Advise on a disinterested spouse


#1

Greetings –

I write requesting advise either within this thread, or privately, about how to resolve a concern I am having.

I’ve been happily married for six years this past week. My wife and I celebrated our anniversary with gifts and a fun evening out with dinner and the theater.

Both me and my wife are devoted to one another, and we have two wonderful children, five and almost two. We have what we both believe to be a happy marriage with the regular ups and downs that we agreed to under the “in good times and in bad…”, nothing unusual there.

The problem is a conjugal one. In the past three years, my wife and I have only been with one another three times, and once was to conceive our youngest. Friends with whom I’ve shared this have been shocked by my steadfastness, and their suggestions about ultimatums or threats of divorce/annulment have fallen on my deaf ears, as I do not consider that method of resolution to this matter reasonable nor effective.

My wife has been in therapy for other reasons (unhappy with jobs, dealing with the death of a parent, sibling rivalry, questions about her being a fit parent, etc), , and I have occasionally (on request) attended in an effort to offer another perspective on those issues for her benefit, and to also raise my concerns about intimacy, and no matter of solution has resolved this issue.

My appearance has not changed since we were married – I am approximately the same “level of physical attractiveness” as I was back then, she remains equally attractive to me as she was then (i.e. there’s been no change which would affect our outwards appearances to diminish desire).

We are both actively involved in our children’s lives, making approximately equal (although, of course, variations on levels change from time to time) contributions to the family well being.

During times of frustration or depression I have been supportive, and supportive during per professional challenges. I am 38, she 33, so there’s no “expected” diminishment of libido as would occur in one’s 40’s.

While we were intimate at the beginning of our relationship, it’s gone steadily downhill to where it is now. Words from the Monsignor ring in my ears “…unwillingness to be intimate with a spouse is a form of infidelity to the marriage…” has given me pause. A search on the internet turned up this forum, which lead me to Canon Law 1151, and small parts of the subsequent Canons (i.e. there’s been no adultry on my part, nor I believe, on hers) which apply, and Canon 1151 seems to, in part, validate what the Monsignor says. I am sure that others address this unwillingness on my wife’s part as well, although I don’t know which might.

I guess I’m not sure what advice is out there to resolve this, but I am open to hearing other perspectives.

Sincrely,
The spouse of a disinterested spouse


#2

Well…what does your wife say about all of this?

What is her explanation for not wanting relations or choosing not to be intimate with you?


#3

[quote=DistresedSpouse]Greetings –

I write requesting advise either within this thread, or privately, about how to resolve a concern I am having.

I’ve been happily married for six years this past week. My wife and I celebrated our anniversary with gifts and a fun evening out with dinner and the theater.

Both me and my wife are devoted to one another, and we have two wonderful children, five and almost two. We have what we both believe to be a happy marriage with the regular ups and downs that we agreed to under the “in good times and in bad…”, nothing unusual there.

The problem is a conjugal one. In the past three years, my wife and I have only been with one another three times, and once was to conceive our youngest. Friends with whom I’ve shared this have been shocked by my steadfastness, and their suggestions about ultimatums or threats of divorce/annulment have fallen on my deaf ears, as I do not consider that method of resolution to this matter reasonable nor effective.

My wife has been in therapy for other reasons (unhappy with jobs, dealing with the death of a parent, sibling rivalry, questions about her being a fit parent, etc), , and I have occasionally (on request) attended in an effort to offer another perspective on those issues for her benefit, and to also raise my concerns about intimacy, and no matter of solution has resolved this issue.

My appearance has not changed since we were married – I am approximately the same “level of physical attractiveness” as I was back then, she remains equally attractive to me as she was then (i.e. there’s been no change which would affect our outwards appearances to diminish desire).

We are both actively involved in our children’s lives, making approximately equal (although, of course, variations on levels change from time to time) contributions to the family well being.

During times of frustration or depression I have been supportive, and supportive during per professional challenges. I am 38, she 33, so there’s no “expected” diminishment of libido as would occur in one’s 40’s.

