You Can't Always Get What You Want.

I sporadically follow this topic not because I live in a sexless marriage but because it's pretty much the only topic I've found on EP that at least sounds like real people, some of whom are literate, talking sincerely about a serious subject they know something about.

I'm struck by the number of stories that say, essentially, "I'm hurt, I'm outraged, I'm fed up, but I can't make up my mind to leave." Predictably, there is a torrent of "you're completely justified, you need to get out, just hold your breath and take the big step" advice. I have yet to see anybody seriously argue: maybe you should just make the best of a bad bargain.

Why not? Tradeoffs are the stuff of life. Probably all of us have stayed in jobs we didn't like because we needed the income. We've all submitted to medical treatments that were less than fun. We may have avoided certain old acquaintances, but we still treat them like friends when we see them because we don't want to make them enemies. Some have stuck with religions we doubted, or whose teachings we adhered to only selectively, because they had become part of our lives that we just didn't feel good about letting go of. These are all things we chose to do. Nobody forced us to. We accepted that more of some things means less of others.

I see no reason the Law of Tradeoffs doesn't apply to marriages and other intimate relationships. In fact, historically it clearly has. Before the 19th century, marriage was overwhelmingly a practical social institution, intended to ensure mutual assistance and support, pass on religious faith, and channel the flow of wealth from one generation to the next. Sex and children were very much part of it; "love," in our modern romantic sense of the word, was peripheral at best.

But, you say, that was then, this is now. Indeed; but while I agree that expectations have risen, I see no evidence that human nature has changed. Intimate relationships are always difficult to negotiate. Sex is the first casualty when two people are trying, with minimal success, to accommodate and dodge each other at the same time. Each sees his/her own case so clearly, and feels his/her contributions are not being sufficiently recognized by the other. I know the feeling. My own experience of marriage has had two extended periods of sexlessness. One was after her (very early) hysterectomy. She said she felt "neutered," and might never want to make love again. I was required to be patient and understanding. I was, and it proved a good investment. The other was when, some years later, we only just avoided a marital breakup over issues other than sex. I was not so patient or understanding then. We didn't even share the same bed in those months. I've never been too clear about why it ended. I know we didn't negotiate anything. We just both got tired of the quarrel and started dropping hints. When we finally ended up naked together, it was one of the most exciting nights of our lives. 

Most of the stories told here are much more hair-raising than mine. But, when someone says, "S/he's a good wo/man and I still love him/her, in spite of my sexual disappointment," it's a clue that the relationship isn't necessarily defunct. "Just leave" or "have an affair" is poor advice to such a person. It is  humanly possible to live with little or no sex (sex with a partner, that is).  Many people, actually, do it. We have an excellent friend whose husband died when we were all in our early thirties.  She refused to consider remarriage while raising their daughters.  She wouldn't even date anybody, turned down all offers to fix her up with Mr. Wonderful.  As the second daughter approached high school graduation, Susie fell madly in love with a very nice guy and they married and rode off into the sunset (i.e., the Lower 48) together.  She is a warm, lively person; I'm quite sure her sex life for fifteen years, the prime of her life, was by herself.  Sad, maybe.  But not the end of the world, or even the end of the story. 

It can, sometimes, be the same with a sexless marriage.  In spite of what our shallow, instant-gratification culture incessantly preaches, it's perfectly valid to reason, "OK, s/he doesn't like it as much as I do.  But I'm still getting something out of this partnership, even if it's for my kids.  The sex thing I'll handle as best I can."  Like Gregory Peck told his bomber pilots, "Think of yourselves as already dead--it won't be so hard that way."  Assume you'll never have sex again, and get on with your life.  About 10% of people have the inner resources to do something like that and do it well.  You may be one.  And about 10% of those will find out, to their delight, that they were wrong.  You may be the one.
retiarius retiarius
51-55, M
20 Responses Feb 27, 2012

Because we don't need to tell each other that... we, each of us, has told ourselves that for years... <br />
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No one needs that argument reinforced.<br />
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Walk with caution calling the people in this group self indulgent, and in need of immediate gratification... We are the diametric opposite to that. Or we wouldn't be here... and we wouldn't be stuck... and we wouldn't need all that encouragement over and over...<br />
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Go away...

