Marriage with no desire?
May 5, 2012 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Is it ultimately selfish to stay in a marriage without love for the sake of the kids?

My wife recently dropped a bombshell that she is not attracted to me at all and never has been. She told me she has to think of other people to orgasm and is has repetitive thoughts of other men including people she works with. She has said similar things previously during arguments and always said she did not mean it and was trying to hurt me following the argument. This however was different and said cooly and calmly. I am obviously highly distressed especially as we have 2 young children (3 and 5). My wife has alluded to the fact that she is only attracted to people who abuse her and that I am too safe/grey. Messed up I know and no doubt partly caused by the fact her father was an abusive alcoholic.

We have been married nearly 5 years and I am just at a complete loss on how to proceed from here. She tells me she doesn't want to separate and apparently feels love for me but no desire. Is it possible to have a healthy relationship when one does not desire another? She seems to have picked up a lot of very negative patterns of behavior from her difficult upbringing and although has had some limited therapy previously is not interested in this now.

Even though I am strongly averse to the idea of separating I know this is to do with the children more than me. I am concerened that she will go off the rails if we were to seperate and not find the happiness she thinks lays elsewhere. I am also concerned about the impact this will have on our children's life on the basis that she has stated explicitly she is attracted to abusive men. It is feasible to remain together knowing how she feels? I appreciate there are no easy answers but would sure like to get some perspective from the hivemind.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Is your wife willing to try to make the marriage work? If so, get yourselves into marriage counseling pronto. I suspect she may also need to get some professional help dealing with the unresolved abuse issues from her childhood.

IMHO, if you both are willing to try then it's definitely worth the effort.
posted by COD at 7:06 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's selfish, but it has to be balanced by the practical, long-term question of, can you do it? Can you two jointly and separately, maintain happy, stable partnership in this environment. I have seen people do it OK, and I have seen people do it badly. If there comes a point where one or the other can't hack the New Deal, the environment, which does impact your kids daily, can become truly toxic.
posted by Ys at 7:06 AM on May 5, 2012

If she is not interested in therapy, then she is not interested in fixing the problem, which seems like a death sentence for your marriage, sorry. It will only get worse. Get out before this marriage poisons your kids.
posted by greta simone at 7:08 AM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it's time to secretly talk to an attorney with experience in family law, specifically with experience representing men who want sole or primary custody of their child.

It might be time to start documenting this kind of thing.

Unfortunately, you're right to worry about a violent stepfather.

Before couples counseling, can you support her in getting counseling for herself? I'm not discounting what she's saying, but it sounds like it might be part of a depressive episode or some other mental health issue (saying you're only attracted to people who abuse you sounds very hopeless to me).

Hang in there. You're obviously a good dad.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:12 AM on May 5, 2012 [34 favorites]

Staying in a marriage without love (and, that seems to be the case here, regardless of statements to the contrary), is not in the best interest of the kids.
posted by HuronBob at 7:15 AM on May 5, 2012 [17 favorites]

I'd think about what you're modeling for your kids about love and relationships and marriage -- not just now, but as they turn into teens and adults. If one of them ends up being in a similar situation in 25 years, what would you want him or her to do?
posted by argonauta at 7:22 AM on May 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Staying in a marriage without love (and, that seems to be the case here, regardless of statements to the contrary), is not in the best interest of the kids.

This is my feeling as well. I grew up with parents who were, for all intents and purposes, roommates and I can not suggest this as a good way to raise children. My parents were affectionate with us but not each other and ultimately one of them moved out because they weren't getting what they wanted from the relationship [i.e. an affectionate loving partner to share a life with].

I understand that you feel trapped with no good options, but honestly your kids are young enough that they could adjust to a new situation instead of staying in one that is not really working. If your wife is not interested in working on the marriage or even the relationship in some capacity then yes, it's a bad idea to stay. I am sorry.
posted by jessamyn at 7:25 AM on May 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

My thought is it is possible for a while but not forever. I would see if she is willing to do joint therapy at least, and give it maybe two years of effort. At the same time get your finances in order and (I am sorry to say) start documenting in case of a custody battle. I know that sounds harsh but I have kids in my extended family who have been dragged from one abusive boyfriend to another and despite all the support we have tried to offer, it has been very tough on them. So sorry you are going through this and I hope that your wife rethinks her position on individual therapy. If she wants to solve it, she likely can, but if not you are limited in what you can do.

