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Can we re-ignite a 20 year marriage when he isn't physically responding to me?

By Anonymous June 1, 2010 - 6:53am
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My husband and I are trying to revive our marriage after being apart for 4 years. For a long time, we had a great sex life, but children and jobs diminished it somewhat over the years. I had an extensive illness 10 years ago, but, thankfully, recovered. However, after that, he just seemed to lose interest in me physically. He had an affair with one of our friends, and it was devastating to me. We tried to get together, but just didn't have the tools. ( For a long time, I thought it was my body, but no longer do. Even though I'm older than he is, lI look younger and have had two relationships, each with a healthy sex life. Frankly, I don't know if my age has anything to do with it or not. We recently went on a vacation together to see if we could reconnect. We had a great time..laughed, talked, enjoyed the sights, but he wasn't interested in sex. He admits that his relationships while we were apart were sexually fine. He says that he wants passion, but there are no sparks. He says he loves me, and I believe he does. He's the one, in fact, who suggested getting back together. On the other hand, he doesn't seem motivated to get together often enough to work on the marriage. (He lives several states away.) I've known and loved him for 25 years, but I'm having doubts that he's committed to this. I'm also concerned that I'm opening up my heart only to be hurt again. I just need some objectivity at this point. I would so love to put our marriage back together, but I know it takes work. I think he's simply waiting to "feel the spark" again.

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EmpowHER Guest

Hi Anonymous,

If relationships are not tough already, this is really putting a damper on the situation. I wanted to share my take on this since I may fall into your man’s role on this one, career minded.

I am also a major go-getter! From this point of view, I would hope that someone would be supportive and by my side as I conquer the world (per-say). I recently had a conversation with an ex-boyfriend that I spent 8 years with and I asked him what was his worst complaint about me (as his girlfriend). He said TIME. He always felt less than my school, the military and my job. Is it selfish, on the part of the go-getter? Maybe, but I guess the justification I felt and maybe your boyfriend is that we are trying to get comfortable in this world to be able to work hard, play harder with a person who understands. Yes, that is a ton to ask of someone and I am sure he understands as I do. Another justification is we are only trying to get better and not doing things bad such as drugs or something.

No one can tell you what to do here. Only you can make the decision to either find something to do yourself to keep yourself busy or maybe let it go as it may take a long time for him to get acclimated. What do you really want?

I do not expect anyone to understand my chaotic career minded craziness and I chose to be single because I don’t want anyone to feel how you are feeling. I happen to understand since I have done this once and was actually upset when I was asked for my personal time. WHAT? Time? What is that!

Hun, I feel for you in many ways. You really have to find within you what you really want. Do you want children? This would be a serious issue with a career aggressive person. Career becomes your family.

Can you please keep us updated? I wish you the best.

June 19, 2010 - 5:44am


I can see what a complicated, multi-layered relationship this has been, and why it's so hard to figure out which parts of it to trust. But I am completely in your corner regarding setting your goals and parameters and insisting on them. You are doing what is necessary to protect yourself. You are setting boundaries, which is something he may not be used to -- either from you or at all. Perhaps he is more in love with the idea of getting back together than in the actual work to do it, you know? Especially when that work is between two people who live several states apart.

I think it is lovely that you still have an open heart to this. And yet I want you to be strong and confident in knowing what YOU need to stay mentally healthy while you explore it. Going to a counselor will help you do that, as will the boundaries you want to set.

And in terms of the physical attraction thing -- it's so hard to know what turns someone on and off. We are all so different in that. It may be that it started with your illness, and that he was so afraid to lose you that it made him see how vulnerable he was -- and he backed off. You know? Something as simple as that. (Is he concerned about this?)

Stay wary, and stay smart, while you go forward. I will look forward to your updates, and I absolutely wish you the best.

June 3, 2010 - 10:04am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Diane Porter)

I've really appreciated your comments. I'm having a rough time deciding what to do about this relationship right now. There has been no physical intimacy for whatever reason (We had a week together in May...great time, no sex.) My husband and I talk very day. He has some very exciting job opportunities that have arisen, and I'm truly happy for him, but, once again, it puts our time together into a very few days over the summer. When I ask where WE fit into this, he acts like I'm being difficult. He wants to "take it slow", but continually tells me he loves me. Yet, I will have a total of 5 days with him in July and a few days at my sister in law's wedding in August where I'll see him. Not enough time as far as I'm concerned. This job may eventually allow him to move to my city, and I should be happy, but it also puts US on hold...again. I've told him that, although "going slow" is a good idea (What he wants), in my mind, that means being together with time and physical contact over a period of time to see if we can reignite our relationship. It doesn't mean seeing each other a few days over the course of a month or two. I love this man and we talk every day. However, I miss him when we do that, and find myself wanting more. It just makes not seeing him and moving forward without him more painful. I'm ready to tell him that we're off for now, in every way. I don't want the daily talks. When he's ready, and the work slows down, I'll be there....unless I've found another relationship. If he really wants me, he can come and get me. That sounds so great until I think about losing him, and then I ache. What's healthy for me right now? I can spend 5 or 6 days with him in a few weeks....we'll also have a few counseling sessions then that, I guess, are to help us on the phone for the remaining weeks (Yes, I'm being a bit sarcastic.). That's really all we have for the coming months. What's your take on this at this point. The job is legit and he's excited. I want to be happy for him, but there's not much in it for me, I'm afraid. Thanks, it helps so much to express this and talk it over. Love this website!

