Dear Patricia: The lonely, loveless nights that mar our friendly marriage
Q I'M not sure if I'm seeking a solution. I just wonder if I am alone. I am 55 and have been married for more than 30 years. We have three children, all in their late 20s. After a life together with great ups and devastating downs, my wife and I are still together. If you asked me, I would say I still love my wife. But there is an emptiness.
My wife has never been interested in sex. I am not over demanding, but I am really downhearted as we pass through middle age in what I would describe as a good-friends mode. Even in the early years of our marriage there would often be three- or six-month gaps where we would not make love. As I write now, it is more than two years since we last did.
The situation now is that my wife stays up late each night playing computer games, and physically lies apart from me when she does come to bed. I have raised the matter often, have asked about counselling, but she is not interested. And so I look forward and see myself living for another five or 10 years in this friendly, but physically loveless, situation. Not very enticing.
A IT seems time to air this issue of love and sex and marriage. It's not new, of course. But it is now systematically forcing itself on to the discussion table. It's no coincidence that the lady writing the other letter is also stuck in the same sad place. My postbag is full of similar stories. It is predominantly men who suffer, or at least who write to me about their suffering. I can't tell if that means women are more likely to turn away from sexual intimacy, leaving more husbands lonely. It could be that women just deal with sexual deprivation better. Whichever, you are most certainly not alone.
In this era of rights rather than responsibilities, desires rather than duties, self rather than others, the marital contract may no longer be heavy on what we promise to give. But the subtext is still crystal clear. Sex is central. We are not marrying to cement a friendship. Or simply to create children. Or solely to regulate finances. Sexual love is the unique bond which binds us. We promise each other to be faithful sexual partners. That doesn't just mean remaining monogamous. It means having sex with each other.
Said like that, it sounds harsh, crude, undressed, made all the more painful by the fact that we yearn for consensus, most particularly when it comes to sex. But that's what happens when people dodge the notion of duty, pretend there was no promise, avoid reality. We're forced into an uncomfortable level of clarity. No man wants to tell his wife that she "owes" him sex. Things are pretty bad in a marriage when it comes to that point. But at a very fundamental level, it's true.
Certainly, there are a thousand caveats. A couple has to adjust to differing levels of basic sexual desire -- and no, it's not always the man who wants more. Someone can also be sick, emotionally distraught, seriously worried, or suffer stress levels way off the Richter scale, leaving sex as the last thing on their minds. Timing can be crucial too. So can technique. We know all that. And it's not the point.
The reason I'm harping on the contract is simple. If everyone stopped dodging reality, solutions could be found. Your wife is blanking you out at a sexual level. If she acknowledged the truth of the marriage vows, she wouldn't do that. She'd have to talk to you, find a compromise, be loving and kind, rather than blocking communication.
The tricky bit is what comes next. Your wife is dodging because she doesn't want to deal with herself. You are not the problem, she is. She has to face down why she's saying no to sex with her husband. It's not enough that she doesn't feel like it. Why does she not feel like it? And more importantly, why is she indulging herself, why is she allowing her lack of interest to rule the day? We may not feel like doing lots of things. We still do them. And if we are wise, we go further. We learn to love what we have to do. Otherwise, we spend our lives at war with the realities of life.
Happy people are not those whose life is somehow magical. Happy people turn necessity into pleasure. OK, so they may not smile while cleaning the oven or doing the ironing, but they do everything else with gusto and goodwill.
Change involves courage and effort and preparedness to face discomfort. Love propels us up that hill. And breaking the silence starts the process. Do that. Talk to your wife, tell her how lonely you feel. And weather the discomfort of not getting along quite so smoothly while you continue to press your point home. It's not sex she's withholding. That's just the symptom. She's turned her back on love, and kindness, and due regard for your distress.
Don't collude with the silence. Challenge it. Otherwise you remain invisible. Which robs your wife of the chance to really see you, and be loving.