Help! I Feel Abandoned In My Own Marriage!

Chris Grace - September 4, 2018

Dear CMR,

My husband and I have been married 30+ years. He suffers from depression and takes medication. Here is my question: We have not been intimate in 5 years, and while he pursues going to the doctor for his physical and mental health, he does not pursue finding out why he has no desire for sex or intimacy. What can I do? I feel abandoned.

Signed, 

Feeling Abandoned


Dear Abandoned,

I assume your husband previously had desire and interest in sexual activity with you, thus making his low sexual desire something he acquired. The lack or absence of desire for sexual activity and intimacy is often referred to as inhibited or hypoactive sexual desire. It is considered a disorder based on the length of time it has been going on, its relational impact (e.g., feelings of abandonment), and the distress it is causing to a marriage. In other words, your situation is not healthy or normal. And while causes are varied, it is probably related to issues such as:

  • Depression, and/or a side effect of antidepressant medication
  • Hormonal imbalance, especially low levels of testosterone, and out of whack sexual arousal hormones, like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin
  • A learned response and vicious cycle, whereby longstanding sexual dysfunction creates self-esteem and relationship issues, impacted by stress, lifestyle or other behavioral choices.

What should you do? You and your husband need to take steps to get this addressed, the sooner the better. If you sense your husband is hesitant or embarrassed to bring it up to his doctor, continue to show him patience and understanding. Being supportive and encouraging will hopefully help him make the appointment.

Once there, he needs to ask his doctor to change his medication, or at least find out if there is a medical explanation for his lack of desire. At the same time, find a good therapist. Once a doctor or therapist identifies the cause, treatment can then be based on this. It is likely you will both need to be involved in therapy, focusing on more on relationship  (conflict and communication) issues, and helping you both come to terms and adapt, whereby both feel understood and satisfied.

Bottom line: You feel abandoned because you are. For 5 years your most intimate relationship has been missing key elements of connection: Being desired, pursued and sexually intimate with each other. Sexual desire has physical, psychological and spiritual aspects, and all marriages go through seasons. Be encouraged, and don't lose hope. In a survey of 1,000 married couples by Debra Fileta (Choosing Marriage), 61% reported that differences in sexual desire and attraction was the top struggle they faced in their sexual relationship. And most couples find that they can rebuild their intimacy. There are good and reputable treatment options, and some good people working on this. Here are some resources:

 

  1. Dr. Michael Sytsma from Building Intimate Marriages (a Christian approach) https://intimatemarriage.org

 

  1. Sexuality and Sex Therapy, by Mark Yarhouse and Erica Tan, which grounds sex therapy in the biblical affirmation of physicality and the redemptive purposes of human life, and is recommended more for your doctor or therapist, especially if they need a good Christian resource or perspective.

 

  1. CMR resources, like this video https://cmr.biola.edu/blog/2017/jul/12/how-communicate-dissatisfaction-your-partner/



 

 


 


Chris Grace

Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.


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