You are certainly in a very difficult situation. Your husband has been very unkind and unfair to you, abusing you for decades, refusing to give you the children you dearly wanted, refusing you the love-making and out-of-the-bedroom loving that any wife deserves. And you have stayed for 36 years. Wow! What endurance and faithfulness! If I can picture anyone being carried by the Lord when there’s “only one set of footsteps in the sand” behind you, it’s you.
I know nothing about the annulment process, I am not a marriage counselor, I have no professional qualifications whatsoever. What is an “IC” that you have been seeing who advises you to leave? If your husband were still abusing you, you would certainly be well within your rights to leave; you have no obligation to endure anyone’s abuse. However, didn’t you say your husband has changed his ways, the abuse has stopped, he is trying to live a better life?
I am going to ask you some hard questions. Please forgive me for the pain this must cause you. Did you not make your marriage vows “in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad?” I know when people are young and happily in love, they don’t think of bad times coming, but isn’t that the promise we make at the altar? What if everyone left their spouses when times become hard? At some point, mature and authentic love must become more than a feeling, but a choice, a decision to act for the good of the other person. Does that not apply when the other person fails to reciprocate? “I’ll only act with love toward you if you act with love toward me?” Yes, your husband has treated you badly. Will you now stoop to his level and do the same by leaving him, now when he’s trying to do better by you? Can you forgive him, for your own sake as well as his, not just “seven times, but seventy times seven times?” If your husband is ill, perhaps he will die before you. Will you be able to sit by his deathbed with a clear conscience? That you loved him (acted for his good) to the best of your ability? That you did everything you could to be “Christ’s eyes, hands, and feet on earth” to him? That you earned a “Well done, my good and faithful servant” on your judgment day? God doesn’t promise anyone happiness here on earth, only happiness with Him in Heaven, when every tear will be wiped away.
I am NOT suggesting you just suffer and live in misery. Do what you can to improve the marriage relationship, alone, if necessary. Although, if your husband has been engaging in any kind of introspection with his anger management in order to keep you and with his disease diagnosis, this may be a time in his life when he’s open to working to improve things. Would he oblige you if you asked him for very concrete things like words of thanks, compliments, a hug, flowers occasionally? If you led the way in that area by example? Do talk with a Catholic/Christian counselor who values the sanctity of marriage and hence won’t advise you to give up too soon. Call Focus on the Family at 1-800-A-FAMILY for advice, encouragement, support, and to connect you with a local Christian counselor? On a related issue, if your husband stopped marital relations to prevent children, might he be open to resuming relations when menopause is reached and that no longer worries him? This will take some courtship and healing and getting out of old habits, I’m sure.
In other areas, can you find work outside the home – for pay or unpaid volunteer work – that can be a source of satisfaction? Maybe work with kids to at least partially satisfy that yearning? Tutoring? Big Sisters? Mentoring troubled kids? You’ll be able to understand their feelings of rejection and lack of love better than many, so maybe you can be more patient with them than others could. Take classes on a subject that interests you? Take up nutritious cooking and exercise to maintain your own good health, both physical and mental? Adopt a pet to nurture? Pursue (chaste) outside friendships? Could these outlets perhaps fill some part of what’s missing in your marriage, I hope? And of course, there’s prayer and the Sacraments, asking God to fill your needs, which I’m assuming have been sustaining you this long while. Otherwise, how you’ve done it, I can’t imagine.
I know staying in this relationship would be hard, hard, hard. I’m sorry to cause you pain by suggesting that leaving may not be the right thing, the Christian thing, to do in this situation. I hope I’m giving you the right advice, but I don’t know and can’t know that. I’ve been praying for you and will continue to do so in the days ahead.