Can't Lose the Love of My Life

Dr. Love,

My husband and I have been married for almost 5 years. I absolutely adore him. I thought everything was fine in our marriage until he told me 2 and a half weeks ago that he was not happy. During that conversation, he told me that he thought we had something worth saving and he wanted to try. He also said that he felt like we needed to go to counseling.

His major complaint was that we don't make love often enough. (Typically only once or twice a month). I'm 23 and he's 29, so I realize that this is not normal. I had a baby when I was 18, and ever since then, sex has been painful for me. I often bleed afterward. My husband knows this, but still doesn't engage in enough foreplay to get me 'ready. '

As soon as we had this conversation, my whole mindset regarding lovemaking changed dramatically. If I had only known how much he was hurting, I would have not pushed him away so often. I didn't realize how rejected I was making him feel. The week after this conversation, I travelled to Memphis with him. I initiated lovemaking everyday, but by the 3rd day, he began pushing me away.

The day after we got home, he said that he was leaving. He took enough clothes for his current business trip. Rather than coming home for Easter, he chose to stay alone in Memphis. He won't even talk to his mother about this, and they are very close. The first phone conversation we had after he left was awful. All he wanted to talk about was who was going to take which furniture.

At first, I cried uncontrollably, but then I started dividing up possessions. Then, he got upset and said that he needed to go. I talked with his mother after that and she told me that I shouldn't give up on him, especially since he tells her that he's worried about how I feel. I called him and told him that I don't want to give up on us and I don't want a divorce. I love him! It's all I can do to get out of bed in the mornings and go to work (I teach at his alma mater).

Now, I've sent him some emails telling him how I feel, but on the phone, he says he's not ready to talk, so we just make small talk about our days. Also, I am willing to accept responsiblity for part of the problem, but Kevin never shows me any affection. He won't hold my hand or put his arm around me in public. Now, that makes me feel terribly rejected. I told him that, too. What should I/we do?

I'm willing to try just about anything, but I don't know if he is. Help, please! I can't lose the love of my life. Thank you.

Answer: 

I can see why you are so upset. Your husband has pulled the rug out from under you, and he's done it without warning. I am afraid that there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Your husband seems to be in serious denial about his own own issues. He prefers to direct his focus outside of himself and onto you by saying that the problem is YOU and your not giving him frequent enough sex. As you can see, the problem is more complicated, since he pulled away after three days of your giving him the sex that he said he wanted. The fact that he ran away when he received what he said he wanted means that he has mixed feelings about being close.

What's more, as long as you weren't giving him sex he could use you as the excuse for his discontent. Once you called his bluff and gave it to him, he was left with nowhere to hide. He had to run rather than look at his own issues.

At this point the only thing that you can do is to confront him. You have nothing to lose (he's already gone) and everything to gain. What's more, if you don't shake him up and make him start to face his own issues, he could easily slip away. You could start by asking him why he felt the need to leave right after he began getting what he said he wanted. Then you might point out that he seems terrified of closeness (he ran when you came closer). You might point out that as unhappy as he was with the infrequent sex, it seems that it was more comfortable to him than actually getting the sex. Then, you might ask him if he knows what he is afraid of and why.

You also would want to tell him that he shouldn't be making any changes (leaving, formally separating, etc. ) until he is understands what's going on inside himself. Tell him that whenever a person feels the urgency to act (in this case to leave the house) it is because unconscious thoughts and feelings are getting stirred up; the action is designed to escape the emotional pressure. Tell him that he can run but he can't hide from himself.

If he runs now, he'll need to keep on running for the rest of his life, meaning that he will never have a relationship that lasts. Tell him that if he leaves you and starts up with someone else, he can be sure that the same feelings will erupt in him again; then what's he going to do, take another hike? Tell him that he needs to face whatever feelings or fears are inside him and work on resolving them. He can either do this work with you, or run and be forced to do this work with his next partner. I have given you a lot of angles to take.

Put his foot to the fire and make him look at himself. This is your only hope. Let me know how you make out.

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