Marriage Of One

August 8, 2010

The Cost of Sexlessness

Filed under: intimacy,marriage,sex — marriageofone @ 9:57 pm
Tags: ,

This post may come across as a pointless and laborious post-mortem of a trivial marital row.  I’ve decided to risk writing about it because to me at least it illustrates something that I think my marriage in particular is susceptible to, more so as the years roll by.

On a recent trip Susan and an old girl friend had words.  This friend I might say by way of introduction is generally a kind and generous person and Susan and her grew up together and have continued their friendship into married life and motherhood.  The problem is that she (that is Susan’s friend) can be quite sharp with her tongue sometimes.  So usually we make our trips short and not too frequent.  Everyone who knows Gemma takes it as part of her personality.  Eventually she apologizes or makes up for it.  Until she does it again.

Normally when there is a bust-up between them Susan always holds her tongue (as we are the guests when there – and we behave as good hosts when the friend and family are at ours) and if she is particularly angry about it she controls her emotions and we talk about it in the calm and privacy of our home afterwards.

This time something different happened, and I should say I’m speaking from a position of ignorance as I’m not aware (yet) of what has actually been said or the circumstances in which the situation came about.  The reason for my ignorance is the essence of this post.

When the incident occured the friend, Gemma and Susan were in the kitchen.  I was in the lounge, the children (Gemma’s and ours) were playing upstairs.  Susan suddenly came out of the kitchen saying “I’ve overstayed my welcome…I feel like crying but I’m not going too…”  the tears were already welling and she went upstairs to compose herself.  I was unsure what to do.  On one hand this situation was not wholly unusual.  On the other Susan did not usually cry.  I wavered between following her upstairs and staying downstairs.  Going up would possibly have alerted the children that something was up and exacerbating a delicate situation.  I felt confident in Susan that she would be okay until later.

Our only chance to speak was late that night when I went up to bed.  She was awake (having gone up earlier) but did not mention it to me.  I was tired and promptly fell asleep, assuming that she had coped with it and we would be able to talk the next day (when we were intending to return anyway).

The next morning she was up first and it was clear that the tension between the women was still high.  Susan wanted to leave as soon as possible. Remember at this point I had no idea of what Gemma had said or of how Susan was taking it.  The only information I had was from Susan that Gemma was ‘giving her the silent treatment’.  This was when I saw the first thing I didn’t like: Susan was pushing the children to get dressed and ready to leave even though it was clear that they were upset about leaving (they love playing with Gemma’s children).  I knew by then that it was in our best interests to leave asap but didn’t like the idea that Susan was orchestrating the entire departure around herself.  More than once I felt she snapped at the kids.  I told her quietly but firmly to calm down.  Maybe this was a mistake.  It wasn’t intended as a rebuke or to belittle what she was feeling, it was merely to say ‘look we’re leaving in half an hour; let’s just keep it together until we’re on our way’.

We eventually left, with one of the children really upset and Susan wrapped in her own personal world.  I calmed the kids down whilst driving and luckily they did calm down a few minutes into the drive.  Susan started to cry quietly in the car.  Until then I was focused on the kids and hadn’t noticed.  I’d only just got the girls calmed and perhaps selfishly I was a bit annoyed that she was being this emotional when they were with us.  I was driving on a highway and couldn’t really stop.  And she kept crying.  The children after a while started to chat and direct talk to Susan.  But she was too choked up to speak or just didn’t feel like it.  At one point my youngest asked Susan a question three times and still got no response.  Each time I was thinking “this time she’ll answer”, but she didn’t.  I eventually stepped in with “Mummy is not feeling well; sit quietly until we get home”.  It was  45minute drive back home.  And Susan maintained a pretty much unbroken silence for the whole journey.  But the time we arrived home I’ll admit I was a bit angry.

I told her to leave the unloading of the car to me and go upstairs and lie down ‘until she could behave like an adult’.  She told me to shut up and not start with her or words to that effect.  That was it.  She kept away from me and the kids for the rest of the day.  I kept telling them that Mummy was feeling tired or not feeling well.  I tried to keep them entertained the remainder of the day.  Susan did get on with the chores to be fair, and she got lunch and dinner sorted.  But it was all done in a frosty silence.  And the longer the silence and distance went on, the more annoyed and angry I felt.

We put the kids to bed and then I turned to her.  “Do you want to say anything?” I asked.  She looked at me as though I had just crawled out from under a rock.  “No”.

