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Love Letters

She doesn't want to have sex

No chat today. In Paris.


Q:

Dear Meredith,

I am a middle aged man, married for over 20 years (been together for 25 years), and we have a child. We have a very good marriage by just about every criteria -- extremely compatible, shared values, common interests, a sincere and deep love for one another, and we laugh a lot together. Where we aren't great is conflict -- we basically never fight, which I generally consider a positive because we rarely disagree on major issues, but where that comes back to bite us is when we have an issue that needs to be addressed we pretend it doesn't exist. What is already an important and weighty subject becomes enormous -- even debilitating, over time.

Here's the problem: My wife finds it extremely painful to have intercourse. In the early years, before marriage, we tried many times with limited success. Acknowledging that there was a problem, we sought out help from a therapist who specialized in this area. Not much progress was made. All the while, and despite this problem, it became clear to me that I loved this woman and wanted to be with her. So even though the issue persisted, we married (and, sure, part of me secretly hoped the commitment of marriage would help to make it easier for her). It didn't. We do please one another in other ways but I think we have lost a level of intimacy other couples share -- and I think that lack of intimacy has eroded our bond over time. I know I'm not as affectionate as I should be but I was so often rebuffed (in very subtle ways) when I became amorous that I stopped extending myself. And I would guess she often discouraged me because of her own personal insecurities. Those actions became habits, and now decades later we are rarely intimate in anyway save for kissing hello and goodbye. I had resigned myself to this life -- the good outweighing the bad -- until something that recently happened.

I met a woman through work (we do not work together- just the same industry) and we struck up a friendship. The nature of our interaction often included innocent flirting. Soon we began exchanging emails and texts about work, which morphed into more personal life stuff -- but all very above board. About a month into it I began to realize that I was developing feelings for this woman and I had to acknowledge that I would not want my wife seeing these exchanges. I knew I was walking a fine line, but this woman made me feel amazing. Still, I knew it couldn't go on. It was difficult and took a couple of tries, but she and I cut things off knowing no good could come of our continued communication.

But the entire event has me wondering and questioning my life. Am I seeking out attention and affirmation outside of my marriage because I'm not receiving it at home? Is this a natural ebb in a marriage that many couples go through and shouldn't be over analyzed? Am I settling for less than I really need? Is this a mid-life crisis? What should I do to improve my marriage?

– Quandary in Quincy

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A: Letís do this in order.

Am I seeking out attention and affirmation outside of my marriage because I'm not receiving it at home?
Yes.

Is this a natural ebb in a marriage that many couples go through and shouldn't be over analyzed?
Yes and no. All marriages ebb and flow, but you guys went from ebb to massive ebb and you must address the problem.

Am I settling for less than I really need?
Sure. You have been for a while. You should have continued to work on this years ago.

Is this a mid-life crisis?
Eh. I don't think so. It's just a crisis.

What should I do to improve my marriage?
It's great that you saw a therapist, but you really need to consult a doctor. Together. It sounds like you guys did your best to deal with this back in the day, but you need advice from someone who can tell you about your bodies and why the sex stuff isn't working. Sometimes it takes medical expertise to solve sexual problems.

Let the flirtation with the other woman become a catalyst for improving your marriage. You and your wife have been in a routine for too long. You have to start addressing this problem all over again.

Readers? Therapist? Medical doctor? Is this just about boredom in the marriage after so many years? Advice?

– Meredith