How can I make my marriage work?
February 12, 2013 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Need advice to sort out my marriage after a very stressful time - very extended explanation inside.

I met my husband in Wales and we moved to Brazil, where I am from, 3 years ago, soon after we got married. We have some big issues in our marriage at the moment that we are trying to deal with and I need some help from the hivemind to try and sort this out.

1. Language: We were both very enthusiastic about the move, but when we got here, all the stresses of the everyday life kicked in - sorting out his visa, a place to live, bank accounts, company set-up and so many other things - and since he doesn't speak the language, I had to do all of that.

During the first year, it was all about getting settled. And making things happen work-wise, that was the priority (we work from home). But even though he is a very "international" person that has lived in many countries before where English wasn't the first language and even speaks Mandarin, he seems to have major issues learning the language.

Now, it has been nearly three years and he barely speaks a few words in Portuguese, even though he has tried in the last few months to take lessons with a friend online. Even so, he never seems to take it seriously enough and blames it all on his work focus, on being too busy etc etc. And that is limiting us in many ways - from him being able to share the load with me on the everyday stuff to actually getting more work here. I also said I refuse to have children until he can speak the language. If it is hard as it is right now, I can even begin to think how it would be like with kids around.

2. Not being able to get close: because we have been so stressed out, we simply haven't been able to have sex in the last two years or so. To be honest, I don't even remember when I last got laid. And to me, a 36 year-old woman who has always had a very active sexual life, it is enormously frustrating. I can't even find a lover (even if adultery was an option for me) because my self-esteem is so low. I feel like I am not being looked after or desired, I feel like that I am my husband's PA/servant/translator.

Initially, I thought that had to do with my problems dealing with life back home and putting on weight considerably. But now that I have undergone a medical treatment to lose all of my excess weight and am back in shape and feeling/looking much better, still my libido is inexistent. I look at him and feel absolutely nothing sexual. But at the same time, he is a good friend, fun, interesting, intelligent. I love him and enjoy being with him, but because of all these issues, the attraction I once had is nearly gone.

On that note, I caught him twice in the last year talking to women online. Both had dated with him in the past. He exchanged messages with them (it was online sex really) and even got to the point of almost setting something up in person for when he travelled back to Glasgow. In both occasions, I found that on his screen on Facebook and on his phone, when I went to look at the weather forecast and some message from one of these women came up on Whatsapp. he claimed to have started both these conversations when he was drunk and feeling depressed and needing to feel loved (since my sex drive has been zero). This made me feel hugely rejected and I have not been able to quote recover from that or trust him ever since. He has apologised since, and got really upset when saying that he just desperately wants us to work our issues out and just wants us to get close again. But it is very hard for me.

3. Drinking: ever since we moved, he has been drinking a lot. Not in the sense that he will wake up and reach out for his whisky, but whenever we were going out, he would drink until he collapsed. Literally. To the point I would have to drag him to bed and he would argue with me and whoever was around. He would say he would have "a few drinks to relax" and then end up totally hammered.

He now admits he is possibly depressed. It also has to do with all the problems we have been facing, the fact he doesnt have friends of his own (all of his friends are my friends). the fact that his family or friends have been to visit. He feels isolated. And the adaptation process for him has been harder than he had anticipated, even though he really likes living here.

About four months ago, I gave him an ultimatum to sort out his drinking and he has considerably reduced his alcohol intake. But whenever he drinks, alcohol just affects him in a huge way, even if it is just a little. Like the day before yesterday, two rum and cokes and he was already slurring his words. It is very frustrating. It is also connected (in addition to me being currently frigid, the daily tension of work and life in general in a foreign country) with him ultimately looking for online sex.

4. Moving: We have been living in a big city (Belo Horizonte) since we arrived and now we are moving to a smaller town on the coast, where we bought an apartment. We see this as our big chance of gettng our marriage sorted out. People there are much more friendly and some neighbors have already invited him to take part in an English club where he will be able to do some language exchange. He is planning to get a teacher and get a lot more serious about learning Portuguese.

In addition, he wants to get back into sport, he is a keen runner and wants to join the local club to do some boxing as well, which he used to do back in Glasgow but hasn't been able to do it here. Meet more people and make friends. And the place is a lot calmer and would help us both relax a bit more. This more of a solution rather than a problem, but I am just concerned that he might get even more frustrated/isolated even though we are moving to a paradise and he is extremely excited about it all.

Yesterday - after we had a big row over him drinking the two rum and cokes and getting smashed the day before - we had a long talk about the relationship and discussed whether it would be worth continuing, or even moving to the coast together. About what it is that upsets him. He talked for a long time about how he feels useless for not being able to help me, frustrated about the language, rejected as a partner and a man. I openly talked about my fears and insecurities, about my low self-esteem, feeling unattractive and unwanted and how I feel stuck, since we now bought a house and have a massive commitment. How we are constantly short-tempered with each other and I feel like I have to walk on eggshells all the time.

