What to do with a sexless marriage?
October 10, 2012 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Is sex vital in a marriage? Do I need a new perspective, a new conscience, counseling, or a divorce? (NSFW)

The husband and I have been together @15 years, married most of that time, generally with great harmony, shared opinions, few disagreements. But now it seems like I believe we are in crisis, and he thinks everything is fine, or will be as our kids get older. (We have two great preschool kids, both of us are 40ish.)

For me, the crisis is about sex, love, and communication, sex being first in line. Bear with me for one paragraph of history to set this up.

I don't remember our physical relationship ever being hot, but we were a strong and loving couple, and it was good enough for us. I never thought of sex as a deficit point, or if so, one that mattered much. But in recent years, as the kids crashed our lives and we got overwhelmed working full time, sex flat out fell off the radar. So did a lot of the day to day touching and intimacy. In recent memory, sex is now once or maybe twice a month, with many months skipped.

I checked in with my husband on this recently. He would agree that current levels aren't ideal, but he remembers our having a very active and satisfactory sex life, and is sure we'll get back there eventually. Frankly, I don't remember it ever being very active and wonder if he's got some nice nostalgia going. Also, I appear to be the only one really dissatisfied with the current situation, and trying to change the pattern.

Even if we agree we're infrequent, I am the only sexual initiator, period. But I can't keep this momentum going by myself, in part because when the sex does happen, it's draining and unrewarding.

We have gotten through our two most recent sexual encounters with me almost totally untouched. There's little to no kissing (it's like trying to kiss a wall). He doesn't reach out to touch me. I get him ready with oral or hand, and I may be untouched by the time I get into one of the two routine positions he prefers. (Any others are by request, and there's a sense I'm pushing things.) I generally bring him to orgasm, while I am anywhere from mildly satisfied to just considering that it's good exercise. I've tried talking during the act, but was told kindly enough that it does nothing at all for him. I don't feel wanted, I don't feel much pleasure; if anything, it feels like maintenance, and it's rough on the ego.

In two recent sessions, afterward, I asked a pointed question. After one, I asked if he was mad at me. I was floored at the answer: No, of course not, did he miss something, everything is fine! After another, I asked why he would not kiss me; he said we're just out of practice because we haven't done any kissing recently. I still don't understand that answer.

I don't think this is anger or punishment or dominance. After all, I ASK beforehand if he wants this, he shows up. I even got a smile and a hug before the last round, where I felt like the ask was welcome and appreciated. But the experience was so passive on his part and awful for me.

So, ready the judgment. I have gone along with this for I don't know how long (really, I don't) without much thought or fuss. I'm busy, I'm tired, I didn't have strong desire, what's the big deal? Well, now I do. I am aware this is not right, that it's broken. I know this because I'm having an affair.

A friend kissed me, and being kissed with desire, being wanted, was overwhelming. It made me realize what I was missing out on, potentially for a lifetime. That I was worthy of desire, that I was capable of it. I'm supposed to turn that away? I told myself that if I could keep my behavior contained, and I was still attentive to family, so that my transgression just made me a happier person, then I could live with it and so could they. That this could be like my having a sexual therapist. I could learn, and then bring what I learned to benefit my husband.

It's been too effective, if anything. I'm awake to my body in a way I haven't felt in a decade or more. I know what it's like to have an active partner in bed, one who tells me and shows me that I am wanted, who plays and experiments and tries to find what will work for me and us. It's night and day. It's stabilizing and loving. We've talked about how neither of us wants to destabilize our primary relationships. I would laugh out loud with disbelief if you told me a year ago I would type this: my lover wants me to understand that my feeling desire is healthy, and to help me bring that back home in a way that could improve my relationship with my husband.

I would like to feel intimacy again with my husband, to enjoy him and know that I am pleasing him. I do not expect to match the intensity I've discovered elsewhere, that's unrealistic. But I want something more and different than the clinical, intimacy-free, satisfaction-free, blue-moon dynamic that we have now.

I do not want to hurt or divorce my husband, or hurt my children, or disgrace my extended family. Also, my husband and I are really very effective life partners. I do not know if I love him or not at this point; it's hard to think clearly on it. We still tell each other that we do. I trust him. I can see a long life spent with him, retirement and old age and end of life with him. We are friends and financial and intellectual equals, with no dominance issues or other big red flags.

I have three ideas for next actions. One, bringing pron into the marriage. I've asked my husband about it, offered to source it, said I'd do it unless he objects. He's mildly skeptical of the value but won't stop me, I'd say. Two, it seems like a no-brainer to get us into counseling, but keep reading why that will be really awkward; in a nutshell, I'd have to convince him things are broken. Three, maybe discussing nonmonogamy.

Here's what really spins me, and is material for the counseling and nonmonogamy: based on our most recent relationship discussion, my husband says he thinks we are fine. A-OK. He's happy. Really, things are good from his perspective. So, clearly we have some communication gaps that may need to be closed here. I suppose he's not thinking of things like WHY he's being asked after our rare encounters if he was mad, or why we don't kiss.

It's Schroedinger's relationship. It's fine. It's dead. It's both. Theoretically I could just keep on keeping on and get through clinical encounters once or twice a month. But I would like things to be better between my husband and me. I want to express and meet my needs more openly and honestly. This is a lot of dishonesty and cognitive dissonance.

