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When a man loses all desire for physical affection, he incurs losses for everyone else in his life.

A Loveless, Sexless Marriage

A good friend of mine recently confided that her husband had lost all of his desire for physical affection, from holding hands in public to lovemaking. I knew he was distant and brooding and I had my suspicions about their love life because of hints she’d dropped over the years. But I didn’t know it was this bad. It’s been a dark and lonely road for her; a road she is convinced she travels alone. It was her sense that no one else had a marriage like hers that kept her from sharing sooner.

After a good deal of research I’ve found that while she isn’t completely alone, she’s not in ample company. To be more specific, little has been written and few studies have been done that address or explain the failing male libido beyond the wonders of sildenafil. There may be many more others like my friend, but they are thus quiet.

Having come to share this overshadowing part of her life, she’s surprisingly energetic. She says the energy came with the exhausting realization that her husband simply wasn’t going to change. During one morning round of coffee, we went over the papers she would need in preparation to eventually leave him. She looked up and said she had a quiet but constant nagging feeling that there was something else she could’ve done. I told her that was normal, reminded her of all the things she’d done through the years, and asked her “What else could you possibly do?” Her answer took me aback. “Go public. It’s not my secret.”

On behalf of a friend who has gone through so much and tried so hard, I have agreed to put her story into words in the last ditch hope that there’s an answer she may have missed. She doesn’t want to name names. She wants to name the condition. She wants to shine a light on it in hopes of freeing herself and possibly others from a shameful and lonely darkness. She may only get responses from woman who have come to the same conclusion as she has. While this doesn’t compare to the kind of hope she’s looking for, their stories might affirm what she already knows and fuel her stamina for the upcoming divorce and single hood.

Olencia* took a deep breath and sighed.

“I haven’t had sex with my husband in over a year. Even then it wasn’t intercourse. Before that it had been a year. He’s been to the doctor a few times for a full physical. He’s taken the little blue pill. It worked a few times, by default I guess. We’ve had the heart-to-hearts. He’s been prescribed anxiety medication and depression medication. He had a sleep study done on him as well as MRI’s, CAT scans, you name it. He’s currently seeing a psychologist who told me to just accept the way my husband is. He also expressed surprise that I hadn’t cheated on my husband. This guy is not the first to say that as we’ve had marriage counselors and individual counselors here and there for some time now. This guy is the first man, though. My husband was headstrong about not seeing a male mental health professional. When it came up again, there were only guys on the list of available providers so he had to pick from the list or not go. He conceded and we went together for a while.

It’s not just the sex I’m without. It’s everything. For as wild and wonderful as things were in the beginning (of the marriage, not just the relationship) he’s since cooled to the point that if he was a woman I’d refer to him as a frigid bitch. He’s not just without desire; he’s hostile about it. At one point a little over a year ago I hugged him knowing he wouldn’t hug back and just told him that I loved him. He hadn’t said, “I love you too” in several months and he hadn’t said, “I love you” in years. I pulled away and asked, ‘Does it matter that I say I love you?’ He misunderstood the question and replied, ‘No, it doesn’t matter that you love me.” When I spoke about this in counseling, the psychologist pointed to him having misunderstood the question. I pointed to him having expressed a truth.

He started off pulling away from my holding his hand, progressed to hugging with one arm and then no arms at all. Finally he said one day that he’d had sex when he didn’t feel like it and that he thought he should have stronger boundaries. That’s when our physical life together ended completely. All the while we’d been seeing professionals, medical and mental health, together and individually. All I’ve gotten out of it is a litany of people telling me there’s really nothing wrong with him and that I just have to accept that. ‘Accept what?’ I have often asked. Is he gay? Is he lying? ‘No,’ I’m told by him and the professionals, ‘just different.’ I think it’s interesting that he’s never been called upon to accept who I am.

