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Dear Doctor Life Advice,
It has been over three years since my wife and I have made love, actually there is no intimacy at all. When I approach my wife in any way, she tells me to get away from her. She even tells me I am bugging her when I try to kiss her. We have two wonderful kids together and used to be a fun couple. She says intimacy is not worth it to her. Even when we were intimate, it was far and few between. Now she says she does not want any form of sex or intimacy. She refuses to talk to me about it or give me any reasons. I love her but am torn. I would never cheat on her. I just want her. What can I do?
Signed: Married and Lonely
Dear Married and Lonely,
This is a very serious problem and I am glad you wrote to me about it. Lack of intimacy in a marriage usually leads to a troubled marriage, and in many cases can be the cause of divorce. Except for rare medical cases when a person is physically unable to have sex, in my opinion it is never alright for a spouse to permanently withhold intimacy from his or her partner. Sex is a basic, natural instinct. Humans are social creatures who need closeness and intimacy to survive and thrive. If you and your wife want your marriage to survive, you will need to talk about what is going on with her. Avoiding the subject or refusing to talk about it is not an option. I get the feeling that you also avoid the subject as long as you can. You need to first evaluate the situation for yourself, then try to communicate with your wife, and finally come up with a resolution that is acceptable to both of you.
Evaluate the Situation by Yourself
I am surprised that you have allowed this to continue for three years before you have reached out and asked someone. There are questions I want you to ask yourself before you try to bring up the subject with your wife.
- Do you feel attractive and worthy of love? What is it about you that made you put up with not getting intimacy for three years? I am concerned that you may think you don’t deserve better treatment. If this is even remotely true in your case, then I highly recommend you get personal therapy and find out why you allow yourself to be emotionally and physically neglected by your spouse.
- Why have you put up with this for so long? It is really important for you to evaluate your marriage and your reasons why you are staying in it. Are you staying because of your kids? If so, think about what you are modeling for them as far as what kind of mate to look for when they are older. Are you staying in this marriage because you love your wife? If so, then you need to find out if this is a one-way relationship as it does not look like your wife is reciprocating this love. Could it be possible that you two are staying together because it’s easier than living apart? If this is the case, then you two may be able to come up with an arrangement where you get your sex and intimacy elsewhere and live with your wife as a co-parent and a friend. I am in no way condoning cheating on your wife. If you decide on this, it needs to be a mutual agreement between the two of you. Honestly, although in theory this sounds practical, I’ve never seen it work successfully in real life.
- Are you willing to live with the prospect of little to no intimacy for the rest of your life? You have already waited three years. Is your patience endless? If you are willing to live with this prospect, then I worry again that you don’t think highly of yourself, and you need help. If you are not willing to live with this prospect, then it is time to take action. Talk to your wife and let her know that your marriage is in trouble, and that you two need to start communicating.
Try to Communicate with your Wife
If your wife is willing to communicate with you, then the first issue you need to address are the reasons why your wife is refusing sex and intimacy. I am going to list the reasons I see commonly when a spouse is withholding sex. They can apply to either spouse in a marriage, but since you asked the question, I am using the woman as the example of the person withholding sex. These are not in any particular order, they are just reasons I have run into in my practice. For each reason, I am recommending how to proceed. In most cases, there is more than one underlying cause to the prolem, so her reasons are probably a combination of some of the examples below:
- She no longer finds you attractive. I don’t know how old you are or how long you have been married. Think about whether she ever found you sexually attractive. You said even when you were intimate, it was not often. Did you ever have sexual “chemistry?” Did she ever want you as much as you want her? Which one of you was the one who usually initiated intimate encounters or sex? If you look at your past and you can remember a time that she found you sexually desirable, then think about how you have changed since then, and what you can do to restore yourself back to the object of her desire. If you can’t think of a time that she wanted you, then there is something else going on that needs to be addressed.
- She has always had a very low sex drive. I suspect this is of high probability in your case, because of the infrequency of sexual activity and intimacy that you described in your past with her. Some people are just born with a low sex drive. If that’s the case, she can talk to a doctor or sex therapist to see how she can improve her sex drive.
- Her value system is against sex. Some families raise their children with values that make sex seem “dirty” or taboo, or sinful. In order to keep their children in line, they make all kinds of other negative associations with sex. These children, when they become adults, maintain the belief that there is something inherently wrong with sex. If this is the case, again, a couples or sex therapist can help her overcome those beliefs.
