Welcome back to Married With Buttercups, where we answer all your questions on holy matrimony from four disparate viewpoints — the twice-divorced Trixie, the avowed single Tailfeather, the married-with-an-attitude Kadinsky and the blushing newlywed, BiscuitDoughJones.

This week’s question is a painful one and dispels the myth that men are always after their women for sex. We’ve all been there, ladies — hornier than the guy snoring next to us in the bed. For that reason this post and our answers are long, but we believe this is a Crucial Issue For Our Times. Let’s see if we can’t help Sexless in Seattle deal with the situation.

Dear Married With Buttercups:

Let’s say you have this married couple, together for 14 years … overall they work well together. He’s a cute nerd, she’s a cute and devoted wife and mother. They look good together, they have a great life — nice house, perfect baby, no money worries, everyone’s healthy.

But he never wants her, he never reaches for her.

She’s hanging in there. Some days are better than others. He’s going to counseling but doesn’t want to do couples counseling, saying he’ll figure this out on his own. She is not sure what else to do, having already used up every scrap of tears, quiet talking, ignoring, yelling, fuming, extra loving.

Not that it should make a difference, BUT she is cute, clean, well-groomed, fit, funny… as is the guy. You can rule out any stress at work for him, or basically any kind of stress because he has nothing to worry about. He has an easy job he loves, is well-paid and can take any vacation time he wants.

This is not a sudden situation. He’s not off running around with another woman. He doesn’t go to bars or out with the boys. He’s just a guy who isn’t interested in sex. He doesn’t miss it, he doesn’t crave it. He doesn’t want his wife the way a man ‘should’ want his wife, or how she wants to be wanted. Occasionally a mercy fuck occurs but it’s rare and depressing.

Since the birth of their baby 18 months ago, they’ve done the nasty about five times.

And if on the rare occasion he does reach for her, she feels pissy and doesn’t want to do anything because it feels like little scrap crumbs tossed to her and not genuine desire.

Divorce is not an option. She has asked if she can have sex with other people, he says no. This doesn’t seem fair.

Whenever she tries to talk to him about it, in a nice and non-confrontational way, he says:  “I’m sorry. I am trying to figure it out.”

The other day he said:  “My counselor and I were talking about how when the weather turns snowy and crummy, the drivers in this city are so useless…” and she lost her mind, shrieking: “You talk to your therapist about fucking traffic? Does he know we don’t have sex? Do you think maybe the quality of our bed business might be more important than fucking traffic?”

Is it better to have all your material needs met and not have to worry about working or money, and yet not have any human intimacy? Isn’t that also like a kind of prison?

And then 20 or 30 years will pass, the kids will be grown and out of the house and what will this couple have? She’ll be resentful, bitter, cougaring her way around the lawn bowling club, and he’ll be content and oblivious, not realizing that he also missed out on great sex.

If he’d had an accident or be in a wheelchair, it would be easier to cope with because then they’d probably have gone to couples counseling. What should she do?

Sincerely, Sexless in Seattle

Trixie: Huh. You know, both my marriages failed, but the sex never stopped. In fact, the night before Husband No. 2 walked out the door for another woman, he initiated hot sex with me. One for the road, I guess. So what I am trying to say is that the common wisdom that sex is crucial for a happy marriage isn’t necessarily true, Sexless in Seattle. Hot sex can exist in terrible marriages and no sex can be the hallmark of a great marriage (although, as someone who loves sex, I don’t think I could stand that.)

Nonetheless, this is bothering you immensely, and so you need to INSIST on couples counseling. You are in the dark here, not even sure what his issue is about. Maybe something terrible is plaguing him from his childhood, something that would make this situation a lot easier for you to bear. Having some real awareness of what’s going on with him on this front will at least equip you with the tools to make some kind of decision. It certainly can’t hurt. Are you afraid it might? That the truth might be that it’s about you? Because I really doubt that it is or he’d be fooling around. You need full disclosure in order to work on the problem effectively. And if it makes you feel any better, I know several marriages like this — where the woman wants it, and the husband can take it or leave it. You are not alone. Buy the best vibrator you can find, by the way.

Kadinsky: *Sigh* This topic strikes a nerve with me — all I will say is I have spent considerable time in the same unsatisfactory and maddening shoes as you, Sexless. Counseling is good, individual counseling is better but couples counseling + individual is best. Not only best, but critical in this situation. It’s really strange to me that your husband is okay with individual therapy but not couples’, perhaps he believes that this “issue” is something that has nothing to do with you so therefore he can address it on his own but I really don’t see how that is possible. It is affecting both of you and the dynamics of the two of you are what must be examined here.

