Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes:
I have been married for 35 years. My wife and I have two married children and appear to be a successful couple. But in the past 10 years, we've been through many stressful events and I have been called upon to be the strong one, supporting her, putting my own needs on hold. Our marriage has become sexless, but when I tell her how unhappy I am, her attitude is that I am a silly dirty old man. I believe couples counselling at this stage will be useless. I can choose to remain miserable or I can initiate a separation in order to try to find a loving, happy sexual relationship. But if I pull the trigger, I will devastate her and send shock waves through my family. Thoughts?
Open the channels
Let's pretend these are old-fashioned guns; before you pull the trigger you have to cock the gun. It's time to tell your wife you need counselling to save your marriage. Make sure she understands that you are at the end of your rope, even if she is just somewhere in the middle of it, and if you two don't try hard you will divorce her. A "silly dirty old man" response tells me she might be moving close to the same decision you have almost made: It's time to open up the communication channels again and see what you two want as individuals as you start to grow older.
Patricia MacDonald, North Bay, Ont.
Give counselling a chance
Communication is the key to your dilemma. Go for couples counselling and tell your wife that, unless she hears your needs and responds appropriately, you will be leaving the marriage. Let your friends and relatives know that you are in couples therapy. Give it some time and give her a chance to hear you and adapt. If she doesn't, leave the marriage. No one will be shocked, because you will have let them know you were having difficulties. If your wife is devastated, that will be her responsibility, not yours.
Sarah Shadowitz, Toronto
The Final Word
Dear North American society: It's 2010. How about we agree, once and for all, to get over our adolescent fear, embarrassment and loathing of sexual desire?
How about we take out an ad in The New York Times or somewhere that states: We're not doing this any more?
"This" encompassing the attitudes that have us telling our daughters they look like "two-dollar hookers" just because they've fallen prey to the atrocious "jeggings" trend.
Or the legal system's laughing dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the producers of Girls Gone Wild by a woman who had her top torn off upon refusing to go wild – an assault that was caught on tape and distributed, natch. (The woman was found to have given "implied consent" just for being in the vicinity of a GGW taping. Take note next time you are in the vicinity of a tickle party or Ultimate Fighting match.)
These damaging, retrograde attitudes harm men as much as women. Just as we have no right to sexually shame our kids or force sexual objectification on girls who are just trying to find a bathroom, it's every bit as sad and harmful to call your loyal, supportive husband of 35 years a "silly dirty old man" for having the kind of feelings healthy men and women tend to have.
After three decades of supposedly "perfect" couplehood, it was courageous of you to speak up and articulate such a personal and painful concern. And your wife responded with a petty insult. No wonder you've given up on the communication process.
But I believe your wife lashed out in fear. You've lived together a long time – she knows something's up and doesn't want to face it.
Patricia and Sarah have ignored your protestation that "counselling at this stage will be useless"– I think they are right to do so. If the "dirty old man" comment is at all representative, it's likely difficult for you to even imagine what healthy, respectful communication in your marriage would feel like.
Trust me, with professional intervention, it can happen and it will be exhilarating, even if you do eventually decide to separate.
Peter is right: You deserve to be happy. But your 35-year marriage deserves one last chance to make you so before you pull the trigger.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.