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.
This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on September 3, 2006.