Reader Asks: What Do I Do About a Sexless Marriage?

Dear Neil: I was in a loveless marriage for years. My wife had sex with me less than once a year for 13 years, although we did make three children together. At one point, there was 5 years with no sexual intimacy at all. After years of me requesting that we get therapy, which she refused, I reached a breaking point and decided that I wanted out. Since then my wife has been more willing to have sex. But I feel the damage is so deep that I will never again feel she finds me attractive. Your thoughts?

Beauty with her Beast in Virginia

Dear Beast: If sex is not forced or given unwillingly, one power every person has is to say no. But there’s a price to be paid for anyone who says “no” too often, because it is so painful to be rejected over and over again by someone you care about. After a while—sometimes a long while—the rejectee often becomes the rejector, in essence saying “Fine. I can reject you too. Look at this big wall I’ve constructed to keep you out.”

Why does this happen? Perhaps your wife resents you for something you’ve said or done in the past. Could it be that she has felt that you were distant, cold, rude, insensitive or non-communicative? Perhaps she felt you were a selfish lover, looking out for your pleasure only. Or maybe she is one of those women who simply don’t like sex. And then again, perhaps she has been withholding sex as a punishment or as a weapon to get you to do what she wants you to do. Whatever it is, it may not have anything to do with how physically attractive your wife finds you. Something else may be at the heart of her rejection.

So why don’t you ask her what her sexual rejection has been about? It would of course be appropriate to tell her how badly this has hurt you, but before you do so, I would be inclined to advise you to ask her about how she feels about this issue, and what she says about her motives through the years. Perhaps there are some ancient wounds that need to be tended to before she can reopen to you. Is she aware how badly this hurt you? Whatever it is, a very open discussion between the two of you about this subject is long overdue.

Address the issue directly about whether she is attracted to you, and is there anything you could do that would increase her sexual interest in you. If she gives you suggestions about things that would help her to be more attracted to you, do them. Perhaps this can still be changed after all.

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