We agreed to try and make things work and, if by the middle of this year we are still having the same problems, we will just agree to part ways.

So we are in the situation that we need to at least try to make it work for the reasons I just described. He is, after all, my husband and I wanted to be with him in the first place. And he has changed all his life to be with me, so he also deserves a chance. We have so many prospects and ideas of things we want to do together. We don't struggle with cash. We are a good team and could potentially have a lasting marriage, but it is very hard for me to muster up the courage and strength to continue. I know I could just give up on everything as I am still young and have an entire world of possibilities waiting for me out there, but I want to give this a last shot.

Can the hivemind suggest ways to get my life back on track? Thank you so much for reading all of this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
: I look at him and feel absolutely nothing sexual.

Not that fixing this is going to magically cure all your ills, but I would suggest that unless you can change this, the relationship is doomed on a number of levels. I think this is where you need to focus on your discussions together and (if possible) with a bi-lingual therapist. What can he change to be more attractive to you? Physical things (hygiene, exercise, grooming, etc)? Practical things (help with housework more, focus on language, shut down communication with exes, etc)? Romantic things (take you out, backrubs, initiate sex, etc)? What are some changes you can make to begin to increase your sex drive and your attraction to him? That sort of stuff. If you can make progress on that, it will increase your intimacy and give you both confidence to make progress in the other areas.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:02 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel like a lot of relationships end when one person thinks "I don't feel like putting in the effort to have sex because I don't feel any romance," and the other person thinks "I don't feel like putting in the effort to be romantic because I'm not getting any sex." I certainly don't think that's the only problem in your marriage, but I think it could definitely be a significant factor.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:09 AM on February 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

He doesn't seem to be very happy in Brazil. Aside from being from there, why do you live there?
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on February 12, 2013 [20 favorites]

Wow, there is a lot going on in your lives! I think this is a difficult situation for both of you. I don't have a suggestion for everything, but the one thing I have advice on is the sex/attraction. I think having the focus be on sex isn't going to be very helpful. Instead, I would focus on romance and intimacy. Work on building up the romance. Both of you should make efforts to try to include more romance and affection in your every day life. Hold hands when you're out together. Snuggle in bed in the mornings. Go in for a hug for no particular reason apart from "hugs feel nice". Do some of the things you two did at the start of your relationship. Go on dates. Give each other a kiss when you thank them for something. Say I love you. Be grateful and appreciative. Do nice things for each other without expecting anything in return.

Basically, I would make a point of being affectionate and romantic, even if it feels unnatural and forced right now. I'll bet that if you make a point of doing it that it won't be long before it won't feel forced and unnatural. It has been my experience that the intimacy and romance in a relationship can fall away if touching and physical closeness ceases. Physical touch is a pretty good way to spark that fire again, and touching and affection can often do wonders in rebuilding what you had. I also think that physical closeness can often pave the road for emotional closeness, or at least they are pretty closely related.

So work on being affectionate. Both of you. Rediscover each other's scent and warmth. It won't solve all your other issues, but it seems like a good starting point.

And while you're working on that, I would do what Rock Steady suggests and look in to finding a couples therapist. It sounds like you both feel you've each gone way out of your way for the other person, and it sounds like you both feel like the other doesn't understand all the sacrifices and changes you've made for them. It sounds like you both are feeling the same way, but you aren't able to talk about it or address it. Having an impartial party listen and help both of you see each other's perspective could do a lot of good. If you both felt more understood and if you both felt as though the other person appreciated everything you've done for them, I think you'd be leagues ahead.

Best of luck to you both. Relationships are hard, but I think there is hope for you and your husband.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:17 AM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's good that the two of you had such an open conversation. But that's a first step. Following up is a longer slog.

I know it might not be simple to find an English-speaking couples therapist, but it seems like it would be essential. Maybe you can find someone to do sessions via Skype? Or--slightly weird suggestion--I know there are lots of English-speaking therapists in Buenos Aires, so maybe you could have a combined vacation/therapy intensive there?
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:46 AM on February 12, 2013

It is isolating to work from home, and this also takes away opportunities to practice the language day to day, make friends and talk with people. I am not at all surprised he is depressed. Going to an even smaller town may make this worse. Can he go back to Wales for a visit, or permanently? Sounds like Brazil just isn't working out.
posted by wingless_angel at 10:02 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've recently read How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, which seems to describe the two of you perfectly. It's a guide book for understanding what the other is going through and how to make a strong connection through that understanding. I highly recommend that you each read it.

To summarize it perhaps too quickly to be accurate, it says that what women fear is being left alone, and what men fear is being judged to be inadequate providers. Your husband is clearly feeling this, as he's not able to handle even basic tasks in Brazil. And when you're unattracted to him physically, this reinforces the notion that you're judging him to be inadequate. So, he rejects you too -- and this triggers your fear of being left alone (emotionally). This is a long, downward spiral until one or both of you choose to break it by making a strong personal connection with the other one. As wolfdreams01 says, each of you responds the other other in a way that makes the situation worse. And as PuppetMcSockerson suggests, adding physical touch -- even if it's forced -- is a big step towards making that connection.

