Things got very bad when I returned from a ten day trip and my wife, who had been saying how much she missed me and wanted me home, treated me like a roommate. She even refused when I asked for a snuggle on the couch. That really sent me into a tailspin. I had honestly thought that things had been improving and that a door might have opened for a bit more intimacy. Her brutal rejection was a punch to the gut.

For a couple of weeks I was badly depressed. Crying nearly every day. All she could really offer was a lame "I'm sorry".

I'm starting to find my emotional feet again the last couple of days. While I'm still badly frustrated and hurt, I'm not suffering. I've been able to interact with a few people...getting my kid's hair cut, a birthday party at a friends, gaming with buddies...and I've been able to relax and have fun.

Plus I can see that my wife has been having a very hard time the last few days. Physically she is struggling...terrible hot flashes, insomnia, irritability, etc. The very last thing any woman in her state would think of is sex. Weirdly enough, this makes it easier for me. I know it isn't personal, at least on a day-to-day level. But you know, she actually came over to me to give me a little kiss goodnight. That was nice. The door is closed, but I don't think it's locked.
AshInOakland AshInOakland
46-50, M
8 Responses Aug 17, 2014

THIS, what you wrote - more than the fights - was the coffin nail before I asked for separation. I found myself crying, silently as I drove my family home from a pleasant family weekend away in which I was simply a roommate.
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Yes, we'd had conflicts. She'd had affairs, the drinking, and the catastrophes that happened when she drank. She'd broken every single agreement we'd made in the open relationship SHE asked for ("to find herself"). The suicide threats, the self harm. The contempt and gloom with which she regarded me and my family, and the delight in which she took her own friends. The blame she'd blast at me for being upset with the **** she pulled, constantly - it made her feel badly about herself.
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But surprisingly, what finally tipped me over wasn't the fights. It was the good times - as good as they get. An all inclusive luxury Carribean vacation with everything taken care of, and a spur of the moment family weekend getaway.
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Because it was then that I realized, as I think you might be now, that no matter how favourable the conditions are, the best we are going to get to be is companionable partners at task. And that's why I found myself crying (seemingly inexplicably) after a "nice" weekend with the family.
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So, Ash, I see that you (like me, even still), are excusing her present behavior (hot flashes etc). So before those happened, or when they are not happening, sex was great?

Well, there's two things going on...the underlying issues feeding her lack of desire and her behavior in response to those issues. All things together, I can understand why her desire is gone...she isn't *choosing* to have no desire, she just doesn't. While I am certainly frustrated by the lack of sex, what I am mostly hurt about is her response to the situation, which is to do nothing about it. I do not excuse this at all. If fact, it is unacceptable. But I can't force her to want to do anything about it...gentle persuasion is the best I can do. Anything more than that will result in her shutting down completely. So, I've been trying to understand, as best I can, the underlying factors in both her lack of desire and lack of motivation to fix it...if I can understand them, I might be able to persuade her that it is worth fixing. It's a long shot but the only other two options (status quo or divorce) are, at this time, far less attractive to me.

I certainly understand that. Less attractive to me as well - but eventually we arrived there, by a long and circuitous route.
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Status quo is effectively an oath of celibacy, same as a priest or none. If you are going to do that, at least do it overtly and knowingly, as they do. Don't "have it done" to you. I view marriage as partly a sexual relationship though, where intimacy can be expressed physically, and sexuality and gender - that's part of my identity. No sex? Effectively I'm denying a core aspect of my identity.
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Her fixing it? Toughie - since that's out of your hands and from her perspective, nothing's really wrong. You are the one with an itch to scratch. It's charity for her. She's chosen already.
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Divorce? The funny thing is, once that becomes imminent and soon, and not an option, suddenly the "fixing it" becomes a priority. Without that clear and present danger, the cost of remaining in the marriage is a cyclical fight, every once in a while.