Trying to anticipate your questions: there is no abuse in the relationship, or in my husband's history or mine. There was a painful divorce in his parental history and I think he would avoid it himself if at all possible. ...I am in good shape and he is mildly overweight; he's aware of it but I don't think neurotic. We are not religious. I do not believe either of us is clinically depressed; his work is stressful, but he has said, firmly, that overall he is happy, and I don't think he's fronting or in denial.

So: do I need a new perspective? Counseling? A conscience? A slap? A lawyer? Thank you for your counsel.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

First things first, you need to let your husband in on the fact that, although he thinks everything is A-OK, you don't. You are not being satisfied sexually in your marriage. I know that relationships are complicated and stuff but I almost can't believe that you've held back this long without letting him know what's on your mind. Divorce is on the table and you haven't even mentioned the problem to him? Why does he think you want to add the porn in - just as a lark? Give him a chance to help you fix this! If he can't or won't, then it's time for therapy or discussing other options (non-monogamy, etc).

(PS, I am not touching the affair thing, someone else can speak to that)
posted by coupdefoudre at 3:51 PM on October 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm not married, or a therapist. But here's my take on it...

Different people have different sexual needs. It's entirely possible that his is entirely satisfied, while yours is not. Whether or not this is a huge problem in your marriage is up to you (and it appears to be). You need to talk about it. If not, his perception of it is perfectly reasonable. Maybe bring pron into the marriage. Maybe you just need to express to him what you need (since you are both affectionate) and teach him to enjoy it.

I think the cheating is a problem. Your husband doesn't deserve this. You should talk to him about it. Beyond that, I don't have much advice to give. I also think it's unfair that you've already written off the possibility of feeling full-fledge passion with your husband.

Alternatively, would it be possible to open up the relationship? It's not the be-all, end-all solution, but it's certainly one to consider if (1) you are not getting the intimacy you need within your relationship and (2) you are not willing to break off said relationship.

Best of luck!
posted by ethidda at 3:53 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's difficult for me to parse from your question, but is there a reason you cannot continue in your current situation? Is it practical to continue your affair with your partner remaining in the dark? Can you broach the subject directly? I suspect you're not going to get what you need in the bedroom from your husband, and I think your choices are to continue on the down-low or see if a lover can be fit into your marriage, or, if not and you can't live with that, divorce.

Note that it doesn't sound like divorce would lead to an open relationship with your current lover, but would make it possible to find others.
posted by quid pro quo at 3:53 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's not clear at all whether he knows you're unhappy. Whether or not he's happy, you two need counseling to work on communication issues.

"Are you mad at me?" does not mean "Honey, that really wasn't satisfying for me and I want you to do X Y and Z to my body."
posted by desjardins at 3:55 PM on October 10, 2012 [38 favorites]

Yes, sex is important in a marriage, and you clearly believe that too. One thing that seems to be missing from your description is a real conversation with your husband, in which you baldly state that you are not satisfied with your love life with him. It currently looks like you have tried the passive route by asking him leading questions, hoping he will catch the hint and open up with a bigger conversation about your sex life.

Some people are really terrible at getting clues.
posted by nasayre at 3:56 PM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

If I were in your position, I would likely "sit" on it, continuing the affair until something external to my own being (like being caught, the other cheater quitting, etc.) forced a change.

I do not think that the above is desirable, though.

I would consider the slap, figuratively, and inform him that the status quo WILL not continue for very long and make the suggestions that you have already made.

Again, this is me; I would not disclose the affair, but I would end it in order to have this shit-or-get-off-the-pot period of time in your marriage.

I wish you all the best, and good luck with this.
posted by Danf at 4:07 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

He says he's happy overall, but a stressful job can take a toll on even the hardiest of libidos. Is it possible for him to scale back a bit so he'll have more time to spend with you and perhaps engage in sexytimes?
posted by Anima Mundi at 4:08 PM on October 10, 2012

Leaving aside the issue of the affair, people have different levels of need for physical touch, and different preferences, expectations, and desires within a relationship (sexually and otherwise). It sounds like you've tried to hint to him that you're not happy sexually (and perhaps somewhat in general), but you haven't actually told him. What you've said to him does not necessarily constitute a strong hint. I think you need to bring up the issue directly with him, telling him frankly that you're unhappy with your sex life together, and that you really need more physical pleasure and also touch (the latter I'm inferring). You need to say this explicitly and directly, because it sounds like his needs are being met so he assumes yours are. I would be clear on exactly what you find problematic, and constructive suggestions for fixing it. It sounds like you're lacking a bit of intimacy more generally, and also touch; if you can't manage a weekend away without your children, maybe try to schedule some time to reconnect over conversation, plus some bedroom dates that are planned ahead. Maybe buy a massage book, and take turns, etc.
posted by UniversityNomad at 4:10 PM on October 10, 2012

A quick story, and some advice. Take what's useful; discard what isn't.

In our last house, my husband and I bought a refrigerator that wouldn't fit through the kitchen door without some molding being removed. I couldn't do this (at the time), he wouldn't do it, and the 'frig sat in the dining room, where it functioned but was inconvenient. Until I moved it into the hall and blocked easy access to the kitchen. Once he saw that, he realized that there was a problem and promptly took off the molding and put the refrigerator in the kitchen, where it belonged.

Your husband may not understand that there is a problem. Which means he's certainly not getting the nuances and underpinnings of the problem. And that he's completely cut off from even trying to solve it, because from his perspective (stressful job, but still alive, still married, still like my wife and my life) things are functional, and that's (evidently) enough. He will not magically start telling you that you're hot, or wanting to bed you, and doing all kinds of extra emotional work if he doesn't see or experience a need for it. (This is leaving out all sorts of potential medical stuff, like his general health, whether he's getting enough sleep, stress levels, etc., which may or may not apply here.) That's where he sounds like he is.

