Is this normal in a marriage?
September 16, 2010 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Is this just a bad phase in the marriage, or a sign of more to come? Many details inside, but basically, no sex, no intimacy, a lot of distance, and counseling isn't an option - and I don't really know where to go from here, or if I just have unrealistic expectations.

A lot going on here... Details: We will have been married for two years in October. The relationship was very intense, and we were together for about a year and a half before we got married. I say "was" intense, because it's decidedly not so much now. I understand that a part of this is normal, but I'm thinking the rest isn't:

She started having some pain issues during sex before we were married - We went from the rate of once-twice a day to maybe weekly after the pain issues seemed to go away... The last time we really had great sex was our honeymoon. It tapered of drastically from there, and went from us having sex to her letting me have sex with her, if that makes sense... I haven't seen a shred of desire since then. And now, it's actually been about a year since we have slept together. If I touch her at all in anyway remotely sexual, she locks up, and she will not touch me at all. Now, we had an extremely healthy sexual relationship before, and were very experimental... But as time went on, the variety went down. She actually threw me off a couple of times for doing things that would have been beyond acceptable before. And this continued for some time. But it's not just sex - Now, she dodges even a kiss. There's just about no physical contact, except she always wants to snuggle at night (which IS nice) - but thats where it ends. If I try anything REMOTELY beyond snuggling, I'm rejected fairly harshly... This has done a thing or two to my confidence.

Every time I bring it up, she claims that she's too fat (which is ABSURD. She is not REMOTELY fat. I mean, really, nothing) and that I shouldn't take it personally. I'm talking size 4 here, and fairly cut as she has been going to a trainer for a while now.

Here's the thing - Along with the no sex, I feel like she's treating me completely different these days.... It started out as mutual respect, devotion, and desire - I feel like I am the only one who has any of these things any more. At some point, she started talking to me as if I was basically a child, and assumes failure with everything I will do. Note that I do all of the finance, remodeling, and really everything except for meal planning (I still cook, I just can't plan worth anything) -- and I do a lot of this for her mother in law as well. But any error that I have ever made is NEVER forgotten, and is used to judge future related tasks. I feel that I have become a collection of failed tasks in her mind. But I also don't have the feeling that I am important to her anymore - which she has assured me is ridiculous. She tells me that I am a great husband, and I've done nothing wrong.

The bottom line is that at some point, I went from being seen as a lover and husband to what feels as if I'm more of an irritating kid brother. There's no intimacy. I feel that she doesn't respect or desire me, and I feel like about the least important thing to her.

The few times we have tried to talk about this, it doesn't go well, because I have a hard time keeping emotionally level. I am absolutely consumed with this - It's taking up most of my brain, it seems. And I am consumed with unfulfilled desire -- I'm constantly having dreams and fantasies about her. It's actually painful in a way I can't describe when I acknowledge everything, as opposed to trying to keep it in the periphery of my mind.

I already know that she thinks that therapy is a waste of time. Where do we go from here? I'm really getting resentful and angry about this, which I don't like, as I'm trying to be patient and supportive. I don't feel comfortable talking to any friends or family about this, either... And also, while I am devoted to her, I am still keeping my own wants and needs outside of our relationship in check -- I'm still very much my own person.

I feel hurt, betrayed, angry, and powerless when I think about this... I've debated going to counseling on my own, but I'm worried that without her being involved, it will not give an accurate portrayal. But I feel that something needs to happen - I just don't know what.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (49 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Normally I don't like ultimatums. But I can't help but suggest this:

"Either you give counseling a shot, or I'll just have to skip straight to filing for divorce, because I'm miserable."
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:43 AM on September 16, 2010 [23 favorites]

I've debated going to counseling on my own, but I'm worried that without her being involved, it will not give an accurate portrayal.

Well, of course, but your therapist might have great insights into giving you strategies to deal with your wife, or your feelings, or both.

If she's dodging kisses along with sex, something is seriously wrong. I'm sorry for your situation. That sucks.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:43 AM on September 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

I fear that your wife is suffering from some kind of mental and/or physical illness. She cannot be helped unless she wants to be helped which apparently she doesn't. I believe that your marriage has failed. I recommend divorce.
posted by grizzled at 9:46 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

If she is unwilling to do anything to change this situation that bothers you so much, you have a clear decision. Live with it or leave.
posted by txmon at 9:46 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You wrote you do tasks for your mother-in-law as well?

