Dr. Cecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for us in many articles over the years. This week, she counsels a wife whose husband informed her that he’s lost interest in her sexually and is having an affair—“but we have a great life otherwise.” 

 

estrangedcouple1Dear Dr. Ford:

I am in a terrible state. I have been married for 30 years.  My husband and I have two children, both out of the nest and doing okay. This should be the best time of our lives.

We both have good jobs with reasonable hours and no significant worries about money or other issues. Over the last year my husband has been around less. I didn’t push him when he said he was working out with a trainer near his work and he always came home in time for dinner or activities that we had planned with others.

I surprised him with a vacation just for the two of us, because we have not been having sex very often and I thought that some time away would do us both good. I engaged the help of his boss, whom I know socially, packed his bags, bought the tickets for a Caribbean four-day getaway in a villa.

Well, I am sorry to say that I was the one who was surprised.  He almost refused to go; only when he learned that his boss had been in on this little surprise did he agree.

The trip was a disaster. He barely spoke to me. On the third day there he told me that he had been having an affair for the past year with his personal trainer. I know that these things do happen, and that monogamy is hard to master in many relationships.

When I asked him if he loved her, he just replied that “The sex has been great.” Then he told me that he’d had three-way sex with this woman and another woman, and I have to say this is way out of my league. I asked him if he wanted a divorce and he said no, but he wanted to continue to see her, since we weren’t sexually compatible but that we had a great life otherwise.

My libido is fine. I am orgasmic, and I have been missing my sexual life. I am in great shape and I am not a nag.  Granted, I don’t have an interest in pornography, but I would have been willing to become a more erotic person if I had known that this was something that I was failing at. I have no self-esteem at this point.

I have not asked for a separation or a divorce.  I am in a state of shock. I really thought that I would spend the rest of my life with this guy.

Should I see a sex therapist? We did not have sex once on that special vacation I arranged. Oh, and he says he has no interest in counseling.

What advice do you have for me?

Milly

 

Dr. Ford Responds:

 

Dear Milly:

My immediate reaction is to wonder why you see yourself as the person who needs to change. You ask if you should seek sex therapy, for example. Well, your husband has announced that he doesn’t really want to have sex with you anymore. In fact, though he tells you now that he has been bored in the bedroom, he didn’t really communicate that to you before he embarked on the affair—nor does he want to seek counseling now to improve things between you.

In short, he wants to keep doing whatever he wants. What you need to do is evaluate whether or not you want to tolerate this situation. First of all, what is this affair really about? From your description, it sounds as if your sex life wasn’t all that bad—you were both orgasmic, and you had intercourse so regularly that  you clearly noticed when it started to wane. This is not to say there isn’t room for improvement, but the picture you paint is hardly a disaster by average marital standards, believe me. Otherwise, both of you agree that the marriage is good is most respects.

In the golden age of Freudian psychology, everything was always about sex. But the current thinking is that even sex isn’t always about sex. Your husband’s infatuation with his trainer bears all the earmarks of a classic midlife crisis. Men in other income brackets buy a Ferrari or a boat (though some may have a mistress, too!). But the underlying motive is not libidinal as much as the wish to feel young and powerful again, and it is activated by the limitations that men start to feel in middle age that make them fear death.

In other words, this is not really about you, but how he treats you is very important, now and in all aspects of your relationship. Yes, this happens in very many marriages, but that does not mean he has the right to act like a 7-year old, abuse you, embarrass you, or expect you to do things outside your comfort zone. If he is demanding to keep doing exactly what he wants without examining it at all, it seems that you need to ask yourself if you want to ride this out for the sake of the other good things in your marriage. Since he is asking for this, is he able to be kind, respectful, and discreet while you are waiting for him to lose interest in this woman (which he probably will)?

From the few things you have said about him, he strikes me as someone immature, and if he refuses marital counseling, perhaps he would agree to individual counseling so that he could look at why he would put such a good marriage in jeopardy for the sake of some kinky sex.

He’s the one, after all, who said you have a great life, and I suggest you tell him to take a look at himself or he might just lose it.

Dr. Ford

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  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson April 29, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Wow! Your husband wants his cake and eat it, too! I would say that if he doesn’t agree to at least one therapy session, throw his clothes out the window or burn them! Let him live elsewhere & get yourself a good lover or two!
    Oh, and a good lawyer wouldn’t hurt either, as Roz Warren notes. And Joan Price’s book is priceless!

    Reply
  • Roz Warren April 29, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Milly: Get yourself a good therapist. And a good divorce lawyer. And good luck!

    Reply
  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. April 29, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Dear Joan,

    Thank you for joining our conversation and suggesting a site that we will visit. We write lots about sex here with Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, author of “S E X..What Your Mother Never Told You”. We have a series called Sexy Saturdays that we invite you to enter into our search box and to direct your readers to visit!

    I agree that Milly is facing a sea change in her life. But, she will know when she is ready to make that change.

    Best,

    Dr. Pat

    Reply
  • Joan Price April 29, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Wow. Milly is in a heartbreaking situation. I can’t see how she will ever get her own sexual and emotional needs met with her husband when he just wants her to accept his fling and his rejection of her (sexually, emotionally). The affair is exciting to him and the marriage is comfortable.

    I agree that Milly would be wise to seek therapy on her own (since he won’t go) — not to “change,” but to get some understanding and strategies for moving forward. I wonder what her husband would say if she told him that couples therapy was a non-negotiable; otherwise, he can say goodbye to the marriage.

    I just posted a synopsis and link to this post on my Naked at Our Age Facebook page, where we have a community talking about sex and aging. Interesting comments will appear there, too.

    Thank you for posting this,

    Joan Price
    Author of Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex

    Reply