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December 22, 2011 5:02 PM   Subscribe

After 25 years of marriage, I find myself on the cusp between a loving commitment based on radical acceptance of the other just as they are, and unfulfilled needs on multiple levels. From your own marital experience are these two mutually exclusive?

I find myself torn between marriage being about love and commitment and my multiple unmet needs of a sexual, physical, and emotional nature that my spouse is unable or unwilling to address. I have set a bottom line for the myself that my spouse is cognizant of (no screaming or shaming) and am aware of what she/he/it requires from the marriage. Is it possible to have both while living with a person that has no ability to meet these needs or should I give it up and plunge back into love and radical acceptance?

Two caveats: Therapy is not an option ( its been tried tho we could do a marriage encounter thing). I am not talking about plunging into infidelity or adultery and do not want to hurt my spouse as I explore this process. I take the "sickness and in health" thing seriously.
posted by Xurando to Human Relations (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
It changes on a day to day basis. I have been with my partner for over 30 years, with a 1.5 year intermission in there somewhere. There have been unmet needs, on both sides. For me, I went for quite awhile dealing with unmet sexual needs - I almost left the marriage over this (consulted with a lawyer, warned my boss that rocky times were ahead which might affect my performance, etc.) Tried to get my wife to counseling, went myself, and then took one look at my kid, with those eyes and knew that I could never break up the family in that way.

It's gotten better. My wife has adopted a "use it or lose it" attitude towards sex, and in other ways, we listen better and have eachother's wants and needs more in mind.

I am really glad that I did not pull the divorce trigger. Part of that is because it would have been financially devastating (we are looking towards a pretty nice and active retirement), but a big part is that I love her and I am fairly happy and content, most days. Not all days, but most days.

YMMV, but just abiding with it has helped me a lot.
posted by Danf at 5:18 PM on December 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

So little information here. But your unmet needs aren't just your problem, they're a mutual problem that your spouse should be taking equal responsibility to solve, barring extreme circumstances you may have neglected to mention. Without that contribution from your spouse I fail to see the loving commitment you describe. As you describe it your relationship is one sided, and that configuration is probably untenable in the long term.
posted by milk white peacock at 5:22 PM on December 22, 2011

Marriage is about commitment and accepting the other just as they are, but it's also about accepting that you're in a partnership and that the other person exists independent of you, and that the goal is no longer just your own happiness but a happy medium between the two of you. Ideally, anyway.

If couples therapy is out, then okay. But maybe therapy for yourself wouldn't be a terrible idea.

But if you want my own advice - free of charge and worth every penny - here is it: These needs, whatever they are (it might help to know but I understand if you're not willing to get into it here) are sufficiently urgent that you posted about your dilemma here. You have ever right to have needs and to communicate about them and to find a compromise where you're both doing all right. If your spouse isn't willing to meet you halfway then there is a problem, and likely a fatal one.

Accepting someone just as they are does not require that you subsume your entire self, and it doesn't mean that you're obligated to be with them. You're not. If you're not happy in your marriage and your spouse refuses to address or even discuss your needs, or even make a good faith effort at getting them met, then there's no headway to be made here. Marriage is about commitment - but that commitment is not to the other person, it's to the marriage. If your spouse is not willing to find a compromise then there is no partnership here.

Look, I've known people who have decided to make the noble sacrifice of staying with someone who isn't willing to even try to meet their needs. I'm sure it's all very dulce et decorum from where they sit, but really all that's happening is a buildup of misery and resentment.

Explain to them that these are your needs and that you love them and you want to make this work. Don't call their love or commitment into question. If that conversation doesn't go anywhere then it might be time to call it a day.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 5:24 PM on December 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Is opening up the marriage possible?
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:26 PM on December 22, 2011

In some fashion this marriage is already open in that I receive the majority of emotional support outside of the marriage. Whether this could be extended to physical/sexual is doubtful but not impossible.

Also I do not see myself as a martyr of any kind just someone who is exploring some normal but difficult issues in a loving manner
posted by Xurando at 5:50 PM on December 22, 2011

[...]multiple unmet needs of a sexual, physical, and emotional nature
In some fashion this marriage is already open in that I receive the majority of emotional support outside of the marriage

This seems like a lot of unmet needs in a marriage. I've known couples with problems in the sexual realm, but who worked through it because they were totally in-sync in other areas. Or another who had some physical issues (i.e. disability and how it impacted the dividing of tasks/running the household, though this may not apply at all in your case) but who were happy because their emotional needs were being met and fulfilled.

But, I dunno. I haven't seen many last long with such a laundry list. And if they did...I wouldn't characterize them as happy.