You do deserve happiness and to model that for your kids, but you can also go slow while they are so very little.
posted by Zen_warrior at 7:29 AM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

nthing "no". Also, no matter how much you think you would be able to fake it: Your kids will know. me on that.
posted by softlord at 7:30 AM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

It might be worth giving counseling a try. Outside of that, do you want to model a loveless relationship for your children?

No matter what you route you go, I am sorry things are difficult for you right now. Keep your chin up.
posted by Silvertree at 7:37 AM on May 5, 2012

You do whatever it takes to protect your children. I would seek professional advice on what that would entail.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:41 AM on May 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you and she can work through things in therapy, and she gets therapy to deal with her individual issues, this could work. But, if she's telling the truth that she never was attracted to you, don't feel like you're selfish for wanting to divorce and find someone who thinks you are the hottest thing since Tabasco.

While I'm not an advocate of trashing a marriage over trivial things or pure selfishness (as in, "I want the freedom to go out clubbing all the time") a total lack of sexual attraction is not trivial. Knowing that your wife doesn't desire you will eventually make you bitter and unhappy. Do you want to model that to your kids? Do you want to show them by example that if your spouse doesn't love you, just suck it up? Do you want to ladle on the guilt for them by showing that you are putting up with this "for you kids?"

An amicable (stress on amicable) divorce is often better for the kids than a toxic marriage. Don't use the kids as footballs, don't expect them to pick sides, don't deprive them of money, and above all, let them know that divorcing their mom doesn't mean you are divorcing THEM. You are their dad till death do you part.

Rope-rider gives a great suggestion - find a lawyer that works with fathers and will fight for shared custody - really shared, not "three weeks in the summer."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:42 AM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

This might be somewhat controversial, but as someone from that kind of upbringing who has those sorts of desires, I might suggest looking into things that might give her some of the drama and catharsis one gets from abusive environments, but in a safe, loving way. In other words, BDSM. If you have any interest in that at all, discuss it with her. She might be having sex fantasies that you could fulfill, but that she is afraid to tell you about. If you are open to it, it might create new intimacy in your marriage.

Also, definitely, counseling.

Finally, would you be okay with a marriage in which she gets some of her sexual (not loving) needs met elsewhere? There might be some compromise along those lines that could work.
posted by 3491again at 7:43 AM on May 5, 2012 [14 favorites]

I have to disagree about you modeling a bad relationship. Certainly if she gets mad and slings vicious insults, or if she is highly self-destructive, then that is bad for children to witness.

But a sexless (and loving marriage) is not going to harm children. Children shouldn't know about their parents' sex life anyway. No one I know who had appropriate parents had any idea if they were having sex or not.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:48 AM on May 5, 2012 [11 favorites]

Ok: do you love your wife? You don't explicitly say in your post.

You've been married for five years, presumably were together a while before that. By now you know that partnership and building a life together is a multifaceted endeavor. Sexual attraction, connection, bonding is a part of it, but there are lots of other parts too.

How do those other parts work? Money, teamwork, friendship, childrearing, employment, being embedded in each others' larger families? These are all part of the equation too.

Your wife is opening up to you in a way she hasn't fully been able to before. The cutting remarks in the heat of the moment were and entree, but now she's laid it out. In a sense, this is actually a sign of the level of intimacy between you--she has finally been able to come out with something hard to say that until now, for whatever reasons (probably relating to the list in the previous paragraph) she hasn't before.

You know her well enough to know that ths probably has links to her family of origin and that there are ways it could hurt her if she doesn't address it and keep it in balance. You yourself cannot heal her, you yourself cannot make her heal--those have to be her job. But if you love her, if you want to keep her in the center of your life, if you want to see her grow and change in her life to be the healthiest, happiest person you can, I think you can see this as one of those challenges in your marriage that's part of the "better or worse".

How about this. Instead of presenting this as an issue of her being fucked up and so needing counseling, present it as something the two of you need help to work out together. I know that was very hard to hear and I'm sure makes you feel really hurt and rejected. It's hard to take a charitable view in that state. But something like, "Wife, that was really hard and painful to hear, and I think it must have been very hard for you to tell me that, too. I want you to know that I love you and I love our life together. I want us to stay together and build our marriage to be the best it can be, for the rest of our lives. Can talk to a counselor about this and see if we can find a way to connect better?"