This pity party needs a little shaking up. Stop me if you can.

So, Retiarius, it seems you are saying that in a nutshell, there are many things far worse than the absence of love, sex and intimacy. Many people can convince themselves that what they yearn for is not that important because in the grannd scale of things, there are far worse things that life can throw at you. Learn to see the stuff you already have going for you and appreciate your intimmacy and sex avoidant spouse for who they are. Ameliorate your expectations by seeing the positives you have traded your sexless existence for. If you can't do that, leave, but please stop whinging about it as if it is such a big deal. Did I miss anythiing?<br />
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A job does not promise to love and be intimate with you. Illness and a loss of limb or motor function is contained within - its intrinsic. The locus of control is definitely within the self. Growing up in poverty or in a poor environment (interesting point) - you will find studies which show a strong correlation between the support of loving and stable families and success. So, I see here something simple. The trade off is to rationalize your loss. Instead of seeking the truth, it is to convince yourself that it iis not so bad. This is fine if you want to aim for the lowest common denominator. A deeper happiness than happiness - sounds like resignation to me. Can you honestly ever see yourself teaching your kids to accept 'average' in school, to be happy with low grades because those are the grades they are worth, or would you encourage them to aspire, to hope, to excel? Accept this lot that has been doled out to you - its a measure of your worth and be happy wiith it as you couuld get worse than this is what you are advocating.

And yet there will be average and lower than average pupils in school, whether they accept or aspire. That's partly where compensation comes in. "I may be a doofus at math, but just watch me play basketball!"

It is mentioned in almost every newbie comment section that there are three options in a SM: <br />
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1. Stay & deal with it (accept the tradeoffs and stay in the marriage for other reasons)<br />
2. Outsource <br />
3. Leave<br />
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Each comes with it its own set of challenges, perils and risks. There is no right answer. There is only that person's right answer. Their right answer may change over time. Whatever they choose their choices are respected and not mocked. If someone disagrees or sees potential potholes in a plan then those concerns may get brought up but that applies to people in 1, 2 and 3 but *especially* (in my experience) those who select option 2.<br />
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Every person who is an active contributor here should have heard all of this at least once. <br />
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It appears to me that you have not done enough reading here.

Change will do you good.

It did. It has. It will.

The lack of physical intimacy is just one aspect of my relationship problems. It's not just that we don't have's a complete lack of affection being expressed by him. No cuddles or kisses, no arm around my shoulder, not even a pat on the back. At this time I'm trading off my need for my daughter to have someone to pick her up from school and look after her till I get home from work with my own happiness and self respect. If we had a spare room I'd be sleeping in it. If it's okay to you to live without intimacy then that's fine ... but it's not something I can do for much longer.

The only thing worse than always feeling bad is believing that you have no choice about how you feel. Sorry, uncaring as that sounds, it's what you'd pay a therapist to tell you. Find your own center (yes, it is there) and what you'll find is, in part at least, pity for him. That doesn't mean you owe him--it means you can be, within your your own heart, unshackled from his coldness. My best wishes.

The only problem with your post is that it implies compromise and trade-offs are possible. For MANY on this board, the choice lies between giving up sexual (and usually emotional) intimacy for the rest of the relationship, possibly for the rest of their lives or staying in the marriage.<br />
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Your wife had a temporary medical issue and was able to resume intimacy after the issue resolved. I think many refused partners who blog here would JUMP FOR JOY if the efforts with patience and understanding ever paid out such dividends. People here are not pouting about the temporary ups and downs that we must go through in all intimate relationships, they are devastated by the impossibility of a horrible choice...losing their marriage or never having sex/emotional intimacy again. <br />
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You talk talk trade-offs...but in most of the sexless marriages documented here, there isn't the possibility for any such thing. Compromise is a too way street and the denial of intimacy is viewed as a means for annulment and dissolution of the marriage. It is core to the whole state of a marriage.<br />
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Sorry, but you are off ba<x>se. And, having never been in a sexless marriage, you really shouldn't preach to those living in that hell. And, it is beyond off the charts to imply that these spouses are selfish who expect too much. Refused partners are invalidated enough in their marriages to have to come here and get lectured about how life is about compromise and giving. If you had any idea the level of compromise and giving refused spouses try before they even get to the point of posting on this board, you would post a separate comment as an apology.

