Hi Dr Nerdlove
My husband and I have been married for almost 5 years. We connected immediately over Farscape and an epic scrabble game, and tied the knot 6 months from our first date, pregnant with our first child. He became stepdad to my older two kids, and we’ve since had two more babies together, though one was lost at birth to a cord accident. He’s my best friend, a good provider, a great father. (You should also know I’m 40, and he’s 33.)
The problem is in the intimacy department. We started out so passionately, and then shortly after we wed all intimacy stopped. He admitted he’d always had libido issues, and was taking a lot of different pills for it, and now he was out of pills. I’d had no idea at all about any of it. After that sex happened every couple of months, and only if I asked for it. There was always a good reason why he may not be in the mood or something got in the way..work stress, kids, grief, depression, health. That’s life, I get that, but I struggled with it for a long time, and eventually suggested sarcastically that maybe his libido problems were a matter of orientation.
I appreciate now that instead of reacting with anger he actually took it seriously, and researched….ever the scientist, always researching one thing or another.
Just before Valentine’s Day he came out to me as asexual. Hetero-leaning romantically, willing to fake it for me physically. But zero interest in actual sex, no real desire for me, or anyone, in that way. He fell in love with me because I am smart, literate, apparently have good genes, make him laugh, I can cook, and I’m a good mother. He’d rather build robots or plant a garden or watch Star Trek with me. He’s like some kind of Dwight Schrute/Sheldon Cooper hybrid.
On Valentine’s Day itself he admitted even kissing doesn’t move him. Looking over the patterns of his life, asexuality answered a lot of questions, and clarified many things. Like the fact he’s never experienced blue balls–even when one of the babies woke up and sex got interrupted, he’d let his erection subside without worrying about it. He didn’t feel the need for release, ever.
His family is definitely unaware of this and he refuses to say anything. As far as he’s concerned it’s no one’s business at all. He doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care?) that without context it only looks like he’s not attracted to ME.
I’m MARRIED…not interested in ending this relationship, or stepping outside of it for sex. I do not believe polyamory is a workable option for us. I have a very very healthy hetero libido, am attracted to my husband and desire him physically. I love sex, and used to love the way we fit…it is hard knowing he loves me but doesn’t feel any desire for me that way. I feel guilty for wanting something from him he isn’t into giving. He says he’s willing to take his “vitamins” for me, but I can’t bring myself to ask.
I want to respect his new understanding of himself, respect his bodily autonomy. Just because we’re married he doesn’t “owe” me sex. I’d expect the same in return. So how can I continue to respect his needs, and still adequately meet my own equally valid needs in this relationship? It’s about more than intercourse or orgasms…it’s the emotional connection, the oxytocin and all that. The flirting with him, and little wifely “bribes” and whatnot. He’s the one person in the world who is allowed to touch me that way, the only one I want that from. He thinks everything is the same as it ever was, just now he knows why it is. Everything is different for me. Now he doesn’t have to pretend. And now that I know he was pretending for so long I’m mourning the loss of a whole chunk of my marriage, what I thought we had, and what I thought I could look forward to. Even the anticipation of date night is gone.
I don’t know what to do. He won’t do couples counseling. He doesn’t want to divorce, neither do I.
My ego has taken a huge hit, and my insecurities are affecting every aspect of our lives together. Illogically I’m jealous of his friendships with other women, even knowing he’s the perfect faithful hubby. Music and TV are no longer fun, since it’s all love and sex. I can’t bear to even touch myself intimately anymore, the body shame is too much and there is no relief to be found there. I was previously married, and ended that relationship because–among other problems–we had zero sex life…he was very sexual, but I was not the partner he sought. I have given my heart twice and been sexually rejected both times. I see a counsellor for my depression, I take meds for the anxiety. I am trying so hard to make this marriage work, to take what is good about us and make it enough.
Is it wrong to want to be seen as desirable by my husband? To want him to want to kiss me? I haven’t been properly kissed but once in the last several months. Our physical relationship has been reduced to chaste smooches and spooning in bed. I feel like I’m essentially single, but in love with my BFF/roommate. I can live without sex if I have to, but the lack of ANY physical connection is getting harder to bear. I feel so selfish.
I’ve done my best to communicate my feelings with him, tried different approaches. I’d like to find ways to compromise…I need to feel wanted and loved and like his wife. He seems perfectly content to wait it out, wait until I just forget about this or something. Talking about it, even rationally or humorously, only makes him feel “pressure”.