Get a good marriage counselor and hash it out. Talk about why you chose each other, why you stayed, what love and desire looks like for each of you, what has been working and what hasn't been for both of you. Be honest but kind, and be open to hearing the hard stuff the other person is saying. I don't know how it will work out in your case, but I think that's the best route for figuring out what to do with your marriage--and also making the space for your wife to do that kind of self-examination.

Good luck, my friend--you're in a hard situation.
posted by Sublimity at 7:50 AM on May 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also, I grew up with my parents who seemed like the perfect couple. When I turned 18, Mom left Dad for an abusive alcoholic and said she never loved my Dad. So, its not always obvious to the kids. And I am selfishly happy that I didn't grow up with divorced parents.
I guess the difference would be that my Dad didn't know how Mom felt for 18 years.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:52 AM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's selfish. I also don't think it's doable.
posted by valkyryn at 7:53 AM on May 5, 2012

I'm sorry; you must be reeling.

To pull back a little....

Children can be happily and properly raised in all kinds of environments and situations that feature love for the children: one parent, two parents together, two parents apart, three parents, more.

But people—adults—cannot properly live in situations that do not feature love.

Children in no way need for their parents to be married. What children need is a model of how to be in the world and how to treat others. Children need to be cared for and safe, and free from needless stress.

When people maintain unhappy-making relationships for the sake of their children, it seeps into their lives and can poison them. These situations stress them in a way that undermines their development.

So in fact when people who should not be married "stay together for the children"—and I'd say the jury's out on whether you two should be married?—they actually do their children a fundamental and sometimes damaging disservice.

The idea of staying together in a marriage with someone for the next dozen or so years, in order to protect the children from the potential derangement of the other parent, seems like it is absolutely not the tenable solution to this really unfortunate situation.

Your wife has to be willing to deal with this, to do the work necessary to come to the right arrangement that makes both of you satisfied, taking into account the necessary structure to raise these children correctly. She has created a crisis in your marriage, and if she is now unwilling to deal with the fallout, not sure how you can find your way through it together.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:56 AM on May 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

Also, seconding 3491again-- But if you're going to open your relationship in that way, better it be from really solid ground between the two of you.
posted by Sublimity at 7:56 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow. Okay, I would really try and see if she'll change her mind about therapy. Normally, I don't think it's a good idea to push people but in this circumstance? She's only attracted to people who abuse her? I guess I'd be worried that whatever self esteem issues she has might really affect the kids. It's hard to be a good parent and not transfer some of your issues to your kids if you have that level of dysfunction going on.
posted by bananafish at 7:57 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have to disagree with the exhortations to enter into couples therapy. Wife has never been attracted to husband. Therapy will not change this.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:13 AM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is my feeling as well. I grew up with parents who were, for all intents and purposes, roommates and I can not suggest this as a good way to raise children.

My feeling is pretty much the opposite. My mother was apparently only attracted to abusive men, and there was a parade of them in and out of our house when my siblings and I were growing up. It was horrific enough watching my mother be abused, but even worse was that the men did not confine their abuse to my mother.

Is your marriage reasonably happy outside the bedroom? If so, it's not impossible that you could remain, if not happily married, at least in a friendly partnership with your spouse until the kids are old enough to be on their own. People have found various methods of coping in that situation.

I wonder though, whether your wife would enjoy your sex life more if a BDSM element was introduced? If you are open to it, it might be worth discussing to see if something like that would turn her on.

I'm not saying you have to stay for the kids. I'm sure others will have advice for you on how to deal with the potential pitfalls of leaving. I just feel like sometimes people don't realize just what shitty situations kids can get into with step-parents and there may not be much you can do about it after the fact.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:14 AM on May 5, 2012 [17 favorites]

In your post you state that your wife feels love for you but no desire. So it seems like the question is:

Is it ultimately selfish to stay in a marriage without DESIRE for the sake of the kids?

