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Advice for the Modern Man: My Sexless Marriage

Sad couple

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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

I’ve been married for 20 years and have two kids. I have a strong, healthy sex drive, but my husband and I haven’t had sex in several years. He believes the man is the authority figure in the marriage. He dismisses/corrects/argues with everything I say, and he undermines me in front of the kids — all the while expecting me to back him up no matter what he does.

Going without sex is really tough, but when I think about sleeping with him, my skin crawls. I made myself do it for as long as I could but can’t anymore. I’ve lost ALL desire and romance toward him, and I can’t imagine ever thinking of him in a sexual way again. He comes across to me as a father, speaking to me the way he speaks to the kids, in an authoritative, parental tone. Given that, it’s creepy to think of having sex with him.

I don’t think I can leave, because while I do have a degree, I’ve been home with the kids for a decade, and it’d be tough to find a job we could survive on.

I’d also be breaking up the family. The kids adore their dad. He’s a good person in general and would give you the shirt off his back or help you anytime you called. He’s just not great at relating to his wife as an equal. We’ve been to marriage counseling several times, but since this hasn’t changed in 20 years, it’s not ever going to.

I feel trapped — can’t stay, can’t leave. What can I do?

–Myriam; Cleveland, OH

Women with strong, healthy sex drives are struggling these days. A few weeks ago, a Michigan woman couldn’t get her husband to sleep with her; now, you have no desire to sleep with yours. The Midwestern winter is more bone-chilling than I thought.

In all seriousness, your husband has no right to treat you this way. It’s like he’s stuck in the 1950s. He views himself as dominant while minimizing, chastising and talking down to you as if you’re his child, not his wife. Which, in his mind, are apparently the same thing.

This is why I’ve never understood how “Who’s your daddy?” could ever be said with sexual overtones. It’s far creepier and demeaning than it is seductive.  

It feels as if your marriage has pushed past its breaking point, and not just in the bedroom. You want out. But there are real-world factors — family, finances — complicating your exit strategy.

Only you can decide what to do, but in terms of what you can do, I see three options:

1) Maintain the Status Quo

Nobody likes change.

After staring at my blinking cursor for lord knows how long, that’s the best justification I could muster for this option.

You’re in a relationship that fails to satisfy or respect you. So what can possibly be said in support of keeping things as is?

I understand your reason for staying put: You want to do what’s best for your family.

We’ll get to what that means in a minute, but for now, we can acknowledge that taking care of your kids emotionally and financially is a worthwhile cause.

But as I mentioned in that previous column, so is sex. Sex cannot be cast aside.

Yet that’s what you’ve been doing for the last several years. Actually, you’ve been (not) doing it for longer than that, because prior to quitting cold turkey, you were forcing your way through it, as if you were dragging yourself to the gym for your New Year’s resolution.

When was the last time you enjoyed this enjoyable activity? And how much longer can you go without it?

You’re human, and with nothing to satisfy you now and nothing to look forward to in the future, it’s conceivable that you could ultimately be driven to an affair — which would destroy your family in a much more devastating fashion.

2) Improve the Status Quo

Considering you used phrases such as “lost all desire” and “makes my skin crawl” in regard to sleeping with your husband, this option feels like the longest of long shots. But humor me for a few paragraphs…

Twenty years ago, you were (presumably) attracted to your husband. You were attracted enough to marry him and have two children with him.

Since, he’s disrespected you in every way imaginable. But assuming he hasn’t let himself go physically, it’s this mistreatment that has (understandably) made you not want to have anything to do with him.

But what if he could rectify that mistreatment? What if he were to stop treating you as a subordinate? Could you be attracted to him then? Could you re-discover that attraction that convinced you to marry him in the first place?

I know you said that if things haven’t improved over two decades, they’re not going to now. You’re probably right.

But you also said that he’s been open to couples’ therapy in the past, so couldn’t he be again? If he’s a good guy at heart, maybe he could start actually behaving like one?

Again, it’s not likely. But it’s also not impossible.

Of course, even if he is capable of change, the only way it’ll matter is if you’re willing to change your opinion of him, as well.

3) Screw the Status Quo

Pun intended.

Your reasons for not divorcing are understandable. But they are also flawed.

While I believe in always prioritizing your children, I don’t believe in staying married for them. A wise woman (my mother, a therapist) once told me that kids are a reflection of their parents’ well-being.

And you’re not well. You’re suffering. You can mask this pain all you want, but kids are perceptive, and they become even moreso with age. They’re going to pick up on the discord between you and your husband, if they haven’t already.

In trying to protect them, you’ll end up doing more harm than good.

Besides, is this the example of marriage you want to set for them?

As for your finances, I get it. Money is scary. I’m constantly worried about not having enough of it. And it’s convenient for me to sit on the sidelines and tell you how a little elbow grease will put food on your children’s plates.

But every day, people survive on less than they think they could, and so can you. No, it wouldn’t be easy, but you sacrifice, and you recalibrate, and you work hard, and you figure out a way.

Right now, you — and your kids — are in a toxic situation. You all deserve better.

So which is going to take precedence — your home, car, restaurant selection and bank account, or your sanity?

How much are you willing to pay for your happiness?


This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.


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One Reply

  1. Life is short

    An affair seems to be the least destructive option.

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