How to bring the intimacy back?
September 28, 2007 8:24 AM   Subscribe

asking for a friend: How can I get my husband to start touching me again?

A couple has been married for 27 years. He is 51 and she is 47. They haven't had sex in at least six or seven years. The wife has tried to approach her husband for intimacy but he shows no interest. All he'll do is hold hands and rarely give her a peck on the lips.

She has bipolar disorder, and throughout the 90s she was in and out of mental hospitals, and when she was home she was often "out of it". For the last few years she has been on medication that has improved her situation dramatically. She is an active, involved woman again. But one of the reasons her husband gives for the lack of sex is that for so many years, there was nothing from her end. He was more caretaker than lover.

He is NOT having an affair. In my opinion, he does suffer from low-grade depression and stress. It's been a stressful situation for so long, and it's hard to break old habits. Every day he works long hours at a stressful job, comes home and watches tv for a bit, eats dinner and falls asleep.

Another reason he has given is that it was physically painful for her to have sex before. She has a terrible history of violent sexual abuse perpetrated by both family and acquaintances. She has post traumatic stress because of this.

More than missing the sex, she misses intimacy. Cuddling, hugging, passionate kisses, that sort of thing. They've gone on "date nights" but she says they're like an "old married couple". Any advice on how to bring the intimacy back?
posted by Danila to Human Relations (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This sounds like a job for couple's therapy.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:29 AM on September 28, 2007

I second therapy. He sounds resentful and is using her past behavior as a weapon. In any case, she's asking for something important to her and he's refusing to give it, so they're at an impasse. They need outside help to get over it.
posted by hollygoheavy at 8:36 AM on September 28, 2007

Have her initiate it. Come home and suprise him by jumping his bones. Basically he is stuck in a rut that he is content with and will just need a little push to get out of it and back into the swing of things again.
posted by koolkat at 8:38 AM on September 28, 2007

Therapy. I don't think resentment is a given, after all, it is very, very possible he became so used to the savior/caretaker/parent role and seeing her as the daughter/victim/mentally ill person that it is hard for him to feel like a husband and see her as a wife. He is a live-in nurse whose patient is getting (or has gotten) better. Therapy, definitely.
posted by schroedinger at 8:43 AM on September 28, 2007

I'm in what I'll classify as a....similar situation. I'll Nth therapy, because it's what I am currently pursuing.
posted by Industrial PhD at 8:51 AM on September 28, 2007

Best answer: I agree with what others have advised. It sounds like this couple is in definite need of couples therapy.

I find this to be very helpful: If you want your mate to start touching you -- touch them.

Rub their neck when you're sitting together in a car or at a movie; hold their hand. Give a hug when they arrive home from work. Wrap your arms around them when they're at the sink. When they are sitting at a desk, give them a little back rub. Give them a kiss on the cheek when you wake up in the morning. Rub their feet when you're sitting on the couch together. Use your judgement. Don't hang on the person, or be overwhelming. Just give little sweet doses of affection here and there. Soon, they'll do the same for you.

Even if they don't reciprocate, continue touching. Don't be accusatory "You never touch me!" Don't stress or count the days until they touch you. It may take a while, but eventually your partner will start touching you.
posted by LoriFLA at 9:07 AM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

What is the Magic Therapist going to say or do? It's beginning to get to me that everyone thinks that "see a therapist" (some are good some aren't) is a sufficient/useful recommendation.

In this case adding a third person to an already tense situation seems ill advised.

I'd start with requests for intimate activities.
Examples: Set up the bedroom or a guest room so that they can lie in bed together and watch a favorite movie or tv show once a week. Slow dancing night, where one or the other complies a mixed tape for dancing. Music appreciation can be done sitting together or lying together on the floor.
posted by ewkpates at 9:11 AM on September 28, 2007

I would wager that just suddenly 'jumping his bones' isn't going to do alot to change his (evidently) lackluster sexual opinion of her. If he stuck around through all the craziness (pardon the term) then he obviously loves her. Feeling aroused by her might be a different thing for him now, and it may be extremely hard for him to see her that way anymore.

