I love my husband…but I don’t want to sleep with him. Does it matter?
May 16, 2016 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Until I slept with someone else, I didn't realise what I was missing. But I can't break up our lives on a whim. I don't know what to do.

We met when I was 21 and I lost my virginity to him. I was a late bloomer with almost zero sexual or romantic experience. I spent my teens and early twenties convinced that I was unattractive and unloveable. I'm now 35 and going through turmoil.

He's always chased after me and I was always unsure. I liked him, he made me feel secure and we got on really well, but I didn’t know if there was a spark. I didn’t have anything to compare it with.

We ended up moving in together a few years after we met. For a long time I didn’t want to get married. When he asked me, I cried – not from happiness, but because I felt scared.

I’ve recently been going to therapy. I started because I wanted to deal with my anxiety. But over the year I started to reluctantly admit to myself that my marriage wasn’t as good as it could be. The knowledge of that was buried very deeply. I also realised that I have terrible self-esteem.

A large part of why I admitted all this to myself is because I fell in love with a friend who I met about 18 months ago. We got on really well, became good friends, and after about a year, we kissed. And eventually we slept with each other, once. He felt terrible about it, and we’re not in contact now. I miss him everyday. I’ve never met anyone I felt more of a connection with. I think I feel much more strongly for him than he does for me (he's single).

I know this is 100% wrong and selfish and I am in turmoil about it. But it was a complete revelation to me to be physically attracted to someone, and to actually want to have sex with them.

With my husband, it’s always been reluctant on my part. I love him and I do enjoy some of the physical aspects. But it’s not like the intense attraction that I had with the other guy, which completely bowled me over.

This whole situation has made me unhappy and depressed. Me and my husband haven’t been talking deeply about anything for a long time, and I thought I’d never be able to tell him that I’m unhappy, because I want to protect him more than anything.

But in the last month I’ve been able to tell him that something’s wrong and I need space. We’ve had our first two sessions with a couples counselor.

He is desperate to have children and I am unsure. I don't know if I just don't want to have kids, or if it's because this relationship doesn't seem stable enough to bring a child into. But obviously because of my age, part of me thinks that this is the best chance I’m going to get. And I keep thinking that anyway, sexual desire fades after a while.

I don’t want to throw away everything we have just because of this sexual attraction thing. I feel like I have to choose between killing a part of myself and having a nice, calm life and keeping everyone happy, or accepting that part of myself and ruining every other part of my life.

The idea of having to find somewhere else to live, to be on my own in my late 30s, to give up the chance of ever having children or a life partner. It's very scary.

Not to mention the idea of disappointing our families and everyone around us. And the pain of breaking someone’s heart, someone I love dearly. I can't imagine telling him that I'm just not sexually attracted to him, it seems like the worst thing I could say.

I’ve been depressed and unhappy over this situation for too long. I love my husband like a brother, and breaking up with him would mean changing my entire life. And part of me wonders if my dissatisfaction is just part of my anxiety and depression.

I'm sorry this is so long, but my questions are:

- Can you be happy in a marriage without sexual attraction, if everything else is good?
- Should I tell my husband about the affair, or will it just hurt him unnecessarily?
- How can I move forward in this situation?

Please help me. I feel like I’m stuck in a corner and there’s no way to turn. My throwaway email is stuckcompletely@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You say you don't want to break up what you have, but please don't ignore that a part OF what you have is depression and frustration. This is a situation that is causing YOU pain, and if you stay in it and do 't address it in some way, the pain will not go away.

I'm not saying this is cause to break up, I am just reminding you to prioritize your own personal well-being as well as your husband's.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on May 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

I know that it is the most often repeated advice here, but this is really a situation that cries out for therapy. Individual therapy to help you sort out what you truly want. You can stay in the marriage and work to make it better (though it probably will not ever be exactly what you experienced with the other man), or you can make a choice to pursue a different kind of relationship in the future. Both options are valid, both are hard choices and both will take work, but both come with the possibility of something wonderful happening. It would help to sort through them with a person who has emotional distance from the situation so you can truly identify which of those options are the best for you. Couples counseling would also likely be helpful, either to find ways to strengthen your relationship with your husband, or to negotiate a fair and meaningful end to your relationship. These are big questions, and I don't think that anyone here can really give you the right answers. Those have to come from you.
posted by goggie at 7:27 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

This seems like a really bad match to me.

It's unfair to your husband to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't truly love being with him, and you certainly should not think about having kids with this person. Whether or not you tell him about the affair, he deserves to be with someone who is truly sexually attracted to him, and doesn't think of him as a brother.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:32 AM on May 16, 2016 [31 favorites]

The idea of having to find somewhere else to live, to be on my own in my late 30s, to give up the chance of ever having children or a life partner. It's very scary.

Yeah, it is, but it's nothing compared to a lifetime of unhappy you, unhappy kids, unhappy husband.

