I won’t have sex with my husband – he says no man would stay in those circumstances

‘Counselling is not going to help as nothing can make me want him’

PROBLEM: My husband of 24 years was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about 13 years ago and spent two stays in a psychiatric hospital. He is pretty stable now and responsible with his medication. We have five children and the youngest is 10. I have not been in love with him for a long time – even before his diagnosis. Our intimate life has become very unpleasant for me to the point I have told him I can’t be intimate with him again. He does not feel the same way and says unless I return to sex with him he will have no option but to leave.

My only concern is the impact on the children. I would be happy for us to separate. Counselling is not going to help as nothing can make me want him physically again. I haven’t been able to let him kiss or touch me in an intimate way for years – when we had sex I just wanted it done until the next time, it was only another chore for me. I would be willing to continue without intimacy, to co-parent until the kids are older, but he says he can’t do that and says no man would stay under those circumstances. This problem does not relate so much to the bipolar disorder, even though we went through some very tough years with this, but, being honest, the physical side was always a weak spot for me.

We did get on well but his personality changed after his diagnosis, so for me we were left with nothing much except for the children. He still loves me and wants everything to stay the same and for sexual relations to be restored, but this is not an option for me. Now I have said my piece I am so relieved to never have to be intimate with him again.

ADVICE: It seems that you are extremely clear about your relationship: you are neither in love nor are you physically attracted to your husband. The option of separating is looming, at least at some stage, as you say you would leave when the children are older. Separation is a huge event in children’s lives, even when both parents are open to it, and it needs to be approached with compassion and caution. However, there are other issues to contend with: your constant rejection of your husband as a lover and your children’s experience of living in a family where there is no love or affection. If you choose not to separate, as you suggest, then you all have to live with the above issues and both you and your husband have to accept responsibility for this.

You say your husband’s personality changed after his diagnosis, but you subsequently had children together so I wonder if your certainty about the lack of attraction is less to do with his condition and more to do with a gradual distancing, as you both coped with his diagnosis plus the pressure of a growing family.

Compensating factors

You say that sex was always secondary for you and perhaps you married as there were other compensating factors such as shared life values and friendship. This is often the case with couples but later the effort to sustain an intimate life becomes very difficult as only one person wants it to happen and the other person can feel duped and rejected.

We all want to feel loved and desired for who we are, and when the person who is our life partner does not share this desire it can lead to a painful and slow deterioration of the relationship. There are many couples who come through this situation but they chose each other because of love and they have lots of affection despite the lack of intimacy. You do not seem to be in this category.

There is also the question of your own sense of sexuality and whether you ever want to feel that sense of attraction and desire in your life again? Have you fully explored your own sexuality and it’s meaning in your life? This might be worth doing as you are now at a decision time in your relationship.

You say that your husband is very responsible with his medication and this is a credit to him and perhaps he does deserve to reap the benefits of the hard struggle to cope with his bipolar diagnosis and have someone in his life who both finds him attractive and wants to spend time with him.

Do you want to have someone to share your life and bed with? If the answers to these questions are yes, but it is not possible with your husband, then it would seem you are facing separation and this requires that you both prepare well so your children are not carrying the burden of your decisions. Family therapy would be an option as even children as young as 10 need to be heard and included in what is happening in the family.

Family mediation (see familytherapyireland.com and citizensinformation.ie) is also there to help you to process what is happening and to guide you through the long road of separation.