“Well I’ve got something to say” I said with a level tone, “No matter how bad you feel, you don’t take it out on the kids and the time you spend with them…”

That did it.  I don’t think I have ever seen Susan as angry and hateful as that moment.  She told me to get away from her.  She didn’t want me near her.  If I didn’t walk away she would walk.  To be honest I was confused and stunned.  Where did this come from?  Maybe I was naive; I wasn’t expecting an apology; perhaps a swift agreement that she had felt bad all day and had been cold to us as a result – and then we would have talked about Gemma and what had happened.  But no.  I stood there looking at her not knowing what to say or do.  “Did you not hear me!” she said.  “Go away!”

“Um..” I said, “So I’m at fault here am I?”

“Yes!  It’s your fault, now leave me alone!”

I walked off.  Really really confused.  How did I turn into the villain of the piece?  We didn’t speak after that.

The day afterwards I was at work again.  That night I lay in bed and thought I would ask her “What exactly have I done wrong?”  She was still livid.  “I’ll just say that I needed you to be there for me and I didn’t need a lecture. ”

I was, perhaps naively, surprised.  I hadn’t considered that I was coming across as lecturing her.  But even if I had… “How many times over the year have you known me to lecture you?”  It seemed fair to ask – what grounds did she base her idea that I was going to give her a lecture?  She thought for a moment and didn’t care for that question.  “It’s not about how many times.  I really needed a hug and some comforting and you weren’ t there for me.”  (The answer in case you’re wondering is close to, if not exactly zero.)

I thanked her for answering my questions, and as I couldn’t think of anything else I said goodnight and fell asleep.

The next day I had a thought at work…at what point did she get it into her head that I wasn’t “there” for her.  Was it the night of the incident, the morning after, when we left in the car or when we arrived at home?  So I sent her a text on my phone, asking when it was that I “screwed up”.  She replied that it wasn’t about that. The issue was that she had been deeply upset and really needed a hug and support and I didn’t provide.

I thought her answer was the beginning of a thaw, but it was to be another two days (of cold shoulders and near silence) until she said to me as we were doing the washing up “I read your message, did you read mine?”

After that the full facts came out.  The detail isn’t important as this post really is about the dynamic that manifested between ourselves rather than the argument between Gemma and Susan.

“Next time”, she said “Just ask me what is wrong.”

“I was going to” I said. The problem was that by the time I realized it was more serious than the usual abrasive remark from Gemma, circumstances just didn’t permit.  I thought we should hold out until we got home, and once the kids were playing somewhere in the house we could sit quietly and talk it over.

I reiterated that if the choice is between taking care of the kids needs or taking care of her emotional needs the kids would always come first.  And I expected this to the same if the tables were turned.  As parents we do not have the luxury of wearing our (negative) feelings on our sleeves.

I don’t think she liked this and for a moment I thought the argument was going to resume.  But we kept talking and thankfully as we continued we went from a position of agreeing to disagree to finally – I think – one in which she realized that under the circumstances I had done the best I could.

She apologized for snapping at me. I apologized for starting with what could be construed as a lecture and said that I would always be there for her, but not always exactly how and when she thought she needed me.

And that as they say is that.

Except of course that I’m still thinking about it.  Susan and I like all couples have our ups and downs and rows.  Just not very often and they don’t last for 5 days like this did.  I can’t remember one that was this bad.  So I find myself asking why.  Of course this could just be the first and last time we have something this serious (I really thought I was going to come home to a ‘Dear John’ letter or an application for divorce).  But three things concern me.

The first is the rather curious sense of entitlement Susan appeared to have of my role in comforting her.  It was almost a ‘comfort me or else….’  It dawned on me after a couple of days that she must have felt a deep and personal sense of rejection of her needs.  A bit like … er… me!  I could almost have screamed at her when I put my finger on it.  This is what it feels like!  This is how it feels to have your deepest feelings, needs and desires pushed aside!  Do you understand what I have felt now for 10 years?

But I didn’t.  I know where it would go even if she accepted the parallels.  Guilt.  Guilt-driven sex perhaps once or twice.  Then return to start, do not collect £200.

The second thing of some concern is that I’ve always known that as time goes, the ‘holes’ in the partnership and friendship will begin to become more and more obvious and the status quo will become harder to maintain.  We don’t talk about our relationship – which is already a bad thing.  But in addition to that we don’t spend much time doing anything together, nor do we have all that much in common any more.  As our children get older the need to participate in day to day family routine will also diminish.  And quite simply as time goes by we both are more likely to take each other for granted.

So I’m wondering if this type of flare-up lasting nearly a week is the start of a new type of argument, reflecting the growing holes and tensions of our type of marriage.

