Is my marriage so unusual?
March 8, 2015 11:05 PM   Subscribe

The other night I asked my husband if he is happy and, after about 30 minutes of thoughtful consideration, he said he feels the concept of a long happy marriage is overrated and that he "isn't not happy." He is satisfied.

[posting for a friend]

Some history: We are in our 40s, educated, not religious, fit, healthy, work full time and are financially stable and own our home. We've been married nearly 15 years. My husband is an introvert to the extreme. We share a love of the outdoors and used to hike and play on weekends. Generally, however, he prefers to go off on his own. I've always respected his need for this, but it became particularly hard after we had our child and he'd disappear for whole weekends to be alone (this included my first Mother's Day). He does not like social situations, so when friends invite us over I typically go alone (or with our child if it's a family-friendly thing). We share an 8-year-old child we both adore. There is no abuse in our family. Our communication is respectful and we truly like one another.

All that said, we live like roommates. I sleep in the bedroom and he sleeps in the finished basement family room. I can't remember the last time we shared a bed, and the last time we had sex was before our child was born. We don't snuggle or kiss or hug. We rarely touch one another.

When I asked if he'd prefer it if we lived in separate houses, he said no, that living apart would make for a much harder life and he didn't want that.

I realize that most of the people I know don't know these things about my marriage and that there are likely just as many things I don't know about theirs. And so, I seek greater perspective and useful feedback. My questions are these:

If you've been married more than 10 years:
How would you describe your level of shared physical affection? Your shared social time? Your sex life?

If you have any experience resembling ours:
How did you work through the issues (successfully or unsuccessfully) and what were the outcomes? The lessons? The useful resources? I'm really looking for some examples of what went well/wrong when couples separated or when they powered through and worked on thingsā€”or if they just accepted the situation for what it was.

If you aren't comfortable publicly responding but feel you have something helpful to share, please don't hesitate to PM me.
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Human Relations (33 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

I asked for a separation because of a straw that broke the camel's back situation, two crisises happening at the same time where I couldn't justify my husband's actions any more. Prior to that I would have described a similar marital situation of nearly two decades as loving and generally happy. Now two months of separation, it's like waking up into a different reality. I spent so much time and energy rationalizing how sad and angry I was to make our home life work the way he preferred, and it's staggering to be free of that.

Do you find yourself covering and excusing his behavior to others? I stopped discussing anything private because it was too painful to see the look on friend's faces when they realized i wasn't kidding, so I made everything a joke or said it was my idea/preference to hide how worn down and miserable I was.

Do you talk openly about the lack of sex and the reasons why? Do you feel like it's somehow your fault for not being satisfactory in some way? Is physical affection a reward for when you make your partner happy through compliance?

Are you financially and socially independent? Are they proud of your successes and abilities?

I'm broke and exhausted as a single parent (partner does the fun stuff only on visits), but it's about a thousand times better than slowly withering away while desperately saying how happy and loved I am out of terror.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:32 PM on March 8, 2015 [37 favorites]

Also you don't have to be hit to be abused. I am embarrassed to admit that it's only recently hit me despite working with abusive families in my day job, that there are other forms of abuse - verbal bullying, sexual withholding, financial coercion, social isolation, threats of harm and abandonment etc - that can trap you too. I kept thinking hey, he's never hit me, not really....
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:35 PM on March 8, 2015 [19 favorites]

Your friend focuses a lot about how her husband feels, but I don't see anything about how she feels in this situation. Is she happy?
posted by Conspire at 11:52 PM on March 8, 2015 [19 favorites]

I'm not married, but reading through your post carefully, it feels like you might not be seeing your own needs (including emotional and physical needs within a relationship) as legitimate and worthy. They are.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:54 PM on March 8, 2015 [33 favorites]

Generally, however, he prefers to go off on his own. I've always respected his need for this, but it became particularly hard after we had our child and he'd disappear for whole weekends to be alone (this included my first Mother's Day)

This isn't introversion, this is selfish.

Echoing Conspire: how does your friend feel? If your friend is unhappy, she is unhappy, and it's time to start having difficult adult conversations, probably moderated by a couples therapist. Individual therapy for her would also probably be a good idea.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:32 AM on March 9, 2015 [55 favorites]

" he said he feels the concept of a long happy marriage is overrated and that he "isn't not happy." He is satisfied."

