afraid to confront husband about sex life
April 28, 2014 6:03 PM   Subscribe

My husband (I'm female) and I have been going through a really tough time (infertility at a young age), and we've been working together to reframe our lives together and as a couple. We've been discussing what's working and what's not. He seems very dedicated to building a future together, despite his lack of follow through on issues we talked about, including sex life.

One example is how to support each other through this time. Instead of doing and saying some of the things I let him know would soothe and re assure me, he continues to be apathetic. The main issue I'm having (besides feeling like I'm going through this on my own) is that I let him know that I need more "non sexual" touching, and that I'm not comfortable with him grabbing my breast or butt after the affection display of, say, a hug. He responded positively ("I had no idea! I'm so sorry).... but then it didn't stop. The behavior actually increased.

After that conversation, our sex life became intense, frequent (morning and evening, he almost made me late for work this morning because he was pressuring me) and more rough than normal. He also refused to start wearing protection. I was in an abusive relationship before I got married, and i am having trouble seeing this situation objectively. I'm hesitant to bring it up again, in case it gets worse. He's not aggressive in every day life, and I haven't seen him act with such disregard toward our sex life. What can I do? Sleep on the couch? I'm nervous history will repeat itself (from my previous relationship) if I say no. He told me he thought therapy was a waste of time (I'm going on my own). I don't want this situation to escalate. Am I reading this situation correctly? Any advice or perspective is appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm nervous history will repeat itself (from my previous relationship) if I say no.

I think this is the key thing to work with your therapist on -- none of us can tell you how he'll react if you do say no, and given your past history (and your husband's current seeming disregard for your boundaries) it is completely normal to be worried about his reaction. I would do some reality-testing with your therapist to help you determine whether your worry is protecting you or hindering you in this particular case.
posted by jaguar at 6:11 PM on April 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I was younger, I kinda thought it was sexy to be a little forced into sex by a partner.

Now, that's hysterical dealbreaker territory for me.

Source: 40's female.

I guess it depends on your perspective. I will say one thing, though....

I would not want to get pregnant that way. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 6:16 PM on April 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

This doesn't sound good. Refusing to wear protection is a form of sexual abuse and if you are worried that he's going to become violent if you turn him down then there is something wrong with the dynamic of your relationship. Your husband should be relating to you in such a way that that isn't even a question.

Also, the paying lip service to your stated preferences about being grabbed and saying therapy is a waste of time are huge red flags.
posted by alphanerd at 6:18 PM on April 28, 2014 [24 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this. It seems there's three problematic issues: you, your husband, and the relationship.

1. You: You've been in an abusive relationship before, and being mistreated badly by someone you love is both a product and cause of further confusion about how relationships are supposed to be. So it's really good that you're going to therapy. Keep doing that and keep working on yourself.

2. Husband: To an outsider, the way you've described his behavior makes him sound kind of boorish. So I'm inclined to suspect that he either really is, in which case I think you should start thinking about how to get out of being in a relationship with a man who is not good to you, since you shouldn't expect that he will radically change; or, if your description isn't an accurate representation of how your husband really is, why does your description make him seem that way? I would suggest talking to your therapist about that question.

3. Your relationship: I think it's wonderful that you love seriously and you want your relationship to be better. That's necessary for good relationships. But if you're feeling genuinely scared for your own safety if you say no to sex, which is what I think you're saying here, then you don't feel safe with him, and it's really hard to have a healthy relationship with someone who doesn't make you feel safe.

Keep going to therapy. Be assertive about your needs your boundaries. But above all, trust your instincts, stay safe, and keep trying to get healthy and happy and whole. Good luck.
posted by clockzero at 6:19 PM on April 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

You don't give a ton of information so I will add in the caveat here that I may be jumping to conclusions based on an incomplete picture.

Your husband seems to be asserting his power and/or dominance over you in the most intimate way possible and that's disturbing. The fact that he not only continued, but increased the frequency of touching you during times you specifically told him you didn't like just screams out to me that he not only is willing to violate your boundaries, he enjoys violating your boundaries. He refused to wear protection. He constantly pressures you for sex and does it in such a way that you don't feel like you can refuse. You say the sex is becoming more frequents, more aggressive, rougher, etc, undoubtedly this escalation is directly correlated to your aversion to having kinds of sex you don't want to have at times you don't want to have it. This is very disturbing behavior and I think you need to really consider the fact that you may once again be in an abusive relationship.
posted by whoaali at 6:26 PM on April 28, 2014 [28 favorites]

Very few people really listen to words. Words are cheap. Actions get through a lot better.