He moved out in July and we had a few more sessions after that. I ended my participation because of a counseling incident in August. I told him that I felt like we were divorced, save the piece of paper. He agreed. (To interject briefly, he’s in the military and we are stationed overseas. While we can be separated and have a separation agreement, we can’t get a divorce here. To move back to the states before his tour is up would cost us thousands of dollars we simply don’t have. We don’t live together and have no involvement except where it concerns the kids, much like a divorced couple.)

The psychologist asked him if he would agree to leave me be if he saw me out with someone else, as a courtesy. He did not agree. In fact he angrily disagreed. I wasn’t shocked, but I felt disgusted with the nerve it took him to say anything about it at all. It made no sense for me to save myself for a man who had no romantic feelings at all, much less for me, that my chasteness was only for his benefit and was only aggravating me. The psychologist agreed that he had no right to attempt to restrict my behavior, especially in light of the separation agreement. He also reminded my husband of the great lengths he’d gone to when talking about having no drive, feeling there was nothing wrong with that, and how I should leave him alone once and for all. Still he felt it would be horribly wrong for me to step outside the ‘marriage.’ He would often point out how I thought sex was all there was to it and refused to address the fact that he wouldn’t even hold hands. I said it wasn’t all about sex; it was about any physical regard at all. I finally realized the depth of his confusion and anger, and decided to quit going to marriage counseling.

I don’t know where the man went that I married, but I know he’s nowhere around. I would love to know what’s going on with him but I’ve given up hope of ever finding out and I’m not sure how much difference it would make now if I knew. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I can’t afford to do what a caring person would do anymore. I still have kids at home and a job and a household to run. The kids and I have so many family meetings I’m about to call a sabbatical but I know it’s good the lines are open between us. They’re old enough to know some of what’s going on, that this is about physical neglect. They understand what I’m talking about as they too have been on the receiving end of one-armed hugs and a cool silence when they’ve said ‘Good night Dad, I love you.’ They don’t have to know more than that although I’ve been told more than once that anyone over the age of 16 could understand sexual frigidity. I’m all for talking with my kids about their sex lives, but I’m not going to talk with them about mine. I can’t think of how that would ever be appropriate unless my husband actually died from it somehow and the kids wanted to know what caused his death. This arrangement is not what I would prefer but it’s the best for now, financially and for the kids. They want to see him and he does make the effort to see them. He just doesn’t hug them hello or say ‘I love you too’ when they say ‘Goodbye Dad, I love you.’

It’s been heartbreaking for the kids and me. It isn’t the quick ‘I gotta get outa here’ announcement my last husband made. He was out the door the next day and gone from our lives forever. It’s almost twenty years later and I feel like I’m going through it all over again as if it were just yesterday. Different men, different issues, almost the same feelings. I’m not as hopeless and dependent as I was last time when I had no income, but what I’ve done for myself financially doesn’t make up for what mattered so much.

My sister and I have discussed this. She’s recently divorced from her first husband and is going through a major custody battle. Someone told her divorce was like a death. She responded that it most certainly was not, that death is an end and the dead don’t come back to haunt you in full view of your kids and friends. Divorce, she said, is worse than death; it’s like Alzheimers. I agree. The drawn-out, agonizing way in which my husband has come to leave me is nothing short of brain damaged and damaging in terms of the craziness and inconsistency.

The irony of him not wanting me to cheat is that his slow but sure drain on our love life has created a pain in me that doesn’t want physical affection right now. I know I want it eventually. I’m not dead; it’s just on hold while I get myself better together. I need time to myself, time not spent trying to ‘help’ him. I exhausted myself trying to understand him, make changes I thought I could make, going to doctors and therapists, reading books, doing this and that and any other thing. It was so tiring. Now I focus on my health, which I let slide some during that time. I work out, I keep up on my job, and I focus on my kids and our home.

I can’t stand seeing him anymore. The interesting thing is that, of late, he’s been trying to engage me in conversations about his childhood and his issues. It wasn’t that long ago when I would’ve given anything for discussions like that, but it’s just too late. It’s not like he’s asking to come back or trying to work on the marriage or anything like that. He just wants to extend his therapy time as far as I’m concerned and that’s not a use of my time and effort I’m willing to give him anymore.

