Am I Wrong to Leave My Marriage If My Needs Are Not Getting Met?

Am I Wrong to Leave My Marriage If My Needs Are Not Getting Met?
Evan,

I am having problems with my husband.

He is intelligent but not driven. He is outgoing but is rough around the edges in social settings. He rarely holds my hand, cuddles or kisses me beyond a peck hello or goodbye. We have sex less than 10 times a year, and that has been going on for 7-8 years despite my asking him how we could fix it. Recently I found out he has been taking care of his own needs with porn. If that were in addition to a great sex life I wouldn’t care. Instead it feels like it took away from our sex life.

Our conversations are superficial. We can take a five-hour road trip and barely talk in the car on the way there. He isn’t interested. When we go out to party he binge drinks, becoming another person who often flirts with other women or seems to not be present in his own body. I have begged on several occasions for this behavior to change and it never does.

On the flip side we share a common interest in my college football team, music, concerts, travel, food and more. We are true partners when it comes to taking care of the house and make all big decisions together. While our friendship is fabulous as far as going and doing our romantic life is obviously lacking. I know passion isn’t everything and it waxes and wanes throughout a marriage. But he has always lacked the ability to communicate and show affection. I guess when I married him at age 24 I didn’t realize how important a loving connection was to me. In fact our courtship was full of drama over these same issues.

We have tried counseling. He says he can change the binging, but so far hasn’t. He says he can’t change his communication style. I can’t speak my mind, share a personal frustration or cry about something and expect his support. He shuts down. There are past substance abuse issues that concern me, along with his continued looking at porn. We don’t have children. We are 38 and 40.

I’m so confused. I can’t imagine another 40 years without affection and communication. Am I expecting too much? –Annie

No, Annie, you’re not expecting too much.

You’re just illustrating Reason #587 as to why you shouldn’t get married when you’re 24 years old.

If you’re like 75% of people who marry before the age of 25, you’ll get divorced.

You’re marrying for love, but you don’t know anything about LIFE.

You may be lucky and get it right, but if you’re like 75% of people who marry before the age of 25, you won’t. And you’ll get divorced.

Which is what I recommend to you.

Now before anybody gets on my case because I’m advocating a rash measure to a total stranger who wrote me a 500-word email, I acknowledge that.

Is it possible that we’re only hearing one side of the story and that his version is relevant? Yes.

Is it possible that, twenty years into their relationship, they can grow closer and improve their communication? In the realm that “anything’s possible”, sure.

Is it possible that with proper couples therapy and relationship counseling, these two crazy kids can make things work for the rest of their lives? I guess.

But it’s also possible to hit the lottery, and you don’t see me running out to buy a ticket. If anything, as a dating and relationship coach, I try to play the odds, based only on the facts available to me.

You can do better. And you will.

So, for anyone who may think that Annie should “work it out” with her husband, because he’s a trusted partner, consider these facts:

He rarely holds my hand, cuddles or kisses me beyond a peck hello or goodbye.

We have sex less than 10 times a year, and that has been going on for 7-8 years despite my asking him how we could fix it. He has been taking care of his own needs with porn.

We can take a five-hour road trip and barely talk in the car on the way there. He isn’t interested.

When we go out to party he binge drinks, becoming another person who often flirts with other women or seems to not be present in his own body. I have begged on several occasions for this behavior to change and it never does.

He has always lacked the ability to communicate and show affection.

We have tried counseling. He says he can change the binging, but so far hasn’t. He says he can’t change his communication style. I can’t speak my mind, share a personal frustration or cry about something and expect his support. He shuts down.

The prosecution rests, Annie.

Your husband is guilty.

He’s not guilty of cheating or being verbally abusive. He’s guilty of being a bad husband.

He’s a poor communicator, conversationalist, lover, and, frankly, friend (friends are interested in you and generally try hard to make sure you’re happy).