"No no no no no yes," just translate to "hey, look, dedication pays off" to other people.

Total silence and getting up and leaving makes a bigger impression.
posted by quincunx at 6:27 PM on April 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

With the same caveat as whoaali (who I think makes some good points) that I don't know much about your situation, what you've said here has a lot of red flags, starting with the title; if you're afraid to confront your husband about your sex life and he's initiating frequent, rough sex that's a big problem. If you're afraid that you can't make it stop, that's a VERY big problem.

Mostly I want to say that there are things in your question that sound upsetting and scary and it is very reasonable and okay to feel upset and scared if these things are happening. I'm super glad you're in therapy; please make sure you use that time to trust your feelings and know that if you're feeling scared or upset by this that is very reasonable and you are not crazy to have those feelings.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:31 PM on April 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would stop having sex with him. For now. Not as a big dramatic thing, just -- I need to take a break from physical intimacy because of these unresolved issues which I have discussed for you; I can't enjoy myself just now. But mostly, yeah, you don't want to sleep with him right now and you don't want to be pawed at sexually -- and he is not listening. That's upsetting for me to read and I expect it feels endlessly worse for you.

If you are unarguably, for-real scared to tell him that, call a women's shelter. Not necessarily to flee, but for immediate advice. Or for fleeing. Either could work. Some of what you have said here hints that your relationship may be abusive.

Excellent call on finding a therapist and going alone.

If you have a friend whose couch you could crash on for a bit, that might be a good thing to do.
posted by kmennie at 6:42 PM on April 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

I am a complete stranger and I don't know you, but I am worried for you. I am scared for you. It isn't okay for someone to pressure you into sex, it isn't okay to make you scared to say no, it isn't okay to stop using protection without consent. Those things are rape. You say you're going through infertility at a young age - if you did have a child, how do you think this might change? Will he be okay with you saying no because you have just gone through birth? Or because your hormones are out of whack? Do you ever get to initiate sex? Do you ever even want to? How do you think a child in the home will affect his behaviour? Given that he won't stop groping you when you ask, do you think the presence of a child will stop him? What is your child going to grow up thinking is normal and okay about sex and relationships?

I am concerned for you, anon, please message me if you want to, but this situation is full of red flags and warning signs and abusive moments and while therapy is a great idea, so is being able to leave.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:59 PM on April 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

Uh, does he think that pressure-y, no fun sex is a way to fix infertility? I'm not being snarky, I'm just trying to think about what he might be thinking. If you get to a place where you can talk with him productively, maybe ask him if the infertility issue is behind this behavioral development?

But otherwise . . . I've been in a relationship like that. I grew resentful and distant and lonely and then finally got to this weird place where I had to get super, super drunk to have sex with my own husband. He also got resentful and confused and irritated and lonely. Then we got divorced. I was in counseling, but he also thought it was a waste of time and refused to go to couple's counseling with me.

It's really icky to have all physical contact be sexual. Not even erotic sexual, because boob-honks and butt-grabs aren't intimate, they're objectifying when it's the only way you're touched. I would also stop having sex with this person, and I'd probably even stop being around them for a while, even if it meant temporarily moving out.

And making you almost late for work is fucked up. It's selfish, inconsiderate, demanding and immature. I accidentally triggered a huge fight once by walking away from a boob-honk to catch a bus for work -- I didn't know until later that was supposed to be a warm up to his morning glory, while I was putting on my shoes to walk out the door. In the end I got guilted for being cold and making him feel all sad and rejected. We're all in grown-up land now where we don't get to stay in bed all day dicking around when we have jobs.

The relationship eventually got labeled as emotionally abusive by my therapist and I was shocked, though I could never disagree that it was totally fucked up, with sex being one of the biggest problems. We were just on different planets about it; it was the carrot and the stick.

