell. I truly feel trapped and living in my own emotional hell at this point, but have to realize it was my own free will and choices that brought me here. Awakening and realizing that staying was the worst thing I could have given my kids is the most heartbreaking as they now think that a relationship involves a mom and dad that only sleep apart, sharing no birthday or mothers day gifts or cards, no affection whatsoever, and just co-existance under the same roof. The word amicable becomes irrelevant when examining all the other damage caused. Ive spent the last year talking to my three kids about relationships, affection, communication, being true to yourself when it comes to happiness, and not settling for anything other than pure happiness as life has so much to offer if you are open to it and ready to accept it. Most importantly, they should be aware that when accepting someone into their life that although their individuality is mportant, their openness and awareness to the commitment of their bond is equally important. I've learned these life lessons way too late and sacrificed myself and what I believe. Hopefully soon all the details can be sorted out and we can move on with our lives. I hope to find someone with enough hugs to fill the day and time to share themselves. Its been a long road, but Im not going to give up, just like I didnt give up when I thought I was doing the right thing. Life goes on, and we learn our lessons, even if they seem like they are too late.

  • jenxo

    Hello all..the story I just read..hit it right on the i found another that gives me what my husband wont and im lost.

    But hes a school mate for like almost 4 years living off the scholarship steady job. Alcoholic..pills a AA Counsels all the time..been married 3x. 2 with the same older 5 years younger than him with twin 9yr olds..he has no kids and as we speak he is sitting in the *** Detention Ctr in ***..waiting to go to a half way house to seek employment and get his life back i wait..putting moneys on his convasary and talking to him for tired of husbands working good a stay at home mom with no affection or anything now..I miss that..what should i do? Please help..xx jj


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