Faithful but Frustrated
I hate getting questions like these, because these are the ones where there are no good answers, just ones with relatively different levels of suck.
You’re looking for a compromise, but there really isn’t one to be had. You want physical intimacy – not just sex, but wanting to be wanted. He does not. In fact, he doesn’t seem to care very much for physical intimacy at all. Chaste kisses and spooning in bed don’t exactly make up for the fact that you aren’t just looking for orgasms, you want passion. You want desire. You, like the rest of us, want people to know you’re not just a person, you’re also a piece of meat!
It would be one thing if he were willing to make an effort to make you happy – a “it’s not really my thing, but I like that you like it” can do attitude is at the core of the concept of being GGG – but when it’s laid out as “taking my vitamins” or “eating my spinach”, it loses even that last bit of connection that makes you feel like he at least cares enough to make an effort. Making a relationship work when there’s a mismatch in libidos means that when the partner with the lower libido helps out the one with the higher one, they do so enthusiastically instead of acting like they’re being forced into the worst thing in the world. When your partner is treating your needs as something inconvenient at best and horrific at worst… well that’s incredibly shredding to your self-esteem and ego, even more so than it is already.
Before we get to anything else, I want you to remember something: this isn’t about you, this is about him. You need to keep that at the forefront of your mind – the fact that he’s asexual has absolutely nothing to do with you being desirable, being attractive or being a good person. I’m sure you realize this intellectually, but emotionally, it’s still a gut-punch and it’s very easy to see this as not being good enough or sexy enough or not loving you enough. That’s why it’s so damn important to remember: it’s him, not you. Wanting your spouse to desire you, to want them to put their hands on you? Those are all unquestionably good things. Those are things you want in a relationship. You aren’t a bad person because you want to be lusted after by the person you love. It’s not about you. You have not done anything wrong. It’s about him.
But as you keep reminding yourself of this, it’s time to start addressing the elephant in the room: your relationship as you knew it is over. It’s time to decide what you’re going to do with the relationship you now have. And let’s be honest here: it’s not working.
Now I don’t want to dump on your husband for being asexual. That’s how he’s wired, and clearly this is something that he’s struggled with for most of his life. I am, however, going to call him out for being a dick about this. He’ll “take his vitamins”, but he won’t go to couples counseling and shuts down conversations about finding compromises because “he feels pressured”. Those, quite frankly, are the words of someone being a selfish dick, not a caring partner in a relationship. He’s ok with the status quo because his needs are being met; he’s got companionship, the kids, his hobbies. You on the other hand are suffering and he seems to be somewhat ambivalent (AT BEST) to this. That’s shitty behavior on his part.
The other problem is that you’ve basically painted yourself into a corner. You want a compromise, but you’ve ruled out the potential compromises to be had. He can’t provide you with the desire you want and that lack means he isn’t providing you with the reassurance you need. You could accept that this is a companionate marriage – that the core of love and affection for one another, the life you have together and the children you’re raising together are reason enough to stay together – except for the lack of physical intimacy that you need. You could find it elsewhere, but you’ve ruled out opening the relationship and finding someone who tend to your physical needs while your husband tends to your emotional ones. And you don’t want to get a divorce.
I hate to say this, but something’s going to have to give. This is an untenable situation and unless things change, it’s going to end and end badly. Unfortunately, it’s like I said: there are no good answers here; it’s just a question of which is going to suck the least.
The first thing you need to do is to find a relationship counselor. Maybe your therapist can recommend someone, otherwise you’ll want to check out the American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists and find someone in your area. You want to find a sex-positive counselor; unfortunately, in our culture, we tend to assume that in cases with a libido mismatch, the partner with the higher libido is in the wrong and needs to get over it. A sex-positive therapist will be more likely to understand that you’re not a bad person just because you need physical intimacy and can help you work on ways of getting that intimacy. If your husband refuses to go, then go by yourself. You need someone who’s been trained in these matters to help you work out your options and game out what will be best for you.
I wish I had a better answer for you, FbF. There isn’t really a way for things for this relationship to work as things currently stand – not without destroying your soul and shredding your self-esteem. I get that you want things to go back to the way that you thought they were, but that’s not going to happen. If you want this relationship to survive, you’re going to have to deal with it on the terms that now exist and that means having to give on one of the possible options. And to be perfectly frank: if your husband isn’t willing to work with you on this relationship? Then your marriage is over, regardless of whether you want a divorce or not.
You’re strong, FbF. You’ll find a path that works for you. It may not be the one you hoped for, but it’ll be the one you need.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.