Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Ask Natalie: Husband won’t have sex with you and you feel trapped in your loveless marriage?

DEAR NATALIE: I am a 58-year-old woman who has been married for a second time for 24 years. I am smart, educated, hard working, attractive and fit. I never had an issue with my appearance since I have always stayed in shape and dressed to impress. So why doesn’t my husband want to have sex with me? In the 24 years of marriage, we have had sex less than 10 times. We have been to counseling twice, but each time after a couple of visits when the lack of sex discussion comes up, he quits going. We have never resolved this issue, as he refuses to accept responsibility. Early in our marriage, he told me that he didn’t like me to initiate sex, so I stopped. Then, sex stopped all together. On our seven-day honeymoon, we didn’t have sex once. I have spent close to $60,000 on plastic surgery thinking I had body imperfections which he found unattractive. I now know better. So my question is this: Why should I stay married? We are good friends and are together all the time, but there is zero intimacy. I feel like his sister instead of his wife. Am I being stupid for wanting out of a marriage for this one reason? Is that enough for me to end a marriage and spend my senior years alone? I can’t even speak to him about this because he becomes furious, and he will not discuss it. What do I do?

—LOOKING FOR LOVE

DEAR LOOKING FOR LOVE: Clearly you have reached the end of your patience. It broke my heart to read how much money and energy you have spent trying to “fix” yourself to please him when he clearly isn’t thinking about you in this situation at all. It is fascinating to me that the issue cannot even be discussed. After all of these years, to not have any idea why he is refusing to have sex with you, leads me to believe that this is a deeply rooted issue that perhaps he isn’t fully aware of himself. There could be a few explanations. Perhaps he is having physical issues or has had them for a long time. He may be embarrassed to tell you or to discuss what could be causing them. Perhaps he’s questioning his sexuality. If he’s not ready to admit this to himself or to you, he may be putting up this intimacy wall, instead. Perhaps he’s been having an affair. He could be asexual and not sure how to share that with you. Society has us believing that men always want sex and that women could take it or leave it. These negative and untrue stereotypes are confining and suffocating, not allowing for growth. Whatever is going on, it is something that he’s clearly been grappling with for more than two decades. But enough about him. In fact, it seems like it is always about him. What do you want? The idea of being trapped in a sexless marriage clearly isn’t working for you. You deserve the chance to find someone who can fulfill you on every level. You deserve the opportunity to meet someone who makes your heart skip a beat -- not someone that you refer to as a brother instead of a lover. I am not a big fan of ultimatums, but perhaps the only way to find out what is going on is to put it all on the table. Let him know that you love him and care about him, but that you are incredibly lonely in this marriage. He won’t speak to you about what is bothering him or preventing intimacy, so what choice do you have but to discuss divorce? I’d rather live my life independently and authentically than stay with someone who feels like a stranger to me in many ways. Of course, no one can make that decision for you but yourself, but you have every right to live your life as fully and boldly as you want. If he won’t walk the journey with you, it might be time to forge a new path on your own. 

DEAR NATALIE: I have a great life. I am not going to lie. I have a great husband, two wonderful kids and a job that I love. However, my one friend -- a close friend that I have known for years -- always likes to put negative “doubts” in the air about my life. She says things like, “Oh, your kids may be great now … but just wait until they become teenagers!” or “Your husband stays late at work some nights … doesn’t that make you wonder?” Things like this. They really upset me. How do I tell her to stop meddling in my life and bringing me down all the time? —NEGATIVE NANCY

DEAR NEGATIVE NANCY: These aren’t just self-deprecating statements. These statements aren’t about her life and how she is miserable. These statements are a deliberate attack on your family and your marriage. I would not put up with any of this. Friends are supposed to support each other. We get enough criticism from the outside world. We don’t need our friends making disparaging comments that keep us up at night. If you haven’t asked her for her advice on raising children or marriage, I don’t really know why she feels the need to direct such pointed statements like those at you. It’s mean-spirited, pot-stirring nonsense. The next time she makes a comment like the ones you shared, stop her in that moment and call it out. Say something like: “You know, it really hurts my feelings when you ridicule my family or my marriage. I would really appreciate it if you would refrain from saying negative things about my life when what I really need is a cheerleader.” Perhaps she genuinely didn’t realize that she hurt your feelings. And if she becomes defensive or angry, maybe she needs to feel the weight of those emotions. I wouldn’t shrink yourself to accommodate her insecurities. If she can’t handle being a friend, put some emotional distance between yourself and her. You have a right to protect your space and if she can’t respect your boundaries, you may have to put up some walls.

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