Keep going to therapy. Separate physically and demand that he come to couple's counseling and hear this shit out before you put your body back within arm's reach. Maybe also check with your infertility specialist about whether developments like this are "normal" for couples dealing with this issue.
posted by mibo at 7:00 PM on April 28, 2014

There are many kinder men than this.
posted by amtho at 7:12 PM on April 28, 2014 [17 favorites]

The fact that this aggressive, forceful behavior escalated at the same time you acknowledged a need for therapy in your relationships speaks volumes to me, and not in a good way. It makes me think he's angry, furious, that you aren't happy with things the way they are, particularly sexually. When you specifically asked him to change a few simple things like boob/butt grabs, which I consider classic signs of ownership (as in "I own this woman"), disrespectful and demeaning, and his reaction was to take it up a notch by showing you that he can be even more harsh and forceful, that's a very good indication that he's just been controlling his abusive nature all along.

I'm sorry, but if you were my daughter I'd recommend that you continue with your therapy, don't push any more of your husband's buttons, and set about figuring out some way to get out from under his influence from a financial and security standpoint.

Sometimes marriages just don't work. We figure out how to get through it and move on to better things. I hope things get better for you, but the features of your marriage that you describe are just warnings of worse to come, it seems to me. Please be careful.
posted by aryma at 7:39 PM on April 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't want this situation to escalate.

Right. Because you've had experience with something even scarier and more awful than this. There's a logic to the way you're thinking, certainly. You're in self-preservation mode. Those of us outside of your situation are seeing that, even though you've experienced worse, the current situation you're describing sounds miserable and toxic.

Am I reading this situation correctly?

You're reading this through the lens of having been in an abusive relationship. "Correctly" is a hard term to pin down here. Have you discussed these behaviors with your therapist? Someone pressuring you for sex, physically touching you in ways you've asked him not to, and refusing to use protection sound abusive. But then, I don't have all the details.

One thing I can say for certain is that you deserve to have your boundaries respected. If he can't respect your boundaries, and if you don't feel safe/comfortable/ready to talk to him about sex, I would suggest that continuing to have sex with him will do more harm to the relationship (and to you) than imposing a break while you have some hard conversations. (If you do not feel that you can safely turn him down for sex, then you should share that with your therapist or call the national domestic violence hotline.)

Do not try couples counseling until you have established with your therapist that this pattern of behavior is not abuse. Abusive relationships and couples counseling do not mix. Couples counseling is designed around the premise that each person is equally responsible for the health and functioning of the relationship--but abuse is only ever the abuser's fault.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:45 PM on April 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure what the reason was for you to ask him to wear protection in the context of infertility, but I think that it would be a really good idea to put any infertility treatment cycles on hold and to go onto birth control yourself if you have not already, until this situation is resolved either by him completely changing his ways (seems less likely given your description) or you getting out of the relationship. I'm sorry this is happening, infertility is hard enough without something like this to deal with on top of it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:50 PM on April 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Does your husband know about your past history of abuse? Could you sit him down and have a serious talk that makes it clear that this stuff is not really in "whoops, so sorry" territory for you, but instead it's intensely triggering? I mean, you guys are married to each other. Surely he cares about you as a person, on some level, and doesn't actively want to hurt you in this way.

If you feel like he doesn't care about you enough to respect your (perfectly valid!) boundaries about this stuff, you have much, much bigger issues, maybe even relationship-ending issues.
posted by Sara C. at 7:54 PM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't waste any more time on this guy. Call a women's shelter, make an excuse to visit someone out of town. You're scared, that's reason enough to do whatever you need to do. So what if it turns out you were wrong? What he's doing is creepy and frightening.
posted by bleep at 8:19 PM on April 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's saddening that you believe having been in an abusive relationship makes you less, not more, able to spot another one. If your brain is already making those comparisons, it's exactly because you've been down this road already; you recognize it.

If it helps to have an outside perspective; my husband would never, ever do this, he would be horrified at the whole idea of pushing sex on me against my will, and he's not a saint-level spouse, just an ordinary man who respects me. He wants to be with someone who is truly consenting, just like I do. That isn't extraordinary; that is where the low bar should be for everyone. That is the bare minimum of a healthy sexual relationship.

However it started, your relationship has now fallen below that minimum and that's not ok. You should talk to your therapist but also think about finding a safer place to be than the couch, like a friend's house or other safe place. I am so sorry that you are going through this, especially while dealing with infertility, but don't ignore your brain; it's trying to tell you this isn't ok.
posted by emjaybee at 8:39 PM on April 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

i am having trouble seeing this situation objectively.

