Am I talking myself out of being happy?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Hello, I am writing because I feel like my life has been a vortex of chaos for the past several years and I’m having trouble fighting down the depression.

I was in an abusive relationship with my ex-husband that lasted for more than a dozen years. Our divorce was finalized last year. I am pretty sure he is bipolar, possibly borderline personality disorder, definitely an extreme narcissist, though he will not seek any mental health services. During our marriage, things were never “right”. We always had a very tumultuous relationship, always fighting. We have three children together. He never kept a job for very long. Every time we got any kind of financial stability, he’d jeopardize it by getting fired, again. I have had the same employer for over a decade and maintain the income and benefits my family needs.

His behavior became more and more erratic, and violent. He finally left after the verbal and emotional abuse escalated to physical violence, and he started beating our daughter and pulling out a loaded gun during our arguments. He always threatened that he would ruin my life if I ever left him, and it took me years to work up the courage to do it, but now that I did, he’s making good on the threats.

The stalking began when I officially filed for divorce, after a year long separation, which is required in my state. He found out that I had been seeing another man after he left. He started making incessant, harassing phone calls to me at home, on my cell, at work, and to follow me around when I was out on errands, leave veiled threats in his voice messages, call everyone in my address book that I ever had any contact with, follow and harass the man I was dating. My ex-husband was convicted of poisoning this man’s animals in retaliation, and our 14-month dating relationship ended as a result.

I obtained a protective order, and have been in court ever since on civil and criminal matters (against my ex). I met another man and when we started dating, the stalking escalated to terrifying levels. I wound up marrying this man after 4 months together, because of my ex husband’s constant harassment, and his insistence on a no-cohabitation clause, I had to live alone or go to jail if I let him stay, so we got married. Since my new husband came into the picture, I feel much safer. We both felt like none of the choices we had at the time were good ones.

My husband and I have been together for 15 months now. He is older than me by a dozen years. Things have leveled off domestically, and though my older kids were not happy about the speed with which we got together and married, they have all adjusted pretty well. My youngest loves his step-father very much, and my oldest has grown to like him and respect him. She has no contact with her biological father at all and refuses to see him. My middle child is being ruthlessly manipulated by my ex and his family, and she has had a much harder time adjusting.

Since the kids bio-dad does not pay child support, my husband and I work very hard to support the family and the household. The stress of the events of the past few years have been enormous. I love my husband. He is a good man, he is kind, talented, sensitive, intelligent, and loving towards me.

Because of our age difference, we have mismatched sex drives. We had high frequency in the beginning, like all relationships, but that has slowed down considerably. A lot of it is attributable to our level of fatigue and lack of privacy, since we almost never have any time alone without the kids. There have been a few health issues and illnesses that have led to things tapering off, but now it seems like it’s in a spiral downwards.

I have told him that I feel unattractive and unloved when he refuses my advances, but that makes him defensive and even more withdrawn. I have stopped initiating all together because the rejection stings too much. A lot of times when we do finally have sex he seems halfhearted, and can’t stay hard or climax. That does a lot to dampen the entire situation. I am trying to be understanding, and patient. He is very affectionate otherwise. But I know that he is a very sexual person, and he’s not that old. I feel hurt and rejected and it’s hard for me not to just shut down or get upset.

I know that you will probably respond by saying that we didn’t date long enough before getting married. Considering the circumstances and what was going on, we didn’t feel like that was an option. We are committed to each other and we love each other very much. I know this is far from an ideal situation, but we are both dedicated to making it work, and things have gotten a lot better in other areas of life, and my children are doing so much better than they were a year or two ago, in just about every way. So, do I need to just swallow it and adjust? I’m afraid that, over time, the frustration will build up in me and make negative changes in my personality. I don’t know what to do, or if I am talking myself out of being happy.

A: Actually, I’m not going to tell you you didn’t date long enough before getting married. You love each other very much. Your husband has taken on the role of being a parent to your children. You got your children out of a dangerous situation and you are now offering them a healthier role model for what a marriage should be. This all sounds very positive to me.

I think your other guess may be more on target. Why on earth would you trust being happy? You’ve been through so much. The man you loved enough to marry turned out to be dangerous. The man you dated for awhile couldn’t take the stress of the situation and left. My guess is that there is at least a part of you that is waiting for your husband to turn on you too. Unable to take the tension, you might provoke the very thing you fear – just to get it over with.

Here’s the thing: You married a man who is 50. He isn’t that old but he is old enough to have some sexual performance issues. On top of that, he is working very hard to help you support the family financially and emotionally. He’s probably tired at the end of the day. He is also dealing with your disappointment that he isn’t able whenever you are willing. Fearing he’ll be a disappointment guarentees that he will be.

My suggestion? Slow way down. You two are still “dating” even though you are married. Try to let yourself rest easy in the love and care of someone who loves you enough to take on this whole package. There are many, many men who wouldn’t. If it’s possible, carve out some time for just the two of you to relax and snuggle each evening – with no expectation of sex. Just enjoy the luck of having found each other at this stage in your lives. If possible, find a way to have the house to yourselves now and then for some private intimate contact. Just enjoy getting to know each other’s bodies. Pleasure each other with back rubs and caresses. My guess is that if you can stop feeling defensive and “rejected”, and can instead focus on appreciating all you have, he will be able to relax and regain his sexual abilities.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Feb 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Am I talking myself out of being happy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/02/24/am-i-talking-myself-out-of-being-happy/