How Good Must He Be?

Q: My wife of 7 years has no interest in sex or intimacy. Our frequency (from 3x/day in the early years to 1/x every 9 or 10 months) has left me angry, frustrated, and sad. I constantly hear that I am/have been an ogre, emotionally distant, snapping at her, etc. While that's somewhat true at times, I have also brought presents, comforted her when sad (which is a lot), put up with her difficult and lazy teenage son, worked 3-5 jobs to keep afloat, done all the yard work, repairs, etc. etc., and still planned family outings, etc.

My wife insists that the passion left because I did not treat her son right. Basically, I insisted he help out around the house, and was annoyed when he didn't. My wife does have reason to be down -- she is an undocumented alien, cannot work (though wants to), and suffered a humiliating former marriage. While I could have handled some things better, how good do I have to be? Aren't I entitled to something, too? Finally, I am seeing a counselor about my issues, but she refuses to see one, much less a marriage counselor. I told her there is little left for me in this marriage except for our 5-year-old daughter. -- Charles, 40

Dr. Susan: I can hear your immense sorrow and frustration. Your wife may believe your attitude toward her son is a big reason she has turned off to you, but I'm sure it's deeper than that. She seems to be using sex as a weapon against you and your anger. You both sound depressed. I hear that you have been trying hard to get the balance right, and that you feel as though you haven't been given credit for all the good, hard things you do, and have only gotten blame when you lash out. Being a stepfather is a tricky role, and it would be best if you stepped back and let her be the disciplinarian. Of course, if your ideas about what a kid should be responsible for are very different, then, ideally, you'd discuss the issue and probably have to compromise. Of course the boy should help out, but try your best to keep emotion out of it. If he doesn't do what he's supposed to, then he needs to suffer the real world consequences of no spending money or whatever. Your anger won't help anything.

It's not a matter of how good do you have to be in order to deserve love and intimacy. It's more a matter of the two of you finding a way to get beyond your entrenched positions and form a more functional couple. You both need help. I don't understand why she refuses to see someone to work on this with you. Perhaps you need to keep seeing a good counselor until you at least work out your role in the mess. Your anger seems to be making her roll into a little self-protective ball. Sometimes one person changing is enough to get things moving again. Ask your wife how she sees herself and the relationship (and your daughter) five years from now. Doesn't she want to help make things better?

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