Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Is It Time To Divorce My High-School Sweetheart?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I don’t know how to start, but here it goes.

I was reading your article on your site about “How to know when to end a relationship”, as I’m in a situation right now and I’m not sure how to proceed. Here are the details (in the simplest form possible).

I’m 29 year old male, and my wife is 28. She’s my high-school sweetheart. We’ve been together for 12 years, married for 3. And we have an 18 month old daughter.

So, just like any other couple, our 12 year relationship has had ups and downs. However, I’m starting to wonder if there are certain parts of the relationship that have gone south and that are simply beyond repair. One of the (my) main issues is the lack of sex. Most of the articles that I’ve read feel that this is one, if not the most important sign/red flag. I understand that expectations need to be kept in check (things won’t be the same in year ten as they were in year 1). However, what I’m noticing is that the sex has gone progressively downhill for the last 4 years or so.

It was never “extremely exciting” so to speak, but there was some consistency (4-5 times/week), but now it seems like it’s more of a “chore” for my wife than anything else. It puts me in a very difficult position because I want to have sex (and a lot of it) and she doesn’t really have the desire. Another factor that I feel puts additional pressure on me is the fact that she’s the only woman I’ve ever slept with. I definitely do not consider myself a stud (not even close), but there are occasions where attractive girls are legitimately interested in me, and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to say “Sorry, I’m married”. 

Another issue is I feel like she’s much more negative (in general terms) than she should be. Small issues or concerns turn into problems that wake her up/keep her up. One of the by-products is that she sometimes gets upset with me over small issues. Since I consider myself a very happy person, this type of behaviors is simply exhausting and draining to me. It’s gotten to the point where I simply ignore it as I don’t want it affecting me.

I should clarify that this isn’t the behaviors “all the time”, just much more often than I feel it should be. We also seem to fight more than we used to. I’m not really sure why, but I’m noticing that it’s happening more.

The third and fourth issues are the fact that we have a child together and that I’m somewhat worried of being single (or the thought of being single).

Like I mentioned, I’ve been with my spouse for my entire adulthood, and being single is like stepping into the complete unknown. Can I get another relationship? Will I regret this when I do/don’t get someone else or at some other point down the road? Will it affect my daughter?

I’m also very uncomfortable with having to talk/deal with her on a daily basis (since we have a child). I always preferred (or would have) a clean break with no ties (I should not that I wouldn’t trade my daughter in for the world). I know most of these issues seem a bit juvenile, but they are issues that seem to be impacting my decision nevertheless.

Having said all that, there are many positives as well. We work very well as a couple with my daughter. We are very good at “teamwork” when it comes to getting various chores and things done off of our weekly “to-do” list. We enjoy some common activities (some sports, TV shows, etc). We obviously have a certain kind of love and mutual respect after 12 years together.

As you might decipher, the lack of sex is the biggest (but not only) issues that I have. I’m very reluctant to leave the relationship for this reason (although there would be others) as it would be very negatively perceived (or at least I think it would) by our friends and family. Having said that, when I look at our relationship, I feel that it is now more of a very good friendship (which is obviously very important in any relationship) than an actual relationship. I believe that I’m having difficulty with this as I’m not only looking for a best friend but also a partner in every sense of the word.

I’m kind of at a cross-roads in this relationship right now. I refuse to simply “accept” the issues, but yet I’ve been telling myself this for the last two years or so. I’m not really sure what I should do and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

– Waiting for the End of Time To Hurry Up And Arrive

DEAR WAITING FOR THE END OF TIME: OK, let’s take things a step at a time.

First: It’s entirely normal to be interested in people outside of your relationship. Being monogamous just means that you don’t have sex with other people; it doesn’t mean that you don’t want to. The fact that you have desire for someone besides your wife isn’t a sign that anything’s wrong, it just means that you’re a human with a sex drive. Our culture doesn’t like to acknowledge that monogamy is hard; we are literally not built for it, so it can and will be a struggle for a lot of people, especially over the long term.

