Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dismaying Story #122: Married Roommates

Dear Andrew,

First, I need to tell you, I didn't love my husband when we married. He was my roommate for many years, playing pseudo dad to my two small children from a previous marriage until the kids moved out on their own. We are both in our 50's (I'm 5 years older). For 10 years we were just roommates who had sex once in a while. Then, it got too expensive to live where we were (California) and so we moved to his home town in the Midwest so he could help out his parents who were getting too old. We didn't feel right about imposing on them though we lived with them for about a year. We started looking for a place to move and decided to buy a house. In the Midwest, people are very conservative (I'm a liberal) so I was shocked we would get turned down for a house just because we weren't married. How stupid! Anyway, I said, "Well, if that's what they need us to be then let's get married." And we did at the courthouse. No kisses, no romance, no honeymoon. It was all very practical. We really were pretty good roommates, huh? Or was that taking it too far? Anyway, we got a house and settled down four years ago.

Now I am trapped in a marriage that has no love in it. We do care for each other but there's no love, no intimacy. We're still roommates. We even sleep in separate rooms because he works nights and I work days. I really want to leave him now but after 14 years how do I tell him I need someone I love and who really loves me and feels passion? I don't want to hurt him but I have needs that this relationship just doesn't meet.

On weekends we do chores, eat together, watch a little tv together. Then we go to sleep. There are no hugs or kisses. There are no activities we do together. He is a couch potato and I go off to the gym. That's all we see of each other. It's been this way for 4 years and I need someone at home when I get home at night (he's gone by the time I get home). I need someone to hold me, encourage me, kiss me, play with me. I don't just need someone to do chores with. I need someone there to talk to and to be a companion to me, sharing ideas, having sex, wanting to do things with me. I feel like I'm to blame and it means, "you made your bed, now you've got to sleep in it." But I see it as though I'm already living alone as it is. How different would it be if I just left?

In fact, one time a few years ago, I left on a trip to do genealogical research for a whole week. He hardly noticed I had been gone. Didn't even ask me where I had gone to or what I had seen. Maybe we really are still roommates!

I need to make up my mind what to do. He isn't mean or dreadful or lazy. He does his share and works hard, just like I do. But there has to be more to marriage than this. In my first marriage, my spouse beat me up in front of the children. That took a lot of time to get over that one. So maybe I was just looking for a roommate, not another husband. I really made a big mistake when I suggested marriage, didn't I.

Don't know what to do. I'm over menopause and should be ready to retire soon. But instead, I'm eager to find someone to be intimate with, etc., have adventures with. I want some fun times with someone. I won't be able to find that kind of retirement with this guy. That's for sure.

Signed, Bored to Tears

Dear Bored to Tears,

Yours is a story of settling. Fourteen years ago you both settled for a relationship of convenience. It was easy to be together -- no commitment, no work, no stress.

And like you said, no joy, no love ... no “Umph!”

If this were twelve years ago I would advise you to try putting more into the relationship. In many cases when people feel they have settled, the relationship can be improved tremendously by figuring out things you enjoy doing together, putting effort into finding opportunities to share time and experiences, making time to have fun together. This can go a long way toward building closeness. If you’re not careful, doing that over a period of time can even lead to passion and kissing.

In your case, though, my guess is that fourteen years of momentum (or maybe I should say a lack of momentum) would be next to impossible to turn around. If you want an actual love life, your only choice is probably to leave and start over. But then your letter makes it clear you already know that. Your problem is that you worry about hurting him, and you also worry about what would become of you.

“Who would want me?” your inner voice says. “It seems so risky to leave this safe situation, even if it is boring.”

Thing is, your bigger risk is staying. In fact, it’s more than a risk -- it’s a certainty. Stay and you are guaranteed to continue living without hugs and kisses.

Should you worry about hurting him? Of course you should. He may not be your Prince Charming, but you have shared many years together.

But here’s the thing -- how much are you hurting him by staying? You are not the only one who is deprived of love and passion. You may hurt his feelings if you leave, but at least then he would have a chance to find a partner who is more than a roommate.

And so would you.

It sounds to me like your mind is already made up about what you want to do. You’re just trying to convince yourself it’s what you should do. I suggest you find the courage to admit to yourself what you really want in life, and then do what it takes to make that happen.

All the best,


  1. I think Andrew makes a lot of sense here. Living without love and joy -- even if it is safe -- isn't much of a way to live...

    It's a risk to be on your own, and hope that you will meet someone who you have that passion and initimacy and shared interests with.

    But unless you try, you never have a chance to succeed.

    I think if you are gentle with your room-mate/husband and explain all of this, he might understand quite well.
    Marriage is more than sharing a house, even if it is for 14 years...

    Very best of luck ! I think it is possible for you to have just what you want !

  2. Andrew provided great direction. Really, you know what you need to do. I have a feeling your roommate/husband won't be too suprised. Good luck!

  3. honestly doc -- i'm torn on this one..

    i've only had one long term (for me) realationship and that was ten years..and in that relationship we started off with sparks and fireworks but between two kids and his constantly wanting to move -- it all fizzled -- in essence, i outgrew the relationship

    so i left...

    but it surely hasn't been a bed of roses since..it's been a lot of work figuring out who i am and what i want

    she seems clear on what she wants but not necessarily on who she is..

    so i suggest some talk therapy -- to help her formalize a plan for her life

  4. Oh this story makes me sad. I think what they both have done is honorable. I agree with Doc. She should just go. Even if she is alone, she can go places and do adventurous things with other people and friends and hopefully she can meet someone to give her what she needs. I don't think that the roommate/husband will be surprised. He may be wanting the same things and just hasn't vocalized them yet. I think just going would be the best. There is no point being in a relationship that has no love and no intimacy.

    I wish her the best and hope that she finds that somewhere down the line.

  5. I don't think changing things 12 years ago would have made any difference.
    There is no spark here just two friends that lost interest in looking for someone to be intimate with and took the safest way out and are now stuck in the mud.
    I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't feel the same way.
    I don't understand why she had to get married to get a place.
    I'm sure there was a way around that little glitch.
    If they are true friends then they should talk about this and part ways.
    Who knows, they may find that spark for each when they are apart.
    Great Post Andrew

  6. I honestly think marriage means Till Death Do Us Part. But in any relationship the terms need to be settled early on. Otherwise both parties are living at cross purposes. And you cannot live in disagreement hoping the other side will change their mind or come round. That's the same mistake as hoping your partner will change or hoping you'll be able to change your partner. Doesn't work!

  7. sbrown2:18 PM

    Bored to Tears,
    When you married this man you were looking for a stable environment for your children. Now that the children are grown, you are thinking about yourself. I am not saying this is wrong. But sometimes it is easier to tell a stranger what's wrong than a friend. He was your friend when you met him and from what you wrote about him he is still your friend. Try talking to him, you might find out you have more in common than you think or you might both agree that separating is the answer. Remember, if he was your friend in the beginning, he will be your friend to the end.

  8. Anonymous4:10 PM

    I've been married 40 plus years and our marriage has been a roommate deal from the beginning. No love, intimacy, communication, or togetherness. The intimacy part happened on our wedding night and that was it. The very next day he moved to the basement where he eats and sleeps. I have the upstairs, he won't even park his car in the same garage as mine. Why we stayed together i have no idea, at suppose at first we didn't have much money, or for that matter we don't have much now. Its been a lonely 40 plus years, for witch I regret getting involved it.

    1. Wow, that is so sad! I'm sorry to hear this. Even after all this time, do you not feel there is anything you can do to improve your situation? After all, the only thing sadder than living this for 40 years would be living it for 40 years plus a day.