Tell me about it: ‘Not telling him puts him in the position of being betrayed and constantly in receipt of excuses’
PROBLEM: During my 20s and 30s, I dated many men. Most of them were lovely, but there was no “spark” there. I had a couple of relationships, but only one where I was completely in love with the man. That ended when I was 34. In my late 30s, I met another fabulous man. He is hilariously funny, terribly kind and has always treated me with the utmost respect. I was bowled over by his treatment of me. Because he was so great in every way, I wilfully ignored the fact that I wasn’t physically attracted to him. He wanted children.
I was 39. What can I say? I took the chance.
I am now 44 and we have two children. I love this man very, very much. He is a wonderful father and there is nothing even vaguely critical I can say about him.
I have even accepted that I will always be unfulfilled: I made my bed; it is not particularly uncomfortable to lie in. But I need advice on how to deal with my partner. He feels rejected by my lack of affection. I make excuses when he makes advances. I feel desperately sorry for him.
He asks me continually if I am still attracted to him. What should I say? Should I tell him the truth? There are things that can’t be unsaid and I’m worried the truth might devastate him. I don’t want to split up. We have a very good partnership. I would be willing to allow dalliances on his part. I’ve half suggested it before, but he doesn’t seem interested. He only wants me. Which makes it all the more heart-breaking.
How can I minimise the hurt to him?
ADVICE: What you are describing is the situation of “I love you but I’m not in love with you” and this is something that many people will recognise. It is extremely painful and difficult to navigate as one person wants to be the object of desire and the other is unable to respond. Perhaps your partner thought you would grow into sexual fulfilment as the relationship developed but it seems that you always knew this was not a possibility. He is now asking you for the truth – probably so that he can get rid of all the possibilities that are going through his mind. You say you would be willing to allow dalliances on his part but he sounds like someone who wants the whole romantic, intimate and committed coupledom and so this suggestion might spell the end of your relationship. You ask if you should tell him of your lack of physical attraction to him but not telling him puts him in the position of being betrayed and constantly in receipt of excuses.
It is likely that you are simply speaking out loud what he already knows or guesses
He is an adult who deserves the right to assess his own situation. However, your truth is far more than lack of attraction – you love, enjoy and admire him and want to spend the rest of your life with him. He may initially be hurt and upset but it is likely that you are simply speaking out loud what he already knows or guesses. The price of your wanting to keep the marriage together is that he is not allowed face or choose his own destiny.
Lack of desire
You say that you have only ever experienced being in love in one relationship and I wonder if this is something worth exploring in yourself. There may be more to your lack of desire than simply thinking that a very rare person can ignite it. Would you consider speaking to someone who might be able to help you explore this further? Our bodies often carry protections and responses that are rooted in our family stories or traumas. It may ease your partner’s distress to know that you are exploring all avenues but of course you cannot guarantee any specific result. Alan de Botton (How to Think More about Sex from the School of Life Series, Macmillian, 2012) writes very well about lack of desire in relationships and reading and discussing this with your partner might offer you a way of talking that is less personal and more open.
Speaking and owning up to the problem in your relationship can offer you many ways forward but not speaking keeps you in this stalemate where your partner is suffering and you are being deliberately deceitful. Of course it takes courage to be honest but most of us would want honesty over pity. Your partner may feel duped that at the point of commitment he did not know the extent of the lack of attraction to him but he deserves to air his grievances and have them understood and heard by you.Only then will you both be able to take stock of your situation and together decide what exploration needs to be done and what the future can hold for both of you and the family.