*My wife and I have been married for two years. During that time our love life has disappeared. She has a bad history with some abusive exes, a pelvic pain disorder and now, apparently, a low libido issue diagnosed by her doctor. While our sex life wasn’t in hyperdrive before we got married, we did have a regular routine that was satisfying for both of us. Today, she is also completely overwhelmed by a high-stress job situation and some drama with her extended family, who live nearby and seem to have a weekly crisis. I try to be understanding, but all these circumstances have become what I see as excuses for her not to devote any time to our lack of intimacy. I love and adore my wife, but I am losing patience with our situation. I try to talk to her about it, but she just gets mad and tells me she’s got too many things on her plate already.*
*— Last on Her List*
It sounds like Wife is struggling in many ways. She may hear your pleas for intimacy as just one more “thing,” but this is actually a much more dire situation than either of you may realize. A lack of intimacy sows the seeds of resentment and teaches one partner not to rely on the other for connection and emotional support. That lesson has a deep impact on a couple; some do not come back from it.
There may not be a simple solution, but perhaps I can help you craft a different way of talking about it with Wife. I assume she relies on you quite a bit when she’s managing difficult family and work situations. You are not a martyr, so she must understand that your support has a price attached. Your gas tank is not bottomless — you need to be refueled by connection and, yes, intimacy with your partner so that you have the energy to be there for her. If she continues to ignore your need for time with her, she needs to know that her disregard has the potential to deeply damage your relationship. (Notice that I didn’t say “sex.” Be careful here, as you risk alienating her if you demand one specific behavior.)
Pelvic pain disorders put certain kinds of intimacy off limits, but the doctor-recommended answer is rarely “no more connection.” You both need to be creative about having your needs met, and careful about how you communicate. When we are overwhelmed — and Wife’s seems to be a textbook case — it can be nearly impossible to see the big picture and make healthy long-term decisions. But when we are starved for intimacy (as I think you are), our appeals can sound like ultimatums, which rarely deepen connection.
Slow things down. Explain that her decision not to prioritize your relationship is wounding you every day. If she can’t hear you, consider asking her to read a book about intimacy and attachment like Stan Tatkin’s “Wired for Love” or Sue Johnson’s “Love Sense.” If that doesn’t work, please consider therapy for you both — or for you alone if she declines. This will not get better without movement on her part, and you will have to work through how much of this you are able to accept.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor in Georgetown. Visit her on the web at stacymurphyLPC.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to stacy@stacymurphyLPC.com.