I see behavior like that demonstrated by your husband by the type of person that sees marriage as a business arrangement and the spouse as a cog in the machine- there to do 'a job'. Rather than there to join him as a life-partner.

Truth be told it is actually possible to have a happy marriage that is primarily seen as a business arrangement if one sees the spouse as an equal partner in that business. (many happy arranged marriages are like this) However your husband's actions do not seem to reflect this attitude. It seems he saw you as a means to an end rather than as part of a team. You are the one that fulfills the child rearing and household activities for him and he (presumably) provides financially the same way a boss provides financially to his hired help without giving anything more. The fact that you haven't had sex since the birth of your child directs to this even more. He either saw sex with you as a means to an end (having children) or once you had the child you were now seen as "mother" rather than "wife/lover". I'd almost be inclined to say that he's either gay or seeing another woman during his weekend hiatuses- but that notion only comes from the fact that every friend I've ever had that said their husband stopped having sex with them it turned out it was because he was getting it elsewhere. It doesn't come from anything you said in particular.

I'm currently reading a book called "Mindful Loving" which claims that the purpose of a marriage should be to try to make the person feel loved, rather than to try to get the other person to love you in the way you want. Ideally both people should be looking to make the other person happy. If after some time it seems apparent that only one person is attempting to do this, then the book says that there needs to be a reevaluation of whether this relationship should go on.
posted by rancher at 1:17 AM on March 9, 2015 [22 favorites]

I'm just going to chip in that my parents are like this. They've been married now for 35 years. I've never seen them kiss or hug or anything like that or act warmly or affectionately towards each other but I know they like each other. I don't think I've ever seen them touch each other, come to think of it. They share a bed though. They don't seem unhappy either but also nothing like that I want in a relationship. I don't feel like my mum ever asserts her needs and I don't feel like my dad makes any effort to see or meet her needs. I could be wrong but I suspect watching their relationship contributed to me taking so long to figure out what a healthy relationship and intimacy could look like and I made some big mistakes. Just something to consider.
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 1:23 AM on March 9, 2015 [18 favorites]

So I can only answer the first part of your question. Us, married 10 years with young kids. We share a bed (unless up with kiddos), kiss/hug/cuddle everyday though we have busy lives so this is not huge amounts of time, we are frequently intimate (IMO). We spend a lot of our free time (evenings and weekends together). Four or five evenings a week and almost all of the weekends (I sleep in a bit at least one weekend morning). I usually go out one evening a week without him and he usually deals with work stuff one night a week. The rest of our spare time is shared in either the same activity or at least same room working on different things. Socially we share pretty much the same friends so we attend all the same activities unless it's a "guys night/ladies night/spa day" thing. We try to get a babysitter 2-3 nights a month so we can have date nights with each other.

Even spending as much time together as we do it's still hard to really be connected with the other person and what's going on in their lives as things are always so busy. Both of us work to keep the connection/team strong. I could not imagine trying to have a partnership with someone as unavailable as your friends spouse. The more time spent together the less we drift apart. Adding parenting to the mix takes away a lot of "couple" time too so post children we basically have to plan and schedule time to just be together and connect.
posted by saradarlin at 1:55 AM on March 9, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'm currently reading a book called "Mindful Loving" which claims that the purpose of a marriage should be to try to make the person feel loved, rather than to try to get the other person to love you in the way you want. Ideally both people should be looking to make the other person happy. If after some time it seems apparent that only one person is attempting to do this, then the book says that there needs to be a reevaluation of whether this relationship should go on.

I just wanted to highlight the above poster's comment about this book. I have several married friends who have read it and really connected to it's message. Your friend may want to start there, and then re-evaluate the next step: What does *she* want? I am agreeing with some of the above posters; the questions centers about what her husband wants and how he is "satisfied", but is she? Is she content to sleep in separate bedrooms, is she content to not receive regular demonstrations of affection, is she content to continue to raise her children in a home that is loving to the child but not to her, etc?