If applicable, please contact the mods and let us know if you live alone with your spouse, or if additional family lives with you.
posted by jbenben at 9:47 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Counseling for you will help you at "keeping emotionally level," and will allow you a place to express what you feel without feeling judged for saying it (providing the counselor is a good one :) ). Maybe, just maybe, after she she's that you are not turned into a newt via counseling, she might want to get in on it. Even if she doesn't, it will help you prepare for whatever lies ahead.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:47 AM on September 16, 2010

If she won't go to counseling with you, go alone. You need an outlet for your feelings about this relationship and someone who can help you figure out how to improve it or whether to stay in it. Tell the counselor about your fears about accuracy, if you're worried about that. A good counselor will have seen similar situations before and can help you figure out how to proceed.
posted by decathecting at 9:48 AM on September 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've debated going to counseling on my own, but I'm worried that without her being involved, it will not give an accurate portrayal.

Don't worry about that, therapists see just one half of married couples all the time. Do go, for yourself. I'm sorry you're going through all this, it sounds baffling and heartbreaking. I won't speculate about why she's doing this stuff, because it could seriously be anything -- a physical problem (leftover from the "pain issues" you mentioned, or a chemical imbalance), some sort of mental illness, an affair, some trauma that she has hidden from you? None of us can possibly know.

Do get counseling for yourself, with a specific goal of better communicating with your wife, because that's what it's all going to come down to.
posted by Gator at 9:49 AM on September 16, 2010

enough time has been wasted. couples counseling. therapy for her. therapy for you. pick at least one.
posted by UltraD at 9:50 AM on September 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Interestingly you haven't mentioned anything about your romantic life and just focus on sex life. Sex without romance in a relationship is a recipe for disaster. If you never focused on flowers, dates, watching chick flicks, romantic weekends away from home, and all the other fun stuff that is not directly involved in horizontal action you better start doing that now. It may not be too late. If you have a healthy romantic life and still keep trying even with the declining sex life then ignore this advice.
posted by JJ86 at 9:53 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

You need to drop a nuclear warhead on her. Seriously. Like, "Unless we can sit our asses down with a therapist and hash this out, WE ARE GOING TO GET A DIVORCE." And mean it.

A marriage is about intimacy, communication, closeness, trust, teamwork. Your barely-buried, boiling-over frustrations, her habit of SHUTTING YOU THE FUCK DOWN when you attempt any form, of closeness... neither of these reflects a terribly healthy level of intimacy, etc.

We don't know her half of the story. There could be a world of hurt and anger and such buried inside her. That ain't the point. The point is that your partner has become an alien being sharing your life and your bed (and occasionally permitting a chaste cuddle). It's not healthy, it's not sustainable, and unless she works to change it, it will be fatal to the relationship.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:54 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

I already know that she thinks that therapy is a waste of time.

From my parent's marriage, I can tell you that usually the person who is the problem usually thinks this.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:54 AM on September 16, 2010 [23 favorites]

Pull her aside and say "honey, something needs to change in our marriage."
posted by Ironmouth at 9:55 AM on September 16, 2010

[comment removed - folks if we can keep the armchiar diagnoses to a minimum that will make everything go much more smoothly, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:55 AM on September 16, 2010

Go alone even if she won't. This is not an acceptable state of affairs, and it will only get worse without treatment.

Also, why can't you talk about this with your friends? That's what friends are for.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:55 AM on September 16, 2010

I've debated going to counseling on my own, but I'm worried that without her being involved, it will not give an accurate portrayal.

You going into therapy will be a completely accurate portrayal of how you're experiencing this marriage, and any therapist worth their salt will give you some tools as to how to deal with this.

I already know that she thinks that therapy is a waste of time.

Maybe she's scared of what she might reveal were she in that context. Or, maybe she's just being a selfish galoot. Either way, even if she's digging in her heels, it would be wise for you to do what you need to do.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:01 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can go to therapy by yourself, it's fine. You really should if you can.

No, this isn't normal. Also, it isn't you. You very likely didn't break it and you can't fix it, but you do need to take care of yourself, which is where therapy can help.