"Status quo is effectively an oath of celibacy, same as a priest or none. If you are going to do that, at least do it overtly and knowingly, as they do. Don't "have it done" to you." ...Yeah, I've tried to enter into a willful state of celibacy. It didn't take. I'm simply not wired that way. Despite everything, I'm still very attracted to my wife and have the near constant urge to touch her. If we lived in a really big house it might be easier, but since we live in a tiny apartment, we are on top of each other all the time.

I am also curious about what will happen when we get to the point of divorce. Honestly, I think she would be relieved. But I don't want to overthink that bridge until we have to cross it. Either way, I won't get to that point unless I genuinely think it's my single best course of action. Then I'll commit to it and her response will be irrelevant.

AshInOakland, what's the fantasy here? You are speculating a lot about what it would be like if you weren't married. Turn it around. What would it be like if you WERE married?
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Yes. You had a wedding. Yes, you have a legal status.s
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But in terms of lived experience - the kind that you both agreed to - your values at the time you got married... is marriage, in part, a sexual relationship? If celibacy was part of your wedding vows to each other, as they are with a priest or nun, for example - would EITHER of you have agreed to them? Would either of you have willingly suffered that cost for the benefits of moving in?
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In short, in your value and belief system - both of you - is marriage a sexual relationship? What does it mean then if you do not have a sexual relationship? What IS the nature of your relationship, and what is the fantasy here?

Concise and to the point. If I recall correctly, one of the important aspects of therapy is to get real - objectively look at the situation, the past behavior, to address expectations - setermine if they are realistic or not. Always, always, past behavior is most indicative of future performance.

Well, a post back was all about rational examination of my circumstances. Naturally there's things I'm missing or wrong about, but I'm confident that I'm not simply trying to sprinkle stardust in my eyes, especially considering the prognosis is not good.
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As I wrote in another post, I had been living with the assumption that I might be able to inspire desire in her, or at least to inspire a desire to have desire, by means of changing my behavior. I've been doing this for years in numerous areas...and largely the changes have actually been positive improvements, so I don't begrudge them. This was less a "fantasy" and more a hope based on her own language. In other words, I trusted that her lack of desire was tied, in part, to my behavior, as she continued to insist. I was wrong and my eyes are open to that now.
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This has led to some major shifts for me recently. The big one is that I'm done with the idea that "if only I could do X or stop doing Y, then she'll start to come around." That is over. The only thing I can possibly do is persuade her that sex is an important part of marriage and that we would be happier if she could find a way through her barriers.
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I am not hopeful because to make real changes, she would have to face her own fear of intimacy. But I'm sadly convinced that she doesn't see that as a problem. She is comfortable keeping people at arm's length. When I was gone for ten days with my son on vacation to see his grandparents, she continued to say she missed us. I think this was true...however, when I got home, she was irrationally distant and angry...and I think at a deep level it's because when I was a 1000 miles away it was easy to express closeness, but once I was there in person, the defense mechanisms snapped back up and even overcompensated. This is when I really came to realize that the problem wasn't me or even partly me (even if it was at one time). It's all her at this point and she either decides to do something about it or she doesn't.
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Our son starts school in a week and she should have a job by Christmas. By that time, she should be making enough to support herself and her half of the childcare. Then I will make a real push for counseling. If she says no or isn't willing to acknowledge that she needs to do some major work to save the marriage, I will use the therapy to transition us to separation. I'm not going to live like this...I deserve a warm, affectionate wife who desires me.

"The only thing I can possibly do is persuade her that sex is an important part of marriage and that we would be happier if she could find a way through her barriers."
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Better that she persuades herself. I don't often see people find a way through barriers as a result of a partner's persuasion. The only time I have ever seen a case of intimacy aversion be moved (including my own case), was when there was a clear threat to the relationship looming imminently, or having begun. By a clear threat, I mean a separation or a rival lover. THEN, you get to the starting line.
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Do you think she doesn't think sex is a part of marriage?

