My brother’s friend has been with his wife since they were 18 years old and they have been married for 20 years. It is the relationship of a lifetime – they have three children, they work together in their own business, and the impression we all had is that they are a well-matched and beloved couple. He recently confessed to me that although he loves and respects his wife, he no longer desires her romantically at all. They have stopped making love for a long time, and his wife has never complained about it, nor has she ever taken the first step to initiate any intimacy. For some time now, however, he has been seeing a woman for whom he feels a strong sexual attraction. They have had an affair and he is in a very difficult situation, because while he is tormented by remorse and guilt, he cannot end the extramarital relationship. He keeps asking me what to do to get out of the impasse and I do not know what to answer. On the one hand he has an excellent wife, but on the other what should he do if she is indifferent to sex?
Sexual desire and intimacy between two partners are key factors that determine the relationship of the couple and make it different from a friendship, while at the same time shaping the quality of their emotional communication and relationship.
When for some reason sexual intercourse does not exist or is significantly limited, the two partners, along with their sex life, lose an important part of their communication and perhaps a pillar of their relationship. Together, they gradually lose their identity as husband and wife.
The couple’s path towards living together like siblings does not happen suddenly. But many couples, when they first realize the problem, choose to ignore it or downplay it. Many times they even deceive themselves and adopt perceptions that degrade the importance of the romantic element in life, instead of trying to find the causes behind this serious problem that threatens the relationship as a whole and trying to overcome it.
This may have been the case with your friend. The lack of sexual intercourse created a gap in his relationship, which the third person came to fill.
It seems that neither he nor his wife really reacted when the problem first appeared in their relationship, so that they would have been forced to sort things out together and find a solution. Lack of desire for sexual intercourse can be due to many factors that are not always so obvious. If there is no physical or mental illness behind it, for example a hormonal problem or depression, then it may be a way for both of them to express the fact that they are having a problem with their partner. Many people distance themselves and avoid having sex when they feel insecure about their relationship, when they feel they are not getting the attention or appreciation they would like.
In any case, it would help for him to have a conversation with his wife. It will allow him to understand how she feels about the problem that has arisen in the relationship, how she perceives her role in it and what her intentions are for the future of the relationship. He obviously interprets her silence on the problem as indifference, but other emotions such as fear of rejection or insecurity or even frustration could be hidden behind it. Through discussion he will probably be able to understand what the real problem is in his relationship, if he and his wife want to find a solution and what can be done by both parties.
Certainly, the solution is not bringing in a third person and you should emphasize this to him since he trusts you. This choice can further complicate the situation, because on the one hand it burdens him psychologically with guilt, remorse, and even the feeling of hopelessness, and affects the way in which he approaches his marriage, since he ‘sees’ it through the distorting lens of the extramarital relationship. It would probably help him more to clarify the situation in his marriage first and then move on with his love life, if he decides to divorce.
Finally, if your friend and his wife still have feelings for each other and want to continue their life together, it would be good to talk honestly about the lack of intimacy in the relationship and try to bring it back into their daily lives, maybe with the help of a specialist. Relationships often go through difficulties but when the couple has love and common goals they can overcome them.
Stavroula Tsoutsa is a Certified Holistic Professional Life Coach, ICF ACC, Certified Heartmath Coach/Mentor and Trainer, and Certified Points of You Practitioner.