You haven't given details, but isn't a huge (the whole?) point of marriage* to provide mutual emotional support and emotional closeness? Can you accept being in a relationship without such a fundamental connection, especially since it helps ameliorate/solve/make up for other unmet needs and desires?

*I have never been married, so I am surely not claiming to be an expert, at all
posted by vivid postcard at 6:05 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You receive your emotional support outside the marriage. You receive no physical/sexual interaction or support. Which needs of yours are actually being met by this marriage?

My partner and I were together for 10 years. It was a very loving relationship. But like you, all my needs were eventually met OUTSIDE of the relationship. We loved each other very much, and were very comfortable (and comforted) by each other's presence. Over time though we weren't partners anymore, we were roommates.

I don't know your whole story, but in mine we have no regrets. It was a wonderful relationship and we learned a lot about each other and ourselves over the years. We also learned that we both were looking for something 'more' out of life. We parted amicably and remain friends.

Good luck, cause whatever you do ain't gonna be easy.
posted by matty at 6:06 PM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I didn't say there wasn't closeness. There is intimacy, it's just not emotional or physical (for the most part) intimacy.
posted by Xurando at 7:08 PM on December 22, 2011

Maybe I am dense but besides emotional and physical intimacy what other kinds of intimacy are there?
posted by saucysault at 8:02 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

The intimacy of another person feeling comfortable to truly be themselves around you. Hiding nothing.
posted by Xurando at 8:08 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

living with a person that has no ability to meet these needs

I hate to seem picky, but words have meanings. When you say "need" do you mean need in the sense that you can not live without whatever it is that your spouse is unable to provide? That you would be very miserable, resentful, and unhappy for the rest of your life without this? Or, that you do not want to give up whatever it is, but you would be willing to take the long hard road to learning to live without it to preserve your marriage if that was your only option?

I ask humbly, and only because the advice I would give is highly dependent on your definition of "need".
posted by Shouraku at 8:25 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Then what emotional intimacy/needs isn't/aren't being met?

Surely, some people can get sensitive or frustrated, and maybe can't handle supporting you through complicated work problems, or telling you what to do in every crisis situation, or advising you on That Situation that always, always happens but never gets resolved. Often these are very select/particular issues.

But isn't emotional intimacy the whole point of a marriage?
Someone can feel truly comfortable around you, and not care one whit about you. That doesn't really seem like intimacy to me.

Or they can be comfortable around you, and be comfortable with you, until you need emotional support or their help. But many would see a huge problem with that, too.

I guess the lack of details might be obfuscating things, but I am going to echo matty: You receive your emotional support outside the marriage. You receive no physical/sexual interaction or support. Which needs of yours are actually being met by this marriage?

Who is ever happy in a relationship without emotional support?
posted by vivid postcard at 8:27 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The intimacy of another person feeling comfortable to truly be themselves around you. Hiding nothing.

That's psychological intimacy. To me, anyway. And plenty of marriages work without certain intimacies. My parents stopped being physical with one another long ago but they are in love with each other and they love me as their daughter so they've made it work.

Why did you marry? When you married, were you getting your needs met? What about your spouse? You don't really explicitly say whether your spouse was meeting your needs long ago and if you've spoken to them directly about what you feel is missing.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:33 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are comfortable to truly be yourself around your spouse, and nothing is hidden, why are you getting most of your emotional support outside the marriage? It seems like there's a disconnect between making a statement that sounds like you have great, open communication, but yet that you can't talk to your spouse about things. He/she/it is easy to talk to, but yet... you don't want to talk to them. This question is intriguing but continues to be so vague it is difficult to answer. But I'm glad you've found some answers here you like. I'm not sure what a "marriage encounter thing" is, but to me it sounds like therapy would still be a very good idea.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:20 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

My sense of this question is that you want permission to break up your marriage but don't want to feel like a bad guy about it. If that's the case, go ahead - no sense in staying married if you aren't into it. But I would do some thinking, myself, about the ways in which middle-aged straight men (you gender yourself in your other questions; forgive me if you aren't straight, but this question does seem to fall into a pattern) sometimes torpedo their marriages in the unconscious belief that there is a perfect (generally younger) partner out there waiting for them, that somehow it is possible to have perfect freedom and unending sexual satisfaction and that these things are almost a right or a virtue. I've seen it happen with people I know - they convince themselves that they have an ethical duty to "self-actualize", re-narrate their marriages to emphasize the failures of their partners so that they can escape any bad feelings, and leave their wives to try to find younger partners. The rich dude I know who was still in his forties did this successfully; the other one seriously underestimated the financial and emotional hit of breaking up the home and overestimated the type of dating/sex he'd be getting as a divorce.