This is something that I believe happens to a lot of couples, and a lot of them stay where they are because everything seems comfortable. But if your friend is looking/yearning/needing someone less "comfortable" and more "loving", or both comfortable *and* loving, she needs to seriously reevaluate her marriage for her own sake, before she feels it is too late. Couples therapy is an option if her husband recognizes that there is a problem/that she thinks there is a problem. If he is not interested in rocking the boat, she may need to rock it herself. Not easy decisions, but in the end, you only have one life, and if you want a different kind of marriage, you might have to risk starting again to find the right kind of human connection. Best of luck to her and whatever she decides to do.
posted by stumblingthroughitall at 2:06 AM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

It doesn't matter what everyone else's "normal" is; and I would guess your friend discusses only her husband's feelings here because her own dissatisfaction is in the form of this question. She wouldn't be asking this question were this all good with her.

If she's asking, "Is this unusual?," it's because she's unhappy. It doesn't matter if 21 people here chime in, "Totally normal!" and 18 say, "Your marriage is a sham." What matters is that your friend is unhappy, she's married with a child, and she needs to get help so she can evaluate her marriage and what makes her happy. It would appear that her husband's behavior doesn't do that. It also appears that her husband is not all that happy, so it would be best for both of them to talk to someone.

(Hey, living like roommates can work for a married couple as long as that's what they both want. It seems that isn't what your friend wants.)
posted by kinetic at 2:50 AM on March 9, 2015 [31 favorites]

If you've been married more than 10 years: - we're not married, but are celebrating our ten year anniversary together this saturday!

How would you describe your level of shared physical affection? I dunno medium? My partner does not come from a culture that's big on physical affection compared to Western ideas but you know, we probably touch each other every day, certainly on the weekends a lot. A foot rub if we're sitting on the couch watching teevs, holding hands if we're out together and the kids aren't killing us etc.

Your shared social time? My wife goes out more than I do, generally, and also we have two kids under 4. This said, I'd say we share at least one social activity, usually two every weekend. Socially, we spend more time together than apart, though we're conscious that both of us need some time away from the kids etc.

Your sex life? Well, we have a 1 year old, and a 3 year old... and I wouldn't have considered us super sexy to begin with, so to speak, so.... I think you get the picture. Neither of us are really bothered by this, though. We're compatible in this respect, and also, we have a 1 year old and a 3 year old - we're damned tired! Oh, we also sleep in separate beds more often than not which I was initially dead set opposed to, but she's brought me round and now I'm actually a huge fan of! Sleep is the best!

I don't know if the above is helpful, I want to call out something though. Often, I think, when people are unhappy with an aspect of their relationship, they try - consciously or unconsciously - to benchmark their experience. Do other couples do this? Am I normal? Is this something I should deal with?

It's a very understandable thing to do, but I also think it's often unhealthy - because your relationship is not other people's. What makes you happy or unhappy is not what makes other people happy or unhappy - and you deserve to have a happy relationship that's working for you regardless of how "normal" (or not normal) it is. My partner and I had a chat once cause we were unsure if we shouldn't be having more sex as it seemed to be something that was like, kind of a big deal in a lot of relationships. Neither of us were unhappy with the frequency, but we kind of felt like we were obligated to be unhappy, or that in a healthy relationship people should be unhappy with that frequency.

Of course, none of that mattered, in the end. We were happy with the frequency, and we promised to discuss with the other person if those feelings changed and work on it together. That's what a successful relationship looks like; and it's inwardly focused, not outwardly focused.

Your friend has the right to want more, to be happy, to be unhappy etc. The benchmarks for my relationship shouldn't change her needs and desires.
posted by smoke at 2:59 AM on March 9, 2015 [10 favorites]

We've been married 20 years, and my husband is an introvert and I'm a weak extrovert.

We aren't massively cuddly people by nature but we touch and hug at least once a day I would say. I am a hundred times more likely to ask for a hug.

I totally find him sexy. We have some weird scheduling issues combined with him sometimes needing to recharge alone at night so we have a standing date one night a week where we put the kids to bed, haul out the fancy cheese and watch netflix or whatever and then let that lead to sexy fun times, as a baseline.

We have had some rough times, notably after we lost our first child and he took a contract in another city (!?!).