While we were intimate at the beginning of our relationship, it’s gone steadily downhill to where it is now. Words from the Monsignor ring in my ears “…unwillingness to be intimate with a spouse is a form of infidelity to the marriage…” has given me pause. A search on the internet turned up this forum, which lead me to Canon Law 1151, and small parts of the subsequent Canons (i.e. there’s been no adultry on my part, nor I believe, on hers) which apply, and Canon 1151 seems to, in part, validate what the Monsignor says. I am sure that others address this unwillingness on my wife’s part as well, although I don’t know which might.

I guess I’m not sure what advice is out there to resolve this, but I am open to hearing other perspectives.

Sincrely,
The spouse of a disinterested spouse
[/quote]

If this is all you have for information on this thats a problem in and of it’s self. Is your commuication good? Do you talk to her about the things that bother her so she feels validated? Can she be open with you in a manor she is comfortable with?

Theology of the body might help as something to study together. Things like gift of self spoken of by JP2 are great things in the union of two people in Gods covenant. Sounds like there is something on a foundational level that is broken here that you either dont know or have not posted.

-D


#4

Dr. Laura has a book called The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. I don’t know if there is some way to let her know about it. Have Santa put it in her stocking this year. :slight_smile:


#5

You mentioned that she is in therapy. Not to be overly nosy here, but is she also on antidepressants? I ask because I have friends who have had to change their meds because of decreased (to the point where you and your wife appear to be) sex drive. If she is on meds, perhaps this is something that she can discuss w/ her dr. and maybe change to something that will affect her a bit less in that dept.


#6

Marital ups and downs are normal.

Interest in relations varies with the competition for energy from other activities. If you all have two very young high-energy children (is the older one in school or pre-school?) at home and there are, in addition, other emotional issues to deal with (mourning, sibling conflict, etc.), then it is possible that the wife has not enough energy left at the end of the day to consider relations.

Our family has experienced many of the issues described and, I have to tell you, those issues have really dragged our family members down and sapped their energy.

This is normal. Not desireable, but normal. One situation was so bad, that I described it to a priest in confession. And he even said it was normal. This is not normally a topic for “in the confessional” (it wasn’t a sin issue), but he knew me pretty well and it was a slow Saturday afternoon.

Sleep deprivation is an important issue. Prolonged sleep deprivation can actually cause what appears to be psychosis. If one spouse needs eight or ten hours of sleep each night to function well the next day and the other spouse awakens automatically all bright eyed after five hours, then there is a difference. And it matters a lot. This is a real issue.

Obviously, from a distance, I’m in no position to comment or to offer advice, but I can describe the kinds of things my wife and I have gone through and what some of our friends and relatives have gone through.

Nutrition can be an issue. My wife and I consume tons of vitamins (after years of studying and cautious self-experimentation). Adequate nutrition (more than just grabbing food three or four times a day) is essential.

Sometimes even discussing serious topics can be burdensome if one of the spouses isn’t getting enough sleep or is being berated or reprimanded or rebuked on a constant basis by someone from their family of origin.

My suggestion is to look around and “inventory” the issues that are being forcibly “introjected” onto your spouse. And then ask, “how bad are they depleting your energy?” and “what can I do to help?”

Try it and if you want to email me privately, my email address is on my profile.


#7

check out her meds and she should have her hormone levels tested, all hormones, not just estrogen, esp. thyroid.


#8

Certainly you have talked to your wife about this matter. What is her attitude about all of this? Is she so immersed in her own issues that she cannot see the pain and sadness her decision is causing you?


#9

I have no advice to offer, only prayers, which I send now.


#10

Princess Abby writes:

Well…what does your wife say about all of this? What is her explanation for not wanting relations or choosing not to be intimate with you?

She has no reason for this circumstance. No explanation, only that she’s not interested.

Darrel writes:

If this is all you have for information on this thats a problem in and of it’s self. Is your commuication good? Do you talk to her about the things that bother her so she feels validated? Can she be open with you in a manor she is comfortable with? Theology of the body might help as something to study together. Things like gift of self spoken of by JP2 are great things in the union of two people in Gods covenant. Sounds like there is something on a foundational level that is broken here that you either dont know or have not posted.