I'd also like to understand why you're living in Brazil. If you both work at home, maybe finding a neutral country would be better for your marriage. He's Scottish? Can you move to the U.S.? I really feel for him. He is in such a tough place, not speaking Portuguese, not having his own friends, not having a comforting marriage right now, and not feeling adequate. Normally I'd think both partners are to blame when a marriage goes south, but this time it really seems like the blame should fall on living in a country where he's so totally isolated. I hope you two can find a place to live where he's comfortable. He's bound to have a mental block now about learning Portuguese, and it's unlikely to go away until he doesn't feel so much pressure to learn it.

Best of luck.
posted by Capri at 11:59 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

There's so much going on here that it's hard to know where to begin, so I'll start with this: it's very, very difficult for an adult to learn a language. It becomes more difficult as people age, so having previously learned a second language does not mean that picking up a third is a trivial matter. I wouldn't be surprised if he feels under enormous pressure from you to learn Portuguese, which is a really, really tall order.

I mean, think about it this way. He speaks Mandarin. Would you be down for moving to China? How quickly do you think you can learn Mandarin? How soon after you arrive in China would he be justified in getting frustrated with you for not learning Mandarin quickly enough?

It sounds like a lot of things have broken down between the two of you. Maybe a good first step would be a conversation where you re-affirm your commitment to giving each other the benefit of the doubt. A good initial offering might be your acknowledgment that a lot is being asked of him here, with a promise to assume that he's trying his best.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:33 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

it sort of sounds like you are both having communication issues: he's refused to learn portuguese and you are refusing to have sex. both are communication issues. i think you are not attracted to your husband because you are resentful of his not learning the language and putting so much of the daily stress on you. so...your husband needs to learn the language stat and you have to forgive him for not learning it sooner and give up your resentment and rebuild a sex life with your husband.
posted by wildflower at 8:12 PM on February 12, 2013

Is he definitely fluent in Mandarin and did he learn it as an adult? Because I have known many expats living in places where they didn't speak the language and who never learned to speak it even after many years. If you're both really wanting and needing to stay in Brazil, he'll need to do more than take a few online lessons to learn Portuguese. Learning a foreign language is a lot more difficult than many people expect it to be. Can you convince him to sign up for intensive, in person classes? Can he do some volunteer work a few hours a week in a place where he'd have to speak Portuguese?
posted by hazyjane at 10:41 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

You guys are both in such a bad place, mentally. You've moved out of your comfort zones, individually, all while trying to make a marriage work (which is already difficult under the best of circumstances).

I know this is a simplistic answer, but marriage counseling is probably the best place to turn in your situation. If the upside is as good as you claim it to be, I'd say it's worth fighting for and for looking at what else you can do.

And kudos to you for some self-honesty in your post.....That self-honesty will serve you well if you decide to go to couple's therapy.
posted by PsuDab93 at 8:24 AM on February 13, 2013

To me, he seems really lazy. He hasn't bothered to learn the language, he thinks he's entitled to sex from strangers because you aren't feeling it (never mind bringing it up to you), and he gets wasted.

I think you're driving the relationship and it is draining you. You aren't even attracted to him anymore and you don't feel good about yourself. Let him go have sex with strangers and be someone else's problem.

Investing in the relationship should be mutual, and he's not even trying on his own. You aren't his mother, you're his partner. You need to take care of yourself first. And that means not having to take his burden on yourself. Does he even care how you feel? How tired you are? How sexually frustrated you are? How low your self esteem has been?
posted by discopolo at 12:38 PM on February 13, 2013

And on top of it, he has secrets and justifies his online dalliances? This guy is self-centered and I don't think he's one of those ppl capable of doing the emotional work necessary to make things better.

Don't sacrifice your peace of mind for him. He's secretive and uncommunicative, which makes him untrustworthy, and you're not attracted to him. That's all there is to it, honestly.
posted by discopolo at 12:44 PM on February 13, 2013

In my experience, even the strongest relationships can suffer in a bad environment. It sounds like for your husband, Brazil is a bad environment, and it's bringing out the worst in him. Maybe he thought he could pick up and move, but it hasn't turned out the way you thought, and I would definitely be depressed in his position. I'd probably have moved back a long time ago.

If you're serious about saving this marriage, I'd seriously consider a move to somewhere more comfortable for your husband. I think improving things in Brazil is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible.
posted by walla at 2:49 PM on February 13, 2013

I agree with others when they talk about couple's counselling, but has he considered individual therapy? He's depressed, drinking a lot and withdrawing from you because he feels inadequate and lost in an unfamiliar place, and you're having to deal with the fallout of this - contacting other women, dealing with his drunken behaviour. I'm not saying "its his fault", and I feel for how sad he seems to be, but it seems like he has issues he needs to deal with on his own. It depends on how much he wants to.

Good luck to both of you.
posted by billiebee at 4:43 AM on February 14, 2013

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