I've been where your wife is, right down to the barely-restrained hostility. There have been multiple causes, but there was never a case where somebody else could have changed how I felt. She has to do that work. Given what you're describing about her body image issues, it sounds like there are things going on that are going to be very difficult for her to work out alone, and might even be physical or neurochemical. You need to decide what's best for you based on what she's choosing to do about it.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:06 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

If talking about it with her isn't working, consider writing her a letter (not an email--a real, handwritten letter on paper). She needs to know how you feel. She may not understand or even realize how her behavior affects you and your marriage.
posted by litnerd at 10:07 AM on September 16, 2010

I think she has already mentally and emotionally checked out of your marriage, so it is time to leave. I think she has found someone else.

At this point you will most likely be happier alone than with her torturing you like this. It will hurt a lot at first, but you will finally be able to relax and start moving your life onward and maybe meeting someone new who appreciates you.
posted by meepmeow at 10:09 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here are two interviews you may want to listen to.

David Schnarch
Dr Glover
posted by jade east at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2010

It kind of sounds like maybe your situation is too far gone for self-help, but this book takes a good look at the issue from both sides and offers some potential solutions.

I also agree you should go see a counselor alone. You sound like you could really use the guidance and support of someone who has dealt with this sort of thing before. Also, one of the hardest aspects of this type of situation is figuring out when to throw in the towel. If you still love the person it can be very hard to know when you've done all you can do and it's time to move on.

Couples counseling could be an option at some point if your wife genuinely still wants to be married to you. When you get to the point where you know you can't live like this any more, that is the point to issue an ultimatum: counseling or divorce. You do have to be willing to go through with the divorce, though. Backing down on an ultimatum will only teach her that you don't mean what you say and she'll take you even less seriously and more for granted than she did before.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:18 AM on September 16, 2010

My marriage was exactly this - right down to wanting to cuddle but nothing else, and "letting" him have sex with me - except I was your wife. There were other extenuating circumstances (mainly that his parents lived with us, and he made no effort to change a situation that was near unbearable for years) but at the end of the day, all his efforts to try to make my life as comfortable as he could were wasted on me because I had already made up my mind to leave. And maybe that's what's happening with your wife.

Subconsciously, I think I was horrible to him because I wanted him to make the decision for divorce - the responsibility for that was not something I could bear. Just like someone mentioned in this thread, a friend of his whom he had confided in suggested I had mental issues. I didn't though - I knew exactly what I was doing and it was a concerted effort to get him to kick me out. As it turned out, a small argument that broke the camel's back had me walking out the door, done. By that time, although he did ask me several times to come back, I could tell his heart wasn't in it... and I didn't want to.

To this day, I don't know what went wrong (and I'm in therapy for it). In hindsight, I'll never forget his kindness and loyalty, and it's unlikely I will find that again. Our relationship basically went from intense, to something like me treating him like an annoying older brother, to downright hostility on my part. If any of this seems familiar (and it looks like it does) please make sure your next decision has your best interests at heart. Divorce isn't easy, but making yourself miserable when your partner seems to have made up their mind that they don't want to be in a marriage is only going to be severely detrimental to you. It's obvious she's not happy, and neither are you... so why prolong this? Go to counseling, even without her, you might find the strength to do what you need to.

My ex-husband is now (I think, happily) married and I'm in a satisfying relationship with someone I am emotionally and physically compatible with. As contemptible as my behavior was to him while we were married, just weeks after I left, the relief I felt in not being in that marriage led me to be kinder to him than I ever was. We talked about everything, the divorce itself was completely amicable, we called each other and it felt like we were old friends. Now that we're both in relationships, we don't talk much but at least the nastiness didn't continue. Yes, I still feel guilt for what I did to a good man, but I also know that staying in that marriage would have made both of us miserable, and I wanted us both to be happy. Now, I find comfort in him being happy - and it's obvious to me that the divorce was, ironically, the best thing to happen to both of us.

I'm telling you all this so you'll know your experience isn't isolated, and that things do get better. You will be happy again - just try to be objective (I know that's hard when you're in the situation, but your post seems fairly coherent) and do what's best for you. She will be fine too. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to. I sincerely hope things work out for the both of you.
posted by Everydayville at 10:26 AM on September 16, 2010 [27 favorites]

Go to therqapy alone if you have to. Arm yourself with some knowledge and research. Don't worry about representing the situation accurately since that's the therapist's job to draw out.

