[Two Pronged] Is it worth it to stay in this relationship?
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I read your articles and answers to private issues, hence thought of writing.
I'm in my early 40s and look much younger. I'm physically fit and have been married for 5 years now. My husband and I used to have sex a few times a month initially, but now it is not once in a year! I'm so frustrated and unhappy in this marriage. I have tried everything, from speaking to him to trying to get him to a counselor. But he refuses any help.
He never ever initiates sex, not even kissing or even touching. He sleeps in a separate room and gets very angry if I try to initiate sex or even touch him.
He is obese, has high blood pressure, high sugar levels, cholesterol, gout, and several other health issues. He only loves to eat and never exercises. He starts a fight if anyone tells him to exercise or eat healthy.
This is my second marriage and I have tried everything possible to make it work, especially for the sake of my teenage son.
But I'm increasingly frustrated and unhappy being in this marriage. I have started putting on weight too and feel ugly all the time, though I used to be very attractive 'til a few years back.
I'm very unhappy in this sexless marriage... please, please help.
Thank you for your email.
I quite understand how much you want this marriage to work, both for yourself and for your son, but the picture you paint of your husband (let's call him Bob) is frankly rather unattractive and scarcely a role model for your son, let alone an Adonis for you.
According to your account, he is obese, has several health issues, and is totally opposed to any suggestion that he might change his lifestyle. In addition, he has no sexual interest in you.
It is an axiom of family therapy that the only person you can change is yourself. So, given that Bob is not open to even a discussion of change, it seems logical that any change must fall to you.
Before considering your options, it may be useful to analyze your enthusiasm for making this marriage a success. It seems to be based on two notions: 1) it is a second marriage, the first having perhaps been unsuccessful, so you are doubly keen to make it work, and 2) your son needs to be part of a family with two parents.
While the desire to succeed is admirable, a marriage requires two people with similar aims and Bob is apparently less than cooperative on any terms except his own. This reduces your chances of success drastically unless you just cave in to his demands.
As to your son, children may well want the Hallmark ideal of a perfect family but that does not mean that they will willingly settle for just any stepfather rather than none, especially if it is obvious that the particular stepfather in question makes their mother unhappy. Children are extremely perceptive and very adept at picking up on the undercurrents of parental relationships. It would therefore be surprising if your son is not aware of the strains of your marriage.
Add to this the fact that you and Bob are role models for your son, whether you want to be or not. Do you think that Bob is a good example of the sort of father that you want your son to aspire to be when his turn comes? And would you like him to see your current role as a wife as the model that he should seek himself?
So what are your options? If Bob won't change, you must consider what you can change by yourself. One obvious option is to call it a day and leave the marriage. Another is to make a final attempt to reach some sort of acceptable compromise with Bob, but leaving him in no doubt that you will not stay if he refuses outright.
Best of luck,
Thank you very much for you letter. I am so sorry that you are going through what you are right now. No one needs to suffer that much in a marriage. I agree with what Mr Baer said in his last paragraph about what options are left to you at this point. In fact, I might be stricter and add that, if he chooses the latter of reaching some sort of compromise, make sure this is not just a time-delaying tactic. No matter what he agrees on, if he doesn’t follow through in a week? A month? (basta no longer than a month, okay?) leave him, because he will not change under the circumstances you are both living in. HE might change after (though that seems unlikely) but only if he knows there is no other way he can keep you.
In the over 3 years we have been writing Two Pronged, this is the first time I feel Mr Baer has more than adequately answered a letter (Joke! Joke!) and so, as a clinical psychologist, bear with me if I try to put your behavior in context, okay?
Was there no inkling he might behave this way before you married him?
Did he already have high blood pressure, high sugar levels, cholesterol, gout, and several other health issues? It is understandable if you didn’t know about all that before you got married, and maybe even that he only loves to eat and never exercises. Was he already obese then? And what about his openness to any suggestions you made, like asking him to exercise or eat healthily (perhaps with you)?
I ask, only because I wonder if you had warning of his undesirable traits before you married him. Or, was all this unacceptable behavior something that crept up and became more and more obvious as the years went on?
I firmly believe that most people do the best they can under the specific circumstances they find themselves are in. So this is not an exercise in laying blame at all. Instead, this exercise is trying to discover what role you may have unwittingly played that contributed to the present situation you find you and your son in.
In the same way you may have played a role in your present situation, you can also play a role in whatever future situation you wish to find yourself in. It will be a much more significant role too, because now you are aware of your power and can harness it towards your goals.
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.