Monday, February 05, 2007

Dismaying Story #110: In Sickness and in Health

Dear Andrew,

I am 37 and my husband is 51. We have been married for nine years. We were together for about five years before we were married. We have a two-year-old son. We have not had sex since July of 2005. We haven’t had a great sex life since we were first dating and that was only for a few months. The problem is that he has very little sex drive. About three months after we started having sex, he had a brain aneurysm surgically repaired. Before the surgery he was all over me sexually, but afterwards he was never the same. Now I have to beg him for sex. He almost always puts me off with some excuse.

I cannot count the number of times that I have been answered with:
It’s Friday, we have the whole weekend.
You know I don’t like to do it during the week.
I like it in the morning.
I’m too tired, how about tomorrow (after promising it today earlier in the day)
I thought about approaching you earlier, but then didn’t do it.
I didn’t know it had been that long (a month or more!)
I came onto you the other day and you ignored me (he never made it clear, he would hug me or something and not actually say anything, and I was so used to trying not to react that I didn’t realize he was coming onto me, if he even was)

He can get an erection. I can help with that and I’m glad to do it.

I have asked over and over if there is anything I could do to make things easier for him. I have tried to express to him many times how unhappy with our marriage I am, and how I feel like I have tried everything I could to make things work. He has talked to a couple of doctors over the years and all they do is test his testosterone and prescribe Viagra. He likes using the Viagra because it makes him more confident. However when we have Viagra available, it’s still always me pushing for sex. It sits in the cabinet like it’s not there. Talk about frustration!

We haven’t had sex in so long because I stopped asking. I’m tired of feeling humiliated and ignored. I’ve thought long and hard about divorcing him over this issue. I used to really love him, but now I’m not sure that I am truly in love with him anymore. I feel like he broke my heart over and over all these years and nothing will change him. I have cried over and over about my feelings and tried to be very clear that I’m truly hurt. He says that he doesn’t know what to do, he doesn’t know what’s wrong and he doesn’t know how to fix it. This is always his answer. I don’t know how to love someone and not have sex with them.

I don’t know that I could have sex with him again. I have never had a problem having an orgasm and thought I was “ easy.” But as soon as we had sex, I’d wonder when the next time would be. I don’t understand why he couldn’t try to satisfy me sexually without having intercourse. I don’t understand how he could listen to me cry and not do better. Somehow in 2004 I managed to get pregnant. We had tried years before without success, and thought we weren’t able to get pregnant. So we have sex three times in a four month period and bam I’m pregnant. He’s so in love with his son, and I would feel like the biggest jerk if I took him away from him.

I don’t know that I’m strong enough not to cheat if I had the chance. I will be honest and say I have cheated before. Although it was sexually satisfying, it wasn’t good because I didn’t have a relationship with them. I haven’t had sex with anyone in about 10 months. I have actually wished that I didn’t have a sex drive. I think I’d be pretty happy without it at this point. It’s hard to focus on the rest of my marriage without thinking about the sexual part.

He is not interested in counseling. Any suggestions I have of him taking herbal supplements or doing anything that I’ve read about get shot down pretty quickly. He tells me how humiliating it is to talk to a doctor about it. Try it from my point of view pal. He says he loves me and lives to make me happy but is not interested in going out of his way to have sex with me.

I do not nag him, and I really don’t make negative comments about his manhood, or be bitchy about sex. It is really hard to not be bitchy about other things.

The way I think is that if he isn’t going to give me sex, than he would maybe want to step it up around the house chore wise. He’s quite lazy. I could live with that, I’m lazy sometimes too, but I’m tired of doing everything around the house.

We tried counseling in 2001. We only had about four sessions before we moved to another town on short notice. We hadn’t really gotten into treatment. He didn’t like the exercises the counselor suggested, and he doesn’t feel like anyone would be able to tell us anything that would help. I just believe that he will not change, will not make an effort to change, and cannot figure out a way to compromise and see the bright side of things. They usually look pretty bleak to me.