“You can rule out any stress at work for him, or basically any kind of stress because he has nothing to worry about. He has an easy job he loves, is well-paid, can take any vacation time he wants…”

I would venture that nothing can be taken off the table as a ‘factor’ here, simply put, you don’t know what the root cause is of this and neither does he. When my husband and I started couples therapy I was certain his job had nothing to do with our intimacy issues, however it turned out to be a major factor in a way he didn’t realize and one that I still struggle with accepting. Couples therapy is not easy and it’s not pretty — both of you must be committed to attending those sessions, participating during them as well as spending many, many internal hours thinking and processing the things that you discuss with your therapist.

I agree with you 100% when you say that it’s not fair, it’s not. You love, support and provide for your marriage and partner in the best way that you know how, yet you are consistently denied the physical, spiritual and emotional comfort that comes from physical intimacy with your spouse. Not to mention the fact that I believe sex is just as much a “need to be satisfied” for women as it is claimed to be for men. I believe you are already fearful of the resentment and anger that could build from this and taint the years to come, and I sincerely hope that your husband will agree to attend couples therapy and work towards a solution. But if he refuses, where will that leave you?

BiscuitDoughJones: This is a really hard topic for me to address, as I currently occupy your husband’s role in my own marriage. So, it’s not like I can give you any hints as to how to make sex happen, because I’m kind of fine with it not happening in my own house. But, I guess what I can do for you is divulge my own sanity-management tactic.

When things are going kind of poopy in my otherwise-pretty-rad relationship, I take a moment to remind myself that: no one can be everything to someone else. It is just not possibly to have every last one of your needs met by a single human being. Now, I’m not saying “go forth and cheat!” I’m saying that sometimes our expectations for ourselves and our partners have a way of snowballing out of control, and it helps a little bit to set aside culturally-issued, fictional notions of what a relationship is supposed to be, and instead focus on the realities of what it is.

It may be disgustingly unromantic, it may be downright defeatist, but I like to remind myself that I cannot, in fact, “have it all.” My hubs cannot possibly be a dedicated worker bee, 50-50 housework do-er, best friend, confidant, devoted involved father to hypothetical children, and gym-toned and insatiable sex god to me all at once, while also making time for his own personal interests and hobbies. It’s not possible, just as the flip side is not possible for me to do/be, either. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. There is no such thing as perfection, and to pursue it is to lead yourself down the path of insanity.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I find it kind of freeing to recognize that life is, on the whole, miserable and unfair. Being constantly aware of this sort of makes the times when I am happy and fulfilled that much happier. It sort of levels out things a bit, making the highs higher and the lows easier to bear. Maybe I should have been a Buddhist or existentialist or something. All I know is that the last time there was a knock-down drag-out fight at Casa de Panda, the thing I took away from it was that it was not at all possible to overcome our problems without recognizing our limitations as people. So you have to ask yourself, knowing what his limitations are (and come on, be honest about the capacity of therapy to change him), can you still be happy? Maybe not 100% happy 100% of the time, but is what he IS bringing to the table enough for you?

Tailfeather: All these sexless marriages make me nervous — and I say “all these” because you are sooo far from alone on this one, SiS. However terrifying this is to me, though, I am glad people are TALKING ABOUT IT. I’ve heard this story from married folk, engaged and LTR folk, and it seems like I’ve seen a whole slew of recent articles on the topic of sexless relationships and the frustration experienced by one or both partners.

Having been in a LTR relationship with infrequent sex myself, the answer for me was to get out of that relationship, as I realized I was just no longer attracted to my partner on a number of levels, and my rock-bottom libido was a manifestation of that. For you, however, divorce is not an option at this point. It’s my understanding that is quite common after the birth of a baby for the sexual dynamics of a relationship to change for some time afterwards, so maybe this is something the two of you will natually overcome.

“My counselor and I were talking about how when the weather turns snowy and crummy, the drivers in this city are so useless…” Unintentional metaphor much? You’re having some crummy weather in your marriage right now, SiS, and I’m not going to run with this as much as I could, but it sounds like you need some driving lessons TOGETHER. It’s great that he’s in therapy to work on his issues, but there needs to be some serious communication or he’s going to lose you — either to an affair or to a deeply discontented surrender.

If you’ve discussed the possibility of sleeping with other people with your husband already, that says that this situation is serious and long-term. At what point do you say, enough is enough? What sort of timeframe is it going to take before you finally throw in the towel, or miserably accept a potential lifetime of quarterly sex?

Sit him down and say that you want to go to couples counseling because you’re frightened that the consequences of not attempting to work through this together will be very grave, and you love him far too much to give up. Because he’s not hearing you, or too wrapped up in his own selfish concerns to address your needs — and maybe he’s feeling the same about you, who knows? There has to be some goal that you work towards together, and if he’s not willing to work for it with you, well, you shouldn’t be expected to give up this important facet of your life strictly for his comfort. Perhaps some counselling will help the two of you realize what that goal is and talk about the core issues that have led to this situation. Good luck, and remember you’re not alone!

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