You sound like you're somewhere else. Very, very somewhere else. If you are at all invested in bridging the distance between you, as you seem to indicate, then please, you must be clear and direct in telling him that you're experiencing a problem, and in saying what you need or would like, and in soliciting his help in figuring out this very, very tough and fraught stuff. Put the refrigerator in front of him.

Where you may go from there--whether an acknowledged affair, a renewed marriage, something else--is anyone's guess. If you were my best friend, I would tell you to stop seeing the lover for a while, at least until you had the chance to talk with your husband and figure out a plan. I don't know you, so I'll just say please...be careful. Hearts are at stake here.

This is so, so hard. No judgment from me. I hope you get the resolution you need.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:48 PM on October 10, 2012 [36 favorites]

I think you need to tell him in no uncertain terms that you are desperately unhappy. What you are describing is horrible unhappiness. I don't know if you have to tell him about the affair or not, I kind of think you do, but right now the biggest intimacy barrier is actually your unhappiness that it sounds like he couldn't possibly be fully aware of, maybe deliberately, maybe not. But I think you have to spell it out for him.

He just might be a not super verbal guy, or afraid of talking about conflict because he's afraid the end result is divorce--it could be a lot of things, but if you want to give it a shot, and it sounds like it's worth trying, it sounds like you do love him--you really have to lay your cards down and you have to stop seeing the other man.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:50 PM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I suspect that your main reason for avoiding counselling is that your affair will come to light and everyone will find out that you have been cheating on your husband. It could potentially hurt your children and disgrace your extended family, more so then a divorce would.

Porn is not going to fix your very broken communication problems. The sex is not the problem, it's a symptom. Don't spend all this effort trying to bring back the desire when you haven't even been able to get your husband to acknowledge you are unhappy.

Non-monogamy isn't going to fix that either. Even if he's up for it, do you really think seeing other people is going to fix your marriage? Will he suddenly be able to acknowledge your feelings and have open intimate discussions with you all due to both of you banging other people?

"I suppose he's not thinking of things like WHY he's being asked after our rare encounters if he was mad, or why we don't kiss."

So... what's stopping you from telling him?

Intimacy comes from mutual vulnerability and openness. You claim your affair is going to allow you to bring desire back into your marriage, but having such a damaging secret will destroy true intimacy.

"I want to express and meet my needs more openly and honestly."

Therapy. If not together, for yourself.

(And I would put a full stop on the unsatisfying clinical sexual encounters. That's just... uhg. My skin crawls on your behalf. As well, you don't say if you are using protection with the other guy or your husband, and even if you are not all STD's are prevented by condoms. Don't put your husband at a risk he's not aware of.)
posted by Dynex at 5:14 PM on October 10, 2012 [15 favorites]

You don't mention whether you think your husband has been seeking his pleasures elsewhere. Is that a possibility?

Whether he is or isn't, I agree with those that have said that he probably simply does not recognize that you are, in a very real and immediate sense, profoundly unhappy - like the difference between 'yeah, we should probably get new windows since these are drafty' vs. 'this window is broken and needs repair right now.'

I think you should tell him, in plain terms, that you would very much like to go to couples counseling together. If he refuses, go to counseling by yourself. You have some priorities to work through, whether with his help or without. Your choice - continuing to seek solace outside your marriage or proceeding with a divorce or working things through with your husband - will have an effect on your children, one way or another.

Setting aside the lover for now is probably a very good idea while you think and prioritize and sort out how you want to proceed. But I do think you'll have an easier time keeping it about you, your husband and your children if you set lovers aside for the moment. There's plenty of time later if you decide that's the avenue you want to pursue.
posted by agentmitten at 5:28 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think you need to tell him in no uncertain terms that you are desperately unhappy. What you are describing is horrible unhappiness. I don't know if you have to tell him about the affair or not, I kind of think you do, but right now the biggest intimacy barrier is actually your unhappiness that it sounds like he couldn't possibly be fully aware of, maybe deliberately, maybe not. But I think you have to spell it out for him.

I couldn't agree more. You feel like you have been trying to communicate with him (mostly through hints, and he isn't picking up on them at all), and I'd bet $5 that if we could ask him, he would say that he has been trying to communicate with you without success, too. Maybe it means sitting down and saying things directly, maybe it means getting a marriage counselor, or maybe it means creating a crisis like getting caught cheating that forces everything out in the open. But whatever it takes, have that talk.

About whether or not to tell about the affair... I don't know, honestly. I'm sure someone has done research on the question of whether secrecy or openness is more healing in a relationship, and I'd love it if someone had the citation for that. Purely anecdotally, I've told and been told, and in both cases regretted it much more than when I didn't tell (and presumably, when I wasn't told, but I wouldn't know about that). Sometimes the kindest thing is to carry the very, very heavy weight of that secret, even though it would be so much easier to try and pass the weight to the other person by telling them.
posted by Forktine at 5:42 PM on October 10, 2012 [9 favorites]

Oops, hit post too fast.

Lastly, whether or not you breathe a word of the affair, it is fully, 110 percent, on your shoulders to make sure you don't put your husband's health at risk. Even sex only every few months is often enough to give him a lifetime case of the herp or whatever. That's unkind, and you need to be the one to make sure that doesn't happen.
posted by Forktine at 5:44 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh goodness, yes. Tell him. Not about the affair, per say, but about your unhappiness. And really tell him. Say, "I'm unhappy, these are the reasons why I think I'm unhappy, and this is what I think you can do to help me not be so unhappy." Be incredibly clear. Make a list if you have to. Really mull it over and come up with concrete things you feel you need and are detrimental to your happiness.