I have thought about counseling for myself, but even the type based on one’s income is too expensive for me. I don’t want to be divorced. I don’t want us fighting over my son. I don’t want us fighting in front of my son. I am afraid that I cannot teach my son to believe in true love when I don’t believe in it myself. If I had the money I would probably have left him last year, or even before that, especially if I didn’t have my son. I really feel it was a mistake to marry him knowing he had this issue. It just got worse over the last few years. I always thought that I could tough it out, but now I am not so sure. It’s awful to be with someone I always thought of as my best friend and feel like he doesn’t even care enough about me to make the effort to change.

Signed, Starved for Love

Dear Starved for Love,

I’m sorry to hear you are having such a hard time. There is a great deal going on in your situation, much more than just the sex issue.

Before the surgery he was all over you, but since then he barely has a sex drive. Bam, just like flipping a switch when the surgery happened. It seems clear the change is a side effect of the surgery.

A difficulty for you is that he CAN still have sex, claims to want to please you, but he doesn’t follow through. I imagine it might be easier to bear if he had a medical condition that clearly prevented any possibility of sex, then there wouldn’t be all this anguish over whether it will happen.

It’s unclear how much of the rest of it could also be due to the surgery -- general lack of ambition and energy, poor memory, etc. He could also suffer from some degree of depression, which can have similar symptoms. Careful now -- I said “he could” and that’s a long way from “he does.”

If you acknowledge that part of this, maybe even a large part, is medical, then you have to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself what degree of dysfunction you are willing to endure in order to sustain the marriage. I can’t advise you on that -- it is such a personal choice. You made a vow to stay with him in sickness and in health, but it’s unclear how much of the dysfunction in your relationship can be chalked up to sickness.

The excuses you mentioned (“Not during the week”) are just that, excuses, not real reasons. The real reason is that he just doesn’t feel like having sex, and like I said that seems to be linked to the surgery. But it is harder for him to admit, “I just don’t want to,” so he makes other excuses.

Usually in a situation like this I would say something like this: Even if he isn’t interested in the things you need, he married you and he has a responsibility to look out for you. He should step up and be a giving husband, even if he does so only as a gift to you.

In this case, though, I can’t get past the medical angle. I have no way of knowing how much of a factor that is. He doesn’t seem motivated to please you. He says he is but his actions say otherwise, and the actions clearly speak loudest. If he truly had your interests at heart, he would make the effort.

But he doesn’t. Is it depression? Is it medical? Is it merely someone who is feeling sorry for themselves and is stuck in such a rut that he can’t bring himself to look out for his own needs, let alone yours? I have no possible way of knowing.

Recently I posted an article called Love Is a Verb where I argued that love and good intentions held in your heart have no direct effect your spouse. It only matters if you take action; if you actually do things to make your spouse’s life better. Your husband is not doing this for you and it sounds like there is a good chance that won’t change. Again I don’t know that for certain, but the picture you paint is bleak when it comes to his willingness to seek help and solutions.

I understand it would be crazy hard to leave. I have children too and I can’t imagine forcing them to be with only one parent most of the time. But here is another thing to consider. What will your son learn growing up in the current environment? That he can expect wives to be dreadfully unhappy? That it is okay for the husband to sit around, ignore his wife’s needs, etc.? What kind of a role model will your marriage provide for him, assuming things stay much as they are now? Studies show boys tend to grow up and emulate their father’s behavior.

And what if you happen to have another child? What would that do to your world?

I suspect you may eventually be forced to make some tough decisions. Will you accept what you have and make the best of it? That’s one option. The other option is to leave. Neither option is ideal and only you can make that choice.

I will offer one piece of advice, though. If you truly want to look elsewhere for sex and companionship, end this relationship before you do so. (Or commit fully to your marriage and leave the other men alone.) You will feel so much better about yourself if you do it in the right order. If some guy will cheat with you, ask yourself this -- how likely is he to cheat ON you later, once you have left your husband to be with him? Do yourself a favor and deal with this relationship all by itself for now.