Any woman in this position will eventually come to a point where she has to redefine her life, her expectations, and herself. I fought long and hard this time because I didn’t want to go through another divorce and I especially didn’t want to drag the kids through one. The older kids were very little when my ex and I divorced. They’ve never known him. My husband now is the only father they’ve ever known.

If there is an answer I’ve missed, I hope whoever has it will share it with me. If not, I hope the best for myself, and I wish the very best for any woman going through this.”

*Olencia’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

UPDATE: April 08, 2008
Saving A Loveless, Sexless Marriage: The Miracle of Retrouvaille

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.

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3 comments

  1. Diana I was married to a Silent service sailor that was so good at what he did he was the go to as an Emergency replacement on various crews for thee and a half years When he got out he had his patrol pin, three gold stars and two silver. The patrol pin was his fist patrol each gold star represented three patrols and the silvers one. I started The symptoms Of bi polar when he was about two years from discharge, Had my first affair a year after he left.
    I was finally sent to his home town to await his discharge when he was going back to his UAW transmission plant position with full accrued seniority under the contract. I discovered the Community and the society hostile to service vets at the time especially those that had more seniority than most of them did. I thought I was helping using the promise of future relations with my husband if he just stay where the company put him his first day back and did not cause trouble using his seniority rights For jobs, holidays, vacation slots and shift preference, There were terrible arguments until after he went through a brain surgery in 2001. and after that things really got bad with everyone, two months after 9/11 He decided he was changing shift and jobs with his then 25 years seniority taking what was called a prestige job One normally kept open on the local union level, For people that had political and social connections. My husband had the national shove that idea down the locals throat Because the contract required all positions by seniority be filled. His father and his county commissioner best friend wanted the position to go to the commissioners middle son with only 8 years seniority.
    So I again went hat in hand and tried to beg my husband to stay were he was at. My husband was vulgar in describing me as a tramp my bi polar condition forced him to keep as a wife. I was on my knees begging him to back off this job for his own sake because I had been told if he didn’t they would show up and teach him his place and he would remove his name even if he was carried in to do so. I said I would get him the next vacation to Ireland the next holidays even get weekends arranged for him not to have to work in somebodies place. I would even normalize our sex life, He told me he wanted me dead, So he could find a wife on his side.
    The next morning when he got home he was followed onto the porch by four men at 4 am> they gave him the option of removing his name under his own power or they would just put it in his hand after they carried him in, HE turned and gave them his option to get off his porch and out of his face or die where they stood, My husband is a two service vet, Qualified air born, air assault and submarines in two services as well as nuclear weapons security. HE was taught giving up was never an option, When they jumped him He left them Crittical care patients in under a minute. It was the first demonstration I saw of his combat skills. since that night there has not been any willing cooperation for any reason until He was again in surgery in October of 2009 With MRSA in his spine, He lost feeling from the top of his legs down. When he returned home from rehab three years a heart surgery again for mrsa complications.and three strokes, He came home walking with a cane he had carved out of red oak in occupational therapy Which was not expected and I had become lonely and was seeing an Old BF. I went out with him one last time after my husband came home, He caught us and my AP thought humiliating the cripple would not be costly. when he swept my husbands cane putting him on the floor that cane flew across the room fracturing his scull and My husband was Right behind with his fists. I had to call 911. There was a 2 week stay for my husband in a stress center for rage control and anger management.
