Rough childhood leaves wife distant, unaffectionate
Q: I’m 59, married to a wonderful woman, 42. I adore her bubbly personality, her beauty takes my breath away. But she’s unromantic and unaffectionate.
My first wife died young; the second cheated and left me and our young children. I was devastated.
I met my current wife several years later. I fell in love but waited two years before telling her.
She wasn’t interested in a relationship.
Years later, we accidentally connected on a dating site. She suggested meeting for dinner and confided that, years earlier, she’d loved me, too. We recently married. No honeymoon, no celebration. We finally had sex several months later. Only once more since then.
I’m in good physical condition and have always had a large appetite for sex. When I mention this, she angrily says that no one will force her to have sex. I never have.
I’ve shown her romance and passion, but she rejects my attempts, won’t even hold hands or hug with me.
She says “I love you” to me often, but her actions don’t match her words. Though I loved my two prior wives, I’ve never felt love like this. But I’m so lonely.
She even wanted to keep our marriage a secret, and only told her closest friends.
She had a rough childhood, growing up with an alcoholic father who often brutally beat her mother.
She was married before 20, to a young man who beat her.
After leaving him, she remarried years later to another man who fathered her children. He was controlling and emotionally abusive. She left him after he cheated.
She’s said that no man will come before her children. I’ve said that I’m a family man, and I love children.
I firmly believe that her childhood and experiences with two harsh men have made her put walls around her heart and emotions to protect herself.
But it’s tearing my heart apart. She says that I’m being controlling and emotionally abusive when I express how hard this is on me.
She won’t let me kiss her unless she wants a kiss. She sleeps in a separate bedroom from me. We haven’t kissed in four months.
This is just killing me.
I do believe that she loves me because her best friend told me so. But I don’t know how long I can live like this. I NEED love and affection, and sex, too.
Am I wasting time waiting?
Very Lonely Husband
A: Yours is a story of yearning, but your wife’s is a story of deep trauma and pain.
Though your desire/need for love and sex is understandable, her very presence requires certainty of emotional safety and trust. That’s how she survives her past and surmounts its former violence.
When she says she loves you, it’s as far as she can go, so far.
When you complain verbally about the effects on you, she withdraws, because there were those previous men who took out their anger on her physically.
If she’s had any professional therapy in the past, she needs more. But she may still fear facing up to her own memories.
Meanwhile, you could gain the understanding/insights that she needs from you:
Talk to a therapist yourself about how experiencing brutality from childhood into adult years affects that person’s way of coping with life.
Staying emotionally supportive of her will go farther if you can be patient longer. You’ll have more hope of bonding closer.
She already took a step forward just by admitting to love.
Ellie’s tip of the day
Overcoming years of physical/emotional abuse, requires therapy and support, for love to be trusted.
Ellie Tesher is an advice columnist for the Star and based in Toronto. Send your relationship questions via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.