I'm not reading much here that you actually enjoy your current situation. While I doubt there's any future with single guy, why keep a glorified roommate situation continuing? Both you and your husband deserve better. Stick with therapy, but not necessarily stick with this marriage.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:35 AM on May 16, 2016 [21 favorites]

Can you be happy in a marriage without sexual attraction, if everything else is good?

Sure. But you are not. Clearly you are very unhappy, so that question seems moot.

He is desperate to have children and I am unsure. I don't know if I just don't want to have kids, or if it's because this relationship doesn't seem stable enough to bring a child into.

Please don't have children with this man. It would be terribly, terribly unfair to both your spouse and your offspring to do this. It is also very, very wrong to make a huge commitment with someone when only you know you're not really all in with that person.

I think I feel much more strongly for him than he does for me (he's single).

Recognise that part of the reason you feel this way is the great big flashing EMERGENCY EXIT sign figuratively hung over this guy's head. You are in a terribly stale marriage and this man is a gust of fresh wind.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:36 AM on May 16, 2016 [32 favorites]

You have little romantic experience, which is why you're putting so much stock in your crazy smoopy feelings for Other Guy. If you'd dated around in your late teens/early 20s a bit more, you'd probably realize that smoopy feelings are very common, and don't actually mean much of anything. You can have Grand Sweeping Relevatory Magic FEELINGS for someone who is actually abusive, or totally wrong for you, or just has the right pheromones but literally everything else about them is totally incompatible with you. Or, most things about you actually are fairly compatible, but in 5 years the smoopy feelings will go away anyway. Most people learn this around age 20-25 ish. You just didn't learn it. This Magic Connection of True Compatibility with Other Guy is almost certainly, 100%, a lie and illusion.
posted by quincunx at 7:39 AM on May 16, 2016 [82 favorites]

Also, re: the marriage-

You need to separate your marriage problems from your fantasy life with Other Guy. Like, totally and completely, as much as possible.

Do some actual work on your marriage. Tell your husband how you feel, get into couple's therapy, and tell him about the affair. Either the affair will cause him to do the hard work and end things with you, in which case you have your answer and your path, or it will bring you closer and allow him to actually understand and address your needs.

If this is about missing out on sleeping around, it's possible you could open up the marriage. If he's not into that, and this is something you really can't live without having experienced, then you'll have to leave him. If it's about deeper incompatibility, then okay. But I kind of doubt it- you made it this far, could you really have been that incompatible all along?

I think you need to do more than just "feel things for other guy, suddenly leave without telling husband why." That doesn't seem like the right thing to do, to me, no matter how little he understands you.
posted by quincunx at 7:50 AM on May 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

The truth that lives there - by Dear Sugar (Cheryl Strayed)
posted by pantarei70 at 7:57 AM on May 16, 2016 [12 favorites]

- Can you be happy in a marriage without sexual attraction, if everything else is good?

Doesn't matter whether anyone else can. Can you? The answer sounds like no.

- Should I tell my husband about the affair, or will it just hurt him unnecessarily?

It will hurt him, yes. And (unless violence/abuse are a reasonable fear for you) I believe the right thing to do is to tell him. That said, it sounds to me like the best way to tell him is to get your financial and legal ducks in a row, and sit him down for an adult conversation. "I had a brief affair recently, and it made me realize that this marriage is not at all what I want. I am leaving you, this is not up for negotiation."

What really leapt out to me was your line about keeping other people happy. What about your happiness? You deserve, 100%, to be happy too. It sounds like you are 100% not happy. Please discuss this with your therapist ASAP.

Also, please do not have children with this man unless and until everything is completely resolved to your satisfaction. Children are a stressor on even the happiest of marriages, and it is unhealthy for children to grow up in a household like yours is at this time.

That's not a judgement on you! None of this is a judgement on you. You made decisions over the years that for one reason or another seemed like the best choice at the time, and it's only now that you're seeing those choices are not effective for you and have made you unhappy.

It really sounds like this marriage is over--at the very least it's making you miserable. You deserve to be happy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:13 AM on May 16, 2016 [15 favorites]

If you're considering ending the marriage anyway (which will hurt a lot), you might as well do whatever you can think of to try to improve it first (which may hurt a bit). Can you spice up your sex life with husband? Try consensual non-monogamy with husband? Spend lots of time in therapy, talk openly, etc. Maybe these strategies will help, and if a divorce is the alternative, you may as well try really hard for a repair first.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:19 AM on May 16, 2016

You have anxiety and depression because your marriage is sub-par. Ending your marriage will be difficult, but you will be awesome afterwards if that's what YOU want to have happen.

You can still have a life partner and children if you get divorced. I don't understand why you think getting divorced ends those possibilities?

Telling your husband about the affair would be cruel. But I do think you need to be honest with yourself.


If taking control of your life on your terms seems impossible.... Then I guess you need to learn how to suck it up better and enjoy the life choices you've made.
posted by jbenben at 8:55 AM on May 16, 2016

I think you need to sort out a few things here, and hopefully this helps.