    They sent him home on the worst possible evening because I had promised to go with his father. Mother and his fathers best friend to an Invitation only dinner, The first Indication My husband was home was running square into his chest as I came out of the bedroom just finishing getting ready to go If they had sent him home two hours latter I would have been gone and able to talk to him when I returned four hours latter after the event was over. I would have had people with me and we4 could have sat and talked with civility, Bu the started out saying.;” Good He had not even been to a movie in 31 years Where were WE going.” which put me instantly to crying knowing he was not going to talk any thing through. I told him I had promised this and he retorted and How many promises had I made him the last 31 years. He said He did not care about the promise I had made hi9s father his came before all and I could see I was in a deadly situation over this. I tried offering a 100 and told him to pick a place to meet in four hours we would have coffee and tea, and he could have a good meal. and we could decide how to incorporate him Into traditions, vacations, and other things over time we could have some of the sex life he had wanted. I said we could even start that in a few days, with negotiation, That’s when he blew up. Told me he was negotiating nothing under the roof he paid for, that as longs as he supplied everything under it he was the final judge and arbiter and he was not letting us steal one more second of his life, we allowed him nothing in fact if I did not submit I might not survive that evening. I tried running for the door but I think he was more than insane at that point, he ripped everything off me, I was begging things did not have to be this way ‘through the sobs I even said I wouldn’t go We could try and talk things through then. He said Nothing to talk through after 31 years of slavery He left me no choice in the matter. When I found out three months latter I asked the doctors how at 49 I was pregnant, My husband had made a deal on his mothers insistence to move west were he was original from by 1200 miles She had seen him throw his fathers best friend of the porch That evening and come in to find me crying with my ripped up cloths all over the place and I was In a dressing gown sobbing She said this had to stop before someone died for trying to get over on my husband. My mother and sister helped with the move to the new place his uncle left vacant in NE Wyoming when he had a heart attack. I was getting sick all the time thinking it was trying to get used to the altitude since I was raised at Sea level on the east coast, Finally my mother took me to a doctor In Cheyann They kept me two days doing tests until they discovered I was three months pregnant in an ultra sound. I left three days latter to go east with my mother to an advanced age clinic for pregnancy.
    My husband went to the family Cabin up at High range To repair renovate and Make it livable, Repair the wind turbans and Battery bank Even Put a steam generator. in the fire place He had the three cats. a new pup he named larceny and His two bays bart and betty. It a two day ride not pushing it.. He was there Six months latter when we had a message relayed by 2 meter FM that he was the father of a 6 pound 8 oz boy Delivered On December 8th at 7:42 am Local Virginia time, I introduced his son to him on January 3rd 2014. He had come down Just before Christmas and set up the Nursery after the DNA test came back saying he was his son.
    The last three years Has been many more tears with him refusing to back off rights. He continues to Protect them at any hazard Even Filing charges of Civil rights denial against me, family and friends, It hurts he hates us so much now he wants use to hurt as bad as he did for 31 years.
    I watched him get airlifted out to go see his mother last night. She’s not expected to survive the week. I have heard his father blames the last three years of defiance for her not wanting to stay alive. The happiest day she had the vast two years was when she met her grandson last year. Her and My mother have stayed with him several times the last two years before we came Up to High range where marshals put me under home detention He got larceny beside him right now The dog that’s nearly the same age. He protects him like a mother hen. Both asleep in front of the TV watching Dave.
    Bart and Betty are in the coral for the night They do and graze in the grass then go back in at night I really don’t have to do anything except let them have a little nuzzle time with my little boy. I am going to sleep on the sofa until my husband comes home and shut the stair gate My husband will stay down until he hears his mother is gone.
    Then back up here with more supplies and parts, and the next 18 months, I am Hoping for a mild winter. Spend the next Christmas and two fourths here We have turkeys here Other game plenty of stores in the big frezzers his uncle left in the shed as well as caned goods stacked under the stairs. He brings Milk up in Big Three gallon bladders and frezzes them. And gets them out and puts them in The fridge as needed. We have several flown up every months end , boy uses allot of milk right now he wants da home.

    • Samantha Deschenes

      You are insane! No wonder the man went batshit crazy on you! Using sex, or rather the denial of it. Making him work for 3 decades straight, never letting him go on the vacation’s he paid for.. all while you have affairs with old flames and use his money to live comfortable while all you giving him in return is empty promises…i don’t condone rape in any fashion, including your situation. However, you groomed this man to be your slave. To give you the life you want with nothing in return. I give him kudos for standing up for himself and not let anyone say what he is allowed with the money he has earned. You are the definition of a low life gold digging whore. I feel sorry for the man who wasted his whole life for your pussy… To which you held it over his head like a starved dog… All while you had your pleasure with everyone else. I dont feel bad for you at all.

