no sex with wife for 25 years

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From a man in his 60′s: This is going to be hard to believe, but i haven’t even seen my wife undressed much less have any sexual contact for 25 or more years of our 40 years together. We have 2 children, grown. i’ve had a few non-intercourse relationships over the years because of this and for the last 2.5 years I’ve been with a woman i’ve fallen in love with and have intercourse with…i’m torn because i love my wife and everything looks good to everyone, because we get along except for that–we’ve gone to counseling at my insistence but nothing changes. i don’t believe in divorce, i think she loves me like a brother–and i take care of the bills too. she was sexually abused as child but we had ok sex life until one experience when i couldn’t stay erect. she said i’ll never have sex with you again and obviously meant it.
i didn’t want this (affair) to happen but everyone needs love. My wife does talk sweet to me and cuddle sometimes, waits till i go to sleep to come to bed but does sleep with me, just won’t touch or let me touch and never ever lets me see her naked–i can’t believe i stayed but i worried about the kids, now grandkids. i love my girlfriend, she’s not a fling, she’s been very understanding but is hurt by this too. we knew each other for 7 years before getting involved it happened slowly and i know she tried not to be with me–but life happens.
Is it possible that my wife never wants sex? she dresses great, make up is good, hair professionally done, she is beautiful at 63 (very beautiful) shy, acts jealous if i look at another woman, i feel abused. what do i do? leave? stay and cheat, tell her i’m having an affair (hate the word, i care about this woman i’m with). HELP please.

And a subsequent letter:
problem_summary: I wrote in about no sex with wife (
current_problem: I want to add that at counseling session yesterday she cried about how much stress this is to her–and the counselor looked at her and said I think your husband loves you, she said, I know he does, but never said she loved me too, just did her usual crying. I called the therapist later to let her know that all the excuses wife used about not being able to talk about it, were all used all the time for all these years, now the therapist was saying how they wouldn’t discuss the sex issue for awhile because my wife is worn down and tired, needs to get other things out. This is just a repeat of all counseling from the past. I am so frustrated, though therapist is obviously leaning my way in this, because she is scratching her head too as what to do–and knows I care for my wife.
Thank you for your help.

A: You are already seeing a counselor and I want to be respectful of that person’s work. I only have a fraction of the information that someone who is in the room with you and your wife gets just by watching and listening to the two of you. That being said, I do have a few thoughts about this painful situation. It may be that the counselor has already commented in the same way. If not, perhaps you could share this with her and see what she thinks.

You and your wife have lived this way for 25 years. To your credit, you put the stability of your family over your own needs for a very, very long time. Your and your wife apparently worked together better as parents than as romantic partners. Raising two responsible adults isn’t a bad life’s work. Having done that, you are now at a different life stage. When kids are successfully on their own, it’s usual for the couple to take a new look at each other and reforge their own relationship. For reasons we don’t yet understand, your wife isn’t interested in being a sexual partner. This isn’t new. Every time you’ve brought it up, she’s become upset and you (and in some instances a counselor as well) backed off. She has no reason to believe that you won’t back off yet again. From her point of view, going through the discomfort of telling the story yet again to yet another counselor has won her another reprieve from a difficult issue and the two of you will just go back to liiving together as you have been for so many years. Unfortunately, your counselor has confirmed that idea by suggesting backing off the sexual issue.

We’re both old enough to know that life is about trade offs: For many, many years you were willing to forego a sex life in trade for a good companion and a stable family. Your wife is probably more aware of your involvement with other women than you think. She was willing to trade off fidelity from you in exchange for, actually, the same thing — a good companion and a stable family.

Now you want to change the deal. This is the central issue. Your love for the girlfriend has upset a balance that has gone on for years. I don’t know if your wife understands this yet. Actually, I don’t know if you fully appreciate it either. I don’t know if you are prepared to trade off the confusion and probable alienation of some of your family and friends in order to have sexual intimacy with a new partner in your remaining years. I don’t know if your wife is willing to trade overcoming her fears and aversion and become sexual with you in exchange for remaining together.

Unless you are willing to put everything on the line by making an ultimatum and sticking to it, you and your wife will continue to go around and around on the same old issue in the same old way. Only you know if it is worth it to you to change the conversation so that it might have a different outcome. Unfortunately, there are no clear right answers in this kind of situation. The one caution I offer you is that it is unfair to offer your wife a choice (stay with me but deal with sex or go our separate ways if you can’t) unless you are willing to live with whichever choice she makes. The third alternative is to make peace with the life you’ve been living. I hope this helps.
I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Sep 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). no sex with wife for 25 years. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/09/03/no-sex-with-wife-for-25-years/