I always think that this is basically about the fear of death.

Some therapy to examine your motives and put pressure on your narrative would be what I'd go for.
posted by Frowner at 5:11 AM on December 23, 2011 [10 favorites]

Sounds like a relationship that has become roommates. I get the impression that you have discussed the lack of sex/marital counseling issues and gotten a "no" answer. If the spouse has no interest in trying to fulfill your needs, I tend to think you need to leave because "radical self-accepting love" or whatever, the resentment that spouse isn't going to ever make you happy and fulfilled will kill the relationship.

The only way I can see you forcing yourself to settle with this person is if you have an open relationship and get your needs met by someone else. Assuming spouse allows that (though if spouse doesn't even want to have sex, I don't think they have a leg to stand on bitching that they want monogamy/for you never to have any) and you don't find that you're happier actually getting what you need elsewhere to the point where you don't need the marriage.

Is there some reason you absolutely can't leave beyond this, like kids or being broke or someone being ill? Because marriage isn't THAT much of a sacred cow that anyone should trap themselves into a relationship for life that is not remotely fulfilling what they need.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:35 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

All good relationships are based on communication; to be honest, I find your vagueness and use of highly abstract language to be difficult to parse. That is not YOUR failing, just that you have a very different communication style than myself. Perhaps your wife also has a different communication style and that is impeding understanding each other. You spoke of your need for the emotional itimacy, perhaps she has been sharing her itamacy with you and you have not recognised it.

In your post and folow-ups you have spoken of your needs, but little of your partner's beyond am aware of what she/he/it requires from the marriage. Do you think perhaps if you spend a year focusing on fulfilling their needs completely, without pushing yours they may respond by opening up and fulfilling some of your needs?

The lack of physical itimacy may be because you approach sex differently, some people need to have sex to feel close to someone and build their itimacy from there, some people need to feel that itamacy first before they are able to relax and enjoy sex. There is a reason that many people exjoy going on mini vacations with lots of quality time together and a lack of stress and end up shagging the night away. Maybe a change of place will reboot your sex lives.

This is a joint problem, you are also contributing to it (after 25 years there are some powerful dynamics and hidden agendas in most interactions) and it is one that you can solve together - most fruitfully with a trained third party. Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 7:30 AM on December 23, 2011

The intimacy of another person feeling comfortable to truly be themselves around you. Hiding nothing.

You didn't give a lot of information. This question is difficult to answer. Are you in a sexless marriage? Do you have children? Is your spouse impotent, disabled, or ill?

I don't know you or your marriage but Hiding Nothing may be contributing to the problem. It's wonderful to have emotional intimacy but you need to have some boundaries. You may have the wrong kind of intimacy -- like keeping the bathroom door open and doing everything your partner wants to do (even if you don't want to do it) just so you can be together.

If you are behaving more like roommates instead of lovers these behaviors may contribute to the lack of sex:

Calling one another pet names like honey, snugglebunches, pookie, pumpkin, etc. Call your spouse by their name. It's very powerful. Your sexuality or feelings will come back for your partner when you stop bad habits like calling one another pet names, especially silly pet names because silly pet names inhibit sexual connection.

Baby talk or baby voice. Baby talk changes dynamic from two separate sexual adults to parent-child. Calling one another mommy or daddy or baby talking changes the entire dynamic. It's really difficult to talk dirty or have hot sex when you're baby-talking or calling one another pet names. It doesn't go together.

Spooning and cuddling instead of having sex.

Going to the toilet in front of your spouse. Or, doing other personal things like waxing lip in front of partner. Keep the bathroom door closed. Did you sit on toilet, shave legs, floss, etc. in front of husband when you first met him? Probably not. Some people think that when they are in a relationship they no longer need privacy. You do. Privacy and intimacy go very well together. You need privacy and a sense of mystery to have hot sex with your partner. Having regular sex strengthens the bond between a couple. Your relationship is at risk if you are not having sex with your partner. It's sad because many couples fall into the roommate trap, meet somebody, leave the marriage and fall into the roommate trap again. They could have stayed and changed some behaviors.

Worrying about your body or weight during sex or abstaining from sex because you think your body is unattractive. Losing weight or wearing sexy lingerie does not help increase sex unless you change your behaviors -- like self-loathing, behaving like a doormat, nagging, pet names, baby talk, leaving bathroom door open, etc. You don't have to lose weight or wear sexy lingerie to have regular sex with your partner.

This goes without saying but hang on to your own interests and opinions. You don't want to have sex with a mirror image of yourself.