I could have written a book…we have solid communications. We discuss seemingly everything, and I am her “go to” person for all issues both personal (i.e. day-to-day sibling issues, parental interference, etc) and professional.

Jenn writes:

You mentioned that she is in therapy. Not to be overly nosy here, but is she also on antidepressants?

Yes, Zoloft…a high dosage. However, this problem preceeded that medication.

Al Masetti writes:

Interest in relations varies with the competition for energy from other activities. If you all have two very young high-energy children (is the older one in school or pre-school?)

Moderate energy – two daughters, 5 and 22 months.

then it is possible that the wife has not enough energy left at the end of the day to consider relations.

It’s not just about the end of the day, it’s about the middle of the day, days when the children are with grandparents, the beginning of the day, i.e. any time.

Cupofkindness writes:

Certainly you have talked to your wife about this matter. What is her attitude about all of this? Is she so immersed in her own issues that she cannot see the pain and sadness her decision is causing you?

Right, we have discussed this, and she offers no explanations or reasons. While I have been (appropriately so) by her side for the death of her father, her highs and lows of jobs, been (appropriately so) supportive after she was fired from a job and jobless for eight months. What is difficult to shoulder is that it’s been my position to be as supportive as I can, and encouraging about new hope for her job, or other issues that affect her, she’s been so dispassionate (sorry for the pun) about the absence of intimacy from the relationship…at times saying (seemingly as a excuse more than her position) that she doesn’t see what it’s so important. I cannot understand how a loving and caring spouse, seeing how the absence of intimacy is affecting our relationship, cannot articulate why her actions (or non-action in this case) are not directed towards fixing the problem. It’s like seeing a dehydrated spouse while holding a water bottle, and not sharing the water, and then not understanding why the suffering spouse is upset and disappointed.


#11

DistressedSpouse, from what you’ve written, it sounds as though your wife is suffering from clinical depression, possibly quite severe. I’ve been down this road with my wife who has suffered through long bouts of depression after the birth of each of our children.

Lack of libido is a common symptom of depression, which is often exascerbated by SSRI medications. If you think about it, did her libido begin to diminish witth the onset of depression symptoms?

I real don’t know what to tell you. Threats and ultimatums are certainly the wrong way to handle this. If her diminished libido is a symptom of depression, there is nothing other than overcoming the depression that will help it. All you can really do is pray and be supportive, and be mindful of your vows. Right now you’re going through an “…in sickness…” passage in your marriage. Be patient, be loving, be understanding, and take a lot of cold showers.


#12

BINGO. Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. that means, it prevents an enzyme from breaking down or “sucking up” the neurotransmitter serotonin, thereby letting serotonin hang around longer to signal to neurons.

scientists THINK that decreased serotonin is SOME AREAS of the brain is one of the causes of depression. so what they do is basically keep serotonin around longer than it normally would be. this EFFECTIVELY is the same as giving extra serotonin.

they essentially slam the system with a hammer, and say “OK, all better”. it is very much like whacking your old TV when the picture gets fuzzy. you slam it once or twice, and the picture becomes clear again. it is a quick fix to the underlying problem. that is, instead of replacing the vacuum tube, you just hit it repeatedly.

the same applies with depression. we dont know how to replace the faulty component, so we just whack away.

NOW: when you increase serotonin ALL OVER THE PLACE, you are throwing some areas off balance. the brain reacts accordingly, and “tones down” activity in those regions.

**Zoloft’s side effects are well-documented, and include markedly decreased sex drive. **

PLEASE NOTE: for you psychology gurus out there i have OVERLY SIMPLIFIED the explanation here to try and make it clear. i doubt this man understand pharmokinetics and/or neurophysiology enough for me to describe long-term pre and post-synaptic potentiation or depression. or describe redistrubution of 5HT receptors and selective inhibition of excititory inputs from serotinergic neurons onto dopaminergic targets such as the nucleus accumbens.