Ethical considerations
I don't think you owe it to anyone to make decisions to keep them happy, with one exception coming up. I would remove "societal pressure" from your list right now. Divorce is a thing in our society and you have no obligations to stay married for anyone you've mentioned.

However you did take vows involving your husband. You do owe him, in my opinion, as high a standard of ethical consideration as possible, because you promised to (not sure of your words so using mine) 'to have and to hold.' That does not mean that keeping him happy is the end goal. But you need to take the impact on him under consideration as much as possible.

The mistake you've made is in thinking that if you don't TELL him things, you are protecting him. You are not. You are only keeping difficult conversations at bay. But the underlying reality is the same. Right now this has led to cheating on him. That's not a good outcome for anyone.

The first thing I would suggest is that you owe him what I call the "as if" treatment. Treat him as if he is this person you had an affair with. If you sent your friend little texts about your day, send them to your husband. If you met for lunch at a great restaurant, do that with your husband. Give your marriage the same space and consideration you would give to someone who was hitting all those buttons for you. Do something new together, preferably physical, to see if that charges your physical relationship a bit. Basically, date him. This is to give you both information about what's really there - is it just familiarity or is there really just no spark.

At the same time, open up a dialogue with your spouse that is real about where you actually are right now. I don't know if you need to tell him about the affair or not directly, but you definitely need to -- respectfully, gently -- let him know that you are feeling unsure about your marriage. If you can't do that, my own view is your marriage is pretty doomed anyway, so might as well start now. I wouldn't frame it just around sex. I would say that you haven't felt you can share your real feelings, that you are not feeling that spark, and that you really want to figure it out.

I would also kibosh the children for now, which he may find to be a dealbreaker but you can't control that. Definitely do not have kids for at least a year.

Then my own belief is you owe your marriage 6 months to a year of loving care to try to make it better. As the avowed spouse that's your responsibility if there aren't other issues going on like abuse or total burnout. 6 months also gives you time to think about what a post-marriage life might look like.

Life joy
After that, if you are not feeling significant and solid improvement, then I think your priority at that point needs to be yourself. And that's when, if you need to, you turn to making a good end & divorce. You openly end your partnership.

There is nothing wrong with that; it is a thing that happens in a lot of relationships. You do deserve joy and happiness in your life, and it is okay to end something in order to go after something new. No one can tell you how that will turn out, but you only get one life and it is truly okay to act from that.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:00 AM on May 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

I wanted to add...

Others have mentioned that you have issues around pleasing others. I noticed that, too.

Like I said, If you don't think you can take control of your life on your terms, the attempt will be miserable and you will go back to your old habits of deferring to others. The first person you have to stop lying to is yourself. If being honest with yourself about how you ended up in this situation makes you desperate, if standing up to others makes you panic, then you should not attempt to change. If you can meet those challenges despite your discomfort, change is possible.

It's really up to you.
posted by jbenben at 9:07 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you be happy in a marriage without sexual attraction, if everything else is good? If there was once sexual attraction then yes, you can enjoy the memory of it and it can grow into something wonderful. Since there never was, you will never be happy, and I think everyone deserves to be with someone who truly wants them, including your husband.

Should I tell my husband about the affair, or will it just hurt him unnecessarily? No, absolutely not. You should also not tell him that you have spent most of your adult life with him, knowing that you weren't really that into him. It would devastate him.

How can I move forward in this situation? You already have. You broke the covenant of marriage when you had the affair. You answered your questions about sex when you had the affair. It is now time for you to have the legal divorce. Let your husband find someone who will love him the way that you do not. Let him have children with a woman who wants to share his bed every night. Divorce him and don't tell him why, just encourage him to move on. And then you should spend some time on your own trying to figure out who you are and what you want before you begin to date again. Don't have a child until you know who you are.

Passion fades but, when you start a relationship without passion and passion never grows then the fading part is unbelievably depressing. There is more out there for the both of you.
posted by myselfasme at 9:14 AM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think warriorqueen gives excellent advice.

My situation was very similar to yours, and I would encourage you to read my prior questions, starting with my first anonymous one: http://ask.metafilter.com/263160/Where-do-the-butterflies-go.

I think you should be open with your husband about everything EXCEPT the affair. Telling him about it is cruel and unnecessary. It was short, it's well over, and telling him will change him forever in ways you cannot take back. Please read some of the responses to my most recent question if you want proof of this.

The condensed epilogue to my story: I DID leave my husband. I blew up my life; I went through a full year of hell. All of it was worth it. I wish I had done some of it differently, but all in all, I did the right thing. My kids are stronger and wiser than I ever thought possible and I am very proud of all of us.

Good luck to you. Be brave. Memail me if you want to talk.

PS. Please take having kids right off the table right now. Having them makes the decision process 1000x more agonizing than it already is.
posted by puppet du sock at 9:17 AM on May 16, 2016 [9 favorites]

The idea of having to find somewhere else to live, to be on my own in my late 30s, to give up the chance of ever having children or a life partner. It's very scary.