Thirdly, and the subject of the title of this post: the cost of sexlessness.  Not having ever had a really intimate relationship I might be completely misreading this – perhaps someone lucky enough to have had one can confirm or deny the substance.  If a couple are really close, sharing the deepest emotional and intimate parts of their lives, would it be possible for one to just know when the other ‘needs them’.  If Susan and I had a well-developed sex life, lots of talk and sharing and respect for each others needs etc. etc. could I through that bond have sensed that Susan was upset and effectively nipped this whole thing in the bud?  And would she have realized if I didn’t immediately reach out to her that I was still going to be there at the appropriate time?

And if that is not the case and is just wishful thinking, what about the converse?  Does not having a mutually respectful and intimate relationship have the effect of de-coupling sensitivities between partners?  Can my lack of ‘knowing’ that Susan needed me be put down to this?  And can Susan’s misplaced belief that I would just automatically ‘be there’ come from her misreading the strength of the emotional bond (and non-verbal communication) between us?

If either of these is true it raises important questions.  If the former, then it implies that these kinds of rows are likely to get more frequent and worse as we lose touch with each other on a non-verbal and verbal level.  If the latter, then it kind of implies that regardless of what I do to maintain the friendship and partnership. the relationship is going to degrade and we are going to have relationship that gets less knowing rather than more knowing as time goes by.  Most couples learn more and understand more about each other as time goes by.  With us could it be the opposite?



  1. I think my last concern question is answered at 2:05 by this video, if you can get past the awful presenter…

    Comment by marriageofone — August 10, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

  2. “This post may come across as a pointless and laborious post-mortem of a trivial marital row…”

    Au contraire, mon frere! There is much of importance contained in the details which you chose not to share!

    I expect that you feel it necessary to denigrate Gemma as a part of your defending Susan from attack, but you must examine the situation as she might see it. You say yourself that Gemma grew up with Susan, and she must know things about Susan that you do not. Now let’s look at a few other facts.

    You don’t mention the topic which caused the row in the first place. Something about that topic causes Susan to feel very defensive, which indicates that it is a very important factor to understanding Susan. It may be that defensiveness which brings out Gemma’s worst, which causes Susan to break off contact until things cool off again (although after this, that day may not arrive for a long time if ever). For the rest, I have to wander about in the Black Forest of Supposition.

    If Gemma really is Susan’s friend, she may well be very frustrated that Susan hasn’t dealt with the trauma that she hides so deeply. She may well want to help Susan do so, but doesn’t know how to do so without setting off Susan’s defensiveness. Susan’s rebuff causes Gemma to feel rejected (something we both know a lot about!), and you know the rest.

    I’m also very bothered by Susan’s juvenile behavior. As I read you, you handled the problem as well as could be expected. Yet Susan lashed out at you for not doing certain things in a timely manner. She is giving you no credit for being the adult during this crisis, and for some reason is including you in the list of her attackers. I’m guessing that telling her to act like an adult had something to do with this, even if I agree with your saying it. This chastisement of her behavior is why you became the undeserving villain.

    The length of time that it took for Susan to become “reasonable” also bothers me, and tends to support my idea that Gemma knows something about Susan’s issues. People tend not to wrap up in themselves so tightly unless it is central to their personal distress.

    I know how this works from the inside. It took me years of very painful remembrance to deal with a situation which happened to me at age four. Yet all along I knew all the pertinent details of that situation except one: how I felt at the time. It was remembering how I felt that broke down the defensive walls I’d been hiding behind for decades. I see similar signs in Susan. Until she’s ready to face what ever it is, which she avoids every time Gemma may get close in her remembrances, there is nothing anyone can do for her. She has to walk that lonesome valley all by herself. The pain of remembering such things makes it very easy to stay away from that dark place how much distress it causes to everyone. Only a trained and TRUSTED professional should get involved in attempting to help, for well-meaning amateurs only makes things that much harder.

    I don’t know if you have seen the MASH episode where the psychiatrist gets Hawkeye to remember watching a Korean mother smother her crying baby to save a bus load of refugees from North Korean attack, but once the breakthrough happens, Hawkeye says to the shrink. “I’ll hate you forever for making me remember.” The shrink says, “I know” and accepts the guilt offering for returning his patient to reality. While very simplified, this vignette is very accurate in the emotions one can experience when one has to remember great emotional pain. but one cannot improve as long as this burden remains buried.

    One thing about you that puzzles me. If you were 45 minutes away from home, why didn’t you leave right after the row? Such a distance is considered nothing in So Cal where I live, and if I had been in your shoes, leaving would have been called for no matter what else. Susan wouldn’t have had to bury her hurt so deeply in order to not cause another scene at Gemma’s until you could leave. You might not have been seen as such a villain. But I wasn’t in your shoes, and if you feel that circumstances demanded what you did, then I concede. I think your motives to do as you did say a lot about you as well (Not that this is necessarily negative. You did do pretty much as I would have in your shoes except for not leaving sooner.).