You said it best in your original email:

I guess when I married him at age 24 I didn’t realize how important a loving connection was to me. In fact our courtship was full of drama over these same issues.

I know it’s sad, but it’s time to move on. You can do better.

And you will.

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Comments:

  1. 31
    JoeK

    Spot on again, Evan.
     
    I cringed as I read her letter. As you said there may be more to this story, but even if there is I doubt it would really change the advice.
     
    Better for her to leave now, and find a man who has the ability to be in a healthy relationship.
     

  2. 32
    Clare

    Annie,
    Run. I doubt many women would be able to tolerate such a marriage, let alone be happy in it. Whilst you stay, you are giving him implicit permission to continue his cold, disinterested, emotionally and physically distant behaviour because you tolerate it.
     
    Please look for better for yourself. I doubt, once the pain of leaving has healed, that you will ever regret it.
     
    Yes, it is possible that he has a valid side to this story. But the fact remains that you feel this way, and there is so much more to life, and so much more to love.

  3. 33
    AS

    #32 Claire I agree with you – RUN! Life is short and there is no reason why anyone in this day and age should be living a miserable one, with a partner who does not make them happy. Perhaps he is not happy himself but is not strong enough to walk away. I know of couples who have stayed together out of habit, or fear of being alone at the cost of their happiness and it’s really sad to witness this.

  4. 34
    Brit R

    I’m not one to usually rush in with hasty conclusions and ill conceived advice.  However, assuming that the lady in question has done her very best at trying to improve the relationship and her efforts have not been reciprocated, then I’m afriad it doesn’t bode well at all for relationship longevity between the two of them.  Maybe he wants out with out saying so directly.  I think a full and frank laying out of the cards on the table (both of them) is what’s needed to put both their feelings and intentions beyond doubt.

  5. 35
    Laura/ to Goldie 23.

    Well I think being 24yo 20 years ago and now is way different – young people spend longer time studying/travelling/ etc. than their parents did, so thats sort of a “delayed maturity”, whereas people in their 40s and 50s had a “forced maturity”-getting married and having kids while very young without being fully aware how to solve issues that life throws at you.
    Not that 25y olds can’t be considered adults, but being an adult and mature enough to start a family are totally different things. I’ve changed dramatically since my 25th b-day, I know myself way better than I did back then and the vision of someone with whom I could actually build a life togehter has changed as well. The way I see it, early marriage without figuring out who you are as a person first mostly leads to divorce in your early 30s. Where I live the divorce rates are higher than 50 percent, and it mostly happens for people of this age, as they usually ended up marying their high-school crushes or someone they met in college, yet have grown apart in several years, when the ultimate personal development (or resisting to development) happens.
     

  6. 36
    judy

    I agree with Evan.  Move on.  (I married at 23 and although the sex was good, the rest was not).  Serious incompatibility.
    So let him watch his porn videos.
    While you………….sort out real life.

  7. 37
    John B

    Evan,
    She has been to counselors but nothing has changed because most marriage counselors don’t have a clue of what they’re doing. Let’s not assume that the man in this marriage decided to marry Annie to make her miserable, nether one of them are having their needs met. Dr. William Dorherty at the University of Minnesota is running a program called Discernment Counseling. They have a 85+ success rate with marriages in trouble and that’s with only one spouse leaning in or wanting to fix the marriage. This was been going on for many years and these couples who complete this course are living happy, fulfilling  relationships they didn’t imagine possible. There are other Discernment Counseling programs like Dr Kenworth’s with a 30+ year track record of 95% success rate and some of these marriages looked completely UN-savable. If you’re in a dangerous relationship, then get out for your own safety. But don’t quit because you haven’t been traded to work together meeting each others needs. Divorce, statistics prove, is a lousy answer for marital problems. Most who divorce repeat the same scenario. Marriage takes work and good communication. You sound like a smart person, you can do it.
    I hope this helps.