I found it oddly hard to say look, Mr. Warriorqueen, you can't just unilaterally create a commuter marriage and I am lonely and freaking out and finding myself at Pride without you looking at some pretty fine bodies. At that time I realized we had created this relationship which was very strong in a lot of ways, but skewed towards a concept of two adults sharing separate lives rather than a life together. I realized we could decouple pretty easily -- by this time we were selling the house anyway, and I wasn't pregnant yet.

For me then, I decided to get in and fight for the relationship I wanted. It is crazy-making to have to say basic stuff like "I think, being married and all, we should live together."

Or better yet "I am lonely, and I don't need a dozen roses but I do need to feel wanted, loved, appreciated and here is the word from our vows, cherished.. I get that for you, getting to go off alone is how you feel supported. But for me, it's a date with you."

It took a long time for that to change and then, frankly, it felt fake for a while, like I had asked and now he was just doing it to placate me. know, sometimes I had been swallowing my anger at his need to go off alone in order to cherish him and I was seeing that as supportive so...I decided he could try it. And I tried to share my appreciation, and we managed to back off the edge one date at a time and it got natural again.

For us it worked out great, but if it had not I hope I would have honored my own needs. They are important.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:59 AM on March 9, 2015 [27 favorites]

We celebrated 10 years of happy marriage in October, and our physical affection is super constant. I married a very loving Italian (per Nora Ephron's advice) so his amazing culture is on our side. When we started dating over 13 years ago, our mutual friends teased us about being the most in love couple they know. We are deeply in love still, and I feel like the luckiest lady on the planet. Socially, we do most things together, with the exception of my 2 book clubs, and the fact that we each take a couple of weekend trips a year away from each other to visit old best friends. There are 5 other local couples we have dinner parties with or go out with on a regular basis, as well as a different group of 4 other families all over the U.S. we vacation with every other year or so. We have 2 sweet kids; our oldest child is 7, and we are contemplating having a third. My husband is a super hands-on dad, and has always been proactive about making sure we are sharing the parenting equally. Our sex life is really satisfying; we do it several times a week.

The OP's friend's husband is dead wrong about the value of a happy marriage. It is actually priceless.
posted by hush at 4:50 AM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

Your friend has what Dan Savage calls a "companionate marriage". The question isn't whether it's normal (although I believe it's not UNcommon), but whether it meets her needs. If it doesn't, she and her husband need to sit down and renegotiate the terms of their union.
posted by julthumbscrew at 4:54 AM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

The husband says he is fine. Maybe he has aspergers or something. Maybe this is how he wants his marriage to be -- a shared household where he doesn't have any emotional obligations. Maybe he's having an affair.

But the problem is that the wife wants to have her emotional needs met, and she isn't. She needs to recognize that her needs are valid, and approach this with that in mind. Maybe she needs to explain her needs to her husband, or maybe she needs to get a new one, but for sure she needs a better husband.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:25 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's even in the Bible that withholding sex in a marriage is wrong. If you are comfortable without it, and he is comfortable without it, then, great, stay put. But if one of you wants it and the other is withholding it, then you are essentially divorced without the fun bits of getting to find someone who will have sex with you.
posted by myselfasme at 6:58 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it's common, for real -- happens a lot. But there are lots of things that are common that I wouldn't want, and don't want, and wouldn't have, and don't have.

They are friends. And that's vital, I'm thinking, you've got to be friends, you're going to be together in sickness and in health, you're going to see a lot of each other. So friendship is imperative. But is friends enough to slip a ring on my finger? Nope.

They haven't had sex since the child was born. Bull. Shit. They haven't had sex *together* and that's a totally different animal. Could be he's dressing up in a black rubber duck suit and jerking off whilst watching furries videos, could be that she's reading that gray shades book and moaning and panting, flagellating herself with a five pound sack of onions. Human beings, we're sexual, most of us anyways, plus if we're not getting that with our sweetie -- and sometimes if we are getting that with our sweetie -- we have all these wacky kinks that light us up, turn up the fire as it were, and we want these things, and we're going to have them.