#13

[quote=DistresedSpouse] I cannot understand how a loving and caring spouse, seeing how the absence of intimacy is affecting our relationship, cannot articulate why her actions (or non-action in this case) are not directed towards fixing the problem.
[/quote]

Of course she can’t, that’s part of the problem of being clinically depressed. It’s something one can’t describe in words. You can ask 20 pinpointed direct questions and you’ll get the same, “I just don’t” response. They don’t know why. They just know they don’t.

A depressed person is not in control of their emotions, their perspective on the world, everything just implodes within them, it’s draining beyond words, but you can’t understand that because you’ve never felt it. Thank the Lord you’ve been spared so far and start realizing just how much your wife needs you in her life.

Your wife has gone through some heavy ordeals and she’s on a large dose of Zoloft to boot. You are expecting this to pass, but depression doesn’t pass if it’s chronic. It’s a lifelong condition that you and she will have to learn how to adapt to like any other medical condition. As the other poster noted, this is that part of the vows ‘in sickness and in health’ that you’re having to deal with early in your marriage and perhaps for a lifetime. Begin looking at this in the long term and it will help you get through the short term. If it turns out the depression is not chronic and hormone or stress related then it will indeed respond positively to therapy and medications in time (no one can predict how much time) and since you are operating on long-term mode when that happens it will be that much sweeter. But to expect it on your timetable is just setting yourself up for disappointment and adding undue pressure on your wife.

The sooner you adjust your thinking, your perspective on the situation away from what you aren’t getting to really what stage of progress your wife is at, the sooner you will be able to appreciate your relationship with her as it is. Certainly it wasn’t what you expected, but what is in life, really?

Your marriage can still be unitive by other means but you’re the one who’s going to have to be extending the hugs, cuddles, kisses, caresses, hand holding without it leading to more. If that’s all your wife is capable of returning then it’s what she has to give, welcome it, appreciate it, be thankful for it. I know it doesn’t seem fair to give and give without getting something in return, but that is what love is all about. Just love her as she is in the ways she is able to let you demonstrate. It takes the pressure and guilt off her and trust me, pressure and guilt are the last things a person suffering with depression needs piled on to her.

In time, with more help from psychiatrists, perhaps switching medications, your patience and understanding will be rewarded, especially if the two of you pray together constantly, thanking God for your love, your marriage, your children, for being able to connect in the ways you’ve managed to establish for now.

If the depression gets really bad coupled with anxiety attacks or she withdraws from life perhaps you can ask the priest for the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.


#14

[quote=YinYangMom]Of course she can’t, that’s part of the problem of being clinically depressed. It’s something one can’t describe in words. You can ask 20 pinpointed direct questions and you’ll get the same, “I just don’t” response. They don’t know why. They just know they don’t.

A depressed person is not in control of their emotions, their perspective on the world, everything just implodes within them, it’s draining beyond words, but you can’t understand that because you’ve never felt it. Thank the Lord you’ve been spared so far and start realizing just how much your wife needs you in her life.

Your wife has gone through some heavy ordeals and she’s on a large dose of Zoloft to boot. You are expecting this to pass, but depression doesn’t pass if it’s chronic. It’s a lifelong condition that you and she will have to learn how to adapt to like any other medical condition. As the other poster noted, this is that part of the vows ‘in sickness and in health’ that you’re having to deal with early in your marriage and perhaps for a lifetime. Begin looking at this in the long term and it will help you get through the short term. If it turns out the depression is not chronic and hormone or stress related then it will indeed respond positively to therapy and medications in time (no one can predict how much time) and since you are operating on long-term mode when that happens it will be that much sweeter. But to expect it on your timetable is just setting yourself up for disappointment and adding undue pressure on your wife.

The sooner you adjust your thinking, your perspective on the situation away from what you aren’t getting to really what stage of progress your wife is at, the sooner you will be able to appreciate your relationship with her as it is. Certainly it wasn’t what you expected, but what is in life, really?