That sounds more like a sex problem, not a love problem, consistent with your description. So I think it is worth trying to work on the sex issues at play here, assuming that you do in fact love each other.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 8:18 AM on May 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Its possible to love someone without sexual attraction, she may love you very much - you married you and had 2 children with you so there must have been something there. If she loves you (as she says she does) and you love her then that's not a loveless marriage. If she's content to fantasize during sex (and you're ok with it) then it's not even a sexless marriage - and even it were, it is highly unlikely that your children will know. When I was a kid, as far as we were concerned, parents didn't have sex and they had only had sex n times, where n was the number of children they'd had.

Before this, were you happy? Are things good and loving between you?

Its possible that with years of therapy her sexual desires could be rewritten but you might consider (if sex is the only issue in your relationship) engaging in some consensual "abuse". What form that takes it up to the two of you, you'll need to find a balance between what you're comfortable with and what she desires.

There are 2 things I think you need to consider:

Firstly - how do you feel about continuing in this relationship? Maybe therapy would help, maybe all she needs is a little BDSM but you have to consider how you will feel if the situation doesn't change because that is the most likely outcome. Would you be content and sexually satisfied knowing that she's fantasizing about other men during sex? Even if you go to therapy or get your kink on, so long as she never mentions it, you will never know if her true feelings have changed or if she's just pretending so that you'll stay - could you be ok with that?

Secondly - I think you need to consider her motivations in telling you. She's said it before so its clearly something that has been weighing on her and maybe all she wants is to get it off her chest so she can feel better about it but there could be something else going on. She may have an ultimate goal that she's been afraid to bring up and she's hoping you'll broach the topic. The two of you need to have a very open and honest conversation about what she wants the outcome of this revelation (what precipitated it in the first place?)

Ultimately, if you're an otherwise loving couple (presumably she chose you to be her husband and the father of her children because she knows her 'type' would make a terrible partner and father) and she's content to fantasize during sex and you're ok with that (its totally ok for you to tell her you're ok with it so long as she doesn't tell you who or its not people she works with/knows) then there's no reason why it couldn't work out, if you want it to.
posted by missmagenta at 8:25 AM on May 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think its important in this thread to separate the concepts of sex and desire. A relationship can survive without sex (long-distance relationships, the elderly, those with medical issues...happens all the time).

What can be toxic to a relationship, including the kinds is a lack of DESIRE. Desire is eomthing that comes through in many other aspects of the relationship, including enjoying each others company, showing affection, being excited to spend time together, even touching in non-sexual ways. These things are always noticed by children.

Kids dont need to know that their parents are fucking, but modeling a relationship where there is no desire for each other is, IMHO, dangerous to their future expectations of what makes for a happy healthy home.
posted by softlord at 8:30 AM on May 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

Please memail me. I have some experience with a situation like this, from the perspective of the child.
posted by decathecting at 8:31 AM on May 5, 2012

Do not stay together for the kids. My parents did, then got divorced when I was in college, and it really messed me up. I wish they would have split up years before.
posted by radioamy at 8:52 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I think there's another aspect to this. Say you do stay together in a domestic partnership that is affectionate but sexless, and she finds outside aveneues for her libido.

Do you get to do this as well? How is she going to feel when you do? Happy for you, or ragingly jealous and betrayed? Will you suddenly become more attractive to her when you are 'unavailable'?

Say you begin a sexual relationship, and then find yourself wanting this as your primary partnership because, at heart, you have always known you were not the type to juggle. How do you explain to your wife that her sweet deal is no longer tenable, because from the beginning you knew it was not really where you are at?

I'm of the deeply held belief that situations where parent(s) choose their sex drive, (as is your fear: that she will spend her life chasing after, and being abused by, a string of utter rotters) over the stability and security of the children are not to the children's benefit. I'm not saying the kettle must stop boiling when you have kids, because that's not what happens! But responsible people put it way on the back burner and commit to raising their young ones in an environment free of psycho-sexual drama.

