Should I Divorce Because I’m Not Attracted to my Wife?

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Reader’s Question

My wife and I are in our 30s, originally from India, but living in the US. When we met we both had our doubts about marriage, but our respective families pushed us into it. We have been married for almost three years now. When I met her initially, I was already late for marriage, and having kids was topmost priority for me. During our courtship, even though I did not find her very attractive physically, we had good, almost childish, mental chemistry and understanding. Every time I met her, I kept feeling there was a problem with her physique but couldn’t pinpoint it.

I am getting increasingly frustrated with not being attracted to her. She has a thick voice, and sometimes an uncouth, almost manly personality. We have had absolutely no physical relationship for the past 1.5 years, primarily because of me using some excuse. I don’t want to have kids and buy a house with her until I decide whether I’m staying in this relationship. The frustration is compounded when I go out and see other attractive women. I feel depressed and think that I deserve better.

I have a deep, emotional and mental connection with her, but I started thinking about divorce almost immediately after marriage. However, I hesitate when I think about hurting her for no fault of hers, the impact it would have on her family, and the financial support that she provides. I have not discussed anything with her up to this point. She is a very nice person but I’m not happy. I don’t know what to do.

Psychologist’s Reply

Most people in Western cultures marry because of romantic love, which itself is often based on sexual attraction and passion. Much has been written about how sexual passion typically fades over time, and there is no shortage of articles and books offering advice on how to “keep the sexual spark alive” within a relationship. In cultures with arranged marriages, much less importance is placed on romantic love and sexual attraction, and spouses are matched based on family and compatibility regarding roles and raising a family. In a way, it sounds as though you were caught between cultures. Your family sort of arranged (pushed) the marriage, yet you value sexual attraction and passion as a pillar of marriage.

Even among spouses who start out blissfully intoxicated on sexual passion, particular events might cause them to “see” each other very differently over time. Vicious fighting, infidelity, or substantial changes in appearance are examples of the kinds of factors that erode sexual attraction between spouses. Once the mental switch has been flipped, it can be very difficult to go back to shared feelings of sexual passion. Many couples choose to stay together nonetheless because of children, or obligation, or shared dependence. Although you do not have children yet, it sounds like you too are experiencing some of the most common threads that comprise the basis for commitment.

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Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that you will develop sexual attraction and passion when those have been lacking from the start. So, the ultimate question is whether you’re prepared to share the rest of your life with your wife with the feelings and thoughts you have now. I suspect the answer is “no,” but knowing the answer doesn’t make it any easier to disrupt both of your lives by initiating a divorce. The easiest choice, in the immediate time frame anyway, is to continue as things are. Imagining the emotional hurt and turmoil, and changes in one’s own life during a break up, is usually more aversive than continuing to live a life of quiet despair. So what prompts people to eventually initiate the messiness of a divorce?

Many times people wait until the situation becomes bad enough that staying in the marriage seems worse than the turmoil involved in leaving. Other times people end up in an affair, and that provides the positive “pull” to leave the marriage. Either way, though, would the divorce be less hurtful to your wife in the future than it would be now? Will family members be less upset? Typically initiating a divorce under those worse conditions is more harmful than having done so earlier (and we’re not even comparing before children vs. after having children). So, one might say that the more selfish and hurtful choice is to wait, thereby letting your wife continue to invest in a marriage under the false assumption that it will continue indefinitely, only to end when you’ve grown especially dissatisfied (and probably not as kind) or become sexually involved with someone else.

Of course only you can make such a major decision about the future of your marriage. Neither choice seems especially attractive, which probably explains the hesitancy to make a firm decision. It may help to think of the long term, rather than the immediate repercussions. If you know that you will eventually leave, then postponing that decision probably only hurts rather than helps both of you.

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