I've heard this many times from people at all ages (20s 30s 40s 50s 60s). Everybody who has done it — made the leap, done the work, broken hearts (theirs and others), tossed the script, and climbed the (so scary) mountain — is so so glad they did.

The person you get to be is waiting on the other side. That person is awesome and free and happy.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:19 AM on May 16, 2016 [22 favorites]

I feel like I have to choose between killing a part of myself and having a nice, calm life and keeping everyone happy, or accepting that part of myself and ruining every other part of my life.
No, no, no - there is a third choice where you and your husband have some very, very difficult conversations and figure out how to rewrite your marriage so that you are both happy and fully yourselves. You are changing. For the marriage to work, this new you needs to show up and your partner needs to be willing and able to accommodate, love and support the new you. This might not be possible but you owe to him to try to find out. Do the couples counseling. Act "as if" the way warrior queen described. Put real energy and commitment into the process for 6 -12 months and see what happens. If it doesn't work, then you can leave with a clear conscious. No one is asking you to stay in lukewarm marriage for the rest of your life.

I also believe that any couple can figure out how to have a satisfying sex life if they are willing to engage in honest communication but that is such a tricky conversation, it is hard to have without a deep sense of emotional trust that your partner loves you at the same time that they are asking for something different. Really good couples counseling can help you get there. (When you are ready, I recommend David Schnarch's books, but not unless/until the relationship is stronger)
posted by metahawk at 9:37 AM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wow, I was in a very similar boat as you are. I could’ve almost written your question And I would if I knew about AskMe at that time, because I struggled with the same exact dilemma for years. I didn’t want to “give up" on my marriage, I was afraid to end up lonely, unloved, with no family. I didn’t have children for the same exact reasons as you are. And then at 35 the feelings of being lonely and not in love (physically) and depressed in that marriage became so overwhelming, that I separated from my husband. And he was (and is) a wonderful person! Like you, I struggled with the thought of hurting him, but then I realized that living with him without physical attraction and true connection, and not giving him a true family was hurting him probably more. He deserves a chance to feel desired, missed when he is away, doted on, etc. I just couldn’t give it to him.

And so, I am three years later and can share my experience of “what happens next” FWIW. I took 1.5 years to just be with myself, by myself, and figure out what qualities I have and I want in my ideal partner. That wasn’t easy for me. I literally would watch matchmaking shows, just to see what qualities different people find attractive in others. Not because I didn’t know what I want, but because I didn’t know how to put it into words. I felt that it’s a very necessary step, even if it would just allow me to ask the Universe for MY kind of person.

Armed with that “list” (things like doesn’t care about pop culture and not afraid to be different, loves dogs and hiking, curious about life, compassionate, loves deep conversations, playful and adventurous, can fix anything, and a couple of physical characteristics that I find attractive), I started casually browsing the internet and met a person who had most of these characteristics, and more, and fell in love so hard. And like you, I suddenly have realized that sex can be awesome. I too used to think that I’m just not all that into sex, because I never experienced that connection with anyone and had nothing to compare it to. This relationship didn’t work out for various reasons, and that made me realize that I need to add a few other pretty basic but important “wants” to my mental image of the person I want to be with, and so now I’m looking again.

And I might not find him in time to have children with (I’m 38 now), and I might not find him at all. And I will probably make tons of mistakes, because like yourself, I don’t have any experience with any of this. But I get a great satisfaction from knowing that I’m now living my life true to myself, and true to others. It is such an enormous sense of freedom and happiness. It is scary sometimes, but is living your life out in a depressing marriage not? I just remember sitting on my porch, while still married, looking at two birds, thinking that, even a bird, with whatever little conscious she has, picks a partner by heart. And that thought just made me cry then. I deserve it too. Everyone does, no?
posted by LakeDream at 10:14 AM on May 16, 2016 [27 favorites]

The idea of having to find somewhere else to live, to be on my own in my late 30s, to give up the chance of ever having children or a life partner. It's very scary.
Yeah, it is, but it's nothing compared to a lifetime of unhappy you, unhappy kids, unhappy husband.

Echoing this. Yes, it is very scary. Terrifying! I'm doing it right now. I'll tell you what, though, it feels so, so good to be out of that relationship and to know that it's not going to be an awful weight I carry for the rest of my life. I do find myself worrying about being alone for the rest of my life, but then I remind myself how bad it feels to be with the wrong person. I'll take being alone over that any day of the week, and will learn to be happy keeping my own company.

The thing I've learned most, I think, is that "scary" isn't the worst thing. "Scary" is fine. You just take what comes and deal with it -- that's what you do with "scary." Being a little scared beats the hell out of being miserable.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:52 AM on May 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

You need some individual therapy so that you can get to the nut of what you really, really want.

Some impressions I have.