Two personal things I want to say here that might help you. I have two wonderful friends. They've been together for years and just married. There is a list on their refrigerator and it is a list of things that they have come up with in couples counseling (which they partake in when necessary and just for "maintenance", which I think is rad). It's a description of how my best friend, a female, should talk to her husband when she needs things and at the top of that list is "be so incredibly clear with him that you might as well be glass". They both say that this one little thing, her sitting him down and saying this is what I need, this is why I need it, do you have any thoughts, is this something you can do for me?, and vice versa has been so very important to the survival of their love. They've had rough spots -- this little thing got them through it.

The other thing: I guarantee that if you ask most people that still think about a relationship that has been lost despite the fact that there's still love there what they wish they'd done differently, they'll say that they wish they'd been clear in this manner. I miss my ex-boyfriend. I have no doubt there was an insane amount of love between us, enough to last a lifetime and essentially, our relationship broke down for one of the reasons you mentioned: sex was lacking and when it was there, it was clearly a chore for one party (not me) and there was no longer any initiation on his part. I so very much wish that I had just been clear and said, "I need it, I want it, can I help you in any way to facilitate it more, why is it that you don't feel it's as important as I do, LET'S FIX THIS!". He too was happy just as your husband seems to say he is -- work tuckered him out and he was good without it. I wasn't. I wanted to stray. I didn't but I get your urge. I get your desire....

But in the end, I can't say my boyfriend knew full well. I would urge you not to give up or give in (again, with someone else) until you can say with certainty that your husband knows full well. Good luck to you.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:49 PM on October 10, 2012 [13 favorites]

Here's the top line problem :

You were hungry and poor, and stole bread from the store. You are satiated but you compromised your starving but *noble* self with the theft. Now, you have 2 problems, the affair being the greater one.

No solution to your sex life problem will come without ending and addressing the affair. It is the new 800 pound gorilla in the room, and will rear its ugly head later as you attempt to move forward with your life.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:06 PM on October 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

There have been a lot of measured and non-judgmental answers thus far but personally I think you need a slap. You have made the decision to place your feelings of sexual entitlement before before your marriage and you are justifying your ongoing affair by pretending that you can use it as a "learning experience" to somehow improve your already failed union. It seems like your marital problems stem not primarily from lack of sex, but instead primarily from a lack of communication, as so many here have already noted - and you are to blame as much, if not more, than your husband. Ideally, you would have been forceful in your communication with your husband that a) your sexual needs were not being met and that b) your husband needs to work with you in order to meet those needs. Showing him the sentiment you typed here should have been the first step in addressing your problem. Whether or not this would have solved the issue, at least it would have set the stage for an honest and open dialogue or therapy that may have precluded a hurtful affair.

Don't get me wrong...you are only too human and you are entitled to feel wanted and to be sexually fulfilled...but perhaps you and your husband are not sexually compatible and he might not be the person to meet those needs at this point in your life . Whatever the case, the time for an honest team-approach to sussing this out has now passed, and by not being adult enough to bring these issues up frankly with him you have only compounded the very cause of this whole debacle.

For me, the crisis is about sex, love, and communication, sex being first in line

I would counter by saying you have the order backwards. Whether or not you disclose your affair is your choice, but either way I would suggest you terminate it and that you show him what you typed here (up to the affair part at your discretion). Work that shit out and please stop telling yourself that your infidelity is anything other than what it is.
posted by jnnla at 6:21 PM on October 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Let me start by saying: I have been there. Like, exactly there.

People have been giving you a lot of flak about not being extremely explicit and direct, and I agree at this point it needs to happen. In your words, you need to convince him that things are broken. But here's the thing: anyone who was remotely concerned and/or empathetic would have Picked Up On It by now, what with the checking in and the questions. Not to mention the generally understood idea that sex is an incredibly important aspect of connection in relationships.

He is checked out. You are going to have to shake him really hard to make him realize that, and that he needs to tune in and reconnect. How you do that is up to your discretion.

Almost certainly, coming out about the affair would do that. It would probably inflict additional damage that you'd have to work through. Consider it carefully. Mira Kirschenbaums book When Good People Have Affairs might be helpful for insight into your situation. Incidentally, she suggests not telling.

But yes, you're going to have to rock his boat. Get into counseling together, because you'll need it, I think.

I wish you luck. It's been over two years since I finally blew a gasket and said things needed to change. The struggle has been long and exhausting, but ultimately good, I think, though I still don't think we are totally out of the woods yet. Memail me if you want to talk privately.
posted by Sublimity at 6:33 PM on October 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

I won't address the affair (never a good idea, of course) but I do recommend at the very least your husband have a full physical. Sometimes men have difficulties starting in that decade, and lots of things could cause him to not want to rock the boat sexually. Fatigue, sleep apnea, undiagnosed diabetes, low testosterone levels, etc.

I would expect that one of the above along with the stresses of parenting young children could go a long way to explain why things are not happy in the bedroom.

You two obviously have trouble communicating outside the bedroom as well, but hey, small children and jobs, etc. can throw a wrench into that as well.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:14 PM on October 10, 2012

It's a bad sign that even in your question you dance around the affair, never explicitly stating you're having one. Are you being honest with yourself?