It's been called out upthread -- therapy. There is this *huge* elephant in the middle of their relationship, they are one on each side of it, every now and again catching a glimpse of one another as the elephant shifts 'round some. Put them in a room with a talented couples therapist and first thing that therapist will do is lead the elephant the elephant out of the room, and now they're looking one another dead in the eye, first time in a long time. And that therapist will ask pretty basic questions but they'll burn like fire to each person in the relationship -- it's really helpful, but it's really painful. It might get better but it's going to hurt a lot, first.

I've not been able to do it. Had a few chances, the dice fell wrong, I've drawn some good cards but never a winning hand. But I have a front-row seat to lots of relationships, a picture window into them, most of them I could not be party to. Would not. No way. They'll quit talking, they'll be sitting on a couch eating chips and dip watching junk tv on a really fine TV, the chips and the dip and the horses-ass show allowing them to keep from talking. Missed connections. It'd be a total wrist-slitter for me, I just could *not* do it. So I haven't.


Anyways. The old standard here, on AskMe -- get thee to a qualified, competent couples therapist. Don't think they're a bad therapist if you hurt when you're in there, and after you walk out -- when you go to a damn dentist, he's not going to work on teeth that don't need fixing, he's going to head right for the problem area(s) and start rooting around, with drills and needles and knives and other sharp instruments; he's trained to really help you, when you show up there in his office. Couples therapist same/same, except without drills and/or knives (hopefully!)

Darkest hour before dawn, and all the rest of that -- you're in a good spot. Not a comfortable spot, yet, but a good one, the pain forcing your hand, making you look where you don't want to look, where you and your spousal unit have together decided is off-limits.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:29 AM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

I am not surprised your friend's husband says he's satisfied. It sounds like the marriage is arranged pretty much on his terms. As others have pointed out, the question is how your friend feels about it.

I've been married more than 15 years, and our marriage does not at all fall under that pattern; in fact, it's the opposite. We do occasionally attend social engagements without the other but not frequently; most often we're together, and physical intimacy is present from hugging, cuddling and kissing on up.

So while I don't have any direct experience resembling your friend's, I will say that I have a very good friend who was in a marriage with a similar pattern -- no touching at all, no affection, basically living as roommates -- and the starvation of affection was torturing my friend. I suggested to my friend that the whithholding of affection was abusive too, and my friend eventually sought a divorce and now is very happy in a new relationship.

People form *all kinds* of relationships. There's nothing inherently wrong with the pattern your friend described as long as she's happy with it. But if not, she is absolutely entitled to negotiate something better even if her husband is satisfied with the way things are. And if he is unwilling to compromise, I hope she considers if she would be happier in her relationship or out of it; my friend did and I am sure doing so led to improvements in my friend's life.
posted by Gelatin at 7:33 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

My experience resembling yours is that in some ways, I'm like your husband. I'm an introvert and use time alone to recharge. When my husband travels, I can happily spend an entire weekend without any human interaction other than a trip to the grocery store. I don't dislike social situations as much as your husband seems to, but I do find them pretty draining even when I enjoy them. I'm also not very physically affectionate--I don't dislike it, it's just not my instinctive way of showing love. My husband appreciates the ways I show him love (mostly by doing things for him), and yet he still wants physical affection. Which is reasonable. So I've tried to start noticing opportunities to be a bit more affectionate. I've also put an alarm on my phone reminding me to give him a hug every evening (I know that sounds like the least romantic thing, but... it's not like I don't set reminders for other things in my life that are important but not instinctual for me). He also wants to spend time together, which is reasonable. So I look for ways to spend time with him that I enjoy, and I watch out for times when I'm sort of disappearing (spending a long time alone in the kitchen cooking dinner, for instance). I know it's not wrong for me to want time alone, and I also recognize that it's not fair to just disappear on him rather than explicitly say I need some time alone and work out together what that will look like. (This is a work in progress. If my husband were reading over my shoulder, he'd probably laugh and say, "Tell them how much time you spend in the bathroom.")

What I notice in your question is that you seem very open to your husband's needs and preferences as an introvert who doesn't like social situations and is comfortable with a roommate-like, "not unhappy" marriage. And at the same time, I don't see anything about your needs or preferences. Have you and he negotiated around his time alone? Being an introvert isn't a free pass to be absent from one's marriage. Have you and he talked your perspectives on sex and non-sexual physical affection? Have you talked about your preferences regarding sleeping separately? Have you talked about the decline in shared activities and social experiences, and what you might like to see change in those areas?

