Looking for Love in My Marriage

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Reader’s Question

I am a 31-year-old woman, raised in a very conservative family. My father was abusive and violent; my mother is vulnerable, with low self-esteem. I have always been criticized and insulted by both. I grew up with a sense of low self-esteem, insecurity and diffidence, although I’m pretty and have always been superior in study and work life.

Now I’m married to a man who most likely has alexithymia. He has never been intimate or expressed any sort of passion; I doubt if he even knows how to be intimate. This marriage has resulted in two kids — a girl and a boy. My daughter is five years old and has autistic features.

Over our seven years of marriage, I have suffered from emotional and sexual deprivation, loss of communication, and disrespect. But there is plenty of emotion and passion inside me. I have tried to compensate by being close and intimate with my children and friends, but believe me, nothing compensates for a spouse.

I long for a real relationship, and I need to feel intimate with a good man who loves and respects me, but how? I have tried in vain to fulfill my needs with my husband, but we always end up with fighting. I never feel happy with him anytime, anywhere.

I know that divorce will be destructive to my kids, especially my daughter.

How can I cope with this failure in relationship, and if possible, how can I stop my desperate need for sex and intimacy?

Psychologist’s Reply

Given your history with your parents, it is likely that you entered adulthood with a fear of strong expressed emotions and emotional intimacy. As a result, you chose as a partner a man whose lack of emotional expression must have felt much safer than the emotional and physical abuse you grew up with. However, it sounds like you have reached a point in your life where you are more comfortable with, and in fact are craving, more intimacy, and are distressed that your husband is not changing to meet your needs.

Many marriages can be threatened when partners’ emotional needs and personal maturation pull them out of sync with each other. You had clear reasons for being averse to intimacy when you were younger, and it may be that your husband has his own story behind his lack of expressed emotions. It may also be that, like your daughter, he has more organic causes for not desiring intimacy with you. However, beyond arguing with him, it is unclear to me whether you have pursued other means to improve your relationship and save your marriage.

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As you are concerned about the destructive effect of divorce on your kids, it is my opinion that your best option is to begin couples therapy with your husband. With the help of a licensed therapist who has experience working with couples, you can discuss your “desperate need” for sex, intimacy, and respect. These are very natural needs and your counselor can help you both clarify what your expectations are, and whether you can find a way to meet each other’s needs in a way that will allow you to preserve your marriage.

If after meeting with your therapist you both feel unable to find a middle ground, you may decide to begin strategizing how best to protect your children from the impact of a divorce. There are many books available with information to help you, for example, Making Divorce Easier on Your Child: 50 Effective Ways to Help Children Adjust, by Nicholas Long and Rex L Forehand [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. Additionally, you could ask your daughter’s doctor for a referral to a licensed social worker or therapist who works with autistic children, whom you can consult with.

Finally, regardless of the fate of your marriage, I encourage you to see an individual therapist. Whether with your husband, children, friends, or a future love, the quality of your future relationships will depend on your ability to work through your own history of disordered emotional attachments.

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