If your marriage is fucked up, fix it or don't, but don't try to have it both ways.

I strongly suspect that what you're doing now, if discovered, will render attempts at rekindling your marriage impossible.

Yes, "good people cheat," but "good people murder" and "good people join the Aryan Nation," too--the matter isn't about defining a person as "good" or "bad," but in defining a person's actions (and you can use "good" or "bad" if you want, but I'm going to go with "useful/helpful" and "futile/pernicious" instead).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:38 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with Sublimity. He is refusing to pick up on how unhappy you are, and pretending that your sex life is fine, because he does not want to acknowledge the breakdown of the marriage. For sure, nothing is going to happen until you say " I am so extremely unhappy I am thinking seriously of divorce." And even then, you may be faced by denial:

Are you sure he isn't involved with another woman?
Have you considered the possibility that he is involved with a man? Or at the very least, would prefer to be having sex with one? The degree of disinterest/disgust he is showing for your body makes me wonder. Reading the evolution of your sex life, from "good enough" to the awful place you are now , brought that possibility to my mind immediately. If he is closeted, he will be deeply deeply invested in not knowing, not hearing.

Whether or not to tell him about the affair, I don't know. You obviously still love him, or you wouldn't want to have sex with him. He obviously still wants to stay in the marriage. There are children involved. But you certainly cannot go on like this. And I agree with others, you have to end the affair before you have this talk with your husband. Good luck.
posted by uans at 8:01 PM on October 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

You (plural) have a problem because you (singular) have a problem. He may be fine with little to no sex. People do have different sex drives and what not, but because yours doesn't match his at all, then you're, at present, sexually incompatible.

Like everyone is saying here, you need to tell him that you are deeply unhappy. Don't sugar coat it. Don't downplay it. It's true.

You should feel desired and wanted and pleasured if that's what you want and need. It's okay to want those things. Of course, it's not okay to do this outside of the context of the commitment you made to someone. You know that. What's done is done, though...but continuing the deception is not fair to him, is it?

So tell him your needs. See what his response is. If he can't provide what you need, ask him if he'd be comfortable with you having your needs met elsewhere. Everything is okay if it's agreed to, you know.
posted by inturnaround at 8:39 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get yourself to a sex pos therapist and discuss non monogamy! Clearly you both have wildly differing sexual needs, and as long as your partner understands (as well as I do from what you wrote) that you love him, value the relationship beyond mere convenience and really just need to get off more than he can help you with, the discussion will be more manageable.

Here's the catch. Do not tell him about the affair as it is. Do explain how you fooled around with someone, it awoke desires etc, but do NOT spill the beans. It will show you to be someone who does not make decisions as a couple, does not care about your partner's comfort or opinion and will make moving forward in therapy all about that rather than open communication and negotiation. It will hurt everyone just too much. Also, if he says "no, never, no" to an open relationship you've got to stop the cheating until you get an ok. It's time to see if this relationship can heal, and that takes both of you. Stopping for your partner will also force you to evaluate your relationship without that release--you can really get down to the business of deciding whether it's worth it to stay.

Just don't tell him. I found out I was cheated on about a year ago, and both of us are still dealing with our personal emotional fallout still from that. If that had come on the heels of a request for non monogamy, I would have been torn in so many directions that any discussion would have been unproductive forever.
posted by zinful at 8:48 PM on October 10, 2012

I can relate. My ex and I had sex more frequently than you describe and I got more physical attention than you are getting, but it became increasingly emotionally empty. At some point, I resumed being frigid in bed, a problem which had been well and thoroughly resolved years earlier. I hid it and found ways around it, but I could no longer genuinely respond to my husband.

My marriage ended for reasons unrelated to my affairs but my need for attention from some other man evaporated almost over night when my ex moved out. This was shockingly unexpected. I have been reasonably contentedly celibate for quite a long time, much to my surprise.

What I learned about myself was that I was desperately lonely during my marriage, not sex starved like I thought. Lonely sex with my husband was soul sucking in a way that celibacy has not been. It seems to me that might be food for thought for you.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:54 PM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Whole lotta judgment in this thread. You won't hear any from me.

It's super common for the day-to-day unsexiness of kids and work to grind married people's sex drives down to damn near nothing. Unfortunately (?), yours hasn't been ground all the way down like your husbands' has.

I do agree that you need to tell him how unhappy you are and give him a chance to provide what you need. But I'd be surprised if he could, otherwise you wouldn't have gotten to this point.

I do NOT agree that you need to tell him about your affair. I kind of feel like, if he's not interested in sex with you, then your sex life isn't really his business, even if that loss of libido is not his "fault."

Here is a suggestion: while it's pretty much impossible for a man to make or to fake a libido, it is NOT impossible for him to be sweet, to give you foot rubs, to make you feel physically warm and loved. And that might go some way towards making this livable, and you should both try to make it as livable as you can. You have a functional partnership and just because the sex has gotten inadequate doesn't mean you need to discount everything else that works about your marriage.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:06 PM on October 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think one issue is him not realizing what you need and want (maybe not his fault if you didn't communicate it well enough), but another issue is why he apparently feels OK with so little sex. That makes me wonder if he just has a much lower sex drive than you, or is getting satisfaction elsewhere, or is no longer physically attracted to you (or has something interfering with his physical attraction to you). Important questions because, for example, if he doesn't need sex from you, then he "might" not be against you having a lover.
posted by Dansaman at 9:34 PM on October 10, 2012

Obviously, communicate.