Your marriage can still be unitive by other means but you’re the one who’s going to have to be extending the hugs, cuddles, kisses, caresses, hand holding without it leading to more. If that’s all your wife is capable of returning then it’s what she has to give, welcome it, appreciate it, be thankful for it. I know it doesn’t seem fair to give and give without getting something in return, but that is what love is all about. Just love her as she is in the ways she is able to let you demonstrate. It takes the pressure and guilt off her and trust me, pressure and guilt are the last things a person suffering with depression needs piled on to her.

In time, with more help from psychiatrists, perhaps switching medications, your patience and understanding will be rewarded, especially if the two of you pray together constantly, thanking God for your love, your marriage, your children, for being able to connect in the ways you’ve managed to establish for now.

If the depression gets really bad coupled with anxiety attacks or she withdraws from life perhaps you can ask the priest for the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
[/quote]

This is great advice. Have you also considered seeing her therapist, yourself? Not with her at first, but separately and expressing your own issues with all of this? The therapist will know your wife very well, including her defense mechanisms and also what is realistic to expect from her right now. Perhaps she can help you two work together and slowly compromise. It might be baby steps at first, as she learns to realize the demand for sex is not there but you just want to hold her and kiss her. Then as that becomes more comfortable, touching etc and slowly moving into more of what you are wanting but in such a way that allows her to feel safe and understood. It will take a lot of selflessness on your part, and it sounds like you’ve built a good foundation to be able to do so. Just remember to give it to God and throw away your resentment. He will be faithful to you. Be faithful to him, your wife and your vows.


#15

[quote=YinYangMom]A depressed person is not in control of their emotions, their perspective on the world, everything just implodes within them, it’s draining beyond words, but you can’t understand that because you’ve never felt it. Thank the Lord you’ve been spared so far and start realizing just how much your wife needs you in her life.
[/quote]

Amen.

YinYangMom, you’re entire post is filled with wise words, but this had me nodding so hard my head nearly fell off.


#16

Distressed Spouse,

I agree that it sounds as though your wife’s lack of libedo may be founded in a clinical depression, and as she attempts to get her depression under control with Zoloft, she exaserbates the lack of libedo.

I’m sorry that she isn’t responding to your discomfort in a healthier way than what you describe. I can imagine it’s very distressing to you to feel unappreciated and unsupported in this way.

You may want to try going to either a Marriage Encounter or Retrouvaille weekend, both of which are designed to improve your marriage. The Retrouvaille program is designed for marriages having difficulties whereas the Marriage Encounter weekend is designed for improving already healthy marriages. While you suggest that all (besides this one issue) is well with your marriage, I personally think you may want to try the Retrouvaille weekend, but you can discuss this with your wife and the weekend co-ordinators. You may ultimately decide on one program vs the other based on which has a better schedule, as you seem to qualify for either.

I suspect that despite your firm belief that you have been the rock upon which your marriage rests, that you may have a part in her lack of libedo, even if unwittingly. Be open to the possibility that your wife may not be having all her marital needs as well met as you think. Be prepared to listen.

Also be prepared to share with her your desire to be with her. Help her to understand that you still love her and share all the things about her that make her attractive to her. Try being emotionally vulnerable with her. You may want to try wooing her without expecting an immediate payback.

Women need communication on emotional issues, not merely the logistical demands of the day. This is one way in which we’re wired differently.

Good Luck and God Bless,

CARose


#17

[quote=Lapsed]Amen.

YinYangMom, you’re entire post is filled with wise words, but this had me nodding so hard my head nearly fell off.
[/quote]

I’ll second that. I have read that the depression can actually prevent the person from retaining positive thoughts. Imagine having no recollection at the end of a day, of the good things that occurred. No wonder it affects physical intimacy and even the friendship aspect of a relationship.

It is hard to remain sympathetic all the time though. It hurts to be rejected time and time again. Others can explain why the rejection occurs, but it still hurts. To do everything right in the hopes things might improve but then not see positive results is painful and it can lead to depression in the spouse of a depressed person as well. To do good and then not have the other person remember it seems futile much of the time.

