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A reader writes:
Help! I suffer from depression brought on by my work but enhanced by my wife of 37 years. I adore her, but she’s withheld sex from me for the last four years. I’ve tried to be understanding, but I can’t stand it anymore. The lack of love she shows me leaves me crying much of the time. I feel betrayed. I didn’t marry her to be a monk!
I’ve asked for an explanation, but she just says no. I’ve asked her to get medical help, nothing. She gets angry if I watch porn or if I masturbate. I’m ready to leave her. I can’t stand this loneliness anymore.
I’ve had severe illnesses, medical conditions, and surgeries. Although she helps me while I’m healing, I don’t feel any love coming from her. I asked her if she loved me and she cried, asking me how I could think she didn’t. I’m scared she had an affair and caught something she doesn’t want to give me so she’s avoiding sex, but I don’t know.
I’m also peeved that she takes off drinking with her girlfriends — all older, widowed ladies. They’re sweet ladies, but I feel her behavior is inappropriate.
As angry as I am, I still love her so much! But don’t I deserve more? I’ve given her everything I could. My birthday is coming up. I’ve told her I want nothing but her. If she makes no attempt, I plan on divorcing her. I have no one to turn to for advice. Help me, please!
Your situation is heart-wrenching. You are clearly in emotional pain. You’re challenged by depression, anger, and the kinds of medical issues (you listed them, but I obscured them to preserve your anonymity) that make us face our own mortality. For four years, your wife has refused sex with you and won’t tell you why or what you can do to improve things.
I can’t tell you how to unwind the years of lack of intimacy, but I urge you to get couples counseling if you want to save your marriage. You can’t resolve your wife’s refusal to explain why she won’t be sexual with you, your anger and depression, and the constant friction between you — without professional help. You don’t say whether you’re getting help for your depression. Whether or not your wife will talk to a professional with you, you need to do that on your own.
I can’t know what is in your wife’s mind. Three possibilities come to mind:
- She sees herself as your caregiver more than your partner. This is a common reaction when one person is ill for a long time and depends on the other for care.
- She is defending herself against your depression, demands, tears, and anger by withdrawing emotionally and sexually.
- You say you have no one to give you advice. She may be exhausted being the only person you talk to.
I’m not blaming you for any of these, please understand, just trying to unravel what your wife’s point of view might be. As a couple, you’re in a self-defeating spiral. Please get counseling!
Huge Issues and some help
You have huge issues, but here are a few simpler concerns I can help you resolve:
- You’re right that you didn’t agree to be a monk. You can’t talk your wife into having sex with you if she doesn’t want to, but you absolutely have the right to watch porn and masturbate as sexual outlets. In fact, regular orgasms are mood lifters, which you sorely need.
- Your wife has the right to get out of the house and spend time with her friends. There’s nothing “inappropriate” about women having a few drinks together and blowing off steam. If your concern is that she’s putting herself and you in danger of covid, that’s different. Does she meet her friends in a bar (which is unsafe), or outdoors using safety precautions?
- You have no evidence that your wife had an affair and got a sexually transmitted infection. From what you’ve said, she spends her time caring for you and only gets out to see her friends. Your suspicion is adding poison to your problems.
Instead of demanding sex on your birthday or you’ll divorce her, how about asking for this gift instead:
“I know our marriage is at a breaking point. The best birthday present you could give me is to sit down with me and talk honestly about how you feel about our relationship and what we can do to make it better. Our barriers are killing our marriage. I know we need professional help to understand each other and learn to talk without anger. Can we please make a start with an honest conversation? I promise to listen without interrupting except to clarify. I hope you’ll do the same. I love you and I entreat you to help me save our marriage.”
I hope you’ll figure out your version of that request and either practice saying it or put it in writing. I wish you the best.
Send Joan your questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. All information is confidential. Joan can only answer questions that are chosen for publication from readers age 60+
Joan Price is the author of several self-help books about senior sex including her newest, “Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved,” and the award-winning “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex.” Visit Joan’s website and blog and her Facebook page. For senior sex news and tips, subscribe to Joan’s free newsletter.