Thursday, July 27, 2006

Collecting the Thoughts

Today is the appointment with the marriage counselor. Since the office is clear on the other side of town (not bad from our house, awful from my work place), I came in to work extra early because I will be effectively taking a 2 3/4 hour lunch break.

This is a condensation of my thoughts going into the counseling session.

I wanted to come to counseling because I feel that I am living in a marriage that is almost devoid of both physical and emotional intimacy. It's like a movie set that Hollywood might have used for a town in a western. The facade looks good when viewed from the right angles, but much is missing behind the scenes.

This is a huge problem for me. I have felt it in my heart for six or seven years, but it has only been within the past two years that I have been able to get a good grasp on the feeling and embrace its validity.

I feel that my wife enjoys the things I bring into our lives: a paycheck, active fatherhood, help with the household chores, and so on. However, I feel she does not appreciate me as a husband, as a man, as a lover. I feel like some sort of carboard cutout that stands in the family photograph to make her life look complete.

However, I feel as if a very large part of my life is being starved, sometimes out of indifference, other times out of hositlity.

Sex between my wife and me is infrequent. Our drives have long been mismatched, but that gap has grown larger over the course of our marriage. Most of the time I feel like she is doing it out of obligation. I feel that she is not present emotionally. I do not sense enthusiasm. She actively resists foreplay. She will not communicate to me in positive terms what she needs from me as a lover.

More recently, I have noticed that this goes beyond sex. I feel that she also avoids emotional intimacy. I feel my attempts to be close to her, clearly communicating that I don't have an expectation of sex, have been greeted with an attitude that says "Do we really have to do this?" When I want to talk about relationship issues of depth, she responds with "I feel like I'm being put on trial." She is very picky about how I express my affection.

In both areas, I sense that she is actively closing off entire areas of loving communication to. I told her it's like I'm trying to write her a love letter without using words that contain the letter e.

I have tried several times throughout our marriage to communicate my unhappiness with her. It has been awkward because it has taken me a long time to gather my thoughts and put words to my feelings. I feel she has responded to my attempts by being defensive, by refusing to acknowledge the validity of my feelings, and by refusing to be open with me. When I ask her questions about her sexuality, the most frequent answer I get is "I don't know."

In the absence of answers, I have tried to figure out what might cause her to put up barriers. The things that have come to mind range from tragic to cynical:

  • She suffered some form of past sexual abuse.

  • There is a physiological basis, like hormonal imbalance.

  • She's not that into me.

  • Her sexual orientation may not be in my favor.

  • She's having an extramarital relationship, even if it is just emotional.

When I ask her what sorts of things turn her on or what kinds of fantasies she has, she responds with "I don't know." I cannot imagine that a 35 year-old woman would not have some idea of what she desires sexually. If she is not intentionally hiding these thoughts from me, then she does not know herself sexually, and that almost guarantees that things will be difficult in the bedroom.

I realize that she may be afraid to open up to me because she fears that the truth might endanger the future of this marriage. I understand that fear. However, I don't think she realizes the pain that this is causing me. I feel unattractive. I feel foolish because I feel like I'm wasting my life in a pretend marriage. If the roles were reversed, I'm sure she would suspect me of having an affair, if not worse.

About eight years ago, when I was resisting the idea of starting a family, she put down an ultimatum on our marriage, saying that she would consider leaving me if I decided that I didn't want kids. I went through three years of individual and joint counseling to work through that. In the end, I embraced parenthood, and I think I've done much better at it than most men do.

I am placing this same degree of importance on our intimacy. The future of our marriage depends on it.

I need her to be open with me about how she feels about me as a husband and a man. I need her to communicate with me honestly about her sexuality. If at all possible, I need her to be my wife and emotionally connected lover in the bedroom. If there is some reason that she cannot or will not fulfil that role, I need to know the truth from her why that is, no matter however painful it might be. I will not accept "I don't know" as an answer any longer.

Over the years, I have tried changing the way I interact with my wife to see if that would bring an improvement in the dynamics of the relationship. I have tried being more romantic, being more attentive, refraining from being the initiator in sex, being more distant emotionally, being more helpful in other areas of the marriage. As far as I can tell, nothing has been able to stem the ever widening sexual gap. I now believe that I am powerless to bring about a change. It is time for her to step up and work on this, too.

I also believe the status quo is unsustainable. I am struggling emotionally. At times I start doing the math, figuring out how many years I've got left before the kids are grown. I hate the thought of divorce, but I don't see how staying together in this emotional limbo will be any better in the long run. The kids will know me only as an increasingly miserable wretch, and I wonder if it might just be better to give up sooner rather than later.

I believe I deserve better than this.
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