My own example, and that of the friend I mentioned, were intended as partial illustrations, not proofs. You put the question exactly in your second sentence. My point is that it is not self-evident that rejecting the relationship to seek the sex is necessarily the best choice. Worse, it should not be said and implied, as it constantly is on this board, that people who would accept a sexless marriage lack self-respect, or courage, or common sense.

They are not seeking "the sex". Most of us generally recognize somewhere in our journey that what we are seeking is love, intimacy and connection. A place where even if no sex ever happened between two people it was not made into a blame game, moving the goalpost technique or a rejection.

You're post cheapens the pain most of us are going through and have gone through.

Would you call it "cheapening" if you paid a therapist to say it? Because, being married to one, I know that's what they do say. As any therapist will tell you, s/he isn't there to commiserate.

Said the same thing to my therapist and I'll say the same to anyone else.
Wonder if the 'suck it up' strategy has an expiry date.
14 years of sexlessness kind of hits it.

"suck it up"? If that's what gets you through the night. But I've always found that, if you give hope a chance, something happens. Maybe not what you wanted, but something. Learn to prize what little things come your way, and after a while you will start to realize that they aren't so little. Every time (and there have been many) I've concluded that life was pointless is stupid, I've had to relearn that it was me being pointless and stupid.

"Think of yourselves as already dead--it won't be so hard that way." <br />
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I think this sentence sums up exactly why I cannot agree with any aspect of your argument. And I strongly suspect your post was thrown in simply to "set the cat among the pigeons" rather than as a genuinely held belief!<br />
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As such, I will not honour it with a lengthy expose on the reasons you are wrong IMO. Suffice to say, I have ONE life and I intend to live it to the full. As my very dear friend (not yet 50 years old) in the last stages of her life due to cancer says: <br />
"There's nothing deader than dead - and I'm not there yet!"

It was meant in dead earnest.

"Assume you'll never have sex again, and get on with your life. "<br />
Let us know after you cut off YOUR **** and try that

I knew a guy who lost both his testicles in a tractor accident. He could still have sex. At least, that's what he said.

It really is no surprise that the ILIASM group is the largest one on EP. There is little or no understanding, let alone sympathy for people in SMs out there in the world. The "Suck It Up and Get On With It" Brigade, the "Well If You Don't Like It, Why Don't You Just Stop Moaning and Leave" Crew and the "Sex Is Just Not That Important, Why Complain?" Crowd amongst many. People who are not living it, just don't get it ... it's not a trade off ... there was never any negotiation ... no agreement ... no exchange. And as we all know, it's not just about sexual intercourse ... it's about intimacy too ... <br />
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Anyway, this Poster won't win too many friends here on ILIASM ... meanwhile I think it's time for me to handle "the sex thing" as best I can ...

C'mon, be my friend.

Well, how nice for you that you find our group - and the emotional pain of real people - so entertaining.

Bleed for me, baby.

This is quite a reasonable article to post. I do understand where the OP is coming from. But even if we can expect nothing from our spouses for accepting sex as off the table, we need to heal our lives of that loss, by finding something else that can be so special. That is not at all easy for most people.<br />
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Most people, especially males, in a sexless life stabilize into some mode of self-service and a emotional state that is significantly more cranky than people who are getting some. As a partial consequence, even a relation that is "perfect barring the sex" is bound to gradually degenerate. You write: "while I agree that expectations have risen, I see no evidence that human nature has changed" --- absolutely correct. And human nature reacts badly to people with who you made a contract that forget or flout said contract.<br />
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Anyway, I agree your article adds some balance to the group, but there are many sound reasons why most people cannot take the path you propose, at least not without substantial qualification and substitution of one kind of intense kick for another.