But just from your husband's potential perspective, having two preschool kids and a stressful job really just takes it out of some people, and for some people sex is invigorating and energizing, but for other people it is not and they need to have that energy before they're even the littlest bit interested in sex. Some people also have a hard time really getting in the mood when surrounded by kid stuff and kid people and kids' other parent.

A vacation sans kids would be a good way to see if this is the case, or even just some decent time out at a dinner with other adults, with you flirting with him and avoiding discussing the kids.

A checkup might be in order, too.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:08 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

>I kind of feel like, if he's not interested in sex with you, then your sex life isn't really his business, even if that loss of libido is not his "fault."

Wow, that's what philandering husbands have been telling each other since time immemorial. What a horrible way to approach a marriage. Just thoroughly dispiriting you'd feel that way.

Your marriage and sex life are not independent of your intimacy, trust, and closeness. You and your husband need to discuss this matter frankly and he needs to be made to understand that it actually matters to you.

Unfortunately you've already gone outside the marriage.

For your marriage to reacquire the kind of trust and intimacy necessary for it to have a healthy sex life, that fact can't be a lurking secret, an elephant in the room that only you can see.

If the goal is to kindle things with your husband, you have to be open with him about your cheating. That may make matters worse or even end the marriage, but it's only fair for him to have all the relevant information.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:21 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Promise yourself you'll never ignore your own sexual needs again, nor let things get so bad you resort to cheating. Then end the affair, making sure you have ended it in your heart too. Then go to a clinic and get STI tests so you know. Then tell your husband how desperately unhappy you are, and that he needs to go to counselling with you if he wants to stay together.

Disclosure of the affair is your call. It'll relieve you of carrying a lie, but hurt him.
posted by ead at 12:58 AM on October 11, 2012

My heart hearts for you.

You've got a couple of preschool kids, your husband has a stressful job, you've been together forever- I don't think your husband is thinking anything other than "sex could be better, but we have so many other things going on... and it's working good enough..."

like all that's said above- you need to tell him that you are unhappy. You can dress it up a little nicer- "love, the kids are finally older and we need to get back to the fire we used to have! I really need you to help me on this, because I am afraid for our marriage if we don't to a better space."

The fire part doesn't need to be 100% true on your part, I'll point out.

You need to go at him really specifically. I know it's awkward and feels forced- it's going to feel that way because you have years now of being on different paged. You going to have some awkward moments as you guys get back on to the same page. Be HYPER specific. "I need to kiss more- let's make out tonight for a half hour before we make love- it would really make me feel good."

Telling him about the affair is going to depend on if you are going to stop or not. If you can 100% knock it off right now, do it. There are lots of dudes that will be waiting with sexy times after/if your marriage explodes. You have a lot of time invested in this man, the great partner, the father of your children, your friend. If you can stop and give your relationship a chance, maybe telling him could do more harm than good.

If you can't stop the affair without some magical turn around in your marriage, you should probably tell him. It'll not only come out eventually- you're putting him at risk. You're not respecting him or treating what you have with him respectfully. It's going to be incredibly difficult to fix something that you don't treat well.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:19 AM on October 11, 2012

Whatever you do -- continue/end the affair, tell/don't tell your husband about it, work on/end the marriage -- no matter what, you need to learn to communicate with the father of your children. You will be co-parents together regardless of what your adult relationships look like, and they deserve parents who model healthy, effective communication.
posted by headnsouth at 4:47 AM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

"be so incredibly clear with him that you might as well be glass"

This is great wording to keep in mind. You're not on a diplomatic mission at this point; you need to be full and frank in laying out what's happening.

Some potential talking points (to cast in your own wording, of course):

* We seem to have two different ideas about how our marriage is doing, because I feel like we're on the edge of crisis.

* I'm shocked and confused by why we're so far apart on intimacy. It seems like you're OK with infrequent sex and limited conversation about our emotional relationship, but I'm not.

* The absence of intimacy makes me feel lonely, sexually undesirable, and ego-bruised. The way that we're having sex now, and infrequently at that, leaves me unsatisfied. It's not good for me. Being the one who's 100 percent responsible for initiating sex is demoralizing. It's making me unhappy.

* I want to have sex. A lot. Like a horny teenager. With you. Here are some things that would make it hot and satisfying for me, and can you think about whether that's possible or acceptable for you?

* Encroaching middle-age is so weird for bodies. Can we agree to get check-ups, and make sure there aren't medical issues making sex more difficult?

* Statements like "we're out of practice" and "we'll get back to it" aren't helpful to me, and I don't understand them. If we're out of practice, and need to get back to it, can you help me figure out specifically how we can make that happen? Can we make a kid-free block of private time to have that particular conversation?

Give him multiple opportunities to hear and respond to you. Give him specific questions to think about. Present this as wanting to forge a plan together because you see value in your marriage and in your partnership. Do not hint. Be frank and direct. Follow up. Follow through. Do not expect him to be responsible for fixing things between you while run off and sulk, having had your say; he's going to need *help,* and you are in the best position to guide and encourage the kind of response that you need.

Go get a (hopefully) clean bill of health. Heed what's being said in this thread about putting your husband's health at risk.

Pend the affair; tell your lover why. You want to give yourself and your husband a clear shot at mending your marriage. Right?

Finally, be honest with yourself about the vigor and frankness with which you have been broaching these topics with your husband. Checking in and asking pointed questions are part of a good start, but in context of everything else you've said here, seem to amount to a halfhearted effort in which your husband is expected to 1) spot that there's a hint, 2) take the hint and spontaneously make things better, and 3) be magic. That's not fair to either of you. You don't need to be an angry drill sergeant in laying all this out for him, but you need to be that level of clear and frank about the existence and scope of the problem that you're living.