Thankfully my husband and I are still have hot for one another and we have regular sex. Without it I think we would be in serious jeopardy. It bonds us and relieves the stress of taking care of kids, work, etc. Since I've been married for 13 and together for 18 we have developed some bad habits. I call him honey, dad, and daddy. I leave the bathroom door open, etc. There are a lot of things I could be doing to get the hotness even heavier.

I did not come up with below advice on my own. I heard the authors on a podcast a few weeks ago. They also have a book: Stop Calling Him Honey and Start Having Sex: How Changing Your Everyday Habits Will Make You Hot for Each Other All Over Again by Maggie Arana and Julienne Davis. They also have a blog.

Good luck and disregard this advice if this doesn not pertain to you. I only put it out there because your question is very vague.
posted by Fairchild at 7:38 AM on December 23, 2011 [8 favorites]

And now it appears that you are a male. Apologies. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 7:48 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just out of curiousity, why did you choose to write a gender-neutral question (you have identified yourself as a middle-aged male in another question) and then use the tag "gender"? With so little information to go on it gives each word choice more import as I try to puzzle out the meat of your question. If you think gender has something to do with your question I find mefi to be one of the best places to discuss gender on the web.
posted by saucysault at 7:55 AM on December 23, 2011

Perhaps this question will be of help?
posted by Melismata at 12:13 PM on December 23, 2011

This is a problem revolving around personality style. My spouse in Myers Briggs term is an off the scale T. They don't want to have anything to do with emotion,are logical and critical about most things, are unable to give praise, do not liked to be touched too much, and do not like sex in general. They are a good soul whom I love deeply,but I may need more. Our child graduates from High School this year. Counseling has been tried but they couldnt handle it. They have no internal reflective powers at all.
posted by Xurando at 1:31 PM on December 23, 2011

Some thoughts:

My partner and I are also, probably, off-the-scale Ts. I was forewarned, before dating him, that "he is beyond analytical, to the extent that it upset past girlfriends." On my part, I have accidentally pissed friends off because of my tendency to launch into Super Methodical Problem Solving Mode, instead of just accepting their venting as emotional release.

It's nice we found each other, since there are plenty of lovely people with whom we are probably disastrously incompatible. And I think his big, logical brain is just so sexy, you know?

That said: we are affectionate (both emotionally and physically), and are emotionally supportive (albeit, that support often comes packaged in major analysis, with citations and references and everything). We give praise. We hug. He's even surprised me with flowers. I think we give each those intimacies you say are missing.

So, from my perspective:

1) There may be a huge communicative disconnect that you are contending with (maybe your spouse thinks Statement X is a form of giving praise, while you do not receive it as such. Or maybe your spouse doesn't recognize you need a hug when you feel it is obvious)

2) Counseling is often a great way to work through communication issues...

3) Or: spouse does not want to give you these things, and is using this lack of reflection as an excuse. Spouse has no interest in filling these needs, or is possibly passing off bad behavior as a mere facet of a personality type, thus taking no responsibility for his/her actions.

I don't think logical always equals critical.
I can be ridiculously analytical about, even, emotional issues (which has annoyed people in the past), but I have never, EVER been cold, critical, or withholding to any of my significant others. The same can be said of my partner.

So, when it comes to the question of radical acceptance, perhaps your decision would be easier if you were able to determine whether you are in a situation of having to accept (or work on) real personality/communication differences, or if this is a situation of where you are going to accept bad behavior by a spouse who doesn't want to change, who just doesn't care.

And, of course, you can then decide which situation sounds feasible to you, and which might not be acceptable for a long-term, married relationship.
posted by vivid postcard at 4:32 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have no way of knowing if this will help you for not but you may want to give this a look (note: yes I have posted this in the past somewhere but I am unable to find the link at the moment, and no I did not write this):

There are two styles of communication, Emotional talking style and Logical talking style.

Emotional talking style:
People with the Emotional talking style use words to express their own feelings and what they feel from another person. This talking style use a stream of consciousness to express and release emotional states. Feelings guide this talking style. While these people may be logical in their mental processes to do a job or to function in the world, their Emotional talking style will determine how they connect with another person in a close relationship.

Logical talking style:
People with Logical talking style use words according to their dictionary definitions. They lay the words out like they are building a brick wall. They ask many questions to make sure they understand so there are no holes in the wall. They don't like loose ends or assumptions. The background or circumstances of a situation can be as important as the event itself to the logical talking style person. They are natural born problem solvers and often have good mechanical skills. The logical talking style relates only to how a person uses words to communicate. These people may have an emotional or sensitive nature but that is a different consideration from their talking style.