Affairs are always better than married for a while sex. There's limerace and excitement and you don't have to deal with any of the other person's bullshit. This is why 99% of relationships that start from affairs end up imploding. It's pretty close to fantasy sex, not real, day-to-day sex.

I might talk to your husband about how unhappy you are, especially with your sex life. It will hurt his feelings, and that will suck, and he may not be so thrilled either, which will bum you out. But that gives you something to build on. Perhaps you can rehab your sex life, rekindle the connection and basically revive your marriage.

But if you went into this thinking, "this is my last and only chance," and if you've been using this man's love for you to bolster your self-esteem and to provide yourself with a feeling of safety, then I think you need to start looking inward, because that's a pretty shitty thing to do to a perfectly nice person.

You should never shy away from doing the right thing, even if it's scary, because the right thing is the right thing. What if there's a woman out there who will love your husband, be totally attracted to him and if they met, they would both be happy together? Why does he not deserve that kind of relationship?

So in addition to couples therapy, do seek individual therapy.

As for disclosing the affair, just don't. Absolutely no good will come of it. Not for your spouse and not for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:00 AM on May 16, 2016 [6 favorites]

One thing to add to all the wise advice above is this: You are at a moment in your life at which your libido will suddenly hit turbo charge. Every woman gets this some time between 30 and 35 (roughly). That means that, with therapy and communication, there's every likelihood that your sexual relationship with your husband can improve dramatically. So if I were you, I would take the sex question off the table and instead ask whether the depression that you are experiencing could be causing you to think your options are limited.

Before I started taking anti-depressants for the first time at 35, I was in a bad marriage. My husband and I were very much unsuited for each other. But I didn't think I had options because I thought I had made my bed and had to lie in it, and also I didn't think that the logistics of divorce were surmountable. Anti-depressants gave me a floor to stand on while I reviewed what really were my options. I chose to divorce him. Life hasn't been an unmitigated bed of roses since then but hooooo doggie it is so much better than being married to someone I didn't like.

So I too encourage you to seek therapy and to consider anti-depressants. And don't waste any time pining over your fling. Trying to turn that into a real relationship is a fool's errand.
posted by janey47 at 11:06 AM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm generally anti-divorce, but sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes people grow apart. Sometimes, love just isn't enough. Sometimes we look around and realize... this isn't working, this isn't what I need any more. And generally, this isn't anybody's fault. It happens.

I tried very hard to make the broken issues in my marriage work (a little too hard, but such is life) but it wasn't possible. And yeah, it utterly sucked for a while, and I'm not out of the woods yet, but... a lot of very interesting people see a lot of value in what I have to offer, usually in areas my x didn't appreciate much. Also, sticking my toes in the dating pool, I see many people in their 30's with kids, or who want them. There are a million options for children in a happy, healthy relationship, no matter your age. (Please, please, please DON'T have children with your husband now!!) Also, I'm 100% sure I will find a new relationship at 35, even as picky as I am. My mom found one at 45. My x-father in law found one at 80. You can too, if need be, when it is time.

CHILDREN WILL NOT FIX YOUR MARRIAGE. At all, period. I would bet a lot of money they will make it worse.

You have some decisions to make... where and how to devote your energy and resources. I advocate for communications, dating your husband, and talking about Deep Stuff- feelings, sex, sexual experimentation, what your needs are (in and out of the bedroom) and how he can better meet your needs.
posted by Jacen at 12:04 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, and my therapist recommended http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Apart-Relationships-Through-Ending/dp/157324547X

and I found it informative and useful; Some bits sound a little wooo-ey, but I've had several reputable therapists say similar stuff, so I trust it.
posted by Jacen at 12:13 PM on May 16, 2016

I think you always knew it wasn't quite right. You slid into a life together. Lots of people do, it's not the worst thing. I can't say from experience what it means for things to be right over many years, what kind of love it is reasonable to hope for in a very long term relationship, but by report (which I believe), it could be better than it sounds like this is. Do you think that at the end of your life, you might regret having spent it with your husband?

There are not insignificant constraints to think about when you're facing singledom in your late thirties, especially if you want children -some hard decisions and risks and maybe things you will have to let go, but it's not impossible to plan for and around some of them. It will mean having to be very conscious about your choices and their implications. (Job, savings, the kids thing for sure.) I don't know if that's better or worse than staying with the status quo, keeping on not really being *with* this person who wants to be with you. I think that sounds very painful. It may also be painful to not have kids (if you don't take proactive, realistic steps towards that... Which might involve going it alone, or adoption.) There's no getting away from some kind of pain in life, though, some kind of loss. Which what ifs do you think might hurt you most?

I guess the question is - you know about this pain you have right now. You know how it's been and have a reasonable idea of how it might go over the next years... Can you live with it?