  8. 38
    gina

    hmmm… while I agree with most of your advice, I have to say I do not agree with your advice at all. Maybe I felt exactly like her most of time, and drove my husband and my marriage mad. I have been married 15 years now. Divorced on our 11th year, only to get back together in a month. A lot changed during the separation process. But exactly like your advice, I thought I could do better. Be with a man, who was more romantic, cuddled and kissed etc etc. Having said that, the only difference between OP and us is, we love road trips, and talk for hours in the car. This is one of the times that my husband opens up a lot… 
    I was almost sure, I was a convenience for my husband. His needs were met, mine weren’t. He didn’t cuddle, he didn’t love me enough. I could do better, i was only 35 at the time, so I went through with the divorce, although he tried at his best for me to change my mind. Just like you said, he was found guilty by my court, guilty of not being a romantic man.
    Then something happened, though we divorced, my husband kept calling. To talk to the kids, and just to ask how I was doing. Then he called on Valentine’s day. Telling me how much he missed me. Told me that the smell in the air reminded me.  He could be romantic I guess :) He said he wanted to come home, just to be with me. I said no.. the next few weeks, he tried again. We went out, just chatted away. We were divorced… he kept asking, what I needed. Just said, he really wanted to make me happy, but just didn’t know how. Needed my help he said. That he could be better. 
    And that night, before sleep, something happened in me. I asked myself. Did everything has to be about me. Not once, I asked him what he wanted. of course, i asked what he wanted to eat etc. And yes, some people say you don’t need to fix a man. But, I think a marriage is really a hard process where 2 people go through life experience with different expectations. Did he want a sexual wife, or someone who stays away and flirts, or maybe he enjoys silence. I actually now enjoy silence a lot more. I learned from my husband, and funny, he talks a lot more that I shut up :)
    So, how about what he wants. I have addiction in my family. I have never been, but almost 30% of my family is. They are mostly hurt from their childhood, and need lots of support. He is probably a very emotional person, and learnt to hide it and doesn’t want to open up. 
    Shortly, you have been married for a long time. I am sure there is lots of love in your marriage and you are confused. It might take something like mine, to get a divorce, for you to understand your true feelings for your husband. But I don’t recommend it. Focus on the good parts. Yes, you could do better. but sometimes very romantic man are  also womanizers. And then you will have other problems. You are not perfect, humans are just not. And marriage is not either. 
    One thing though. Our marriage never had sex problems. My husband wasn’t cuddly but is always ready for some action. BUT, I am also a very open about it. I dress up sexy at home, he doesn’t cuddle, I go sit on his lap. You can do it, love your man. Jump on him :) Don’t judge him at the court of emotions. It is hard to find a good man. 

  9. 39
    tree

    I’m curious why everybody is so harsh on 20-somethings and our ability to know who we are and what we want. Full disclosure for this comment, I am 22 and my boyfriend is 27. I’m not trying to suggest that, in my early 20s, I am at the same developmental stage as I will be in ten or fifteen years. Nor that I can see the whole picture. But, I have dated (in relationships ranging from 6 months to 2 years) six different guys; I’ve moved out and away; I’m a graduate student. My boyfriend has been on dates with many women, gone through discernment processes about his calling, is finishing a graduate degree, and is starting a fulltime career. Yes, we are young – but we also have started accumulating quite a few life experiences. In my view, you do need to spend enough time (approximately a year, at our stage of life) to determine who the other person is and how compatible you are, but the fact is that we are all always changing. Marriage is a decision made at one point in time, that you will choose to change towards each other rather than away, as much as that decision is possible to make. In one of EMK’s articles he spoke of how a 36-year old saw herself as dramatically different than at 31; yet I see many people arguing that twenty-somethings should wait until their late 20s because so much changes so quickly. Clearly the pace of change doesn’t slow down all that much with age!

