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When To Leave A Sexless Marriage?

Am I afraid? Or am I hanging onto values drilled into me all my life such as commitment and responsibilities and using them as an excuse? How many of you have stayed in a sexless marriage because of uncertainty, whether that uncertainty is due to fear of hurting those closest to you in your life, including the spouse with whom you have lived this sexless marriage, or because of the belief you have to live up to commitments and responsibilities? I ask myself these questions every day.

I've been married for 35 years, married young. While dating my wife was usually reluctant when it came to physical intimacy. Being naive I thought this was natural and would change after we were married. Boy was I ever wrong. We've always remained friends, even though many of our interests are very different. To all accounts everyone thought we had a perfect marriage. However, when it came to sex, once a month was and has always been her limit. Even less in recent years, but then after so many years of hearing no, I've gotten to the point that I don't care nor have interest, at least on the home front - see below. We've discussed her lack of interest many times over the years, but to her it wasn't a problem. Like many of you I tried reading books and watching tapes on how to be a better lover, tried all the romance recommendations, essentially I wanted to make this work any way that I could and thought maybe it was my own lack of experience and skill. After our kids were off to college, I told her we needed to work this out or I was leaving her due to the lack of sex and physical intimacy. I suggested counseling, she didn't think we needed it. So I went alone for 6 months. Finally I interviewed lawyers and told her I was leaving. She begged me to stay, family pressure was brought to bear - good Catholic family hence the lifelong values - and she agreed to go to counseling with me. Surprise, surprise sex finally appeared in our marriage, but it sure felt like desperation sex - not too much can be worse than desperation sex. Counseling seemed to work for a while but slowly she went back to her old ways of lack of interest. I continued to blame myself and maybe a lack of skills causing her ambivalence towards sex. But after years of being hit on by women, I finally had an affair about seven years ago. I'll leave it with two comments on this experience, lack of skills didn't seem to be the issue and I found out what I was really, really missing. Eventually we relocated to be closer to her parents and take care of them as they are aging, and so my past affair came to an end. But I really missed those feelings of intimacy and eventually found another lover who I am currently seeing and who I have fallen in love with. I often think of leaving my marriage and have even spoken to an attorney but have failed to pull the trigger. Whether leaving would lead to a life with my current lover is uncertain as is any future, but if I leave it has to be for my happiness, not for another woman, or am I being naive?

Regardless, here's the issue and what I struggle with every single day. My wife comes from a small dysfunctional family. She is the only one who can take care of her aging parents. Her one sibling has her own personal challenges. My family, which is quite large, has become her family. I am also her best friend, and she has very few close friends. If I leave her, and pursue my own happiness, she will be taken care of economically, she is entitled to that. However, it is her emotional well being that has such a hold over me. I know her well enough that she will likely fall into depression - I'm not saying this or because I am banging my own drum. I'm saying this because I know how she has reacted before when I brought up discussion of and pursued a divorce. I also know she will look into the future and see her parents eventually gone and feel alone, especially as she will lose to some degree the depth of the relationships with my family. She will still have the relationship with our children, but trust me, she will be in despair as she has been very reliant on me throughout our marriage. It's just her personality. I know I am rambling a bit but I find myself consumed with the guilt I would feel by not living up to my commitment and responsibilities as a husband. I am constantly balancing this internal argument with myself knowing at the same time while I stay in this marriage I know I am not living up to my commitment and responsibilities to myself to ensure my own happiness. I do love my wife, but, yep here comes that common statement, I am no longer in love with her, nor have I been for a long time. I feel trapped by my commitments and responsibilities and can't seem to exit the trap. And to add a little more complexity to all of this, recently my wife has shown a little interest in sex, primarily because I am traveling on business so much and she is worried that I may be seeing someone. Yes, she has asked, and yes, I have denied it. Regardless, her overtures are too little too late and I am no longer interested in her physically. I'm sure many of you have similar situations or have lived them. I honestly feel caught in the middle. Your thoughts???
StayorGo1861 StayorGo1861 56-60, M 7 Responses Aug 28, 2012

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So, I gave my story, now I want to tell you that you alone are keeping yourself in an unhealthy and unloving place...she will be fine because she must be...especially since she has family to care for. We women were made like that. And let me say this too, I also withheld sex from my husband, but it wasn't because of him, it was cuz I had insecurities about myself. When he got resentful, I backed even farther away. So, now it has been over three years without not just sex, but any physical contact whatsoever. We were not made that way. We are humans who were intended to be loved in all possible ways!!! And life is short! Take it from me, we only get ONE chance! Seize it!! Go be happy!! You have wasted too much time as it is!! Best of luck to you!! My user name is "onwardthruthemuck", and I do not know why it says "me" next to my pic, and I don't know how to change it, I've tried.....lol

I stayed so long after we both admitted there was no more love between us just to raise the boys. I knew it was the wrong reason but he kept saying I was being selfish for wanting out and that I decided to have babies so I needed to stick it out. For years I stayed because that made me feel guilty. Then on Feb 1, 2010 at 44, I had a heart attack I almost did not survive. He brought my boys to see me once but never came back. The day I was released, my sister brought me home, stayed and cleaned and cooked and he went to work....that was when I started making plans to leave...I had to be smart about it, so I saved my money, started back to college, and took another job. Two weeks ago, I hired an atty. and filed. The boys are a bit older and there is less guilt. They are old enough to see how and when their dad hurts me with words. I'm gone.

