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Ask Dr. SchwartzAsk Dr. Schwartz:
Psychotherapy and Mental Health questions

Lack of Affection and Intimacy

Hello Dr.

So, I've been married to my High School sweet heart for about 17 years now, and been together for nearly 21 years. We both have good careers and we have 4 wonderful children. On the surface everyone sees us as the happy, completely in love couple. We are seen by our friends as the ideal married couple. But, for over seven years now things just haven't felt right.

Emotionally and physically my wife is, most the time, very distant and cold. She continues to say that she is happy and still loves me. But her actions and her body language send me a completely different message. Yet, when we are, on occasion, out with friends she is flirtatious and playful with my guy friends and other men we meet while out. She once again becomes that outgoing, fun loving, playful woman that I fell in love with and married. But in the privacy of our home things are cold and dry with almost no affection, no flirtations, nothing even remotely resembling physical attraction.

I come from a very emotionally and physically affectionate family, so, my understanding of what actions constitute affection are different then her upbringing. I've discussed this issue with her on several occasions throughout the last seven years. I've also done so through various communication types. I've written letters, sat down and talked to her, I've cried, and I've even fought with her over this. All efforts have been fruitless. She makes partial efforts for a week or two then back to normal. Things such as a random hug or kiss, the random cuddle while sitting on the couch, these are all missing in our marriage unless I initiate. But even then it's as if she's just letting me be affectionate. She doesn't reciprocate.

Things were quite different when we first married. She was very affectionate and, although sexually shy, I still knew she desired me and felt passionate toward me. I need this level of affection and see this type of physical contact as how you show a person you love them. This doesn't even touch on the fact that our sex life is, in my opinion, non-existent. I understand that my drive is about 100 times stronger than hers. But is it wrong of me to expect some level of desire and sexual interest in me? Its not like I'm asking for sex everyday, which by the way, I'd be happy with. But I do understand that would be too frequent for her. As I've told her, its not the frequency, I'd be happy with twice a month, its more the nearly complete lack of interest on her part that bothers me. When we are intimate, it feels like I'm the only one there most the time. ItS like she's just waiting for me to get it over with so she can go back to TV or Facebooking or go to sleep.

I feel completely unattractive to and unwanted by my spouse. All the while she continues insinuate that I'm the one with the problem and that she hasn't changed. Her biggest response, "this is just the way I am, I can't change that." And now I have a close relative, someone who raised me for half my life, who is nearing the end of her life and I need more affection and love than I could possible hope for from my wife.

I'm nearing the point of no return with regard to my marriage. I haven't even gotten a simple gesture of concern or a checkup from her as to whether I'm doing OK or not. It's just life as usual. How am I supposed to approach this topic again? The last time I did so it almost tore our marriage apart. She got defensive and I got angry and then depressed. I'm learning to let go of ANY expectations I have regarding her. But I fear that eventually I'm just going to let go all together.

I'm still in love with her, but I truly feel that, at this point, maybe I'd be in a healthier state as a single dad of 4. I just don't want to ruin my children's life, or my own, by giving up.

Where do I go from here? Is there a point when, from a professional's opinion, its time to give up? If she doesn't love me anymore then, fine, but she could at least be honest about it and I've also told her. She again insists she's happy and in love with me. I'm just so confused.

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  • Dr. Schwartz responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
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