I don't know what you do for a living, but you could also apply some professional skills here too. Like research. There is enough research out there to help you understand what you're up against and what you need. One of the great things to come out lately is that improvement in marriage can be acheived by learning and applying skills. There are some skills that you can do on your own too.

Or try some business skills. I'm not saying to reduce your relationship to just business, but many things can be improved by using some of the same kinds of analysis you'd use for customer relationships.

For a thought experiment, consider your wife as a customer and come up with a business plan. What are her needs? How are they being met? What portion of these needs can you meet? And does she have adequate room and opportunity to meet her other needs? Pay attention to what she says and do some customer relations work on them. What is she telling you in the way she interacts with you? You can get clues, do a root cause analysis, and try actions focused on making her feel loved and supported.

I know with my wife I learned after about ten years that "helping out" did not make my wife feel loved and supported. She needed a partner that went beyond just doing as I was asked or asking her "what do you want me to do?" If she had to tell me what to do to help, I was just like another one of her children, not a man she wanted to make love to.

What I learned to do was to take the initiative on whole chunks of the household "list". I learned that her perception of my caring was linked to how attentive I was to the care of the household. I could bring flowers and take her on dates, but they were useless if I left her to keep all the balls in the air while I pursued my career. And if she was stressed and feeling unsupported, you better bet that played out in our romantic life big time.

That's my wife. I'm sure your wife has her own set of needs, stresses, and ways she can feel loved. Start by paying attention, listening, and then being action-oriented in making her feel loved. Whether that means stepping closer in some areas while giving her some freedom and space in others.
posted by cross_impact at 10:27 AM on September 16, 2010 [17 favorites]

I've debated going to counseling on my own, but I'm worried that without her being involved, it will not give an accurate portrayal.

Counseling on your own is not about giving an accurate portrayal. It's all about your perception of reality - because your perception helps a counselor help you explore how you're feeling, and why.

But it sounds like she really needs to go too, because it sounds like this isn't just an internal conflict, but an external one - and to resolve an external conflict between two people, both of those people need to be a party to counseling. I know you say it's not an option, and I appreciate how difficult it might be to approach, but man, man, you're in a dire spot and you know it. Intimacy is part of the bedrock of a healthy marriage, and from your description, it's just entirely absent, and you feel it really, really deeply. You can't go on like that. You'll regret every minute at some point. I'm not you, obviously - and I'm not a therapist or your doctor or your friend - I read three paragraphs about you on the internet, so take this suggestion with a grain fo salt - but maybe it's time to stand up and force the issue of counseling. It's time to sink or swim.

And, if you can't, then, yeah, solo counseling is better than no counseling at all.
posted by kbanas at 10:27 AM on September 16, 2010

She resents you. I don't know why. Probably at this point she doesn't even know why. Your feelings about this are going to be tremendously difficult to unthread. Keeping on an even keel, emotionally, is no guarantee that you'll be successful in talking about this.

Right now all she's giving you is assurances. But there's a problem and it needs to be fixed. If she won't go to therapy then you need to leave, because this sucks and there's no reason why you should have to put up with it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:35 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

She sounds like she's depressed. At least, the behaviour you describe reminded me of myself when I went through horrible depression. No one could do anything right and I couldn't face opening myself to intimacy. But then I took some happy pills (lexapro) and now I'm happy again.
posted by uauage at 10:37 AM on September 16, 2010

It takes two to tango. Go to counselling alone and suggest she do the same. Then maybe try counselling together. You may be able to fix it. Good luck.
posted by swmobill at 10:42 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, this jumped out at me:

Every time I bring it up, she claims that she's too fat (which is ABSURD. She is not REMOTELY fat. I mean, really, nothing) and that I shouldn't take it personally. I'm talking size 4 here, and fairly cut as she has been going to a trainer for a while now.

For how long? Did her response to you become less sexual after this, and, not to be indelicate, but is her trainer a male?