"Do you think she doesn't think sex is a part of marriage?" ...in principle, yes, I'm sure she does. But that's why she talks about a "non-traditional" arrangement, which is her code for platonic co-parenting. I've made it clear that this is not acceptable to me, not just on principle, but simply as a matter of emotional need. I want to be in love with my wife and I want her to be in love with me...I don't need fireworks, but a nice, warm lifelong flame will suit me fine.
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But every conversation comes down to the same thing: I don't make her feel "safe". She tries to articulate this into financial terms, but I can see what she will not...that intimacy is terrifying and I cannot do anything to overcome her fear. Which is true, I can't, but she won't be able to work on it until she recognizes that the fear doesn't originate with me but inside her. The thread my hope hangs upon is that I can get her into therapy (and yeah, I think this will actually happen) and a good therapist can put a mirror up for her to see her own culpability in our lack of closeness. If she cannot or will not look at that mirror, then I will know it's time to go.

She sounds identical to my wife, including "safe" - in an arrangement that became shockingly accommodating to her selfish needs.
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Ash, I know you are walking a similar path - I see all the same milestones, things said. Here's a question I asked my wife, and it's really more what you should ask yourself:
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Once you get into the "arrangement" side of things, how is your relationship demonstrably different from that of two amicable ex-spouses? Two separated spouses?
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I tried at "not bothering her" for 6 months, and ended up 6 months celibate, while I poured on acceptance and warmth, flowers and fudge, little notes of appreciation, yard work and lots of child attention. Every roadblock she threw up, I became a model husband for. Didn't help. Made her more mad, I think - more resentful, because at the core of it, she felt SHE was not a good wife.
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I tried an open relationship for a while. Agreed to terms that I would date and she would stay frigid, and I wouldn't bother her. But that was silly because she immediately wanted the same freedom and had the means to attract attention quickly. When she jumped in the polyamory pool, she did it with an aim toward causing maximum harm - both when she went out, and when I came back.
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I once read a French term on here. It meant something like "no one can eat" (I wish I knew the correct term). It meant, essentially, that she didn't want me, and despite platitudes, she didn't want me to want anyone else either.
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At some point - you begin to realize that all the holes in this box are closed, deliberately.
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Seeing her culpability in your lack of intimacy will not change it. Been there several times in counseling. Mine went as far as threatening suicide, rather than lowering herself to touch me in intimacy, despite telling me that she loves me. There is a point where you begin testing to see how deeply rooted the repulsion is, because the gaslighting habits keep them invested in a narrative of love. "I love you with my best love, but I don't feel safe."

Thanks for sharing your story. I get a lot of mixed messages from her so I never really know how she is feeling about me. I know she has no desire for me and no real sense of warmth...or if she does, it doesn't come close to overriding her anxieties around intimacy. It's possible she feels some revulsion for me, but I think that's largely a projection of her own self loathing. I'm no Brad Pitt, but there's nothing about me that's worthy of such a response. She has often described me in negative ways that don't come close to matching me but do describe some of her immediate family members, which tells me that she has a lot of issues with them and that she can't untangle those from her relationship with me. It's frustrating to be able to see those dynamics but to be able to do nothing about them. But you are ultimately correct: if she really does love me, then she needs to find a way to develop real intimacy with me. Otherwise, her love is worth nothing.

