Work as Avoidance Technique

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My husband of 21 years has a very stressful job. Up until 2 years ago he was able to balance extensive travel and time home with myself and our 3 children. Our sex life was basically normal, once a week or so. Rock solid marriage. But one day I realized it had been over a month and we had not made love. So one night we tried and realized my husband was unable to have an erection. Not alarming, but not normal. So we tried again 2 days later and the same results. He was 44 at the time. Thinking he was suffering from a medical issue he went to a urologist who just prescribed Viagra. Another doctor tested for testosterone, all normal. I know now that its in his head. We have always had an issue in our marriage for early ejaculation and just never addressed it just dealt with it.

The problem is after two years he has completely pulled away from me in every way physically. No touching, hand holding, kissing and certainly no sex. I blame his job his bosses never compliment, always second-guess and criticize. He tells me when there are big confrontations that he is able to compartmentalize and that is what he has done with our sex life. He says he doesn’t think about it. What does that mean? I know he is afraid to try again in case he fails and I say how will we know will unless we try.

His solution is to travel and be away even more from the family. To the point he is gone all week and is now starting to leave on Sundays. When he is home he really isn’t. He is distant, doesn’t talk to me or the kids, sleeps all the time, his mind is always on the job. He answers phone calls and runs into the office constantly. He is a regional manager and is in charge of 11 facilities. Busy, busy man with lots of responsibilities. How can I help him understand that he is running away and not wanting to deal with the issues of just being a human being. Says he doesn’t believe in counseling not sure I could get him to go. I do believe he still cares but not sure.

A: I think your analysis of the situation is correct. Your husband’s fears about not being able to perform are bigger than his concern for his 21 year marriage. Imagine how big those fears must be! The doctors who were trying to help weren’t helpful in that they treated the physical problem without taking into account the emotional message of their interventions. I wish they had talked to him about how normal it is for a man who is under lots of pressure to have trouble performing. I wish they had included you in the discussions.

You probably can’t help him understand that he is running away. At this point, he’s had 10 years of believing that whatever is wrong can’t be fixed. For that reason, I think it would be more helpful for you to start going to a therapist yourself — not because I think you are the patient here but because your relationship is in trouble. When one member of a couple has a problem, the couple has a problem. When one member of a couple starts to go to therapy and starts learning new ways to manage stress, it shows. Often that makes the other member of the couple willing to give it a try. Work with a therapist who can hear your whole story and who can give you suggestions about how to approach your husband in new ways.

You’ve done what you can on your own. Your husband is a lucky man indeed to have a wife who is as understanding and as willing to help as you are. But both you and your husband are missing out on the intimacy that is a special part of a long marriage. For that reason, I encourage you to make an appointment and get started with therapy.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Nov 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Work as Avoidance Technique. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/11/03/work-as-avoidance-technique/