No one on here is really going to be able to say anything helpful. It sounds like therapy is really the only option for your friends (That or an ecstasy-crazed rave-binge).

Honestly, I wish them luck.
posted by Pecinpah at 9:13 AM on September 28, 2007

ewkplates, it's not like you go to therapy and the therapist waves a wand and everybody's suddenly better. It's very difficult work. A therapist is trained to help people communicate when communication has completely broken down -- but in the end, the therapist is only a facilitator. It's the couple that is going to make it work, or not. After years of a lack of physical intimacy, and considering that there is mental illness involved, it's not something that anybody on mefi can just advise about.

These people need to learn to be honest about their feelings and talk. It doesn't sound like they're just going to wake up one day and be comfortable about it. They need a little help and support.

Sure, you can make suggestions, but the problem here is much larger than a community of smarty pants's who don't know the situation can really help with. At the end of the day, this couple needs to learn how to talk about their needs with one another.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:21 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ecstacy. Or blowjob.
posted by markovich at 9:59 AM on September 28, 2007

Best answer: It sounds to me like they need to work on just enjoying each other's company again. Even cuddling can get all fraught with stress and agendas if it's not coming naturally. Mandated touching-for-touching-sake is not intimacy -- it's a chore, for both parties.

What are their common interests? What sounds like a nice way to spend an afternoon? What kind of books to they both like to read? They're not going to forget about all the stress they've suffered, and of course it has changed who they are, but it also needn't take over completely.

What about taking some sort of class or workshop in something together? Or making a hobby of visiting a particular type of museum/event. Build emotional intimacy through shared experiences, lots of them.

There's no magic way for them to revive their relationship without communication. This is what therapy is supposed to help them achieve, but they have to look at therapy as a tool, not as medicine that will make it all better if they take the prescribed dosage.
posted by desuetude at 10:09 AM on September 28, 2007

Just a [assing and perhaps connected note:
I was friendly with some academics who taught marriage therapy and had private practices. One told me that by the time a couple went for therapy it was too late, usually, but not to tell people what he told me because it would be bad for his business.
posted by Postroad at 10:48 AM on September 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. She's thinking over them right now.
posted by Danila at 10:52 AM on September 28, 2007

I watched my folks go through this and, despite the effort with therapists and "date night," once he lost sexual interest in her it never came back. They got along otherwise, just the romance disappeared and they lived like roommates. When they finally split up everyone was happier.
posted by letahl at 10:55 AM on September 28, 2007

p.s. she was generally very attractive then and still is, it wasn't her looks.
posted by letahl at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2007

You said he works long hours at a very stressful job. You also said he is not having an affair. On top of for decades he's been a caretaker for her.

To me, he just sounds tired and has no time.

Does she work? Is there a possibility that she could do something, like get a job to supplement some income, to alleviate his hours and workload.

Maybe then he would have the time and energy to devote to intimacy.

Just my 2c.
posted by sandra_s at 11:33 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pecinpah is right, jumping his bones will (most likely) not work. I'm familiar with the guy's situation - taking care of someone who is ill (whether physically or mentally) can definitely change the nature of the relationship. I do believe therapy is probably the only solution, AskMe is not going to offer a magic key for this woman to unlock her husband's sex drive. He is going to have to work hard on seeing her as the woman he married, rather than the fragile, dependent person he took care of for years. AFAIK, that's the domain of a good shrink. I assume she's in therapy; he should be as well, after which a good couple's councilor would be in order. (Those couples sessions, btw, should not be run by either of their therapists.)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 11:38 AM on September 28, 2007

Best answer: I seriously don't think a blowjob or jumping his bones is going to work here, and may even be a bit detrimental. Talking out my ass, but it sounds as if he has put up some seriously big walls to avoid being hurt any more. The long work hours, the strict routine (knowing whats going to happen when), minimal physical contact resulting from an aversion to causing harm.
Very tough situation to be in, on both sides. Unless, and possible even if, things change not only in how he thinks and feels but how his life is structured there is not going to be much change. It is possible things will never get better, hopefully they will but that depends on many factors. Yeah therapy.
posted by edgeways at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a 50-something yo guy, could it possibly be a physical thing with him? Maybe if he talked with his doctor it might help, because if he was suffering from E.D. (and believe me suffering is the right word) and knew that he couldn't maintain an erection long enough to do anything then that would be enough to kill any thought there might be of even trying.

