Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sober Husband - Cold Wife

                I was recently on a panel at a marriage conference, answering questions posed by the audience.  There were about 100 attendees and more than 30 questions prepared in advance on 3x5 cards.  Needless to say, there is no way we could respond to all of the questions in the 45 minutes or so that we had.

                Two of the questions addressed lack of sex in their marriage.  One, signed by SAD HUSBAND, had been married 25 years and enjoyed sex about 10 times.  The other stated he had been sexually sober for 3 years, but his wife refused to have sex. 

                While there are several issues that need to be addressed, they both have similarities that can be tackled here.  If Sad Husband has been engaging in adultery or infidelity of any kind, either virtual or physical, he must get help through a counselor and possibly a 12 step group.  If there is infidelity, his wife is going to know that something is wrong and whether or not she knows of his betrayal, she is likely to be guarded in her relationship with him. 

                First of all let me congratulate the husband who has been sexually sober for 3 years.  You have obviously done immense and very difficult work.  I can only imagine the pain that you must be going through attempting to continue your sobriety when your wife is treating you as a roommate.   I would challenge you with some tasks that may help, but also consider seeing a marriage counselor who understands sex addiction.  She has probably endured the worst pain in her life as she has gone through your infidelity.  The disloyalty of her husband cuts at the very core of who God created her to be.  She has experienced many losses and if those losses remain unaddressed, she cannot heal.

                The process that helped me to deal with my husbands’ infidelity after he was well into recovery was that he pursued me.  He didn’t use only words to tell me that he loved me; he showed that he loved me.  Each week, he asked me out on dates, brought me flowers, cards and little gifts.  He continued his pursuit until I fell in love with him again.  To be fair, we still go out on dates, but I didn’t feel the need for cards, flowers and gifts any longer, I knew he love me and desired me.  At first his words didn’t mean anything, he had lied to me for 7 years why would I trust his words at that point?  By taking the time to spend with me, actually desiring to spend time with me, I was able to understand that he really did want me and not those airbrushed perfect figures on the computer screen.

                If there is sexual anorexia in either partner, that will need to be addressed.   Sexual anorexia is defined as a loss of desire for intimate, sexual interaction. It is depriving yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually from each other. Patrick Carnes defines it as:  "an obsessive state in which the physical, mental, and emotional task of avoiding sex dominates one's life. Like self-starvation with food or compulsive dieting or hoarding with money, deprivation with sex can make one feel powerful and defended against all hurts."  Carnes continues: in sexual anorexia the "preoccupation with the avoidance of sex can seem to obliterate one's life problems. The obsession can then become a way to cope with all stress and all life difficulties. Yet, as with other addictions and compulsions, the costs are great. In this case, sex becomes a furtive enemy to be continually kept at bay, even at the price of annihilating a part of oneself."  If a wife is experiencing this, she needs help from a counselor who can help her get to the source of her issues, whether it be with you as her husband specifically or with men in general.

Sexual anorexia is an issue that is more common in a sex addict husband, but occurs in women also. The fact that it is more common in sex addicts is difficult for most wives to understand.  We expect it would be the exact opposite and they would be hyper sexual.  But the key to the definition is the word intimate.  The aversion is not to sex, but rather the committed relationship. There is a real fear, often a true anxiety of an intimate, relational sexual interaction.  Dr, Douglas Weiss addresses sexual anorexia on his website, He states the following characteristics of sexual anorexia:  Withholding love, withholding praise, controlling with silence or anger, ongoing or ungrounded criticism, withholding sex, unwillingness or inability to share feelings, staying so busy you have no time for your partner and controlling or shaming partner with money issues. Weiss says if five or more of these signs apply to you, you're probably a sexual anorexic.

                When a woman is suffering from sexual anorexia, the reasons are usually very different than when men suffer from it.  Many of us were brought up in very legalistic, religious families and that background has been difficult when it came to sex in our marriage.  For other women, there may have been sexual trauma or abuse. Whatever the reasons, it is important to seek help from a counselor who understands these issues.

                "Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Self-Hatred”, by Patrick Carnes is an excellent text for further information on this topic.  

       – Patrick Carnes website.