I think, on the face of it, when one will not have sex (and look to the other things too - kissing that she initiates, handholding, unnecessary touching), with your own spouse - there is a repulsion of one kind or another.
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Whether it is self-loathing (as you suspect with your wife, and as it certainly is, partly with mine) or some kind of latent loathing of you and me, the result is the same. Sounds like your wife, like mine, is "casting" you in a familial "role" that doesn't really belong to you (mine cast me as her tyrannical father, which is decidedly and demonstrably not the case - few women on this planet have had as much married freedom as her).
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"Otherwise, her love is worth nothing."
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How she feels about you will be of some worth to *her*. My wife, even as she got porked by others, was angry that I did not appreciate the "best love" that she had for me. Her best love did not include physical intimacy. This made perfect sense to her.
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"I never really know how she is feeling about me. I know she has no desire for me and no real sense of warmth...or if she does, it doesn't come close to overriding her anxieties around intimacy."
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What support do you have for the thesis that her anxiety is about intimacy in general, and not intimacy with you. My wife *insists* that she is intimacy-averse, and yet managed to get surprisingly nasty with her lover, who put in comparatively little effort (occasional beer and chicken wings) and would have been on a pretty regular basis. Again, makes sense to her because she wants it to. What you do know is that she doesn't desire you, and no sense of warmth. Just pause and look at that for a moment - see it.
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You know your wife doesn't desire you and you feel no sense of warmth. Is that a married relationship at all? What IS the nature of your actual relationship with her?
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Where am I going with this? I'm driving at a shift in YOUR thinking. Most people at this stage haven't quite grasped the notion that the marriage is over, and they get mired in tar, trying to step carefully, snip away external ties and focus everything into the marriage for fear of upsetting and losing whatever scraps are left.
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But what, actually, is left, right now? Once you realize that you and that person don't actually have an intimate relationship to save anymore - and haven't for a long time, then that can free your thinking to start moving at the tectonic scale you need to think at - to do anything with a hope of remotely changing your circumstance.
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Whatever you do, it won't make a dent (never has on the history of this board) until your resolution is on the scale of an imminent separation - with a complete willingness to blow it up, tip the boat (not rock it), and destroy all base assumptions. I've been on here three years or so, and I've never once seen it happen when it's gotten this far. THEN, you will be in a position to start working, if she shows up.

“...there is a repulsion of one kind or another.” Yeah, true enough.

“Sounds like your wife, like mine, is "casting" you in a familial "role" that doesn't really belong to you…” Yup. I’m the financially irresponsible teenager in a grown man’s body. I used to be a Leech as well back when I was able to pay for half of everything by getting some temporary help from my folks, but at least that got dropped once I started paying for 90% after I finally got my graduate degree. And now all of her money comes from her mother and I’ve yet to hear her say she’s sorry for calling me a leech for accepting help from my parents.
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“What support do you have for the thesis that her anxiety is about intimacy in general, and not intimacy with you?” Mostly things I can now see in hindsight. Such as the fact she never even lived with a guy for any length of time before me (starting at age 43)...she’s told me that she’s always preferred weekend or distance lovers (that should have been a red flag). Another thing I recall is for the first year of our living together, she mostly treated me as a guest (even during the hot sex stage). She was courteous and thoughtful but I always felt like I was an old friend from out of town. She eventually stopped that, but only after the birth of our son. She also never warmed up to my parents...I have honestly never been with any woman who didn’t at least like my parents and most loved them...they are wonderful, kind, easygoing people. But my wife has literally screamed at me that she “hates” my family. This tells me that healthy, warm, close, open relationships are mysterious and frightening to her (the kind of relationships that are entirely lacking in her family). I recognize the pattern because I’ve been with women like her...people who can be hot and heavy when there is some emotional distance but go cold the moment a real relational bond forms. In fact, I’ve come to acknowledge that I’ve frequently picked partners like her...a pattern I didn’t see for decades.

“You know your wife doesn't desire you and you feel no sense of warmth. Is that a married relationship at all? What IS the nature of your actual relationship with her?” I would call us co-parents and roommates. Although it isn’t as distant as many such marriages...she and I communicate frequently and she expressed more affection for me than she would a literal roommate. So I would say it’s really somewhere between marriage and roommates.