It just sounds as if she has mentally shifted your position in her mind to "roommate." It doesn't mean necessarily that someone else has taken over the lover position. It could just be that now that you are married, she sees you, and herself, differently. Some people get hung up on the whole wife and husband roles. But if she is complaining about being "fat" and yet seeing a trainer that is supposedly helping her get in shape, and then not being sexual, I'm kinda wondering if this trainer is up to something else with your wife, at least flirtation, that is feeding into this very-nearly platonic living situation you have going on.

Also, if she complained of having pain with sex before marriage, did the two of you ever follow up on that? Was this internal pain, like endometriosis or vaginismus? Because if she never went to her Ob/gyn to deal with it, she is really short-changing you and your marriage by not at least attempting to do something about this problem. And if it wasn't just internal, but a back injury or something, did she see a doctor about that? She is able to exercise and work out with this trainer, right? (Again, the trainer thing just sounds suspicious).

Whatever the cause, I do think that you need to offer up an ultimatum. Two years (and one without sex!) is too long to let something like this go on in a marriage. This conflict, your frustration, and the lack of intimacy is tearing you up. So I'd suggest you sit her down and tell her how important this is to you (and by this I mean a healthy sexual relationship, whatever you two can agree that means). Be clear that you have reached the point that either she consents to counseling so that the two of you can work on resuming an active sex life, or you are out of there.
posted by misha at 10:44 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm really sorry you're going through all of this. I was in a similar situation, only I was like your wife but also trying to reach out for solutions.

Go to a therapist on your own. Get to the point where you can quote Tomorrowful and say "Either you give counseling a shot, or I'll just have to skip straight to filing for divorce, because I'm miserable."

Therapy will help get you to a point where you can handle it if she says, "Fine."
posted by motsque at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, this is not normal. Not any part of it.

The thing that stuck out for me was the fact you mention that the dropoff in sexual activity starts right after the honeymoon. In my opinion, this is suspect timing.

It looks like she's getting everything she wants out of you and the marriage (responsibility, service, snuggling), and nothing that she doesn't (sex, being nice, doing anything at all for your sake).

Here's your acid test. Get her attention, and make a serious threat of divorce. Tell her what she must change or else. If she pleads with you to stay, then my hypothesis is likely correct. And, she'll be very emotionally manipulative in getting you to stay. If she doesn't, and seems to actually like the idea of divorce, then you're in Everydayville's scenario.

Either way, I'm not sure what there is to salvage from this marriage - at least based on what you're telling us.

Now, if you've 100% made your mind up that you're going to leave, then don't tell her a thing. After all, you don't want to give her a time advantage in finding a good divorce lawyer...
posted by Citrus at 10:54 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

The "go to therapy, yes, even individual" has already been said, so I won't bother to make any further arguments :)

But it might be interesting for you to know what happened when I started having pain during sex. It *killed* my libido, dead, for a while. I was afraid of my husband wanting to even cuddle, because he has a healthy sex drive and cuddling might lead to wanting more; I not only didn't want more, I was afraid of it. I got evasive about contact, sometimes even doing things that unfortunately made my husband feel guilty for wanting to touch me. Boy, that was a terrible thing.

I felt guilty, I felt unworthy; I was keeping him from enjoying himself just because I was in pain. I felt embarrassed, like it was something I was doing wrong and was afraid to talk about. I felt confused; I used to have so much desire for sex and it was just gone. I felt pain, and fear of pain. I felt fear of being touched. I even felt fear of my husband, from time to time--definitely not warranted, but fear is irrational. I felt resentful, because he wanted something that hurt me and that was, well, all for him. Also irrational, since he certainly didn't want to hurt me and didn't want to have sex if it wasn't fun for me, but again, emotion doesn't have to be rational.

I was totally failing in my marriage and it was out of my control.

It's done some interesting things to our relationship. Fortunately for us, and hopefully providing you with some hope, we did manage to get past this.

I hated being aware that my libido was dead; I worked on it and I talked to doctors about it and I went through little self-exercises to get over the inhibitions I'd developed. It was DIFFICULT. My husband has been right on top of anything I ask of him, doing his best to be helpful, but there was only so much anyone besides me could do. It was so, so hard to find desire again when sex only led to pain.