- She is having an affair. If your wife was ever a sexual being, then she probably still is. I wonder where she is getting her sexual needs met if she is not intimate with you. I know it is painful to consider this possibility, however, it is a real possibility and I think you have a right to know.
- She does not feel emotionally connected to you. Aside from sex and intimacy, how do the two of you get along? Does she tell you she loves you? Does she seem interested in talking with you about your day and hers? Do you ever set aside time for just the two of you to talk and reconnect? How often does she confide in you or ask for your advice or opinion? Is she often angry with you or resentful towards you? Does she use demeaning or abusive language with you? It sounds to me like the two of you were at least emotionally connected at one time. If you have emotionally drifted apart from each other, then you both need to do serious work to bridge the gap between you. Couples therapy is essential if this is the case, and you both must want to reconnect.
- She has suffered sexual trauma in the past. Some people are afraid of sex and intimacy because they have experienced some sexual trauma in the past. This can range from childhood molestation, bullying in a sexual way, having had an abusive partner in the past, to sexual harassment. If your wife has been a victim of any kind of sexual trauma, she needs help. She will need individual therapy to process and move beyond her trauma. You will also need couples therapy to learn how to provide a safe environment for her in which she can feel intimate.
- She is suffering from depression or another mental health problem. One of the very common symptoms of depression or other forms of mental health issues is loss of libido, or a lack of sex drive. How is her mood? Does she seem down? Has she been having a hard time? Does she have a lot of ups and downs? Is she anxious? If you think she’s suffering from any of these, get her to a psychiatrist. Treatment will make a world of difference. Another mental health issue that you need to seriously consider is whether or not your wife is using substances. Is she on any medications? Does she drink a lot or smoke marijuana? Many substances kill the sex drive if used excessively. Look into this and see if this applies to your wife.
- She is suffering from a biological problem that she is not sharing with you. There are some health problems that can cause a woman to feel uncomfortable during sex. Ask your wife if this is the case, and arrange and appointment with a gynecologist to talk about how to address these health problems. Sometimes, the health issue may not be gynecological, but that is a good place to start, and then get referrals from there.
- She wants a divorce and is pushing you towards it. This is a very common manipulative technique that I see people use. Sometimes they do this consciously, and sometimes, they are not even aware that they are doing this. Basically, in your case, this would mean that your wife, for whatever reason, is done with the marriage, but does not know how to leave it. She is therefore withdrawing all forms of sex and intimacy from you, and pushing you away, in the hope that you would give up and leave. That way, you will be the one that initiated the divorce and not her. If this is the case, then you have a right to know and then you have to make some tough decisions.
- Although unlikely, there is the possibility that she is gay. If your wife was never a sexual being with you, then it may be that she prefers women. Depending on how she was raised, being gay may not have been an option for her. I know many people who get married to the opposite sex in order to overcome their homosexuality. Unfortunately, that does not work, and both parties end up suffering.
Come to a Resolution for this Problem
Unless you are willing to live with the way thing are, then it is time to make some decisions and some changes. Ideally, you and your wife are both invested in this marriage and will want to work it out. In that case, you two need to find out what is going on that is causing this rift between the two of you, and how to bring the two of you back together. Self-awareness on both sides, and communication between the two of you are both essential if this marriage is going to work. You may end up each needing individual therapy and couples therapy to save your marriage. You both need to find out why she has withdrawn from you and why you have tolerated it for so long. Once you learn more about your individual backgrounds and how you have reached where you are, then you need to work on how to proceed together from here on.
There is the possibility that your wife is unwilling to communicate. Then you must find out whether or not you are willing to live with her. If you decide to live with her, then ask her where she expects you to get your needs met, and how she is meeting her own needs.
Ultimately, it may be that your wife is not invested in this marriage and is not willing to do her part to maintain a healthy relationship. If this is the case, then you need to find out, and you need to decide on your own whether or not you are willing to live with a spouse that is not interested in having a healthy relationship with you.
This is a tough issue to work with, and my heart goes out to you. I am hoping that there is an underlying reason that your wife is rejecting you, and that once this reason is discovered, it can be worked on. I hope for a healthy resolution for you.
Doctor Life Advice