To echo this comment, she has to want to work to deal with the current state of things and the dissatisfaction that led her to drop that bomb ... besides say "this is how it's going to be!" And the young rope-rider has a good action plan to follow, from all angles. Down to the hanging in there. Courage and strength to you.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:57 AM on May 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Kids dont need to know that their parents are fucking, but modeling a relationship where there is no desire for each other is, IMHO, dangerous to their future expectations of what makes for a happy healthy home.
posted by softlord at 8:30 AM on May 5

Yes yes yes. In my 32 years on this planet, I have never once seen my parents be affectionate with each other. They also were not affectionate with me or my brother after about age 8. This can really fuck a kid up. Not fuck a kid up like living in an abusive household, as mentioned above, but fuck a kid up like when my boyfriend and I go visit my parents now, I 100% withhold all affection from him and turn into my mom. I'm not even conscious of doing this (we've had a number of discussions about it, so he expects it now and knows I'm not trying to be mean), but it's the environment I grew up in and it's what I know. It took me a long to even let him touch me or hug me in my parents' presence without freaking out.

My mom mentions how amazing it is that they've had a "successful" marriage for 40-some years, but it's taught me a lot about what kind of marriage I don't want. FWIW, my brother's getting married this year (his first, after being with his girfriend for over 10 years) at age 34, and I've turned down several proposals because marriage just freaks me the fuck out. Not saying you should get divorced, but having parents who are obviously not attracted to one another and not affectionate is not gonna be good for the kids.
posted by jabes at 8:58 AM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

and p.s. I wanted to validate that it really, really hurts to hear your partner say "I've never been attracted to you!!!! You're just a launching pad for my real sex life in my fantasies!!!!" whether in the heat of an arguement and retracted, or cooly and calmly. That shit will really destroy you, because that is what it is intended to do.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:04 AM on May 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

as a child of parents who stayed together "for the sake of the kids," i say absolutely do not do this. your relationship (or lack thereof) is not one you want your kids to think is what a healthy, successful relationship looks like. even if they realize that yours is not a healthy, successful relationship, their subconscious will have assimilated this so thoroughly that it will take years of therapy for them recognize what is a healthy, successful relationship—and how to be in one. speaking from experience.

but you and she should try therapy first.
posted by violetk at 9:06 AM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

That's a brutally hurtful thing to say to someone you love. That, coupled with her lack of interest in therapy, spells doom, I think. Eventually you're going to want more, and that type of self-sacrificing isn't good for anyone, even if it were sustainable.

Finally, you're a model for your kids. If their parents aren't affectionate and loving, that will fuck them up. What do you want them to learn? That marriages sometimes don't work? Or that relationships should be like this?
posted by J. Wilson at 9:19 AM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Kids can tell, you know. Everyone thinks they're oblivious, but they really can tell. I can tell you my dad was desperately lonely but also deeply bitter, sort of a proto-Men's Rights poster complaining about all the terrible things women had done over the years, the kind of man who missed female companionship but would be such a dick to them he'd drive away anyone that got close, and it's not like he came out and said "I am desperately lonely but deeply bitter". You're also their model for an effective relationship. I can tell you between my parents' divorce and the, uh, low-quality partners they both pursued afterwards, I have no idea what an effective relationship actually looks like. My wife and I get along fine and have been together forever, but even so, I have no idea if we're doing things in a healthy way or not.

Do you really think modeling a loveless marriage "for the kids" is a net benefit for them?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:30 AM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd think about what you're modeling for your kids about love and relationships and marriage -- not just now, but as they turn into teens and adults. If one of them ends up being in a similar situation in 25 years, what would you want him or her to do?

If I could favorite this a thousand times, I would. There is no way to "fake" being a loving, affectionate couple that is good enough to give your kids all the modeling of an actual loving, affectionate couple. What your kids are seeing now is forming their expectations of how marriage should be, and they are likely to repeat those patterns as adults unless they spend thousands of dollars and hours in therapy working to change it.

I am a firm believer that any marriage can be saved given mutual respect, compassion, and desire to do so. If your wife is willing to enter individual and couples therapy and work on those issues in good faith, I would strongly urge you to take that path. But if she isn't, then honestly the best thing for your children is to divorce and work on being civil and respectful co-parents.
posted by KathrynT at 9:47 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's certainly better for the kids than having them endure the partnerships your wife is likely to choose after you divorce.

But if it makes you deeply unhappy it will be bad for the kids and you.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:48 AM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a great reason for you to go to therapy (for yourself) and sort this out for yourself.