I think that for introverts, it can feel like a very stark thing: "Of course I need a weekend alone! I'm an introvert!" or "Of course I can't go to that party! I'm an introvert!" And the reality is, introverts who want to live in marriages (and, you know, societies) need to communicate and negotiate about their preferences, rather than imposing them, and need to learn how to meet their own needs while also nurturing their relationships.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:38 AM on March 9, 2015 [11 favorites]

I'm just ten years married, and a lot of people find our marriage very weird: we sometimes take separate vacations, and we socialize separately relatively often (I have friends he's actually never met, and so does he), and we sometimes eat dinner in separate rooms. But it suits us just fine; we don't feel joined at the hip and that's the way we both like it, and neither of us really cares what anyone else thinks about it. I'm an off- the-charts introvert; he sort of flips back and forth on that axis but is more often an extrovert.

But the point of my saying this, apart from solipsism, is that the relationship outlined in the question sounds really, really off to me because it sounds as though the husband just doesn't really care what the wife wants; he's going to go off and do his thing without much regard for what she's feeling. It's one thing if both parties agree that they're going to run a marriage in such-and-such a way, but it sounds as though the wife is unhappy, even if she doesn't actually phrase it that way.

All of which is a long way of saying, Yeah, I don't think asking whether the marriage is "normal" is really the right question to be asking. Lots of people have a marriage that others would regard as odd, and who really cares? The question is, is it working for both parties. Sounds like this isn't.

And as an off-the-charts introvert, I'll throw this in: I really, really hate when people use "Well, I'm introverted" as an excuse for dissing their partners. Being an introvert doesn't mean you get a free pass to never spend time with your partner, ever, to the point she's feeling hurt and insulted. I had a boyfriend who did that kind of thing way back when and I wish I'd seen it for what it was. I dislike parties, too, but you know, I'm a grown woman and that means that once in a while, yeah, I have to do something I might not like that much. It's part of being an adult. So I go to parties with my husband when he wants me to; if we have to leave earlier than most other people, that's fine, and a concession he makes for me. But playing the introvert card as a reason to go off and disappear for an entire weekend even though you're upsetting your wife by doing so? Nuh-uh.

On preview: yep, what Meg_Murray said.
posted by holborne at 7:58 AM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

Together 20 years, married 15, no kids. Husband is a very strong introvert. I've written here before on how we're fairly flawed, but have worked out stuff in our way for us. We both have mental health issues and our families can be difficult at times.

However, I strongly echo what others said: I read through the post and thought, "That's nice, but what about you? What do you want?" Your needs and wishes are just as valid as his. You don't exist on this planet to solely serve his emotional needs.

My husband is a strong introvert but very affectionate - he touches me often, even if it's just a fingertip or two on my shoulder as he passes me while we go about our day. I travel for family care and work and he misses me deeply. He is happier when I am home rather than when I am not. I have been traveling for work or elderly family care for almost 3 months straight, and although he's holding up better than many extroverted spouses would, we're both getting tired of this and are looking forward to me being home for awhile. He does need alone time, but it's negotiated. He sees friends once a week without me, and if he needs time alone, it's usually during a weekend day. I tend to go out with friends on the weekend, so this doesn't come up much beyond what he gets naturally from our schedule. (I do realize this pattern wouldn't really be possible with a child in the mix, but I'm answering from what I know).

We do have a system set up for social things with friends:
1) You have to attend this event with me, and you will be sociable and pleasant - reserved for things like weddings.
2) I would really like you to attend this event with me - usually he comes with
3) I'd like to do this, you're welcome to join if you want - it really depends on what the event is, and if he doesn't want to go, I usually go with a friend.

This works for us because I identify what is important to me, and he is able to honor that, and he is able to opt out of non-important social events, which I honor as being part of his introvert nature.

We sleep separately because we have really odd schedules and neither of us sleeps well - we both wake easily and have a hard time going back to sleep, so we've found it's healthier from a sleep perspective for us to sleep separately. We miss sleeping together but don't miss being cranky, tired, and miserable. We will nap together sometimes on the weekends.