Has she been to a gynecologist about the pain? This is also definitely a place where counseling would help her, even if it's an embarrassing subject and hard to open up to a stranger. It's not easy to get over it on your own, and it sounds like your wife either isn't trying or doesn't have any idea how; a counselor could help her work out how.
posted by galadriel at 11:12 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

At the risk of sharing TMI - while pain during intercourse is a legitimate concern for many women, I had a similar 'pain' while I was married. It turned out to be completely psychosomatic, because six months after we separated I was intimate with my current boyfriend... and it was absolutely fine. No pain, nothing. I enjoyed sex for the first time in years.
posted by Everydayville at 11:18 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think your ultimatum needs to be specifically contingent on couple's counseling, but it is time for an ultimatum. Counseling will help, but the first step is getting her to agree that there's a problem that needs fixing (and there is. None of this is even remotely normal - nobody would ever get married if it was).

So I'd slightly revise Tomorrowful's excellent suggestion to read: "I have a serious problem with the state of things in our marriage. Does that mean that I have a problem, or that we have a problem. If we have a problem that you'd like to help me work out, then let's see what we can do. If this is just my problem, then I'm going to solve it by getting a divorce."
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:19 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't necessarily agree that you need to put out an ultimatum to her - that increases the pressure on both of you, in what is already a very tense and uncomfortable situation. I absolutely agree that you should seek therapy for yourself, though. You both need to learn HOW to talk about your sex and intimacy issues, and that starts with you learning how to do it and having even a few positive experiences with her in that area. I'm hopeful that she'll see that you're doing well in therapy, hear good things about it, and maybe consider it for herself.
posted by lriG rorriM at 11:30 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of things could be happening.

--This was mentioned in another thread today, about how people can change after getting married because of societal expectations about what you're supposed to do & be. It could be messing with her head. She may feel that she knew what to do as a girlfriend but not as a wife.

--You mention doing things for your MIL, which to me implies that her mother is VERY there and around. My mom had a bunch of ideas in her head about what I would be like & what our relationship would be like after I got married. Unfortunately she never shared those expectations with me, so I failed, miserably and often. That could be adding to #1 as well.

--She could be depressed. Working out is great and good health is wonderful but if she thinks she's fat she could have an eating disorder.

--She could be stepping out on you. Everyone else is pointing at the trainer, I don't think that's it, but she is definitely checked out mentally on this marriage.

Finally, I have to ask this:

The pain during sex - I have to ask, OP, how on earth did you continue having sex with a woman who said it HURT when she had sex? You don't sound like a horrible guy but I just need to understand your thought process on how you thought it would be okay to have sex with someone when you know it was hurting her. If someone I was intimately involved with said "ouch" during sex I wouldn't just keep going and hope it would be okay. I wouldn't even keep going if it was a one-night stand. I wouldn't feel comfortable with that.

And maybe, you know, she should have put her foot down, and said no, and gone to the doctor, but there is so much pressure on women to be these constantly available sex bunnies that she might have seen the fact that she was in pain during sex as something she would have to get over - but I still come back to, how could you even try to have sex with someone who was regularly in pain?

I think there are some things left out of here too.
posted by micawber at 11:30 AM on September 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

Oh, and I want to add too - since hindsight is 20/20 - there are so many specific things that were clear to me once we were separated, that contributed to the degeneration of our marriage. Long story short, his inability to comprehend what I wanted, my inability to communicate what I wanted, my inability understand his familial loyalty, our selfishness in refusing to compromise on certain things...

Here's the thing, though. Had we loved each other enough to try to work through these mountainous issues, the marriage may have been saved. But we didn't. We might have loved each other, but we weren't in love. As cross_impact says, paying attention to her needs is important. However, if she's acting out her unhappiness, you also need to figure out where your limits lie. There was nothing my ex-husband could do to make me behave differently, think differently, not make me believe he was hell-bent on making me unhappy. It was, on my part, all take, take, take. Looks to me like this is where you and her are at, and this situation needs to stop.

My mother at the time recommended a trial separation. I seized on that idea, fully knowing that it would be no trial. It didn't play out exactly as I planned, because I left suddenly - but perhaps if you are reluctant to file for divorce immediately... separate temporarily. Find somewhere else to live for a little while, and have zero contact with her for a set reasonable length of time. Don't discuss it with her - just do it and tell her you think this is the best thing for you. The advantage of this is that it gives you time to think through things, and gives her the perspective of living life without you. And if you feel relief at having extricated yourself, even temporarily, that should tell you something.
posted by Everydayville at 11:39 AM on September 16, 2010

I don't know enough to speculate too much on the exact cause, but for sure you need to go to counseling, alone or together, and you also need to clearly state your needs in written or other formal form. If you've talked about this with her, she clearly isn't getting the message. Don't be afraid to try several counselors and/or ask up front about their style.