Maybe. Certainly most people believe what you say about "qualification and substitution"--that the loss of one thing is endurable only if some compensation for it is found. The trick is to stop thinking that. Face loss without flinching and choose to go on living as best you know how. "Happiness" may turn up, it may not. There's a happiness deeper than "happiness."

The other day I was on the EP forum for cerebral palsy, reading peoples stories about how they find motion so difficult with CP. <br />
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My first thought was "hey, I've broken my ankle before and had to take physio too to relearn how to walk properly, sure its tough but what a bunch of whiners on this site!"<br />
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Well not only was that my first thought but I then posted that those with CP should just lighten up and live with it! whiners!<br />
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Surprisingly everyone told me I was an a$$hole for posting that, can you believe it?????<br />
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*actually the above didnt happen but I sure see similarities to this poster

Yeah !! And all them anorexics should just ******' eat !!!

This group consists of contributors who loosely and notionally have something in common; i.e. not getting 'it' either at all, or not sufficiently, or not of adequate quality. Much beyond that they don't have much in common. An argument could be made that the title of the group is not actually apt, however, after so long it is not likely to change now.<br />
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When contributors read others posts and comment they frequently project their own thoughts and concerns onto the other person's story, that is almost inevitable. As a result they can make suggestions that are not necessarily pertinent to the poster's own situation.<br />
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You apply a very logical thought process to your analysis and that is fine in as far as it goes. However, the short-coming in your thinking, if I may label it as crudely as that, is that you are drawing parallels between other key life experiences that don't in the end stand up adequately with the one experience that simply needs to stand heads and shoulders above those other experiences. Why? Because you need and want it to be your psychological and emotional back-stop. Whenever all the other **** in your life, like that you quote, is flying at you from left, right and centre then you want to know you can seek shelter in the one thing you can rely on, your personal relationship. But when you know that you can't rely on that, it is then that you know that things are truly screwed up.<br />
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You are right in that you can in theory bail all too easily when things get difficult but having read hundreds of stories here and often thinking "Hmm", I honestly can't recall even one story where I thought the poster was acting precipitously. Most people have made a significant emotional investment and in normal circumstances they don't give up on that lightly.<br />
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You are also right that we can't always get what we want but that is only the start of the story. Putting up with it is only ONE option. Your experience of sexless periods during your marriage is so very common. What is unusual is for someone who has been through that experience and fortuitously got beyond it don't normally post their entirely valid experiences here. I am quite sure that many of the posters here have been through those protracted periods of 'sexlessness', maybe even precipitated them themselves, but what they document here, eventually, is usually of another dimension altogether. Maybe they can't describe the distinction that could be made but they sure know it when they see it.<br />
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Best wishes. Honestly!

Thank you. I'm not trying to set up a single standard of judgment but to inject a new thought into the repetitiveness I see here. Nothing wrong with people venting here, nothing wrong with other people commiserating. But I don't see it written anywhere that actual thinking--considering opposing points of view--is forbidden. You do it yourself.

Furthermore, because my wife is a therapist, I know that what I said is similar to what a good many of them would say to the most common kind of story told here. They'd have more time to say it, they'd use different words, but their message would be, in the end: your happiness depends on you, not him/her--and this is true whether you go or stay.

You are engaging with hurt and even damaged people here. All it requires is to TRY to proceed with insight and tact, that's all. ;-)

The 'trade off' construct is a nice concept, if there was an over the counter trade going, or which had been conducted at the start. I have not come across any story where one spouse said 'Hey hon, I want to take sex off the list, what is that worth?' However, many have been told 'Hon, do this for me, don't talk about sex to me, change for me, and maybe, just maybe I'll feel like throwing you a fvck'. <br />
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Any illusion of a trade off has to contend with the fact that you are doing paper trades with yourself with shares you don't own.