Tough stuff. Good luck.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:43 AM on October 11, 2012 [16 favorites]

So: do I need a new perspective? Counseling? A conscience? A slap? A lawyer? Thank you for your counsel.


You believe something is missing and you think it's sex. It probably has more to do with your self-esteem. Sex problems can be fixed. The fact that you seem to be re-writing your sexual history tells me you are simply looking outside the marriage in search of something other than sex. This is a YOU problem......Not a HIM problem. Figure out what it is you are really looking for and then bring it to your husband. Perhaps that sort of soul searching could be the catalyst for marital counseling and salvaging whatever is left of your marriage.

Also, consider getting the names of divorce lawyers, as when he finds out about your affair, he might file for divorce out of sheer anger.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:48 AM on October 11, 2012

There's little to no kissing (it's like trying to kiss a wall). He doesn't reach out to touch me. I get him ready with oral or hand, and I may be untouched by the time I get into one of the two routine positions he prefers. (Any others are by request, and there's a sense I'm pushing things.)

The way he's acting reminds me of me when I lost interest in sex with a former partner. We talked about it and he said he thought that kind of loss of interest had to come from some kind of serious anger. It turned out he was right; I was trying to ignore my seething resentments about a lot of things. So it interests me that you asked, "Are you mad at me?"

I think it's possible that he's just not going to regain interest. Perhaps you should tell him that you don't want to stay married with no sex or very negative sex, and put a deadline on it, like 6 months, and then leave if it's not trending upwards. Tell him or don't tell him about the affair? Your call. But stop it while you go through this trial period. It's not fair to put him through that with someone else on the side. Or your kids; you don't want them to find out you were giving him one chance to focus on the marriage or you were going to leave, and you were involved somewhere else during that period. (Kids do find out about this stuff, or they sense that you are involved in something that's not being talked about, and if you break up while involved with someone else and maybe wind up with that person... you can see where I'm going.)
posted by BibiRose at 7:12 AM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, counseling, hopefully for both of you. Because he might be stressed/depressed, but the sex in your marriage now sounds horrible, and the lack of other initimacy grave. You deserve to have your needs met, and he deserves more honesty from you. You still may end up headed for divorce, but you'll at least have tried to get those crucial needs met to save the relationship.
posted by ldthomps at 9:20 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of good advice up-thread. I just wanted to chime in to say that if you choose not to disclose the affair(which I think is a reasonable choice here) then it's not really fair to ask him for an open relationship. The affair is vital information for him in deciding whether nonmonogamy is appropriate for you guys.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 9:20 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are in one heck of a pickle, but at least you acknowledge that.

1. For now, stop having the affair. If you really, honestly want to mend your marriage, all extraneous people have to be given the heave ho.

2. Go to a couples counselor alone and spill your guts to him or her. Ask for help in broaching the issues in your marriage and for ways to be honest with your husband about what you want and how to go about it. You may be advised to discuss the affair with your husband, or you may not be, but you're not thinking clearly and an informed, but disinterested third party may be able to help.

3. No matter what, you and your husband will be parenting your children for the rest of your lives. You have to give him the love and respect he deserves in that capacity.

4. Acknowledge that you've done something wrong, that you've broken a vow. As long as you are married and your husband believes that it is a monogamous relationship because it's what you both agreed to, then you need to be true to your vow. If you want to renegotiate it, you can, but if your marriage isn't open, it's not fair for you to act as though it is.

You may decide to stay with your husband. You may decide with your husband to have an open marriage. You may decide to leave your husband. Your actions have determined that from the moment you commenced an extra-marital affair that things will never be the same going forward. You decided this unilaterally, your husband didn't get a vote.

Be sensitive to this when and if you discuss it with him. You may not be forgiven, he may not want to continue to be married to you. You might have to live with that.

Hang in there. It's painful, but ultimately, no matter what happens, you have to act in the interest of your own happiness.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:40 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

The hard part is realizing that there may not be anything wrong with either of you. Take his statement at face value (he's happy with the situation), and take your post at face value, and I see a divergence.

Your options of divorce or counseling are obvious. Nonmonogamous relationships often work out okay, but they are obviously more complicated than dealing with a single partner. Children and other family members are additional complexities, not all of which can be resolved. It may be helpful to break off your relationship with your lover, at least until after you regroup and deal with your husband in the open and honest way you'd like to have him deal with you.

Please don't feel as though you need your lover's approval to do this. You definitely do not. You only need to tell him to stay away from you, at least for a while. In my view, he should not have any part in what you decide to do about your marriage. He has already provided as much benefit as he can by having been complicit in your sexual re-awakening. It won't do either of you any good for him to become a co-respondent in a divorce proceeding.

You may find it helpful if you go to a counselor on your own first. Couples counseling later may help you and your husband come to terms with your divergence. I don't mean to be unkind by pointing out that you now have a trust issue to deal with, as well as sexual incompatibility.
posted by mule98J at 10:59 AM on October 11, 2012

Also, I think you are fooling yourself that this is "sexual therapy" or that this "friend" gives a shit about your husband or your marriage. I mean, maybe he does, but if so he is badly deluded and not any source of wisdom.

