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Lack Of Affection And Intimacy

Question:

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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Answer:

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

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