Do you trust that you will be able to live consciously, make hard decisions, adapt as a single person? I think you probably can.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:33 PM on May 16, 2016

You might consider switching up your birth control if you happen to have been on a hormonal BC for a long time. I found that mine was both making me depressed and destroying my sex drive, and I lost almost a decade of my life to it. My relationship improved dramatically and immediately once I switched to a copper IUD after having my first child. Of course I don't know your situation, but I thought it at least bore pointing out, since you've been in this relationship for a long time without having kids.
posted by town of cats at 12:58 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you may not yet know whether this relationship can work and agree with quincunx and warriorqueen that you should give that a try first.

There are a lot of situations where the right answer is to "trust your feelings," but there are also situations where what you don't know and haven't considered or experienced can transform those feelings.

Something that can deceive your feelings is the way affairs make primary relationships look mundane. Affairs are hotter in part because they're in this secret, forbidden space, completely apart from the unpleasant aspects of daily life. Many of one's needs can be met at home, and much of one's "baggage" (we all have some) can stay stored there, allowing you to be much more psychologically free in the affair. Since they're not real (e.g., you often can't call him), the good things can also be partly imaginary ("I'm sure if I could call him right now, he'd say..."). So you can't trust "realizations" about your primary relationship that you had while under the spell of a crush on someone else. It's like how a nutritious meal doesn't sound good when you've been eating candy all day.

The relationship between sex and intimacy is another one of those wild cards. Sharing your true self with someone can be really passion-inducing. I don't know if you're right for your husband, but it sounds like you might've spent your entire relationship not being honest and open, first because you did not have the self-confidence, later because you didn't want to hurt him, and finally now because you have this enormous secret. That's death to a good sexual relationship. You could potentially improve the sexual connection by deepening your emotional connection. Therapy may have brought you to a place where you are ready for more emotional connection. It might not work, but if you're not being open and honest with your partner at the deepest level you're able, you're essentially giving up.

It sounds like, at some point, maybe around when you went into therapy, you began to really change. You're no longer the person you were when you first got together. To stay together, you'd need to rebuild your relationship from the inside out. Sometimes, that "remodeling" is impossible, but I think most long-standing marriages have had to go through this to a greater or lesser extent at different life phases. Whether it would've succeeded would've depended on you both, but the fact that you're already in therapy is a good indication that the potential for change is there. It sounds like you do have love to build upon.

Unfortunately, a lot of this growth happened at the same time as you beginning an affair. So now, the first hurdle you will have to overcome is rebuilding your husband's trust, if that's even possible. You've been hiding a lot from him and have now done this hurtful thing. Telling him is going to drop a bomb in your relationship. But in my opinion, not doing so just doesn't seem like a real option. I personally don't believe you can have real closeness with a secret as huge as an affair standing between you. Opinions on this issue differ (see past AskMes), but that's mine. I don't know how you tell him -- I'd probably talk with your therapist about it. My guess is that it'll be more successful when you have a willingness to own up to the ways that you closed off to him and betrayed his trust and the damage that this has caused. I'm not trying to make you feel bad, just being honest that you are facing a lot of hard work and painful conversations (no matter what, even if you were to not tell him).
posted by salvia at 1:19 PM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

posted by Jacqueline at 1:30 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

At 35, you guys are definitely still young enough to go your separate ways. I don't see any point in continuing a marriage with someone you don't love and aren't attracted to. You say you don't want to throw away everything you have, but... what is everything? A good roommate? Just because you've put the time in doesn't mean you have to stick with this shitty marriage you have. Let your husband go and find someone who wants him, and who wants the things he wants. You do the same. You both deserve to be happy, and it's not too late to have that.
posted by Sara C. at 2:42 PM on May 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

One thing - everyone here is very sorry you're going thru this. I just want to pipe in and say you're not alone in this situation. My situation is a little different, but essentially I'm a married guy (working on the separation now) about to turn 45 and questioning my marriage after having an emotional (but not physical) affair. I realize I married my wife for some not-so-great reasons, and once those reasons evaporated we weren't left with too much except being great roommates. I am in the process of rewriting my whole life right now and my wife is rewriting hers, and while it scares the shit out of me, I'll survive and so will you.

A few thoughts:
1. Read the limerence link - this may or may not apply to you but it helped me clarify my feelings towards the woman I found myself attracted to. Turns out it wasn't limerence in my case but that's life. She is not part of my life and that clouded my thinking for a while, and frankly still does but I understand it (thanks to personal therapy).
2. Commit to the marriage counseling - if your husband can't, you have an answer. If you can't, you have an answer. Once both my wife and I committed 110% to the counseling it got really difficult but everything came to the surface.
3. Unfortunately this is not going to be easy - I'm a 6'4" guy and I find myself crying on public transportation these days - it's a rough road but they tell me that it'll all work out (I'm not there just yet). [Note - this is an attempt at humor that will likely fall flat...]
4. Would you rather be divorced at 35 or 45? 45 or 55? While that might not be how things work out, I am going to suggest taking the time to figure this relationship out now. Kids aren't going to solve anything.
5. This is very likely the hardest thing you've ever done emotionally and in many respects physically. Don't put it off, don't shrink - face this now, you are capable.
6. It's unclear in your post, but seek some individual therapy, it's been in many respects life altering for me.
7. Do you love your husband? When I was asked this I would respond with "Do you have a 10 point checklist for me to evaluate whether I love her or not?". The answer is either an emphatic "Yes" or it's not and that's scary on its own but might be the truth.

