Overcoming Sexual Rejection

Dear Dr. Patti:

I am getting a divorce after a 15-year loveless marriage. I was denied most of the 15 years, and the last time he and I were together sexually was in 1994. Before that, I was lucky to get it three nights in a row once a year. I have found answers to my relationship in the last year -- he didn't find me sexy, he never loved me ... he even says he preferred masturbation to me. He has destroyed me mentally and I don't want him back, but it doesn't make it easy to trust in a new relationship. What do I do now? Is this behavior normal? He refused me for most of the 15 years, and just for future reference, I would like to know what to do in a relationship where this is happening. Also, what are ways to tell if a man truly loves you?



Dear F:

This is a complex question, and not all of it has to do with sex. Strangely enough, when I read of your husband's reply to your persistent inquiries about his abandonment of your marital bed, I have a feeling that this is his way of bowing out. I wonder whether this is his way of making sure that you stop expecting sex from someone who can't give it, for whatever reasons. In a committed long-term relationship, sex is but one part of the mix. Often in surveys of marital satisfaction, issues such as companionship, good friends, communication, shared values and, of course, the kids score high on the list; sexual intimacy trails far behind. That does not deny the real needs that one has for touch, closeness, being appreciated at a physical level and just good old-fashioned sexual pleasure.

My suspicions are that he probably did love you and find you sexy but couldn't sustain that bond. It's HIS stuff speaking and your needs remaining unmet. Although some men do report that they gain more pleasure and satisfaction from touching themselves, many more report that the act of sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual intimacy with a partner far surpass that joy. Both are legitimate forms of sexual expression, and quite different. Perhaps he has come to a juncture in his life where this just feels better, physically, emotionally and in ways that defy decoding. It probably takes far less "work" for him to release his sexual desire solo than to confront the issues between the two of you.

I suggest you begin a process of rediscovery of who you were, are and want to become as a sexual person again. Perhaps some counseling is in order for you to home in on the part of this relationship that you played so that you may avoid repeating self-defeating patterns. Find ways to re-establish your sense of self-worth and especially of your value as a woman. That may take some time and real work on your part. Finally, I suggest that you give yourself permission to forgive yourself. I know that may seem odd, but this is mostly about your husband and his inability to stay connected intimately to you, not about your sexiness or your worthiness.

Forgiving both yourself and him will take you far along on your healing road to a new life. Read all you can, and join a support group in your area, if you can. I suggest you use the chat here to talk to other women who have similar stories and find some peace about all of this.