      • He tried in 1987 to get a divorce. We had just landed from the first Vacation we took to Rome, I had sworn to get him to stay and work in place of a young couple that wanted a wedding and honey moon before the girls new husband left left on a Reserve cruise out of Naples.
        I had actually gone to my husband and begged him hat in hand not to just consider we had not started our sex life after six years but to remember how it felt when he was handed orders to Report to a COD out f Oceana then board his boat by 0300 the next morning. Not even getting our wedding night. I pointed out that most women wanted their weddings in June, and if he did not consent to staying the other people going would complain about his being such a louse and the group especially his father would make the vacation hell any way. So he went to my room with my final words on the matter following him about after the return we still had 30000 in the bank We could take part of that and just go someplace on our own. By the flight back I was armed with the times the places we could go and the hope of starting our life together over a romantic Island vacation. Someplace like the Caymans, Barbadoes, Jamaca, or Hawaii, I was going to suggest a warm interlude in the cold mid winter months someplace like that.
        Most don’t know what its like to live with a man that was trained in Intellegenc in the army These men and women are trained to put themselves in the enemies thoughts. Somewhere in the two years after his return from the Navy he started thinking of me, his father, family, and most the society we lived in as the enemy. He started thinking of if he was in our shoes what was the next step. After I came back in 1989 it was scarry. People thought he could read our minds. Everything was not any trust except for others being forced into the same considerations but they at least would take what was offered and try to be happy in the offer. My husband would not, Like the Mahatma he was at first passively defiant. Would not allow any ne to dictate the rights he knew he had.
        I stepped off the plane from Rome to the first battle of his rebellion a shot across our bow as he would put it laying down the challenge to authortity that came down to court orders overriding his contract at work. Top be sure my husband was not the only one that this order was applied to.
        I had my suggestions ready for a Mid winter vacation in six months and the peace offering f anew pair of boots. We just wanted to go to a breakfast that morning, Start. and all of the sudden he hits me in the face with a folder of where we could get a vacation in or out of the country the conversation about where we could go in January. The Suggestions of an island or Beach getaway that winter were not available, Even the reservations had reservations in case somebody cancelled, Winter at that time was not a cruise time. and even the suggestion of driving to someplace was shot down because as he said he was not ice skating across country just to go someplace marginally better than the mid west.
        There was nothing he was willing to consider for the time we thought would be best for everyone. Then he flogged me with what I swore too; to get him to stay and work That I would go any time, ay way and any where he decided and be the wife he had expected a return to in 1985, and a willing travel companion. He did not have a real plan for a vacation except to come here to see his grandparents. NE Wyoming. But that was 2 days out of three weeks the rest was point the nose of the van and go in that direction. West and back He even had a plan if we could not find a vacancy, two Sleeping bags and his dome tent with an Air matress. He even had a cooler full of drink in the Central consol of his van. I was tired and cranky from the all night flight, Just wanted a breakfast, and a calm discussion of options. when 25 minutes latter I was going on a different trip being sent to my mothers in VA by Bus. HE had a divorce filing ready to mail with 50 in filing fee. he had the savings in an Envelope for me in a cashiers check, The guardianship the state had aqssigned ready for my mother to take over. And the most embarrassing letter about he was returning her daughter in the condition received not his wife since we had not had sex since before our wedding. She took one look at that letter and demanded to know why I had done that to the man I had married. Al I could say was if he was allowed what he wanted others would have suffered, She said so I made my husband suffer.
        For two years she would not speak to me. My sister was Married and pregnant with her first child and I am sitting there getting ready to go back for the dissolution hearing in two months. My mother refused to assume the Guardianship. and the day we had the hearing. My husband pulled up in a smoky old pickup He was Covered in Sweat, coolant, metal chips and oil from the plant, the rest of us were in Sunday best. His father said he already had a talk with the presiding judge who was a friend of his that I should not worry about my husband except for his response. to being told he was not being let out of our marriage.