A friend does not put your marriage at risk by kissing you. That is totally out of line, insulting, and it was what started your feelings of dissatisfaction, according to you. This affair has not improved things for you at all and you are lying to yourself about it.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:20 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you ever thought that he too may be having an affair and that is why he is satisfied with how things are with you? His needs are already being met by someone else. Food for thought!
posted by WhatrightdoIhave2happiness at 7:40 PM on October 11, 2012

I was in a 5-year relationship where sexytimes were basically zero for months before the end. I (male, late 20s, no kids) thought everything was OK but not that good, and wasn't sure why (she) seemed distant and frustrated. At the time I was generally unhappy with how my life was going (especially with work). I also was (mostly unconsciously) holding back some resentment toward her, partly because I thought her life goals were different from mine. I think it might have worked out if I had really pursued my goals (personally and professionally) and if I had shared/listened enough to actually have a meaningful argument once in awhile (we didn't ever argue, I think because I preferred having peace to really sharing what was bothering me).

So: Yes, find a way to be admired and have satisfying sex. End the affair (cut off all contact with the guy forever), get tested, and don't tell your husband. Also, (since it sounds like you're like me and never really argued,) tell your husband as clearly as possible what's on your mind, and make him tell you what he thinks. I mean, keep sharing your feelings/frustrations/desires and asking him what he wants/feels until he starts crying, he's telling you more than he knew himself a minute ago, AND you sense you're getting the full story. For this kind of disconnect, just pushing into making-him-cry territory isn't going to cut it-- you should really go deep because from your description I would guess that he'll start crying when you've gotten to maybe 1/3rd of what's wrong. (Don't be mean for the sake of being mean, but if you have to ask/say something upsetting to get your point across, go for it!) Again, in this case it's OK to force an argument that will make him really unhappy for a few days, because you're considering the much worse alternatives of divorce, continuing an affair, or never having good sex.

Practically, pick the next possible night to talk about this, tell him you need to talk, ask him why he doesn't seem to care about your needs or find you attractive, and then tell him what you feel/want in detail and ask crystal-clear questions (i.e. "Why don't you want to kiss or hug me a few times a day?") while looking into his eyes.

I've met a few people who were unusually good at helping me understand and say what I was really thinking (another ex-girlfriend, and one manager who interviewed me for a job once). These conversations were comfortable (I was sitting down in a pleasant, quiet room), and the other person was unusually clear (about what they wanted/were looking for) and also asked me to say more if they sensed that I might have more to say or a more honest re-phrasing of something I had already said.

posted by sninctown at 9:10 PM on October 11, 2012

I think you're deluding yourself. There's no real altruistic motive behind your affair, and it is certainly "destabilizing" you marriage. I don't know if your sexual partner is also deluding himself or just you but his suggestion that your affair somehow promises a benefit to your husband is absurd. You're lying to your husband: serially, consistently, and constantly. You are betraying the agreement you made in marrying him. And you are exposing him sexually to another individual without his knowledge and consent.

Combined with the existing, very real and serious and yes, certainly mitigating sexual dysfunction, the reality is that your marriage is in severe trouble. It's on the rocks. Sexual issues and infidelity are leading causes of divorce. You are in a set-up for a divorce. The only reason it's not falling apart before your eyes is because it's being held together by a tissue of lies. You don't know whether you love your husband and he doesn't know this. You needed to tell your husband that a sexual experience was wholly unsatisfying for you, that you felt the opposite of intimacy, love, and connection and the best you could get out is to ask him if he is mad at you. These aren't "communication gaps that may need to be closed". This is an utter breakdown, a complete failure of communication. Your husband has no idea what is going on in his own marriage and yes, he sure seems to be in some kind of deep denial (anyway I think that a more likely explanation than that he is simply satisfied with the status quo, at least to the extent he knows what is actually going on) but that's kind of the point: he's not going to see this unless he is forced to and there's nobody to do that but you.

You can't help but notice that ending the affair is not one of the items on your potential to-do list, or that coming clean isn't on the menu for consideration either. The fact that you think there is anything at all in some band-aid like watching a dirty movie together, or that introducing the topic of polyamory at this point has any chance of improving this mess, suggests that you are engaged in some serious denial of your own. If you're serious about saving your marriage you need to end the affair and get into counseling at a minimum, just as the starting point.

Whenever this topic appears here there are many who express the opinion that it is necessary or at least acceptable to never reveal an affair. It's down to you in the end but I think it should be pointed out that this opinion isn't universally held. Truth has a value and I personally think that withholding significant and critical truths about your marriage from your partner denies them something pretty fundamental. I think the supposed logic that withholding the truth about an affair is really an act of altruism wherein the unfaithful partner assumes the burden of the lie to spare their partner's feelings is extremely self-serving and conveniently ignores the benefit of relieving the unfaithful partner of the consequences of telling the truth. If nothing else it's worth thinking about whether you believe your partner would want to know the truth, and about whether a marriage that is working only in the context of a persistent lie is really working at all. About whether recreating a really sound foundation for your marriage might not require first tearing it down quite a lot, to clear out the lies and denial. If you do choose to come clean you won't have to worry about convincing your husband that your marriage is broken, in any event.

I'm genuinely sorry you're in this situation and I don't think you're a bad person. You have an absolute right to everything you are missing about sex and intimacy in your marriage. But I think you are evading the reality that your marriage is in a terrible, precarious place, that a significant part of this is now your own doing, and that if it is salvageable it is only in the context of deep, radical change. I would add: and radical honesty. But I recognize that this opinion is not universally held. In any event I sincerely hope you get through this and end up in a good place, and I do believe that is possible.
posted by nanojath at 11:04 PM on October 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

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