The OP wasn't talking about trading. When you stay in a less-than-perfect job, it's not as if your employer modifies what is expected of you and makes your work life enjoyable in any dimension. You weight between benefits your job already offers, against what you don't like in the job. The job does not get better: you modify your overall opinion of it. But you are wise enough to realize that.

Indeed - it was an attempt at humor. However, its pretty sad to liken marriage and hopefully its inherent deep and meaningful connection, to a job where one has an employer and one has to balance out one's own expectations and needs and wants because of a unilateral decision.

Is it "pretty sad"? Many things in life are. I knew someone who lost every single relative in the Holocaust. Pretty sad? He didn't let it destroy his life.

"It is humanly possible to live with little or no sex (sex with a partner, that is). Many people, actually, do it".<br />
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Oh ! It seems like we were wrong all along. Come on everybody, stop moaning and get on with it....move along dare you be shallow and after instant gratification ? Suck it up !!! <br />
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Retiarus, you sound like a loveless, joyless human being, and you seem to be happy that way. Some of us have higher aspirations.

You're welcome :-)

"loveless, joyless"? I'm not the one not having sex, pal.

The fact is that many of us say there is absolutely nothing wrong with a marriage without sex if an agreement/consensus is reached between the spouses about it being a sexless marriage. It is when someone is unhappy and the other ignores or makes fun of the unhappy one in an attempt to get their way unilaterally that most of us ob<x>ject.<br />
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But in a tradeoff situation as you describe both spouses would be in agreement: compromise, sure but they both would be heard and one or both would agree to the tradeoff. I didn't agree to be sexless. I couldn't even get a respectful conversation about it. <br />
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Yet more proof that while what you are talking about makes sense in many marriages it doesn't make sense in most of the marriages that end up HERE.

I totally agree. It's the lack of communication that makes it creepy.

or when you try to start a dialogue about the problem and you get back a list of laundry faults about why it is your fault

great post, change!

You misunderstand: the "tradeoff" is not between partners, but in your own head. It is a perfectly valid choice for someone to say, "I wish I wasn't married to a schmuck, but I am, and I have too many reasons to stay to let it poison my life. Goodbye sex, hello life."

And it's equally valid for someone to say that tradeoff doesn't work for me. I don't want to be married to a schmuck (sexless doesn't equal schmuck, that's a bad spouse) and I want more. People can choose either. I hold nothing against someone who chooses to stay.

2 More Responses

From your "sporadic" visits to this board, you may, or may not, have noticed the train wreck status of most of the marriages that prompt a spouse to post here.<br />
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You may, or may not, have observed that most of the marriages are dysfunctional and that the lack of sex emerges as a key symptom, rarely a single issue problem.<br />
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You may, or perhaps not, have caught on to the fact that the 2 options, of staying or leaving, are explored in great detail, covering all sorts of subtle little nuances.<br />
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You may have, or maybe not, observed that many posters tell their story, then **** off, never to be seen again - for reasons unknown (but possibly because the opinion here is too brutal, and inapplicable to said poster) - but possibly because they fit your desc<x>ription of a sexless marriage where the ONLY problem is indeed the sex.<br />
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So maybe you have got what this group is all about, and maybe not.<br />
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It looks like "not".<br />
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Tread your own path.

I agree with you and easy for those who are not walking this path to have opinions. It is a path of many emotions and decisions made daily not always easy. Self examination always trying to solve a problem that most times u haven't caused. Trying to fingure out what the other person is thinking when most times they not!. Easier to not think about it where possible.

I agree completely that life is a series of tradeoffs - the immutable law of opportunity cost at the very least. For many years of my marriage, I saw this a tradeoff. But I was selling myself short.