We have sex pretty frequently (I think, for our cohort), 2-6 times a month. I'm not sure how having a child would affect this for us. I would like to think that once the child had some basic skills - capable of getting her own snacks, water, and could self-soothe herself back to sleep most of the time - that we'd still have sex at least monthly. It's a pretty strong drive for both of us and an important (to us) way to reaffirm our relationship/love/commitment.

But like others have said, that's our marriage, which has its own issues and difficulties. I think it's very true and often underestimated that marriages go through seasons - there have been times for both of us where we just had to muddle through or just out wait some issues - but we still try to communicate and keep one another's needs in mind during our low seasons. Again, I know from what people have said here, and what friends have said, that children can really subsume a lot of these things, but I (personally) think a basic care and regard for one another should remain - I would be really upset if it wasn't there for me in my relationship, even if we did have kids.

I think the ideal of romantic love isn't very sustainable for over a decade, but I do think one can be more than "eh, it's fine" too. Again, I get that there are seasons, and have heard the child season can bring an awful lot of "no one's dead and we're still speaking, so I'll take it", but for me, if "eh, it's fine" is the best I could ever hope for? That wouldn't be enough for me. But that's not what is important here - what's important is, is it enough for you?

One more thing - I think people are often worried that "this is the best they could possibly hope for, so might as well just accept it." Is that at work for you in this case? And if so, is the fear of the unknown worse that than what you have now?
posted by RogueTech at 8:24 AM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm no longer married, but when I was (and after ten years) we were cuddly, intimate, sexual several times a week, spent recreational and social time together, etc.

What you're describing isn't exactly uncommon in marriages, but it is unsatisfactory to many, and certainly not a natural consequence of being together that long.
posted by ead at 8:32 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

While there are some important differences, this would have described my marriage (19 years) very well, right up until the moment that I discovered that my introvert husband hadn't been alone on those weekends away. Much like dorothyisunderwood, embarking on a life by myself has been enlightening. I had no idea how much of myself I had suppressed, thinking that a sexless, joyless, friendly but shallow marriage was better than being alone, that this was all there was and that I might as well accept it. Being a single parent is often hard, but discovering that I still exist and can enjoy life, not just endure it, has been worth everything.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 8:35 AM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

DH and I have been together seven years, and I don't think it would be worth it if we lived like that. Look, to me, you've got one chance at life, that we know of. Why on EARTH would you settle for something that didn't make you insanely happy?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:44 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

For me there are, broadly speaking, two things that can go wrong in relationships and marriages: Abuse and neglect. They are polar opposites in a lot of ways, but both damaging.

My parents had this sort of neglectful relationship- separate beds, mom lonely, dad always working (it is my understanding that he never actually cheated on my mom and I don't doubt this because he was so consumed by work, but he probably flirted with others as an attention/ego thing at least) The thing is, I was happy as a child with that- with both parents who loved me in the same house and stable financially and they had good friends (my mom organized most social things) and from a child's point of view, that kind of relationship isn't so bad- children don't know what sex is, so they can't understand when sex is really the main thing that is lacking in a relationship. (And yeah, IMO, as described by the OP the main thing lacking is sexual passion.) My mom, I think, would have been happier if she wasn't a stay-at-home mom, as well. Basically, she felt bored and neglected and that's what ended their marriage. My dad was shocked and unhappy.

There is some research that low-conflict marriages that end in divorce are harder on kids than high-conflict marriages that end in divorce. I don't say this to guilt trip you (honestly, I don't).

My personal opinion is that "grow apart, neglect, just no spark" marriages can often be fixed. And are worth a good solid try at fixing them.

However, I think you really try everything you can (I actually doubt my parents really did this) and there is no improvement, it is probably necessary for your happiness to move on, and can be done in ways to minimize the pain to all involved. With time, my parents are happily remarried. (But there was a long, hard stretch in between, I will point out.)
posted by quincunx at 10:11 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

What you describe is probably not unusual, but that hardly matters. It doesn't matter what other people want, it matters what you want.

I'd ask the same question of yourself that you asked of your husband: Are you happy?

