She fears her husband will crush her

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: My Husband and I have been married for 12 years and are presently having marital problems. For him our biggest problem is me not being very interested in being intimate with him. The thing is… I am not physically attracted to him,am feel like whore when I pretend that I am. He suffered a back injury 4 yrs ago and has been on disability for the past 3 yrs. Since being out of work he has gained a lot of weight. He is now over 320 lbs. If we go to a friend’s house for dinner or cookout, he eats non-stop to the point that his stomach becomes so hard and distended that he becomes incredibly uncomfortable. The other night, five hours after the dinner he still couldn’t even lie down comfortably? I get so disgusted with this. I know I should not be judging him! I’m by no means perfect myself. But I can’t seem to stop getting angry at him. I know I sound like a total jerk. His health is deteriorating. He is constantly complaining that his back and hips hurting, has recurring problems with indigestion and acid reflux, and last year needed surgery to unblock one of his coronary arteries. I know I should be compassionate and want to help him or at least empathize with him. I try very politely to remind him about how much he is eating, but he just blows me off and keeps on eating. I feel so ashamed to be thinking and feeling the way I do right now. I am just not physically attracted to him at this point.

To make thing worse I have some issues of my own to deal with. I experienced some past SA and am somewhat uncomfortable with physical intimacy. His obesity along with a continuous stream of little digs and derogatory comments about our crappy sex life are dramatically increasing my anxiety. One of my recurring nightmares is that he will be on top of me panting, have a heart attack, and crush me. I keep thinking, if I survived the initial crush, how could I free myself?…. I have to close my eyes and do every distraction technique I know in order to control my fear of being trapped and suffocate to death. I know I am being totally irrational. I just can’t take it. I know a lot of this anxiety stems from the past and being restrained and being uncomfortable and triggered by the some of the alternatives. But honestly, I don’t want any part of sex at this point.

How do you have a mutually fulfilling marriage, when you are not interested in being physically intimate with your partner?

A: I’m so very glad you wrote. You’ve been doing your very best to deal with the problem as you understood it. I think the reason you haven’t been able to make any progress is that you aren’t dealing with the right problem. As I see it, the problem with your sex life is serving as a distraction from the real issues.

It sounds to me like your husband is a very depressed man. He is stuffing his feelings down with food. He probably feels unmanned by being unable to work. Your lack of interest in him sexually makes him feel even less like a real man. So he eats some more to stuff those feelings too. Of course, that only makes you respect him less and feel less interested in him sexually. The cycle continues. He may not be consciously doing so, but he is slowly committing suicide. His unconscious self has found a way to die without looking like he suicided. Meanwhile, he can also make himself feel better by making the situation all your fault. This may be face-saving for him in a kind of way but it’s highly unfair to you. Please bear in mind that I don’t think he is doing any of this on purpose.

Meanwhile, you have issues of your own to deal with. You have not only lost your husband as a lover, your intuition is probably telling you that he is abandoning you. Between your history and the current situation, it makes absolute sense that you are feeling highly anxious.

I think the two of you need to get into therapy right away. Your husband needs to be treated for his depression. He also needs help figuring out how to give his life meaning again. He needs to acknowledge and work through his feelings of anger and shame. You need to figure out how to separate the current situation from your past. And the two of you need some couples counseling to figure out how to be a team while going through this difficult transition. I suspect that once you’ve done that work, the issues around sex will resolve themselves.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Aug 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). She fears her husband will crush her. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/08/26/she-fears-her-husband-will-crush-her/