I recommend education for those living with a depressed person. There are may things that can be done to help and unfortuantely many that only make matters worse. The more we know the better off we are.

On a more positive note…I have read stories of people who’s spouses eventually overcame depression, even after many years. When and if this occurs, the previously depressed person is so grateful looking back…that he stuck with her…that he loved her anyway…that he never gave up on her…that he picked up the slack when she wasn’t able. Like so many things previously overlooked that then come into view.

It is encouraging to think there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. If the reward only comes in the next life, well, it still will not have been a waste, for we will have learned what it means to love.


#18

While I think it is crucial to check out her medications side effects and how it may be causing low libido - you stated that this “lack of desire” preceded her taking Zoloft.

The suggestions to read “Theology of the Body” were excellent. Particularly Christopher West’s book “Good News About Sex & Marriage.” These will help open her eyes and heart regarding marriage and hopefully answer some misconceptions (many that I myself had) regarding the “marital debt” as it is sometmes called.

Also, Dr. Laura’s book, as previously mentioned, “The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands” is most excellent! It has opened MANY wives eyes and hearts and turned back toward their husbands.

I also want to add that it is so very true that even if she is “not in the mood” or lacks “desire” - that if she, out of nothing more than LOVE for you - gives herself to you, not only will she be fulfilling her marital vows (as it is a grave sin to deny your spouse the marital embrace) - but she very well may find that she enjoys it more than she thought she would.
Kind of - the more you do it the more you desire it.
There is even a biological/spiritual reality to this. It is how God designed it!

My prayers go out to you.


#19

Zoloft is only one of many anti-depressants available these days. Each of them works slightly differently. Some work for some people and not for others.

Owing to biochemical individuality, it is possible that Zoloft may not be working for your wife.

You might want to do some internet research on alternative anti-depressants and then discuss with her doctor the possibiity of changing to a different drug.

I don’t know how long she has been on Zoloft; it can take a few weeks to become fully effective, but if the choice works, there should be a remarkable and very positive, very noticeable, change in outlook.

Unfortunately, selection tends to be a trial and error procedure. In addition, each of the anti-depressants may have different side effects, again based on bio-chemical individuality.

But, if the Zoloft has been in use for more than a few months with no effect, then consideration should be given to making a change.


#20

[quote=Chris W]I’ll second that. I have read that the depression can actually prevent the person from retaining positive thoughts. Imagine having no recollection at the end of a day, of the good things that occurred. No wonder it affects physical intimacy and even the friendship aspect of a relationship.

It is hard to remain sympathetic all the time though. It hurts to be rejected time and time again. Others can explain why the rejection occurs, but it still hurts. To do everything right in the hopes things might improve but then not see positive results is painful and it can lead to depression in the spouse of a depressed person as well. To do good and then not have the other person remember it seems futile much of the time.

I recommend education for those living with a depressed person. There are may things that can be done to help and unfortuantely many that only make matters worse. The more we know the better off we are.

On a more positive note…I have read stories of people who’s spouses eventually overcame depression, even after many years. When and if this occurs, the previously depressed person is so grateful looking back…that he stuck with her…that he loved her anyway…that he never gave up on her…that he picked up the slack when she wasn’t able. Like so many things previously overlooked that then come into view.

It is encouraging to think there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. If the reward only comes in the next life, well, it still will not have been a waste, for we will have learned what it means to love.
[/quote]

Also very good advice. The OP could certainly benefit from attending some health education courses offered through the local hospital/medical center with regards to depression and living with people suffering from it. I know our community hospital offers such courses.

If his hospital does not, then I would definitely recommend he meet with her therapist and sign up for his own therapy with him/her to help him learn how to help his wife through this. That is part of the reason he is so frustrated, he’s helpless not knowing what to do, how to approach her. He’s dealing with her as if she had control of her reason so he expects rational and reasonable responses from her when there are none to be offered.

Education is key. Thanks from bringing that up.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.