Married But Unloved

Q: I have been with my wife for 16 years and married for 10. Obviously at the outset we were very sexually active, but after our first child that diminished. After our second child was born six years ago, we barely ever had sex again, and none at all for the past three years. I have been patient and loving. I have tried to arrange romantic settings, dates, everything. Lately I have been tempted by several women, and though I have fought these feelings, I feel so alone. I do not want to divorce my wife, because of my two daughters who I love dearly. My wife has always been demanding, and often very condescending to me and my family. She refuses to socialize with me or my family and friends, and has really fallen into a depressing cycle of working, sitting paying bills and watching television. She says a lot of it is because of work and stress. I work too. I have tried even just asking for sex, but she says absolutely not. I am frightened that straying is inevitable, and I am not even sure she would care at this point. I am doing everything I can, I tell her she is beautiful, I tell her I love her. My family and friends keep telling me I deserve better. Should I just give up on sex for stability for my children? -- Warren, 39

Dr. Susan: I wish your plaint were less common. But for your wife to have entirely quit on sex AND affection while only in her 30s is kind of extreme. Her first stop ought to be a doctor to rule out hormonal or other physiological causes. She sounds as though she might be depressed and fatigued, and there may be remedies for those problems. A therapist might be able to help the two of you figure out what's really going on. It could be years of resentment built up, or any number of other reasons. But if you go off now and fool around with other women, things will get even more complicated. You'd be adding betrayal and deceit to the mix. Your kids would eventually grasp that this family they live in isn't a fully functioning one. And if you're love-starved as well as sex-starved, one of those women will begin to look like a fine match, whether she really is or not. It would be so much more ethical all around if you were to advise your wife of what's in your mind, see someone together to determine your next steps, and go from there. If she could just "change" or "fix" what ails her, or if you could just "adapt" for the sake of your kids, it would be done already and you wouldn't have written your desperate letter.

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