You may also want to take the kids to a kid-focused counselor as a one-time thing (or more) to make sure they haven't already been affected by what's been going on, and to deal with it constructively if they have. Being five years old and having a deeply disturbed parent is not fun or healthy, and you're closing in on the time when acting out will be a sudden and huge issue.
posted by SMPA at 9:52 AM on May 5, 2012

I am painfully aware of the point at which my parents decided to stay together "for the sake of the kids." It took 6 years after that until my dad started sleeping on the couch. My first thought was "about time!"

1) It sounds good that she's able to say that to you. But people also say things aloud to convince themselves that they are true and have always been true.

2) Maybe it's only temporary? I remember a NYtimes article where the husband said he didn't love the wife, never did, and was leaving. Her response was "do whatever you want to with your time but please don't move out," and after months (a year?) of diddling around he finally realized that what he wanted was what he had.

3) Counseling. If not counseling then:

4) Lawyer. In secret.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:56 AM on May 5, 2012

Oh, and her having to fantasize about other people really doesn't strike me as something that should always 100% indicate a lack of interest. People freak out about that, but if you interpret those fantasies as part of normal human sexuality, which I feel it is, it's a lot less disturbing. I had an ex tell me she was worried about our relationship because she was checking out other dudes. I didn't find her checking out other dudes threatening, but did find her concern worrying, since I think the causal link between outside attraction and this-isn't-working-for-me-anymore is tenuous.
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:00 AM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

But a sexless (and loving marriage) is not going to harm children. Children shouldn't know about their parents' sex life anyway. No one I know who had appropriate parents had any idea if they were having sex or not.

I think this is naive, at best.

I knew my parents loved each other because they were affectionate in a "couple" way. They held hands, kissed, etc. Little kids, of course, don't think about their parents having sex, but as an adult of course you knew that was going on.

Parents who model civil but distant behavior to their kids in their own relationships teach their kids not to be demonstrably affectionate, whether they mean to or not. They build up walls to protect themselves and teach their kids to do the same, and that makes it really hard for those kids to have healthy, loving relationships themselves, where they aren't afraid to open up to someone and share their vulnerabilities. A part of them is held aloof and closed off, for protection.

Yes, that will mess up the kids. And it will be incredibly painful for you, someone who fully loves, to be relegated to the status of a roommate in your own marriage.

Your wife has some serious issues. Maybe you can help her with those--but I doubt it. She was letting you know that, for her, this marriage is over. I do hope she gets some help, though.

In the meantime, i would sit down with a lawyer and discuss the concerns you have about her abuse issues and the safety of your children going forward.

I'm so sorry. My heart breaks for you.
posted by misha at 10:11 AM on May 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Don't waste money on counseling or a lawyer. Buy everything published by Athol Kay and study everything about Married Game on the blog Married Man Sex Life. If you do the push/pull stuff he suggests, I can guarantee your wife won't be taking you for granted anymore.
posted by lotusmish at 10:12 AM on May 5, 2012

Odds are high that she is sleeping with other guys already, or at least planning to.

posted by rr at 10:15 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not a question the internet can answer. You need to answer this yourselves, with the help of a counselor. Please get off Metafilter and begin the process of getting therapy.
posted by sid at 11:10 AM on May 5, 2012

Don't waste money on counseling or a lawyer. Buy everything published by Athol Kay and study everything about Married Game on the blog Married Man Sex Life. If you do the push/pull stuff he suggests, I can guarantee your wife won't be taking you for granted anymore

I would definitely contact both. You cannot make any decisions without information.

I would ask if she's been faithful.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:10 AM on May 5, 2012

Here's the Nyt Modern Love article MonsieurBon references:
Modern Love
As a side note, I'll say I agree with those who say try to work it out, but maybe give it a year or two years at most. My parents almost divorced in spectacular fashion when I was 15, but instead worked through it intensely over the next four years. This has taught me that one must work incredibly hard in relationships, which has some positive, but also means I've been in terrible relationships I've hated, feeling like the worst failure for leaving.
You can't fake an affectionate relationship and the other "rules" for relationships your kids might pick up while trying may not make it worth it.
posted by elliss at 11:56 AM on May 5, 2012

I'm so sorry you're facing such a cruel situation.

I agree with the vast majority of previous commenters that a stable but loveless marriage is not ideal for kids, and that it will be deeply disillusioning once they figure out what their parents' relationship really was.