“Where am I going with this? I'm driving at a shift in YOUR thinking. Most people at this stage haven't quite grasped the notion that the marriage is over, and they get mired in tar, trying to step carefully, snip away external ties and focus everything into the marriage for fear of upsetting and losing whatever scraps are left.” ...Well, I think it’s actually worse than this. I don’t think we ever really had a marriage. We got married right before our son was born, and this was when she was starting to get really sick (she had preeclampsia). At the time it made sense that she wasn’t feeling particularly randy...she was physically very bad off. The birth was very traumatic and so a lot of time after was devoted to caring for our preemie son and her physical recovery. The romantic affection never returned after that. But I’ve never fooled myself about this...I’ve known all along that what we had wasn’t a marriage. But I love her and I’m an optimist, so I put my hope into that changing if I could become the person she kept saying she wanted me to be. And since most of what she wanted was positive, I didn’t mind the work. I don’t regret any of the changes I’ve made. What I resent is that she didn’t put in her own share of work to become a better partner for me.

“Whatever you do, it won't make a dent (never has on the history of this board) until your resolution is on the scale of an imminent separation - with a complete willingness to blow it up, tip the boat (not rock it), and destroy all base assumptions. I've been on here three years or so, and I've never once seen it happen when it's gotten this far. THEN, you will be in a position to start working, if she shows up.” Yeah, I’ve pretty much reached this point now. I’m going to wait until she gets a job and is able to support herself again, which I expect will happen by Christmas. Then I will insist upon counseling. Either she agrees to really work it with me or we will split. I’ve pretty much made up my mind about that. I can’t go on this way.

"Yeah, I’ve pretty much reached this point now."
"I’m going to wait until she gets a job
"Then I will insist upon counseling."
"agrees to really work it with me or we will split."
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Ash, with the utmost sympathy, I don't see your statements as having reached that point. I'm not saying you are doing anything wrong - I just think that it's important to be true at least to yourself and your emotional state. Start from authenticity.
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When you have reached "that point", you will ask for the separation that you have been preparing for - lawyers, mediators etc. You will be sleeping in separate rooms, your choice. You will no longer be trying and every disappointment will be further confirmation of the path you have chosen. You will be going out with the new friends you are making, and the old. You will have removed your ring. You will be doing activities and entertainment alone or with friends and not doing things together that you used to do. Yes, you will be incredibly sad, but you will keep marching.
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Is she looking for a job? Has she been told that she must get one - that your deal is changing? Is there a consequence to her not getting one within a time frame?
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Counseling is for people who are both invested in the relationship. Failure rate is very high for when people go with a gun to their head. Regardless, that would be about another year of "working on it" to get anywhere, assuming she is even truly on board to doing so. And that starts at Christmas, and that's assuming she gets herself a job by then, which she might not do.
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Even to get into counseling, you will both need to agree on a goal in counseling to avoid it just spinning into a ***** session, or a tool to justify your parting.
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It's a perfectly acceptable thing to say "I'm not ready" or "I'm still invested in this relationship". What I'm reading, based on the cost in time and effort of what you wrote, is that you have at least another year of celibacy and dysfunction ahead of you before you anticipate being "ready", and then you will see where you are.
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A way to shortcut that would be to look at "trajectory" rather than an arbitrary time limit. Your patience is not static or constant. It's moving in a direction, right? There are certain tools and disciplines that you can both use that might be helpful in getting you out of this hole. Are you using them? Is she attacking or refusing them.
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If the trajectory is a downward spiral, if the stakes are known, and if the tools and exploration for options are being refused or attacked, then do you need to wait another year to see if something magic happens?

10 More Responses

Your willingness to accept your wifes so called issues at the expense of your own happiness is what has led to your current situation.

What example if any has the wife shown you that she genuinely wants to seek help and fix her issues?

Stay Strong & Good Luck

"What example if any has the wife shown you that she genuinely wants to seek help and fix her issues?" ...none. Up til now, the focus has been on what I've been lacking in terms of being an attractive husband. I've always been open to improvement, so it isn't like she had to badger me for years...from day one I was open to her suggestions and worked on things that I agreed were good ideas.