    If you happen to feel comfortable revealing more than you already have, please share. If not, that is your decision. But give it careful consideration in any case. There is much here to learn.

    Comment by ToppHogg — August 13, 2010 @ 3:01 am

  3. PS

    I watched the video, and the presenter IS terrible!!!

    Pay attention to what the therapist says just about 1:48: “…below that surface, there’s something they really need to address…”

    Then listen to the part just after 2:05: “…with the lack of sexual connection comes the lack of emotional connection…” I suggest that in your case, the order of the two connections should be reversed. Based on what I wrote above, I think Susan is incapable of making an emotional connection to you, and therefore cannot make a sexual connection to you. The fact that she does occasionally indulge just means that you made sex good enough for her to want it once in a while if just on a physical level.

    If you really love Susan, you have to pull back from being Sir Galahad. You don’t carry the weapons nor the strength (metaphorically speaking, that is) to fight those dragons holding her captive. You will only drive her away from you and make her much worse than she already is if you try to rescue her without Merlin’s guidance.

    I strongly urge you to seek professional advice (your “Merlin”) as to what to do next. I’m too far away in every sense of the term to aid you much more on this topic, and I could make the wrong choice just like any other well-meaning amateur. I feel it’s time for you to call in the pros. Do it for your daughters! Do it ASAP!

    Comment by ToppHogg — August 13, 2010 @ 3:26 am

  4. As it turned out (without giving too much away), Gemma took a swing at Susan’s mothering and effectively said that she was a bad, incompentent mother and was spoiling the kids. That is (apart from this incident) completely untrue and I don’t blame Susan from flying off the handle. Of course you could argue if she is that confident in herself as a mum, why did she feel she had to defend herself and escalate it to the level it got to?

    My theory is that Susan measures her womanhood by the domestic and maternal duties. When Gemma has made ‘comments’ in the past it may have been around other aspects which Susan probably took in stride possibly because they were about things she felt were inconsequential or of low consequence to her self-belief. I may be wrong, but she has thrown herself into mothering with a level of commitment and passion that I can never imagine she would for our relationship. She’ll willingly read books on child nutrition, behaviour, learning, playing etc. I don’t thinks she has even completed one book on relationships let alone sex.

    On getting professional help, I’m ready for it. I’ve been ready from our first visit. The trouble is that it is not really up to me. Even if I forced Susan to visit a therapist, she needs to be ready for the introspection and hard work that it will take to first deal with her issues and then our relationship and THEN our sex life. At the moment she’s convinced that she can work out the sex problem because she won’t acknowledge that she has other issues to deal with. Remember she has seen a professional – and I just think she’s looking for something resembling a course of antibiotics that will just ‘fix’ her sex life.

    And that is even considering that there IS an issue. What if she is actually fine, but is simply an asexual, albeit a selfish and stubborn one?

    Comment by marriageofone — August 15, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

  5. You miss my emphasis, my friend! You go to therapy WITHOUT Susan first. You need to relearn how to interact with her based on the concept that she’s emotionally crippled for some reason. She doesn’t see that she is emotionally detached. In this, she is no different than an addict who doesn’t see she has a problem when everyone else knows she does. If she were an alcoholic, for instance, and you went to Al-Anon, you would be told three things at the onset: You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it, and you can’t control it. Susan’s emotional damage is no different as far as how you are affected. This is the gist of the help I advise you to seek.

    I’m going to jump to your last comment for a moment. Susan is NOT “fine”, or neither one of you would have ever seen any reason to seek counseling or question your relationship issues. She may well be asexual. This is also not “fine”, as this is not a normal condition. The fact that it is not harmful generally means few people seek treatment for it. Susan may well be selfish and stubborn, but both are defensive tactics. So is being an exemplary mother while being a lousy lover.

    So what do I expect you to do? I recommend contacting Sexual Recovery Anonymous-Anon ( despite the fact that Susan is not an out-of-control sexaholic. Her specific problem is of course the exact opposite, but I’m not finding a self-help organization which covers your specific situation. I think that someone at SRA-Anon might. They do state that they are “A Program for spouses, relatives, friends, and significant others – when the sexual behavior of someone you love troubles you.” This is certainly you. It’s worth a try.

    Comment by ToppHogg — August 19, 2010 @ 12:50 am

  6. […] for that!) the house has been generally deathly silent. I think this might be a replay of the Gemma episode. I’m guessing that immediately after I learnt about the issue she wanted a enthusiastic and […]

    Pingback by The best things in life are free « Marriage Of One — June 12, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

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