At one point during all of this the past 10 years of our marriage really seemed like the blink of an eye - it's past and shouldn't force anyone into a role they're not interested in.

Feel free to me-mail me, I'm happy to talk about what i've gone thru.
posted by Farce_First at 4:37 PM on May 16, 2016

Frame your choices differently:

I have to choose between
- killing a part of myself and having a calm life and keeping my husband happy.
(I deleted "nice" because a life where you are unhappy and have killed part of yourself sounds far from nice, and changed "everyone" to "my husband" since "everyone" apparently didn't include you)

- or accepting that part of myself and ruining my marriage temporarily.
(I changed "every other part of my life" to "my marriage" because it isn't going to ruin every part of your life to accept that you want a sex life. It should have very little effect on your career, your hobbies, or your relationship with your parents, for example, assuming you have one. I also added "temporarily" because either you are going to make your marriage a rough place to be for a short time while you get things on track, or you're going to end your marriage and move on, so either way there shouldn't be a sense that the situation you create will have no end. It will end and you will most likely be in a better place)

That's how I'd frame it, anyhow - because to me, the choice is clear.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:12 PM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can't imagine telling him that I'm just not sexually attracted to him, it seems like the worst thing I could say.

Don't approach it this way. That would indeed be a terrible thing to say. Just tell him you're not happy with your sex life. It won't make him feel good, but it shouldn't be shocking if your sex life is near-nonexistent. If you say you're not sexually attracted to him that makes it sound like there isn't a chance that anything he could do could improve the situation. If you feel that way, just leave, and tell him "it's not you, it's me."

Have you told him what you like in bed? Have you given him a chance to do the things you like and expressed how important they are to you? If the answer to any of these is no, then I'm not sure you've given him a fighting chance.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:19 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, this sounds familiar. You grow up feeling like an ugly duckling and that nobody will ever love you. And then comes this guy, who doesn't turn you on, but at least he loves you and you can't GET anyone else. So you settled even though part of you knew this was wrong for you, because you couldn't get anyone else. Also, you didn't exactly have a lot of options to shop around from. He pursues you SO hard and loves you SO much and you feel SO bad for not feeling the same, but you go along with it because what else is out there? You don't know any better, you've never been blown away by anyone. You might as well marry this guy, because you can't really come up with arguments not to other than the fact that you cried when he asked.

I don't know squat on whether or not the affair guy is the one or anything, but at the very least he showed you that you CAN have feelings for someone and there is at least one other option for you in the world besides your husband.

And now he's pushing for kids. Don't do it. At heart I don't think you want to be with him for life and if you have kids with him you kinda always will be, at least in the custody arrangements. Yeah, for all we know he IS your only chance for kids in the world, but you've still got that sick feeling in your stomach at the idea, don't you? It'd be better to never have kids in your life than to have them under these circumstances. Sexual attraction is usually a requirement for a romantic relationship, and you don't have it for him and you've been trying to have it for him for at least over a decade. AND IT'S STILL NOT WORKING, IS IT?

"I can't imagine telling him that I'm just not sexually attracted to him, it seems like the worst thing I could say."

It is, but it's also the truth. Even if you never ever tell him and at age 95 one of you is on their deathbed, it's possible he figures it out for himself at some point. It's not doing either of you any favors. It sucks for you being with someone you don't want romantically, it sucks for him on being with someone who doesn't want him romantically and he's in denial about it. Both of you could have the potential to find someone right if you broke up, but right now it ain't quite right.

Bottom line: you settled, and this affair just woke you up that you don't have to. Whether or not you end up with affair guy or not, you know you don't want to be having sex with your husband or having kids with him or being his wife. You know it's not going to get any better than it has been after all this time. A miracle's probably not gonna happen, for all we know he has the wrong pheromones for you or something. You've tried and tried and nothing's worked with your husband. It's okay to quit. Even if everyone is super disappointed in you, if they really knew what was going on a good chunk of them would probably say it's better that you leave if you just don't have that loving feeling and never had it in the first place.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:25 PM on May 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

I love my husband like a brother

This is really all I needed to read. You don't have kids, you say you are reluctant to have sex with him. This boils down to a choice between security (with him) and freedom (without him). I was in this situation once, and I was so unsure...I felt I had no future beyond the situation I was in, both emotionally and financially. But the other option was to stay, which was at the time, slowly killing me.

I chose freedom. I left, even with all the loose ends and uncertain months ahead. It sucked for all of a second and then the moment I was out, by myself, I knew it was right. So right that even with all the stress and other issues not to mention the worry about whether or not I would ever love again, all of that was out the window because I was free.