Despite the horrible TV ads they run, those particular modern pharmaceuticals really are a wondrous thing and certainly helped my situation.
posted by worker_bee at 11:53 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Therapy, of course. It is juvenile and ignorant to think anything else even has a chance.

Of course, my personal opinion is that there is no hope anyway.

Six or seven years??

It is likely he stayed out of obligation. It's like how so few people suddenly divorce a spouse because they become crippled. Societal pressure is immense to "do the right thing" in those situations.

It is profoundly unlikely that this relationship can be revamped. Can it sustain in this way? Probably, perhaps indefinitely. But I would hold out very little hope for any sort of sea change or paradigm shift in their intimacy.

Additionally, are you at all sure the "sex is painful" thing has been resolved? Consider the man's situation if he finally commits to intimacy again, and she starts hurting and having a breakdown or panic attack. His dick may never work again.

This is just a hopeless situation. My suggestion would be for them to split amicably, and for her to find a man that she can be intimate with and not have those feelings of pain and panic. Because any relationship she has those feelings within is doomed, whether it be 27 years or 27 days. (I'm assuming her pain is psychosomatic... if it is true physical pain, then medical treatment is her only recourse).

It's a sad situation, but sometimes the wise thing is to recognize when a cause is lost. Cutting your losses is always an acceptable strategy, regardless of what the sewing circle or in-laws think.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2007

Maybe he doesn't even like her anymore, and they're just together out of convenience and a sense of responsibility. Perhaps she did something particularly mean-spirited at one point, and this poisoned the well for him in terms of his ability to feel intimate with her. It can happen in 27 years, it happened for me in less than 27 months.

MDMA is a viable treatment for this, but it's not a permanent solution.
posted by mullingitover at 3:49 PM on September 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses, it seems clear that therapy is in order, and that this will not be an easy fix.
posted by Danila at 5:04 PM on September 28, 2007

Having past experience in a relationship where sexual interest is unidirectional, I have avoided sexual frustration by minimizing physical contact, so it's possibly in part that reaction, multiplied and reinforced by years of it.
posted by tomble at 6:56 PM on September 28, 2007

If he has been playing the caretaker role for her for YEARS, what does she do for him? Frankly, he sounds exhausted. And there no reason why someone who feels like they are running a race, staggering with exhaustion, barely able to put one foot infront of the other would want to get intimate.

Especially with someone whom the one thing he has learned to consistently expect is inconsistency, craziness, meaness, and pain. Why should he trust her and open himself up? I would bet he would say I'm doing what I can and I'm not interested in more.

So she should create an atomsphere of trust and caring. She needs to prove she is committed to her health, and their happiness. She can do that by taking care of herself - medications, therapy, etc., and then by making their marriage NOT about her caretaking anymore. What does she do for him, to take care of him? Massages, time off, a vacation by himself, time to do sports, what are his favorite activities and how often does he get to engage in them? Someone else mentioned work, and whether she works, and I'll second that - she should take some of the burden off him, so that he can begin to enjoy life again.
posted by zia at 9:27 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Zia (just above me) said exactly what I wanted to say! I am being bold here, but it seems like your friend has been on the receiving end most of the time and her husband has been on the giving end most of the time.

Now I don't want to trivialize the pain and suffering your friend has had to endure. I sure it has been a difficult journey and I am sure that she has been on the "giving" end in this "relationship" with her trauma. And I wish her the best of luck with her battle and sincerely hope that she can conquer the demons that she has had to live with.

But "giving" to one relationship doesn't "buy you credits" for another one. And she needs to start giving back to her husband.
posted by bitteroldman at 7:19 AM on September 30, 2007

« Older should i eat this?   |   Cross Border Outlet Shopping from Toronto: Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.