Please don't roll your eyes and forward this to your not-again folder. I really want to get your advice.
Married over fifteen years, professional businessman in forties, very healthy, still fancy my wife. But it's always been a relationship where I had to initiate any intimacy. But here's the challenge: her health has deteriorated somewhat over the last five years and sex is off the menu. She won't discuss sex and I'm made to sound like some sex-crazed person, so it's become a tricky subject to bring up. Leaving her is not a favored scenario—we have children and she is dependent on me.
A female friend recently confided in me that she is a "fuck buddy" for a guy who, like me, has a sick wife. This man, however, has his wife's consent—or claims to have her consent. I could not get that consent. Going astray would be extremely hurtful to my wife. Can you see any reasonable compromise or way out of this?
Jumping Off A Cliff Looks Appealing
I'm only running your letter, JOACLA, because it allows me to post another letter that came in from a reader today on this same subject. But quickly: do what you need to do to stay married and stay sane, sometimes cheating is the least worst option, consider asking your wife for permission to seek sex elsewhere.
And now a long letter from someone who, like you, was trapped in a sexless marriage and refrained from cheating when her spouse refused to okay her seeking sex elsewhere.
I read the letters from people in sexless marriages asking for your advice. It seems like it’s the a big recurrent question. Knowing that it happens to so many couples brought me comfort four years ago when I started reading your column. I felt I wasn’t alone. The circumstances and the stories are always different, but the result is often the same. Sexless marriages bring deep unhappiness for the partner whose sexual needs are not met.
My husband and I had a "happy" marriage; no major fights, supportive of each other, went through ups and downs for fourteen years together. But half of our marriage was sexless. My husband stopped having sex with me. We had fertility issues and I ended up in depression, for which I got therapy and recovered. But gradually he stopped having sex with me and stopped being intimate. Even a cuddle was too much asking sometime.
I thought we had a great relationship, we were good friends and partners in life, we had the same values and we had built a pretty good life together. All these things that make you stay because… because you are afraid that you will not have it as good somewhere else. The French have a saying: “You know what you leave behind, but you don’t know what you will find next." Meaning, be grateful for what you have and stop dreaming you could have it better. So what if the price for a good life partnership is no sex? It’s not that important after all?! Is it? (That’s what I hear!)
For me it was. Every now and then I would bring up the sexless situation to my husband's attention. I tried many different approaches. Each time my husband said he loved me, had nobody else in his life, he was just not that much into sex. He was happy in our marriage and promised to make some efforts.
I thought I might go insane. Monogamy was/is very important for me, so taking charge of my sexual desire and having sex with somebody else was an impossible dilemma for me. After reading your column, I finally brought up the subject of open marriage. If we entered in an agreement, it would ease my dilemma. But he was shocked. An open marriage wasn’t an option for him. But continuing living in a sexless relationship wasn’t an option for me. We had hit a wall. I started to wonder: Do I leave a good relationship, a great partner, a life we built together for fourteen years just in order to have sex?
Now looking back at it, I wonder how it could ever have been difficult to stop putting my needs aside and not choose me. Choose my happiness. Maybe the patriarchal environment, maybe my naivety, maybe my fears of being lonely, maybe my lack of self-confidence allowed me to collude with my husband and let him drag me along in a sex-deprived marriage that was making me unhappy. Most of all, I think I was a coward. I found lots of excuses not to leave. It was obvious that the sex deprivation had destroyed my relationship and yet I couldn’t stand up for myself and allow myself to leave and potentially be happy without him.
I was stuck in this sexless marriage. I was stuck in my head. I denied myself happiness and a satisfying sex life.
Then one Sunday evening I found out that my loving, supportive, not-that-much-into-sex husband had been cheating on me. For years. With many women. That he had acted on sexual fantasies I did not know he had. That he caught an STD and never told me about it and therefore put my health at risk. And even got one other woman pregnant. So many lies.
By Thursday, we were through. It will be two years next week. Looking back, I mostly blame myself. It would be easy to cast myself in the victim role: he denied me sex for so many years and cheated on me. “Poor me." But I blame myself. I was the one who made the choice to stay. I was the one who denied myself sex and happiness. He didn’t force me.
Two years ago, I promised myself that from now on I would always choose me, my happiness. And I promised myself to not let fear influence my decisions—this has been the most powerful life lesson for me. We are taught that it would be selfish and shallow to leave a "good" marriage for something so meaningless as sex.
“What are you? A sex depraved addict ready to through away a good life for a few hours of pleasure?” .
To which I respond: “This is my life. I only have a limited time to enjoy it. I am already in my forties and I’m too young to give up on sex. I choose me. I choose to be happy”.
I will finish with a happy ending.
Once you stop being scared, once you stop holding on to something that’s not good for you, once you start listening to that voice screaming inside that things are not how they should be and then actually do something about it, then you are able to see all the goodness waiting for you. Seven months ago I met a man. It’s still early days but things are going very well. He communicates openly on all subjects. He’s into sex and doesn’t make me feel like a sex addict. He likes sex as much as I do. (Kinky too!) He also has great life values. He has a great personality. He cares about people. He cares about me and my happiness.
But he is not in charge of making me happy. I am. And I am happy with myself. But he surely makes me happier.
So... my point is: thank you for your column. Thank you for all the letter about sexless marriages. I know you must feel like you are repeating yourself. But sometimes, one needs to hear the same thing a 1000 times to finally act on it. I needed to read all these letters to finally chose me.
You're welcome, W. But it seems like you had to read all those letters and find out your husband was cheating on you. Still, I'm glad the letters helped.