    Basically what I want to say here is that at 20-something, I am relatively experienced and self-aware – I’m not an idiot about myself or relationships. Perhaps that isn’t what people meant to imply…but some comments did come across that way! Entering into relationships with an explicit goal of determining if your partner is the right one for you to marry (and when you find somebody who approaches that the same way) really changes the playing field. So does committment.

    1. 39.1
      RustyLH

      tree

      The problem is that in many things, there is no “always.” My aunt and uncle got married at 19 years old and though most in the family didn’t think it would last. They are now 61 years old and still together. But how many couples that married at that age do think make it in this day and age? Few. But to be fair…many marriages aren’t lasting, even among people who marry in their 20′s, 30′s, and 40′s. But I think it is fair to assume that those marrying in their early 20s tend to have a higher divorce rate. Part of the reason is that often the haven’t had much time in the real world so to speak. Some lived at home prior to marrying. Some were in college prior to marrying. Many are trying to get careers off the ground. They are more likely to have financial troubles, etc… The thing is most of us here were that age once. So it isn’t like we have no experience with it. But this does not mean things have to go bad for you and your man. Your future is your own to write.

      One of the best things I ever saw was a scene from a movie with Tom Selleck. He is a lawyer and long story short, he thinks he has it all, but the passion is gone from the marriage, at least for his wife it is. She hits him with a divorce. He being a lawyer is able to protect himself unlike most men. But the key point is made when he is talking with his partner, and older lawyer. Selleck had been married for 9 years. His friend had been married for 29 years. Tom asked him how that is possible. Since he was not able to make his marriage work when they had it all, he doesn’t see how his friend could still be going strong at 29 years.

      The older guy said that he thought it had to do with the generations. He said, “My generation was brought up expecting nothing, so everything we gets makes us happy. Your generation was brought up expecting everything, therefore everything you don’t get makes you unhappy.

  10. 40
    tamara

    @tree: Yes we do continue maturing all the time, but in your 20s I think the maturing is extra-significant. The prefrontal cortex is still developing till about 25 years of age. This part of the brain influences personality, impulse control, complex long-term planning abilities, etc. In my early adult years after 18, I did some things which–in hindsight–were so incredibly dumb and immature. Considering I was a high-IQ individual, my parents and teachers were flummoxed at my immaturity and bad decisions. It’s cringeworthy to look back on.
     
    I’m not saying that u’re as ‘undeveloped’ as I was, it’s possible that u’re indeed much more mature and experienced. I had friends my age who seemed quite mature as young adults. But there’s scientific basis to believe that people’s brains change significantly until 25, and to marry before that could be unwise.
     

  11. 41
    rick

     get the impression that it is not all the mans fault / she seems very disrespectful and is spending a lot of time focusing on all the things that ate wrong with him and all of his faults and failures and then she wonders why he shuts down and chooses to escape / she says love me but loving her is like lo ing a cactus or a porcupine / maybe she can try To focus on the positive as focusing on the negative isnt working
    Your marriage vows say richer or poorer sick or healthy better or worse until death do us part /  do you understand the vow that you took? My marriage ended when my wife died from a heart condition but we had our share of poor sick and worse but we had many good times. This magical perfect man does not exist.  I am sure he feels threatened by you telling the whole world all his faults/ no wonder he does not trust you.  Put yourself in his place.  Woundnt you feel disrespected? I would.  Give hime time when you ask him questions, it takes the average man at least ten to thirty minutes of thinking before he knows hiw he feels.  Women know right away.  Even though personally i dislike mark gungor he has a video on youtube about mens brains and womens brains called the tale of two brains.  If he is withdrawn then he is probably hurting deeply.  If i talk to people i am fine with them,but if i xo not soeak to you,then you have burned me bad. I usually never trust that person ever again. I am not saying it is all your fault because i do not know you,so keep that in mind. 

  12. 42
    India

    If you aren’t happy, leave the marriage. Don’t stay in an unhappy marriage.

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