This is what has changed very recently. I've made significant changes to my financial health and behavior and expected her to acknowledge this and show appreciation by at least moving towards intimacy. For her to then say that none of those feelings are there at all was, frankly, a shock. It made me realize that her refusal didn't really have anything to do with me personally. It was all inside her. In a way this was good because it "let me off the hook" so to speak. It was a relief knowing that it wasn't really my fault. On the other hand, it was terrible, because it meant that I was powerless to bring about positive change. This is why I've switched to persuading her that an attempt to heal the marriage sexually is worthwhile. If she can buy in to this, then it might be enough to get her to work at her issues.


That's a big "might" of course. I'm not hopeful. And this is why I'm feeling so sad lately, because I'm pretty sure this is all sliding into divorce. And that breaks my heart.

Unless she is willing to work on the marriage (and all the signs are she is not intrested) than you a fighting a losing battle.

Your right her unhappiness is not about you personally, you could perform saint like miracles and still not get acknowleged.

For whatever reason it sounds like your wife has gone off you and lost respect for you. Perhaps you have been an easy going partner that is not really demanding and willing and perhaps (too willing to accept her unreasnable behavour). In return she has probably taken your good nature and interpreted it as doormat material.

I believe you are slowly figuring out this mess and the time is near when you will no longer tolerate this bull.shi..t from her.

Perhaps looking after number 1, (yourself is a good place to start, and cutting off any of her comforts you provide for her.

I wish things were so easy. She often compliments me and uses language suggesting she respects and even admires me. This just isn't followed up with physical affection. Keep in mind, this mostly started with the traumatic premature birth of our son. It made sense that sex would be off the table for a while. The problem is it never came back.

If -- as was the case with some refusers who are discussed here -- she married you to have a child, it wasn't the premature birth of your son who took sex off the table. Once she had a child, she didn't need to have sex any more. I almost died having a 28-week preemie, but a few months later, I still longed for the kind of intimacy with my husband that only sex can provide.

Yeah, my second post outlined a lot of reasons why she lost interest (as far as I can understand). The birth of our son was just one, albeit a major one.

2 More Responses

We deserve what we settle for. My suggestion - whatever relationship rescue you are deploying, set a timeframe - 90 days to see discernable improvement. Othwrwise, you'll be in this limbo for more years than you'll realise and by then, you'll be lamenting a great deal more.

The door is never locked but there is always another door behind the one you are looking at. Always.

A truer thing was never written

That's sad when you are happy with a little kiss from her. Most women go through what you wife if going through ( I certainly have and I'm currently) but that doesn't mean we can't show love, affection and intimacy to our husbands. Sounds like more excuses not to be intimate with you.

You rationalize your wife's behavior that indicates a lack of love and concern for you and them you find hope in crumbs.

You cry every day due to deep hurt in response to your wife's rejection of you yet you refuse to get individual therapy.

Your behavior reminds me of that of the monkeys in the Harlow experiment who clung to "mothers" made of wire because that was the only source of love and comfort the monkeys knew.

Sorry that happened to you in many ways I can understand. However, are you solely desiring more intimacy or just sex from your wife?

The reason I ask is because at times the two may not be connected. The sex will bring you closer yes, and so will intimacy but intimacy is not sex.

Is it possible at all that each of your behaviors are affecting one another so there is a lack of both intimacy and sex?

You mentioned for a couple of weeks you were badly depressed. Crying nearly every day. Could this behavior on her end trump her not seeking you out for more intimacy?

You also mentioned that she as well is physically struggling so in some ways you understand this may not be a good time for her.

Either way it's a difficult time for you as your needs are not being met and maybe there is a break in communication.

If she is willing to listen go out on a date restate your needs ask what hers are and be patient with yourself.

This para is interesting -
- "I'm starting to find my emotional feet again the last couple of days. While I'm still badly frustrated and hurt, I'm not suffering. I've been able to interact with a few people...getting my kid's hair cut, a birthday party at a friends, gaming with buddies...and I've been able to relax and have fun" -
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When you are having some basic and healthy "fun", your missus is not in that picture.
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Avoidant spouses behaviour - be it deliberate and manipulative, or be it accidental and thoughtless - has the same end effect on the refused spouse.
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Tread your own path.