Really think everything through:

* What are your needs?
* What do you think her needs are (hard to know without her telling you)?
* Is there anything you might be doing that is causing some of the problems (lack of attention, trying to control her habits like sleep schedule or chores or about anything else ...).
* Are you willing to let this limp along like this forever (because it will, absent some big shake-up)?

You deserve to be happy, and so does she. It sounds like she's unhappy for reasons that don't have to do with you, and you can't fix that - she has to take the initiative. Things like the sex issue might have a real medical cause, but that can't be an excuse. She needs to talk with you directly about how it makes her feel, and how you can both be satisfied in spite of it, and so on.

I was in almost this exact scenario and tried really hard to solve it but I didn't have willing partner. She sort of acknowledged some of the problems but there were always excuses, conditions, etc. until I felt I was fighting some crazed karate army every time I brought up the smallest need or request. I'm separated and soon to be divorced, and it's hard, but I am really glad I did it.

If you're into some deep thinking about causes for her behavior (keep your ideas to yourself unless it seems ok to bring them up), here are some ideas:

* Does she seem like she might be depressed?
* Does she lack self-confidence or seem fragile? A lot of times people with these problems can be unwilling to confront problems directly because they associate "I need to fix X in my marriage" with "I am a horrible person". This is really toxic to both of you, and over time you are going to get less and less patient.
* What is her relationship with her parents like? Does it seem healthy? Does their acceptance of her seem tied to her doing or not doing certain things? Could she be treating you like you're her father (rebelling against you, not wanting to do things you ask her to do like help with housework or projects)?
* Does she seem fulfilled in general? Does she have hobbies and friends that satisfy her? Lots of people see marriage as an end to achieve and are surprised to find it doesn't magically define their life purpose for them. This can be really hard.
* Could she be cheating on you? Based on your description this doesn't seem that likely, but it's good to be cautious.

One book I recommend (read alone if necessary) is The Marriage First Aid Kit (disclaimer: I know the author). It's pretty different than a lot of other books and worked well for my science-y brain.

I wish you the best. If you are unhappy and she's not responsive to direct, repeated statements from you, that's reason enough to leave.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:42 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

When the pain during sex started happening, I CAN NOT understand why that didn't immediately lead your wife to an appointment with her doctor? Sorry.

I'm with micawber, I think there are some things left out of this story.

Everydayville's story and your description of your wife's behavior reminds me strongly of my own when I (a) knew I was married to a very nice guy who was ultimately wrong for me, and (b) hadn't yet gotten up the courage to say the word "Divorce."

As stated above, I'm still wondering about the MIL's role in all of this, FWIW.

Whatever the cause, I'm Nthing this is not normal for a happy marriage. Although some folks go on like this for years, or forever....

Why would you want to?

Rip the band-aid and find out where you stand in this marriage. I warn you that you can not "force" anyone into intimacy, either emotionally or physically.

If the problem isn't fixable, you deserve to know. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 11:50 AM on September 16, 2010

--The pain during sex - I have to ask, OP, how on earth did you continue having sex with a woman who said it HURT when she had sex?
--When the pain during sex started happening, I CAN NOT understand why that didn't immediately lead your wife to an appointment with her doctor? Sorry.

I dunno, that seems like jumping to conclusions and maybe an area we shouldn't go to. He didn't say that he continued and he didn't say how it was resolved but he did say:
"We went from the rate of once-twice a day to maybe weekly after the pain issues seemed to go away."

For all we know he did stop and she did go to a doctor. If not, hopefully that is something he can add to the list of things to discuss with her.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:54 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Forget therapy. There is nothing wrong with you, and whatever is wrong with your wife, she doesn't want to fix it. You can do no more and should look after yourself.

You probably feel like crap with all the rejection and being unable to understand what is happening. I'm sorry for that. Leave the house, start divorce proceedings and enjoy the company of other women, and in no time you'll be your old self again.