No, you were selling yourself at your then fair market value. What happened was that you grew, and your value increased in the only place it matters: your own head. My congratulations

You paint a picture of tradeoffs in a relationship that is "all great bar the sex". Most of the time that is not the case here.<br />
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I saw one recently that I thought was that and I told him so, ba<x>sed on his desc<x>ription of the marriage. So did a lot of other people. That was lonelymarriedman the other day. <br />
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So you are wrong about that. <br />
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For those who have simply convinced themselves that it is all great bar the sex, they need a hard reality check about that. The harping, the emasculation, the put downs, the screaming, ignoring all attempts to make it better (NOT just the sex, the relationship) and the feeling of being a paycheck or a ***** donor or a mommy to your spouse - our implicit acceptance of that because we haven't been able to make it stop so we really just don't want to cause more problems, that is not something that should go ignored. <br />
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As someone who had deeply brainwashed myself into telling people how great my husband was (usually because that week he hadn't been screaming at me as much or at least he hadn't hit me like so-and-so's husband), I know how badly I needed that reality check.<br />
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You have gone through two periods of sexlessness. But you had a wife who hinted back at you that she wanted to have sex with you and ultimately you both relented. Some people here have gone through decades of sexlessness. Surely you don't compare the two?<br />
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For everyone reading his story here I offer a counter: search for the forum topic regrets after leaving. No one can think of anyone who regrets leaving from this site and wishes to or has returned to the marriage. <br />
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Those who have left have done so of their free will. No one from the ILIASM police has showed up on their doorstep to make them move out. It just helps to have people who've been there and get your pain.

"Sexless marriage" and "bad marriage" are two distinguishable things. I'm speaking to cases where the first is true, the second not yet established.

By the way--it doesn't necessarily help to have people "who've been there are get your pain." On the contrary, the strongest people I know assume that it's their problem, commiseration won't do much to solve it, and find the strength to move on.

That's great. Again, you are speaking about situations that these AREN'T. If we all had extraordinary self esteem we would all have been out of there when the marriage first got bad. Many of these marriages are bad, not all, but many. I have a theory on this: if your marriage is just sexless, you go to counseling together, you listen to each other and you come to somewhat of an agreement but ultimately you may never have the same sex drive or interest. That's in a sexless (or a low-sex) marriage that still has love and respect and mutuality. In a sexless marriage the person who ends up here does so because we are not getting the kind of responses to our attempts at trying that would happen in a marriage that is still working. We are the sample (self-selected by googling "sexless marriage" out of one more attempt to try to connect and be heard) of people in sexless and bad marriages at the same time. It isn't all about the sex, but the sex is a huge symptom - for most of us - of other issues. Getting here where there is a group of people who can help you since we don't already possess that extraordinary strength and self esteem for various reasons and a group of people who will say "You should expect more. You are a better person than you are giving yourself credit for." That is a gift. We don't commiserate here. We challenge different ways of thinking while at the same time empathizing. Many times it ****** people off. Tough sh!t. That's why this place is healthy. The community here has helped me rethink a lot of things. I am grateful.

In cases where it is a lack of sex and only a lack of sex you make a valid point. Couples modify their expectations of intimacy. I made the point in one of my posts suggesting that maybe one of the purposes of sex is to serve as an undeniable act of intimacy and affection while the couple matures and develops a deeper relationship that includes other forms of affection. When sex is no longer a viable ex<x>pression for whatever reason then the other forms of expressing intimacy and affection should serve the couple.<br />
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However, often we find that a marriage without sex is just the symptom for deeper problems. The couple may not have developed other forms of expressing intimacy. Sex may have been a facade masking fundamental in compatibilities. Both of these are true for me. Even with this knowledge I agree that modifying my expectations about sex should be considered an alternative.

Exactly: sex, by itself, is a surmountable (forgive the pun) issue, for some. There's more to marriage, or at least to some marriages, than *******. Most of the cases described here reflect deeper, broader marriage pathologies. Some are remediable, some not. But the procession of "you're right, give up, get out" responses is simply witless.

I do see a great deal of that but, at least in my case, I have also seen support for examination and pursuit of other alternatives.