When the fire goes out.

Smoldering ash.
Smoldering ash.

Stan wrote,

Sean, at 50, I realize I am much older than your typical reader, but I need some advice.  After 20 years of marriage, I feel the “fire” and the sexual chemistry is gone from my relationship and I don’t know what to do.

I met my wife 26 years ago and we hit it off immediately.  We spent time with the same people, so it was also easy to get to know one another without actually dating.  We did end up dating, and two years after we met, we got married.  Things were great at first as I got my first “big job” out of college and gave her what she wanted, to be a stay at home mom.  The trouble is, the kids never came.  After the first year, she was a nervous wreck.  Sex began to be structured and planned to the utmost detail.  5 years in, the doctors kept pushing for IVF and other methods, but my wife was insistent we would conceive naturally.  10 years in, we only had sex according to her menstrual calendar and all IVF hope had failed us.  She refused to adpot and began to micromanage every single thing she ate.  She refused to believe any doctor that even hinted she or I were unable to have children (even though tests said we were fine).  She and I fought constantly about kids and her ideas about how we could conceive.  15 years in, we were only having sex once a month and I could barely finish because it was a constant barrage of instruction and frustrating comments.  “Do the other thing!,” she’d yell.  “Not that way,” she’d correct me.  It was dull and mundane.  I thought about divorce and having an affair, but I loved my wife too much to do either one.  At 20 years in, she tried committing suicide when the doctors told her there was little to no chance we’d ever conceive.  Now, at 26 years, she is a shell of the confident and sexy woman I married.  We didn’t have children and we barely have a marriage.  I have basically given up emotionally and we’re just going through the motions because neither one of us has the guts to face the elephant in the room.

My question for you is how do I save my marriage?  I’m going to guess you, like everyone else, would have thought I’d still be thinking of leaving her, but it’s quite the opposite.  I want so light the fire again and help her realize that even though we didn’t have kids, we still have a wonderful life to live.  We have tons of nieces and nephews and a marriage to work on, and I’d hate to see it end.  Yes, we didn’t have kids, but we have always had each other to love.

Do you have any advice for me?




I can’t emphasize how important therapy is in situations like this.  You appear to have been fighting this battle with each other (and times) and against each other (at other times), and ignoring the intimacy of marriage in the meantime.  The more you structure sex and the less you enjoy the intimacy, the less enjoyable ANY intimacy will be.  After time, you will eventually lose interest (and some begin to look elsewhere) which can cause issues within the marriage.  Stress is also dangerous to the human body and when it’s overwhelming stress, it can be devastating.

See a therapist..both of you.  Talk about everything.  Cry.  Hold each other.  Yell.  Find new ground.  If you’re religious, join a church group that deals with similar issues.  At the very least, you need to see a therapist if you want this to work, and you need to find a way to ignite her fire for life.  I realize kids were (and possibly ARE) one of the most important things in life to her, but I hope therapy can help her understand what she is missing by making it her only focus.  You aren’t getting out of this without a lecture either..you said you gave up.  You married this woman and even though the intimacy may be gone, and you’re doing the right thing by trying to save the marriage, you need to evaluate why you ever thought giving up emotionally was ever a good idea without talking with a therapist first.

Intimacy can be very difficult with too much structure in the relationship if you completely remove the fun, spontaneous moments.I hope this works out for the both of you.  I commend you for trying to save your marriage.  Hopefully, with therapy, you can find each other again and enjoy the next 50 years together.