        He was walking past and said lets get this rat killing over so he could start his life over and went with the folder under his arm to the room the hearing was in. My husbands petiton was denied because he could not meet the states criteria for supplying the needs of a bi polar. The worst part was my husband was told the court order to work all hours offered was not being repealed. Everyone but my husband was happy with this outcome. He stood up gathered his folder and walked out saying its a dam set up, The judge told him to sit and everything would be explained but my husband said just a stinking kangaroo court , and walked out. Its lucky he was not put in jail for contempt of court That order was applied for the next 12 years. until 2001. By the time of the Bavairia Trip in 2000, I had only seen my husband going to his mat and showering, he resentment to everything built exponetially. In 2001. He started a campaign of getting even with those he felt had taken his rights from him> The first was his fathers judge friend after an Inadvertent disclosure on New years morning about that judge having a cocain habit. We had held out the Olive branch to arrange a fresh start when we came back from Bavaria from the millinial celebrations, That clock still sits unwrapped with his boots from 1987. In my cedar chest He has never looked at the albums we made of our vacations, He just said they were to rub his nose in what he did not get to do. Make him feel like a slave even more. In 2000 he took that thought to its limit when we flew in on his 45th birthday. That day went from bad to worse by the time we arrived at his fathers there was nothing he would say. in 2001 there was a Brain surgery in July August, He was suffering from a illness called adult Onset Hydrocephalus. By the time it was found out he had thrown up all over his foreman and passed out at her feet. The Surgon in charge told his mother and me up front the chances of surviving the procedure he had to do was less than 1 tenth of one percent. A hole from over his right eye to the center of his head had to be drilled and a tumor around the major brain artery had to be removed. Wen he woke Up the change was very evident. Instead of hazel were steel grey. He was sent home the next day with instructions to keep him quiet for the next 60 days. His father and coworkers did not let this happened on August 6th 2001 they pushed me out of the way Told me if he could stand he could work he was not ruining vacations of others in the department just for an extra hole in his head, They all knew he had not had a day off or vacation since 1978 and they did not care as long as they were not put out. Then the fear of Nine eleven, Three weeks latter the company put up bids for a new transmission plant. And There was a political and social problem that developed. My husband had 24 years seniority and wanted a job in a cool clean place, him and his friends released fro the court order, put their bids in for the best positions. people in his fathers circle felt why did my husband and his friends think they had a right just because their names were higher on a list than their family member. Why should they get the better position So on November 5th 2001 I was on my knees begging my husband to pull his bid and select something else in 2 weeks. was promised by his father if we got my husband to back off; that from then on there would be no more interference. in his life. I wanted to have a real marriage, start a family. have a happy husband instead of this angry hateful man I offered everything he had wanted since our weding almost 20 years before if he just backed off this last time. The 10 year seniority man the commisioners son and a good friend of his fathers I had even promised a vacation starting the next week could be arranged and he would get the next one to Ireland in 2003. My husband told me to be an honorable whore. take his pimp father by the had and release him from our marriage by stepping in front of a semi going 60. I just knew we had not deserved that answer. We had only got him to work as he was needed to do. He now had the chance for everything he had wanted And he’s throwing it in my face That he knew about a fling I had in Bavaria, I was just so lonely for something besides defiance and anger.
        I had tried several times to offer a way to family peace and a start to a real marriage but each time his defiance was in the way. I don’t feel like its fair to call me a gold digging whore. I was just trying to get some hard things done. By the time he came home from rehab after the MRSA in his spine, We just did not know how he was coming home. We were trying out several ideas and all fell totally on his submission. Now we have had to raise our flag of surrender to a husband who had no any respect for family and community needs. He’s punished many of us creating even more resentment. Me he raped two weeks after rehab as I begged and pleaded for some form of negotiation. As to what was expected now in all things. He’s as cold as steel now with eyes that turn colors when the moods change. Social positions mean they might get his cane in the head if they try and interfere with him.
        He’s diametriclly opposite of the rest of us in everything. He’s more computer now than human.