Then you have to figure out what to do with the answer that you get.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:32 AM on March 9, 2015

I'd also be very curious to know if, at any point in the 30 minutes he thought about his answer or at any time after, this gentleman asked his wife the same question.

He may well have. But, it wasn't until I had read twenty answers that I even realized that it was a possibility that he would ask that question.
posted by mer2113 at 3:16 PM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

I haven't seen anyone bring this up yet, but is his response that he wouldn't want to split up because "life would be harder" basically a statement that he keeps her around to do the housework, childcare (while he goes off every weekend), and likely emotional/mental work of interacting with non-household members on behalf of the family?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:00 PM on March 9, 2015 [14 favorites]

Metafilter: flagellating herself with a five pound sack of onions.

Okay, I had to. Now moving on.... Yeah, it sounds like a companionate marriage. This is rather beyond introvert, more like "living separate lives while still in the same house."

What you need to know is:
(a) Are you fine with things as they are? Do you want it to be any different?
(b) Is he fine with things as they are? Okay, I guess he is, but does he care enough, or at all, to want to try to have a more romantic, spending time as companions, having sex kind of marriage? Would he go to counseling, or want to spend more quality time with you? Is he willing to do that level of work or does he just want to be left alone in the man cave as long as he brings in money and plays weekend daddy? I get that he doesn't want to split up, but is he willing to do anything different, if you want it to be different?
(c) If you split up, could you manage on your own as a single parent, paying for everything yourself and living alone?

You may not want to split up either. If you can't handle living alone financially, maybe having a guy who's there to bring in a paycheck and not much else is better than nothing. You may not want to split up because of your kid. I don't know, it's gonna be up to you as to what you can take, if you can live with "meh" until the kid goes to college--sounds like he can. But in the end, the only person you have control over is you, and if he's a rock that won't be moved, then it's up to you (well, your friend) to figure out what she can live with if he's going to stay the same.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:26 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds terribly lonely. I think the question I'd ask the friend is, "Is this the model of marriage you want to teach your child?" Because staying together for the kid can have unintended consequences.

Your friend might be looking for permission to take care of her needs and pursue happiness. She should have that.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:33 AM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

nthing holborne, Meg_Murry, etc. that introverted need not mean inconsiderate. I am a strong introvert, but my husband makes me look positively social. Still, he would not go out of town for the weekend of my first Mother's Day (I guess it's possible that your friend genuinely didn't mind that, but I feel like she wouldn't have brought it up if it didn't sting).
posted by missrachael at 8:42 AM on March 10, 2015

My husband and I have been together 12 years, & are just now expecting our first child. We've remained very much physically and emotionally connected, but not without a lot of communication (which has sometimes meant lots of fighting and therapy and willingness to stay with it.) I feel like we're lucky because we naturally have a lot the same interests in people, lifestyle, values- we like each other a lot, and I can imagine us being fabulous friends even if we weren't married. But, also, we've had to work to stay, you know, married and "in love". We have sex about once a week, sometimes more, and it's very important for our staying connected - though that took me awhile to realize how important that was for me- I realized I would not give up sex and my needs around that just for a safe & sound companionship. Hell no, but I'm only 33. But, all of this ebbs and flows, and we've found a way to stay deeply connected while also being apart at times (both physically and emotionally apart.)

We've BOTH also encountered situations of infidelity, some physical, some emotional, and worked through that both individually and together, and honestly, that doesn't matter to me as much as our dual willingness to have a real, rich, adult relationship that's complex sometimes- and one that we define that on our own terms.I think you need both a point of connection in LTR's AND space to define your own life and have a life separate from your partner to some extent. (that could mean travel, work, friendships, lovers etc).

Being willing to figure out what my own needs were in my relationship and put them out there helped more than anything, I think. That and thankfully my partner makes me laugh A LOT, and is willing to be flexible around almost anything.
posted by Rocket26 at 10:16 AM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

If we could please stop with the "suggesting a man is gay when he's not interested in sex with his wife" meme, that would be great. The two things are not at all related.

I fully agree with bluedaisy that the woman in this Ask should feel empowered to start prioritizing her own needs and happiness.
posted by hush at 11:27 AM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

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