I really empathize. I recognize some common elements in our lives. The only real contribution I can make is to say that there is no reason why your wife has to lose her relationship to the rest of your family, even if you pull out. I've seen several cases where an ex stays on close familial terms with her in-laws, even after the marriage dissolves. The bigger decision is one which you have to make essentially alone, whether to stay or go. Best of luck to you. Male, age 65+

Nobody, particularly your wife, will be grateful for staying with her and help her care about her parents. They're not your parents and you owe her and them...nothing. If you have a gf you love don't deprive that woman and yourself of the possibility of happiness, in bed and elsewhere. You have only one life to live. Your own. Sacrificing it for others, particularly when they don't satisfy you, is just...stupid. Leave her. Otherwise, you'll regret it for the rest of your life.

Dartist, thank you for sharing your story as painful as that must be. I'm sorry you had to experience that. My biggest challenge is that we get along well outside of the bedroom, so I don't have a lot of the issues that many troubled marriages have, yet one of the most basic human needs, physical intimacy, is missing almost constantly. I am a very big believer that making love to someone provides the cement that holds all the building blocks of a marriage together. Yet I have always been brought up to take responsibility and live up to promises. I try to do that the best I can. Obviously I am not flawless, I have my share of faults, but I have always put my family first, something I learned from Dad, who had every reason to leave my Mom for similar reasons. But he stood by her, even though he too had an affair. I approached him about my feelings some time ago, and his response was if you want to have sex, go see a hooker, but don't break up your marriage, it isn't worth it. I tell that story only to put things in perspective in terms of my upbringing. It's those emotional bonds that make leaving so very, very hard.....of course coupled with good old fashioned Catholic guilt. :-) Yet everyone on this site has been fairly consistent in the message, which is do what is right for me....and in retrospect, for her. Thanks.

I stayed in a marriage on it's last legs for years "to do the right thing". I promised my ex that I would stay and help him work out a difficult financial situation but made it clear that I was leaving. He put up so many road blocks and played on the sympathies of my children, his stepchildren. Refused to get the property in order for sale so I did it all myself. A week before I was to leave for good and the house had been sold, he shot and killed himself in the home. Tried to kill me too. <br />
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As a result my children refuse to have anything to do with me and I am cut off from my grandchildren. I had huge financial and emotional problems. <br />
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My advice is to end the farce with your wife. I was emotionally blackmailed for years and also a victim of physical abuse and threats. I cannot ever get those years back and live them over in a better place. Any major change comes at a price. Any continuation of an unhappy marriage comes at a price. You have to decide the price you are willing to pay. Peace,D

Lets look at this another way.<br />
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You are no longer in love with your wife. You are keeping up the pretense of a sexually faithful marriage. Your wife is laboring under the constraints of sexual fidelity (regardless of whether she is sexual or not) while you are having an affair.<br />
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Do you think she is worthy of the opportunity, while still under the age of 60 - to find another love too?<br />
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She is worthy. She is worthy of your honesty on where you stand in this marriage (that does NOT mean confessing to the affair). <br />
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You have found a woman you are in love with (being with her in the future is a different issue but you are in love) - your wife ought to be allowed that same lattitude.<br />
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Your guilt is trapping your wife too. While your heart is in a different place your wife still believes you are playing by the initial marital rules of sexual fidelity so she conducts her life as such. And she might be passing up opportunities too.<br />
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And that is the bigger problem.

You make a very good point and I have often thought about that same point. Yet at the same time I keep coming back to whether it is the right thing or not. If only it were simple to finally make a decision. I've tried and she has begged me to stay both times, playing on her need for me to remain for all the reasons I outlined above. Tough situation. Tough choices. But I do clearly hear what you are saying. Thanks.

Staying or going is not an issue of right or wrong. if you parse it in that way you will never make progress. What is missing is honesty here. No matter how it hurts her, deceiving her is the more agregious action over the long haul. She is invested in something that is a lie - there is not sexual fidelity here (if she cares about that and most people do) You both could live another 30+ years here - you both are worthy of honesty - no matter where that truth leads you both to. You do her no favors by shielding her from the truth. What if she finds out about the affair? Now you have an even bigger issue to deal with.

really interesting perspective...
i needed to chew on that a bit...
thanks, clg