Dear Doctor George...

My wife and I have been married 4 years. We are both 51 and this is a 2nd marriage for both of us.

I am a die-hard romantic and I am very sensitive, yet masculine. My wife is very attractive and she used to be very sexual. We have terrific recreational companionship working out and hiking together.

The last several months, though, she treats me like I am some sort of pervert because I crave her sexually "too much." I try to resist the urge to initiate sex because I am tired of getting rejected so frequently. She is always tired or says she feels sick but the next morning, she is generally fine.

In the past year, I don't believe she has initiated sex more than 1 or 2 times. She almost never even touches me with her hands during sex; she just lays there. She seems to hate kissing and cuddling and seems to always be pushing me away and pulling away from me if I try to kiss or hold her. She won't talk about sex either, and seems very afraid of intimacy--much more so than when we were dating and first married.

I am not usually a suspicious person but I was burned by infidelity in my first marriage. I don't see any other signs of infidelity but I am wondering if my wife could be having some hidden romance at her job. There have been a number of occasions, the last few months, when she found an excuse to "run by the office" when she was not working.

... Suspicious of Wife




Dear Suspicious...

This sounds like a very frustrating situation for you.

It is not clear from your letter if your wife's lack of interest in having sex with you is something new, or whether this existed (in one degree or another) from the beginning of your relationship. If it is longstanding behavior, then it might stem from the influences of experiences in her past, such as growing up in a family in which touching was taboo or from having been a victim of sexual abuse. In either of these cases, psychotherapy could be helpful to your wife. But, if the behavior is new, then it could be caused by a number of things.

You've been married four years, and that is about the time period when many couples experience a diminishing of the intense romantic passion from when they first met. This doesn't mean they don't love one another, but their relationship does have to go through a transition in which they realize that the other person is not their perfect ideal. The early projection of the perfect partner has by now worn off and they are seeing the flaws. At this point in their relationship, a couple needs to make a decision to care for and love one another as they are, and to understand that their relationship will not be based on romance alone. This is where the hard work of couple-hood begins.

No one has perfect parents, so every child grows up wanting for something. Everyone has some emotional deficit from their childhood -- some, of course, more severe than others. As we mature, we seek to make up this parenting deficit by finding a partner we fantasize will take care of us just as we always wanted to be taken care of. And at first, in relationships, this actually seems to be happening... that is, until we run up against our partner's needs that aren't compatible with our own. For instance, we may like lots of social activity, but they may like quiet time alone (and it just seems they're being selfish not to accommodate our needs). Thus begins the breakdown of the idealization of our partners. The task, from here on, is for the couple to change their understanding of what relationships are about: not to get all of our needs met, but to learn to meet another person's needs. Actually, this can result in our getting our needs met but, paradoxically, only if we don't try to.

During this phase of figuring out how we're going to have to change our expectations of our relationship, we may go through periods of being angry at our partners, even not wanting to have sex with them. For many women, sex needs to be an expression of love and positive feelings for their partner. If they're angry or unhappy with something the partner has said or done (or who they have discovered him to be), then they may not want to have sex until the issue is resolved. Or, if they do have sex they may be detached from their emotions during it. You'd need to check it out with your wife if there is something she is angry or unresolved about.

Another thing to consider is, have you changed? Do you want sex more than before and why? Are you using sex to cover up feelings of your own, such as heading into middle age and the loss of youth? Some people may use sex as a kind of tranquilizer rather than as a genuine expression of their love for the other person and you'd need to question yourself to be sure that's not what you are doing. It also could be that your suspicions about your wife's having an affair are making you feel insecure about whether she loves you and you are trying to use more sex to prove she still does.

At any rate, you need to talk with her. Your suspicions would need to be addressed, because a lack of trust in your partner is contradictory to the intimacy required for a good sex life. If the two of you cannot talk openly between yourselves, then a couples' counselor could help.

Doctor George wishes you the best in working through your relationship problems with your wife

   Doctor George