You must be very lonely and your confidence may be low, but there is nothing wrong with you. You only feel bad, you only have a problem because someone else is treating you like shit. Any woman, any wife has a right not to have intimacy, but a wife does not have the right to not discuss it. She vowed to respect you and be a team with you and this isn't it.

Get out and find a woman that will make you feel like a million bucks again. Sometimes its that simple.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 12:22 PM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have been a female version of you. It lasted five years. And THEN, even though he was packed and out three days after we agreed to split, he had the gall to ask me not to have sex with anyone until after we were fully divorced (many months later), because "I don't want the first person you have sex with during this marriage to be someone else." Wowie wow wow.

I'm not saying that you're doomed, but there's only so much you can do with a stubborn partner. And BOY, can these people be stubborn... and BOY can they make you feel like it's all your fault.

You deserve to be happy. That can include a good relationship with this woman whether or not you are married, but she needs to contribute more than she's currently giving you. She is not living up to her marriage vows.

MeMail me if you'd like some commiseration and/or assistance of any type.
posted by Madamina at 12:37 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just out of curiosity, is she on any medication at all, especially birth control or antidepressants? Sometimes those can kill the libido dead.

Not that this excuses her attitude, of course. I echo what others have said about counseling, and if she still maintains that it's a waste of time, perhaps she can just humor you on that one if she'd like to stay married.
posted by bunji at 12:42 PM on September 16, 2010

This Carolyn Hax column sums up nicely what a lot of people have said here (not about the sex issue, but pretty much everything else).
posted by Melismata at 1:13 PM on September 16, 2010

To the OP, zephyr_words, and others regarding comments about seeing a doctor/GYN regarding pain during sex...

I understand the confusion, but I'm pretty sure most women will tell you that experiencing pain during sex = doctor's appointment. There are just too many things that could be going on internally, from normal to life threatening.

As a woman addressing a male OP, I felt it was worth noting.

It's possible that OP's wife has been to the doctor and hasn't shared the results with him. There is an outside chance she's so scared of what might be wrong physically, she's decided to avoid the whole issue entirely, to the point of avoiding sexual relations with her husband. Either way, the cause of the pain is a super important detail.

If I were him, I'd want to know the deal about her physical health before proceeding to additional topics. First things first, and all that.

....Hope that clears up any confusion.
posted by jbenben at 1:58 PM on September 16, 2010

This sounds pretty permanently broken to me. I just really sense that your wife isn't in love with you anymore and possibly had doubts going into the marriage. I think that if you two did eventually work things out, it would be as one of those couples that is divorced for a few years then remarries. I'm sorry.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:27 PM on September 16, 2010

I have been in MeMail contact with the OP, who asked if I could post some clarifications.

1. I never continued if it hurt, ever.
2. She was on birth control, but stopped - this was maybe a year ago. We thought
it may have been a culprit at the time. I don't know how long any effects like
that would last.
3. She is most definitely not stepping out with the trainer. Sometimes you just know.
4. Mother-in-law does not live with us. She's out of town, but requires a good deal
of care, to the point of at least weekly trips.

It's late, and this is falling off of the front page, so it may make no difference.
Interesting mix of advice here, some of it more valuable than others, but it's good to
read all of the different perspectives.

posted by Madamina at 3:35 PM on September 16, 2010

Joint counselling, or a divorce, and mean it. This is really no longer a marriage, and there are luckily no children to consider. If you tell her you are terribly unhappy and she doesn't care--or can't care--the marriage is over.
posted by uans at 7:06 PM on September 16, 2010

You only have one life so live it in as healthy a state as possible. Whatever that means to you is the best thing to do for all involved.
posted by tarvuz at 9:04 PM on September 16, 2010

"Every time I bring it up, she claims that she's too fat (which is ABSURD. She is not REMOTELY fat. I mean, really, nothing) and that I shouldn't take it personally. I'm talking size 4 here, and fairly cut as she has been going to a trainer for a while now."

Just tossing another possibility out there for consideration -- it is possible that she has an eating disorder related to an unrealistic body image/ideal? Starving yourself makes you lose your libido and be grumpy. If she's size 4 with defined muscles and still thinks she's fat, that's worrisome.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:17 AM on September 17, 2010

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