But that said, I think said commenters are not really thinking about the far more horrible things that can really go on in homes, and not really considering that worse scenarios are very possible here, with the emotional state your wife is in, and her lack of interest in getting help with it. Parents being carefully polite to one another, and a child having to learn what love really is as an adult, can present a problem for a child's understanding of healthy relationships, but it's not at all comparable to what happens when a child feels unsafe in their home, and/or witnesses regular violence against their mother. Their sense of security depends on her ability to protect them. And some types of very damaging abuse do not rise to the level that you would be able to take your children away. You would likely be surprised at what's considered just a "parenting difference," rather than abuse. (Pinching the child's back and producing marks was not grounds for reducing custody in a friend's case.)

So advice to "divorce and work on being civil and respectful co-parents" seems just hopelessly naive to me. There will be two co-parents, and you will not be able to control her level of civility or respect, nor will you be able to control who she brings into contact with your children.

I wouldn't want to spend a decade and a half in a loveless marriage, no. And I would prefer my children to grow up witnessing a loving marriage than not. But shit, there's basically nothing I wouldn't do to keep them from living in an abusive home, including choosing an option that would be otherwise suboptimal.

Don't send your kids off with a woman who says she wants to be with someone who will abuse her. Not for anything.
posted by palliser at 2:08 PM on May 5, 2012 [10 favorites]

You say, 'is it possible', but the question should be more like, is it possible for you and do you love her and are you going to be ok having sex knowing she's just tolerating it and thinking of England/someone else or never having it again for at least 15 more years?

I mean, asexual people have healthy relationships without sex. Alternatively, abused people with no treatment tend not to have healthy relationships, period.

This could actually probably be healed with therapy if you're really in love and she's very motivated, but it doesn't sound like she is, and no one can heal if they're not interested. As far as concern for your kids with her in a questionable future relationship, you could pursue custody.

You should probably have more conversations with her about this, just exploring where you stand right now more broadly. How does she envision your life? What does 'love' mean to her when she says she loves you? Does she realize her abuse pattern is unhealthy? Saying someone 'loves' you isn't enough, 'cause people mean many different things by love.

But to answer your question, staying for the kids should always be a last resort. It's something like, I don't think your kids would suffer in a well-managed divorce situation as much as you would suffer in a celibate broken marriage situation... but there's a margin of error here since I don't know your full circumstances. My feeling is that it's only a good idea for people with low libidos and very manageable emotions. Can you manage your feelings here for the long-term? That is the main question as to whether it's feasible (though probably still a bad idea for your emotional health, while not guaranteeing your family's emotional health).
posted by reenka at 2:37 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know, having two children in the house under the age of five can do a lot to kill a woman's desire. Just caring for kids is exhausting -- and pregnancy and nursing can wreak hormonal havoc on a woman's sex drive.

And after five years of marriage, the same sex routine can get boring for anyone --especially if you've spent those entire five years as parents of very young children and not having much time for yourselves to work on your relationship and your sex life. If she comes from an abusive background then she probably has serious self-esteem issues and she may feel compelled to blame herself / her background for feelings that are actually pretty normal and common.

I wouldn't say any of the above things to her if I were you, because it may come off to her as patronizing -- it seems she has already come up with an explanation for her lack of feelings toward you that works for her and it wouldn't be fair for you to argue with her over her own interpretation of her own feelings. But I think it's good to keep in mind that it's normal and common for married people with small children to occasionally struggle with desire issues, and to sometimes fantasize about what life would be like with someone else. It's not that weird for people to sometimes fantasize about other people while having sex. It's just not a thing you should be having to do all the time, or telling your partner about (unless your partner is into that sort of thing).

In other words, your wife is not necessarily irrevocably broken, and your relationship might not be, either.

When is the last time the two of your were alone together for an entire weekend? When was the last time you were alone together for 24 hours? When was the last time you had dinner together in peace?

Maybe it would help to ask her what it would take for her to find you desirable. If she says "abuse" then obviously you should say "I can't do that to you." But there may be plenty of other things the two of you could do to make this relationship work better for both of you.

Don't tell her you want to make it work for the sake of the kids. Tell her you love her and you want to do whatever reasonable things you can to make the relationship work for you and her.
posted by BlueJae at 3:12 PM on May 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm replying without having read others' comments.