June 18, 2010 - 7:00pm
(reply to Anonymous)


I really feel for you. I can see and feel what a hard time this is for you.

I think what I want to say most of all is this: You KNOW this man. You have known him for 25 years. He is not 30 and trying to make his mark on the world. He is at the age where his life should be coming more into a balance -- work, love, family, enjoyment. And work is clearly still the thing that ranks above all else for him.

Of course you are happy for him to have these opportunities. But he is making a choice again, isn't he? And again, he is choosing work. And therefore, once again, you are something he feels he doesn't need on a daily basis. I am all for "going slow," but this doesn't feel like it's moving forward at all.

Your feelings here are what is most important. You have clearly shown your commitment to seeing if this can work. But it seems to me that he only makes that commitment halfway. He wants you in his life because his life would be less fun and less interesting without you. But he doesn't want to change his life to be able to have that.

You can't know the future. But I think it's possible that another five years could go by this way, and you would be at this same decision point. People only change when they really want to change. It's devastating, but it feels like he doesn't want to change. In taking the job, I think he's making his choice. He wants everything. (Don't we all?) But he doesn't seem to truly get that that doesn't leave you with much.

That's my take on things. I too have dealt with long-distance relationships, and I know how fraught with emotion they are. But you are important, you are worthwhile, you are clearly smart and thoughtful. I feel like you're worth more.

June 22, 2010 - 8:26am
EmpowHER Guest

Thanks so much for your help. To answer your question. ..He wanted the divorce after 16 years of marriage...after the first affair. He told me the affair was to prove that he could still perform sexually.since he couldn't with me. (Was it my illness? It didn't leave me looking any different.) About a year later, he "fell in love" with a woman who left him, and then at one point after that, came home for a long weekend to try to get back together, but immediately left again (You can see why I'm a little concerned.) He has been through counseling, and seems more sincere now.

Yes, you're right. It is odd that we never went through with the divorce. Neither one of us could bring ourselves to get it. I've always wanted to get back together, but this is a fairly recent thing for him.

He's confused and unsure, especially about the physical issues...and that really concerns me as well. What is it that's in his way? It all leaves me feeling very skeptical (trust is hard to regain on many levels.) He lives with a sister and his mother, two people who have made many demands on him, causing me to feel in third place for many years. That adds to the logistical problems.

Our trip together proved that we have an abiding love for each other, but being close without marriage just isn't an option for me. It's just too painful. I want him to give this his all. To take the summer and work hard to see if we can do this. He accepts my requests, but, they are MY requests. I get the feeling he wants to take it slower than I do. I sometimes come across like I'm making demands, and I know that is certainly unattractive to him. Yet, I feel that if I don't give firm parameters, it's just going to drag on and on. It's hard sometimes to draw the line between co-dependency and real, honest, abiding love for someone you've shared so much with. A lot of those years together were wonderful. Again, I just wish I knew why he isn't attracted to me. Is it fear? Growing older? I guess counseling will be the only way to get to the bottom of it. I know that, unless we get that back, he won't commit in the long run.

My parents have been married 62 years and I saw how hard they worked to stay together...and they've never regretted it. His parents divorced when the children were young...affairs, remarriage, lots of baggage for the kids. Maybe it's a matter of role modes.

Thanks again for your thoughts and kindness. I can't tell you what it meant to get a reply during this trying time. This is a great site, and I plan on joining. And, yes, I'm taking your advice and getting back in counseling to get some clarity.

June 2, 2010 - 5:48pm

Hi, Anon,

Thank you so much for writing. And welcome to EmpowHer.

I ache for you. Loving someone for as long as you have loved your husband -- and hoping that you will get back together -- makes everything twice as important. Nothing seems casual, it's all loaded with meaning -- does he or doesn't he? Will he or won't he? Do I want to or not? And that doesn't leave much room for just trusting your gut.

May I ask why you were separated for four years? Why you live several states apart? Was it after the affair he had? I am a little fuzzy on the timetable of things here.

And why has there been no divorce in all that time? What kept you two from calling it quits completely, even though you both were having relationships with other people?

I think if you're having doubts that he's committed to this, you are probably right. Even though he suggested it. And even though there is love on both sides. (It is absolutely possible to love someone while having no sexual sparks. And you didn't know that going into this re-trial period.)

You mentioned that you tried to reconnect before, but you didn't have the tools. I can tell from your question that you are a smart, thoughtful and loving person who has made a pretty full life for herself. Have you had any counseling? Would it be a good idea to get some now as you work through this mine field?

You are right -- to put this marriage back together again is going to take work. And it takes both people to work on it, not just you. I think that if I were in your position, I would find a therapist that I could go to to talk about this, because that therapist is a third party who is objective and who only has your best interests at heart. That therapist can guide you through your feelings and your worries -- while helping you steer clear of traps from the past.

Without knowing more, I have to say that it sounds like this relationship is one in which neither of you are comfortable making huge decisions on your own -- and therefore you have settled into this default period of being married but not really, being apart but not really. To break that pattern -- and either get back together for good or end it for good -- you may need some help to sort through it all. And this seems a great time for that.

What do you think about the possibility of working with a therapist or counselor for a little while on this situation?

June 2, 2010 - 8:24am
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