My thoughts are with you as you search for the best way forward for everyone concerned.

All the best,

Have you read a good novel lately? Or maybe you are writing a book and would like to tell us about it. If so, now is a great time to check out the Question of the Week about relationships in fiction.


  1. Dear Starved for Love,
    Andrew's advice as usual is excellent.
    My two cents would be to at some point you may want to consider divorce...
    Being loved includes physical affection and intimacy. You are too young to have to go without in a marriage.

  2. wow - talk about being inbetween a rock and a hard place here...bigs hugs to starved for sex...and great advice doc...

    if i could be honest with her -- i'd say take your son and leave...both you and your son will be far better off alone than in this that's what i would doc said -- you gotta make that decision for yourself

  3. Anonymous3:00 PM

    This is a more common problem than most realize. TV sitcoms love to portray the wife as one who does not want to have sex, but for every woman that ignores her husband sexually, there is a man over 50 who doesn't want to "do it" as well. When men reach this age many lose testosterone levels and the libido lessens. In the book "Okay, So I Don't Have a Headache" the issue of poor libido in women is addressed, but there is nothing out there for men. As a man over 50 I am blessed with a very strong urge and the ability to do it. However, my wife is pre-menopausal and her libido has dropped to next to nothing. Our sex life dropped once every six to eight weeks and I learned that I cannot force her to want sex. Relationships are based on love as a behavior and not an emotion, but sex must be present to feel loved by both men and women. I would never leave my wife for her lack of desire and I would never cheat...but I did feel less attached to my wife than before things changed. I recommend this woman lovingly urge her husband to get some therapy, and then address the issue of the lack of sex. My wife agreed, was able to share her feelings in a fear free environment and now we schedule time. We agreed on once a week, but it usually is half that. But we dealt with it, it takes work and caring support to overcome this issue, as it will only get worse if it becomes shame based.

  4. It seems that you've lost not only the physical relationship, but also the loving friendship with your husband. If it were the physical side only causing problems, I'd say get yourself a good vibrator and laugh it off with him - but that wouldn't work in this case I fear, unless deep down you still loved him enough.

    The Doctor's wise advice seem the right way to go. I wish you the strength and wisdom to see your way forward.

  5. This story sounds so much like my own marriage. My husband is 17 years older than I and has had very little sex drive since before we were married. Things are much better now than they were. We have sex about twice a month now. I'm not satisfied with that, but I can deal with it for the strong relationship that we have. My point is that, although I get minimal sexual attention from my husband, I feel that he loves me completely and unconditionally, and have no thought of leaving the marriage. My point is that I think Starved for Love has problems that go deeper than sex. The situation has caused me to learn that there are much more important things.

    I wish you the best.


  6. Anonymous2:20 AM

    I was the wife that didn't have the drive and learned after 15 years that it was my birth control causing my issues.
    I understand his side. I wanted so bad to please my husband, but it just wasn't there. It all compounded. No drive, feeling guilty, can't fix it, not sure what's wrong, all these played into one big emotional issue. (the sex was good, my brain couldn't get past the initial part-wanting it)
    Ignoring it only made it worse. My husband chose to stick it out with me. I did consult doctors hoping to find my problem (I'm only 30, it's not normal) and I don't think that my husband would have stuck it out much longer if I had chosen to not at least try. I know that I didn't want to lose my husband, but I was helpless to explain what I was going through.
    It's very difficult to talk about being a woman-so I can't imagine how difficult it is being a man-the stigma is worse.
    It's hard to give my opinion on this one since I almost lost my husband over it. But I tried everything that I could think of to make it work. Which included scheduled sex so that I couldn't wiggle out or make excuses. We compromised on a time and date on a continual basis.
    If he's not even willing to try to work on it, I would probably leave him. I'm grateful that my husband chose to wait, but I would not have blamed him for divorcing me. A marriage is more than just saying you love someone, you still need to show it, and the bedroom isn't the only place he's not showing it.

  7. Anonymous12:42 AM

    I agree with Loving Annie