Now under normal circumstances, you are correct: the lack of sex would be a red flag. However, there’s one major factor influencing the relative lack of sex: you have an 18-month old daughter.

I want you to re-read that part a couple of times. It’s important.

One quirk of the human psyche is that we can adapt to ANYTHING. No matter how amazing something may be — a gorgeous partner, mad passionate sex, an expensive sports car — it becomes part of our status quo. The novelty of it fades and it doesn’t excite us as much as it used to because… well, it’s just part of our day to day lives. Sexual passion is no different; the amount of oxytocin and dopamine generated by sex with the same person tends to diminish over time. This is a normal part of relationships – passion ebbs, only to be replaced by a calmer but deeper emotional intimacy. Now, the fact that your sexual satisfaction has been going down hill over the last four years could be due to a number of issues: stress, health issues, hormone imbalance, the 7 year itch… but the fact that you have a kid is a going to be a very, very significant part of that.

Having a child, especially one who’s barely out of infancy, is going to put a major damper on your sex life; the lack of sleep, the stress that comes with balancing caring for the child, taking care of the house, work and maintaining a relationship – all of this is going to make it much harder to find the time or interest in sex. If your wife is the primary caregiver – you don’t say which of you does the majority of the child-rearing – then I can see why her libido may have taken a nose-dive.

Have you talked to your wife about all of this? Because I’m willing to bet that at least part of the issue is that she’s feeling as though she’s saddling the lion’s share of the burden of handling your daughter AND maintaining hearth and home AND her own career – all very good reasons why she may well be more snappish and less sexual than normal. It may well be that she’s wishing for some time off, or for you to be more of an equal partner in keeping things running. If you helped out more — and I mean, taking up a roughly equal level of responsibility, not just a little help here and there — then things could get back to where they were. If that is the case, no goddamn wonder that she’s seeing sex as a chore; it’s just one more thing piled on to the billion other items on her “to-do” list that never seems to end and that she just doesn’t have the energy for.

Then again, it could well be that her libido is out of whack, that she’s feeling the same “why didn’t I fool around more before settling down” blues that you are or that she’s just decided that she’s done with sex and therefore you are too. Or she’s having a hard time transitioning back to being a sexual being under the stresses of jobs and motherhood.

You’ll have to tell me; this is all information that I don’t have.

Now, for my big question: Are you looking to fix things or are you looking for me to give you permission to do what you already want to do?

Frankly, none of these issues sound like deal-breakers to me. In fact, to be perfectly honest, it sounds much more like you’re horny and frustrated and having the opportunity for sex with someone new is just highlighting how long it’s been since you’ve had your gotten laid and you’re starting to get a little caught up in the appeal of some new strange.

There’s nothing like a case of sexual deprivation to make little things way the hell more annoying than they would be under normal circumstances; let that go on long enough and the idea of “God only knows what I could do right now” worms it’s way in.

If you’ve already got a foot out the door and you’re just looking for someone to back you up… well, then what I have to say isn’t really going to make a difference. None of the problems you have here are terribly insurmountable or even unusual in the course of a long-term relationship. I don’t see anything in your letter that couldn’t be addressed by some long, honest conversations with your wife – possibly even some couples therapy to help with any communication issues you two may be having.

But like I’ve said before: you can leave a relationship for any reason. It may not be a GOOD reason, and people may well criticize you for it, but you can leave for literally ANY reason. And that includes “I want out.”

That having been said: I think in your case, you’re making a major life decision based on the fact that you’re stupid horny right now, and that’s a bad way to make decisions.

I’m certainly not going to tell you to stay in a relationship that you’re unhappy in, but at the same time, I really don’t think that leaving – or trying to self-destruct the marriage by cheating – is the right answer for you, your wife or your daughter. Get a Fleshlight and some fresh porn and go to town so you can think clearly. Then go and talk with your wife  – especially with some couples counseling – before you pull the trigger on the relationship and risk making a decision you’ll really regret.

Good luck.

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