Internet stranger here; objectivity only has your words to go by, but in your words, the following statements:

... behavior actually increased
... refused to start wearing protection
... I'm hesitant to bring it up again, in case it gets worse.
... I'm nervous [any negative consequence at all] if I say no
... I don't want this situation to escalate

read to me as abuse. I'm wondering what your therapist thinks.
posted by ead at 8:40 PM on April 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm also a little puzzled by the "wear protection even though infertile" aspect of this situation and it makes me wonder whether there's more to this overall situation than has been described.
posted by Dansaman at 10:37 PM on April 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I can answer the protection while going through infertility derail as the asker is anonymous.

We were told the same thing when going through IVF. They don't want you getting pregnant while you're in the middle of a stimulated cycle. You could risk a multiple pregnancy and if it was undetected.... expose a embryo to hormones in bad synch for sustaining pregnancy or the health of the embryo/mother.

In fact, we were told not to have sex for quite long and torturous periods, looking back.

So... I hope that helps people who wondering about that and not focusing on the rest of the problem. There's nothing odd about that part at all.

And anonymous, this is quite terrible to read, I'm so sorry for your situation.

I don't want to label your husband's behaviour without more information and I'm not qualified to do it anyway.... but it worries me for you. A lot.

What I do know is that some of men going through fertility feel quite threatened... as if their virility or masculinity is questionable. In my situation I had the problem so it wasn't an issue for us... but I know of others where the male partner struggled to cope.

But now I"m focused on you... please take care of yourself. Stay safe. Get support. This is not a good situation to be in. And please stop the fertility treatments for now. It's not a good time to be making these kind of irreversible decisions.

Hugs and support from me and all of us on the green.
posted by taff at 1:03 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

This does not sound like a healthy marriage, and certainly not one in which to try and have a child.

Infertility is mind-blowingly hard to deal with, as are the treatments. If your sex life and marriage are already shaky, as you're experiencing, all the cracks in the foundation widen and become more apparent.

See if you can get your husband into counseling where a dispassionate third-party can help you both process what is happening.

Until then, say to him, "I am tired of being pressured to have sex, I don't like the way you grab at me, and when you pressure me and grab me, I feel unsafe and afraid of you."

I would see if you could stay with a friend for awhile.

It may be that your marriage is over, but that's okay. You've survived worse. Just don't let this relationship get to that same point.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:02 AM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

hey, maybe go stay with a friend or family member for a few weeks. and maybe call a women's shelter and/or discuss what's going on here with your therapist. it sounds like an abusive relationship in an already extremely stressful situation. if you get some space away from your husband's presence and the sexual demands and can use that calm and quiet to think, you might be able to see things more clearly and make a decision you feel confident about.
posted by zdravo at 3:51 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm nervous history will repeat itself (from my previous relationship) if I say no. . . I don't want this situation to escalate.

I don't think you should ignore that feeling. If what he is doing now is making you scared, and he is constantly overriding your very valid feelings regarding sex, is it really that implausible that history could repeat itself?

I say this from my own experience. Every time I said "no", one way or another, he made me anyway. I wish I would have left the first time it happened, but it seemed so out of the blue and he seemed so apologetic afterward. It was just words though. I remember being afraid to tell him that I didn't like the things he did, and when I did so, he gave me all kinds of false justifications; be prepared for that kind of manipulation. His behavior became more egregious as time went on. Being treated that way wears away at you little by little until eventually you feel so small it's like you barely exist anymore. I couldn't even see it as abuse at the time, all I had was the memory of feeling that small when being physically and emotionally abused as a child and I didn't want to feel that way anymore.

Now, I can't tell you how freeing it feels to not be groped at unwillingly anymore, for instance.

From what you've written, you've asked him for support and he done the exact opposite. If he behaves like this toward you while you are going through the fertility issues now, what happens the next time something puts a strain on your relationship? And what might his behavior be like as your kids require time, energy, and attention from you both?

I think all the suggestions to try and stay somewhere else for a couple days while you think about things in a safe place are excellent. If you don't feel safe enough to tell him that you're leaving for a couple days, then don't tell him, just go. Listen to your intuition and please look out for yourself and your well-being.
posted by sevenofspades at 6:58 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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