I just wanted to say that I'm the child of such relationship. My mum once told me when I was about 8 or 9, 'Your father and I are strong enough to remain together'. For me I presume. But you know what? I would rather have had them separated. I'm 22 now and I hate going home for the holidays. There's clearly no love left in their relationship and I see it. I've spent years witnessing their constant loud arguments and breaking of things.

Believe me, your children would be well off with an emotionally healthy and happy mum and dad living separately than being in a home where mum and dad don't love each other.
posted by the borneo kid at 4:33 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. I can only think that your wife told you this so blatantly to let you know that you are never, ever, ever going to get sex out of her ever. Possibly even to get you to leave, though I'm not sure of that one. What a damn kick in the balls to do to someone you "love."

2. I'm horrified that she deliberately wants to find an abusive lover/future next husband and doesn't want to go to therapy about this.

3. While normally I would be on the "loveless marriage sucks for your kids" bandwagon in other threads, I can think of approximately two situations in life where that's still a better situation than the alternative:
(a) Your spouse is very handicapped and would be indigent/have no option but a nursing home if you left.
(b) Your spouse WANTS to find an abuser to love. I am shuddering at the idea of all of the abusive men she could bring home to have beat your kids and you may very well not be able to do anything about it. That, to me, is enough to say "I'm staying until the baby is 18" to make damn sure she can't marry one of those assholes.

Though in all honesty, I don't know if she'd WANT to stay with you until that long if she's telling you this stuff. At some point she may want a divorce so she can marry an asshole anyway and there may only be so much you can do to stop that.

But if I were you, I'd say to string this out as long as possible/agree that both of you go get some strange out of the house and not bring it home. Not to mention talk to lawyers and therapists out the wazoo a lot.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:10 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm with jenfullmoon: concerned about her hooking up with an abuser. I'm less optimistic that you can prevent that (or even delay it), however. Your best bet on that is to lawyer up early and seek full custody.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:50 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This doesn't really seem like a healthy situation for you, your wife, or the kids. I can understand your concern about how a new step father might treat the kids, but your kids will also be able to pick up on the fact that you and your wife have a less than ideal relationship.

I'm a product of parents who should have gotten a divorce when I was a little kid. My parents had a nonexistent relationship - I've never seen them kiss. While I recognize how bad the situation can be when there is a toxic step-parent added to the equation, it can be just as bad when the children have a toxic model of marriage/relationships on which to base their own in the future.

In most cases I don't think it's worth it to stay in these things "for the kids" - I think every other precaution should be taken to make sure they are not abused in a new family dynamic, but I think one of the worst things for a kid is to know that their parents are unhappy. I am almost 30 and still struggle with what a healthy relationship should look like. I also, from a kid's perspective, think that life is too short to be unhappy in such a fundamental way. I wish I had had happy parents. That would have made a huge difference for me and my relationship with the world.
posted by fromageball at 7:02 PM on May 5, 2012

I also agree with others about worrying about your wife bringing an abuser into the picutre, but I honestly think that is an issue whether or not you two get a divorce. She could have an abuser in her life right now. So yeah, go ahead and lawyer up.
posted by fromageball at 7:04 PM on May 5, 2012

I am sorry that there are, like, 55 other answers above mine. This will probably get lost in the thread.

I am a former professional dominatrix (briefly!) with a lifetime of therapy under my belt and a sad childhood.

Your wife has a serious block concerning emotional and physical happiness. Not all people who enjoy BDSM have abuse in their past! But anyone that engages seriously in the psychology of sexuality (and your wife does love you, so this is a psycho-sexual issue on her part) will tell you that these things do come up in adulthood and they DO need to get worked out for the abuse survivor to be able to engage in healthy intimate relationships. Full stop.

Your wife needs specific counseling, along with couples counseling - I PRAY SHE DECIDES TO GO THIS ROUTE.

Your wife feels damaged. She kinda is, except, she believes can not undo and mitigate the effects. She really can! But she does not know this to be an option. She does not know. If you tell her the why's and how's, she likely will not believe you. She might believe a professional. She will not believe you.

Your worry that she will choose abusive partners is 100% correct.

Either she gets help, and you get help together - or you go for FULL custody. There is no middle ground.


Only you know where to take it from here, but that is the backstory. She's confused. Until she desires clarity on her own, you MUST put your children first.
posted by jbenben at 9:31 PM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

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