Different styles of communication can cause people to have misunderstandings and an overriding irritation with each other:

They have an issue with questions. The person with a Logical Communication Style often stops the person with an Emotional Communication Style to clarify what's been said. The questions are reasonable in the Logical Communication Style. However, the questions break the stream of consciousness that's characteristic of the Emotional Communication Style, which follows feelings, not reason. In the Emotional Communication Style, a person just wants the opportunity to express emotion without interruption. Yet the person with a Logical Style wants it to make sense. Result: frustration and conflict.

They can struggle for power in the relationship. The person with a Logical Communication Style often seems authoritative to someone with an Emotional Communication Style. People with an Emotional Communication Style can feel put down by the Logical Communication Style and may respond by being insulting, perceiving that they are responding in kind. In a long-term relationship between people with mismatched Communication Styles, you can hear strain or urgency in the voice of the person with an Emotional Communication Style as he or she is constantly on the defensive, trying to maintain some sense of equality. Result: stress and conflict.

Hints and assumptions obscure real needs. People with an Emotional Communication Style often drop hints about what they desire. They do not think it's necessary to be more specific because they're able to pick up on the nuances of what other people say, and they assume everyone can. Yet people with the Logical Communication Style need you to say what you mean. They don't want guesswork; they want directness and clarity. Result: ambiguity and conflict.

There are differences in the time needed for decision making.
People with an Emotional Communication Style take time making decisions. They need to figure out how they feel, and this isn't always cut and dried, so they do not like to be rushed through the process. That can come across to the Logical Communication Style person as being dimwitted or indecisive: "Can't you just look at the facts and decide? How complicated could that be?" Result: condescension and conflict.

People with a Logical Communication Style can be "in their heads." People with an Emotional Communication Style see the Logical Communication Style as being hyper-intellectual, out of touch with feelings. "All those people do is think, think and think some more." Someone with an Emotional Communication Style wants you to feel what's behind the words, which is the most important part of the communication. Someone with a Logical Communication Style takes the words at face value, analyzing the meaning of each one and deriving a total meaning from the sum of those parts. For instance, one person says, "I hate you," meaning, in the Emotional Communication Style, "My feelings about this are so big that I need to express myself forcefully." Once said, that releases the emotion, and it's over. However, in the Logical Communication Style, this means it's time to starts packing the bags. Hate = no love = the relationship is over. Result: miscommunication and conflict.

How to Appreciate Your Emotional Talking Style Partner –

People with a logical talking style converse systematically. You use words according to their dictionary definition (or their understanding) and lay them out like bricks in a wall. When there is something you don't understand, it creates a hole that is filled by asking a question so you can move forward. Consider the following actions to appreciate, honor and acknowledge your Emotional Talking Style partner:

Create an agreement at the beginning of the conversation about when you will ask questions. You will be better able to stay with the conversation without interrupting if you can trust that all the details will eventually be supplied. The person with the Emotional Style will also feel that he or she is now "being heard" instead of analyzed.

How to Appreciate Your Logical Talking Style Partner –

If you have an Emotional Talking Style you tend to talk in a stream of consciousness. You assume others know what you know. Consider the following actions to appreciate, honor and acknowledge your Logical Talking Style partner:

Do your best to become aware of when you're assuming something. You can also ask the person with the Logical Style to point it out. Understand that when people with the Logical Communication Style ask you questions, they are confused because of the many alternatives they see. They aren't able to interpret what you are saying. Be aware that it is a major irritation to someone with a Logical Communication Style to have to ask questions to confirm their understanding. Remember each of you uses words differently.
posted by Shouraku at 5:21 PM on December 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't want to derail this discussion too much. But can you point me to some reading on the topic of emotional and logical communication?

This is a source of ongoing friction in my relationship. I'm hoping to find something that explains the different styles in a way that we can use them to improve our communication -- and explains them in a way that sees them both as valid communication styles. (that is, one is not "wrong").

Thank you so much!
posted by Librarygeek at 7:28 PM on December 23, 2011

For Librarygeek and all others who are intrested, here is a link to the info on emotional vs logical talking style. I hope that it helps:

Solutions for Your Relationship Conflicts and Problems

posted by Shouraku at 8:15 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanking all the posters for a thought provoking conversation. Didnt figure anything out but thats not the point. Just moved a little farther down the path. I used gender nuetral pronouns to get equal input from both men and women on what to me is an important topic.
posted by Xurando at 10:47 AM on December 24, 2011

F or anyone looking at this thread I found this after the fact. it's quite interesting. Living in a sexless marriage.
posted by Xurando at 6:18 AM on January 4, 2012

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