I don't know what the future holds for you, but it's better than this. Explore the possibilities.
posted by pandalicious at 9:03 PM on May 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Sex and chemistry is very important to a lot of people, and it sounds like it is for you.

You don't need to feel bad about that, but it is confusing when you've been having to squash many of those desires and needs for many years. Affairs are not the worst thing that happen in a marriage - I know you feel bad, and that's totally normal, but affairs are some of the most revealing things that can happen in ones life and in ones marriage. Not to minimize the pain on both sides, but really to validate that they push us out of complacency and into some real soul-stirring questions. Such IS the importance of sex, love, and limerence. Read and discover Esther Peril- she changed my whole view of this topic.

I know it is so hard, but another part of yourself is being born while an old part of yourself is dying off at the same time. Very painful. A LOT of people go through this, in the midst of their lives, in the midst of their marriage.

I went through something very similar, as well. My husband and I are still together, with a child, but I had to get super real about what I wanted/needed sexually and also just what I want/need out of LIFE. It's an ongoing process with both myself and my partner.

ALSO: I know so many people down on limerence on metafilter, and there's truth in that, but limerence has a lot to teach us about our own needs for excitement, desire, adventure, FEELINGS (even if they are fleeting) sex, love romance- I mean, how much art and music and sex has come out of limerence?? A fucking lot. So there's a lot of value in experiencing that, even if it doesn't last. It doesn't mean the person who you project those feeling onto is THE ONE, probably not, but it does teach us about the importance of experiencing those feelings and being in relationship with people that can mirror those parts back at times. Having a partner that can SEE us and those parts is really important.

Feel free to write me!!
posted by Rocket26 at 10:21 AM on May 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

You must tell him about the affair. As someone who was cheated on and whose spouse thankfully told me about his affair, even with how painful it was, I would still rather know than not know. DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN WITH THIS MAN. Tell him about the affair (preferably during a couples counseling session) as soon as possible and let him decide how to proceed. If you have ANY respect for him at all, you must tell him. He deserves to know.
posted by a strong female character at 7:30 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think not feeling attracted to your husband matters. I'm kind of surprised by the people saying it doesn't, so much. Yes, limerance is a thing and yes attraction can wax and wane. But how many people in this thread would counsel a man who discovered he was gay to stick with a female partner whom he loved as a friend, and to try to figure out compromises/solutions in bed?

Just because a woman is attracted to some men doesn't mean any man will do. (Of course it also doesn't mean there is just one man in the whole world that will do).
posted by Salamandrous at 8:11 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is hard, and first I should say: I've been there, and you have my deepest sympathies. You asked 3 questions. I'll try to give 3 answers:

1. Can you be happy in a marriage without sexual attraction, if everything else is good?

I couldn't, no. It doesn't sound like you're able to. It's pretty common. You're not bad for needing sexual attraction.

2. Should I tell my husband about the affair, or will it just hurt him unnecessarily?

Maybe. You should at least get tested to be sure you're not putting him at risk. Some people value transparency more than consideration for their feelings. This is a call you have to make. However: if you do decide to tell him -- say, to convince him or because you're sure he'd want to know -- do not give any details. Describe it as in the past, not great, a symptom of what's changing inside you and not a cause. Do not give details. Do not give details. Even if asked. Keep changing the subject away. You can't unsay things you say about an affair, and they will cut the person you care about like knives.

3. How can I move forward in this situation?

First: do not have kids with him. Second: cut yourself completely and totally off from the crush or any thoughts of him. Read about limerance and convince yourself the relationship truly wouldn't work anyways. Third: reflect at enough depth -- with or without therapy, but probably with some loose and drunken conversation with a trusted friend -- on your sexuality, to decide if you need something you truly can't get with your husband. This should be a quiet, secure, not-on-clock, low-stress, in-touch-with-inner-self reflection. It should not involve thoughts of crush. It should involve real talk with yourself in the mirror.

If so, if there's a need that you're as sure as day you'll always need and can never be met given what you know of your relationship, make a plan to end your marriage.

If not, if you think there's a plausible chance you can either let go of the unmet wants, or meet them with him, give it an honest try for six more months and check back in with yourself, your friend and/or your therapist.

Finally: know that if you decide to leave, this happens to lots of people -- late 30s has tons of divorced people floating around -- and it's especially common in early marriages. You probably realize now how young 21 really is: you just don't know yourself well enough to see your married-self needs ahead of you. Happened to me, happened to many people here. It will be excruciating no matter what happens, but you can get through it, and should face it head on rather than letting it rot. Also know that the other side of it, so long as you're civilized and kind and not fighting about kids or money, is likely to be a life full of frequent fresh feelings and a sense of freedom, curiosity, lightness. Post-divorce has bouts of sadness, but it also has a lot of room to grow and figure out who you are; it's not the end of your life.

Good luck.
posted by ead at 10:54 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

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