Sex & Marriage

In the epic breastfeeding thread below, someone brought up another Dear Prudie letter from Tuesday’s column, so let’s discuss:

Sex Is a stumbling block: My wife and I have been together for eight years. We regularly had sex until three years ago, when we got married. Almost immediately after we were married, my wife told me that we couldn’t have sex anymore as she entered therapy for abuse that her father committed to her when she was a child. I’m confused, hurt, and feel that she was less than honest entering into our relationship; it seems as though she hid this until we were lawfully wed and then it was too late for me to back out. I’ve tried to be supportive for the last three years … I’ve respected her request for abstaining from sex and physical intimacy, but although she has regular therapy and the therapist says she’s progressing, I see no end to this situation or any signs of improvement. Am I wrong to question whether this marriage is worth it or not?

A: I hope you’ve had some serious talks these past three years about why she wanted to marry you, why she withheld this crucial information, and what she feels her obligations to this marriage are. It’s terrible that your wife was abused by her father (let’s assume that is true), but she has pulled quite a switcheroo on you. As soon as you became her husband, she decided to punish you for the sins of her father. That therapist has quite a nice sinecure going: three years of payments and no end in sight since there seems to be no clear goal for this treatment. It sounds as if they’ve got you so brainwashed that you feel you’re not allowed to state that you had no intention of entering a celebate marriage and your needs are not being considered or met. I think you should insist on a joint session with the therapist, or a few sessions with a couples therapist, just to try to figure out if resuming conjugal relations is even on your wife’s agenda. If nothing changes in short order, I think the most helpful professional for you will be a divorce lawyer.

So some of Prudie’s advice is totally jacked — like insinuating that the wife might be lying about the abuse, or that she’s pulling a “switcheroo,” or that she’s punishing her husband for the sins of her father. I agree with her that ideally, the wife would have been upfront about this before these two decided to get married — sex, for a lot of people, is a Big Deal, and a necessary part of marriage, and if you are going to withhold sex upon getting married, I think you do have an obligation to tell your partner that, so that your partner can decide whether or not to continue the relationship. And since ending a marriage is much more complex than ending a non-marital relationship, best-case scenario is that you put potential deal-breakers on the table before you tie the knot. So yes, I actually do think it was kind of shitty of the wife to not bring up the whole “I’m going to want to stop having sex” thing before they got married.

That said, of course, we don’t know if that decision was even contemplated before marriage — maybe it wasn’t. And as circumstances change, so do feelings and needs. She has a right to not have sex if she doesn’t want to. That doesn’t make her manipulative or mean.

But I think where Prudie is right on this one is that it’s messed up that the husband doesn’t get to address his own needs. Does the husband have a right to demand sex from his wife? No. Does he have a right to coerce or guilt her into sex? No. But does he have a right to decide that he does not want to be in a celibate marriage, and to present that fact to his wife, and then to leave the marriage? Yes, he does, and he’s not a bad or selfish or unreasonable person for wanting a marriage that includes sex. And does she have the right to evaluate that information in deciding how she wants to proceed? Yes, she does.

324 comments for “Sex & Marriage

  1. Rodeo
    November 30, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Prudie is a dysfunctional communicator who seems to get a kick out of making people’s problems worse than they need to be.

  2. Sheelzebub
    November 30, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Does the husband have a right to demand sex from his wife? No. Does he have a right to coerce or guilt her into sex? No. But does he have a right to decide that he does not want to be in a celibate marriage, and to present that fact to his wife, and then to leave the marriage? Yes, he does, and he’s not a bad or selfish or unreasonable person for wanting a marriage that includes sex.

    Agreed. And while I believe the wife is NOT lying (really, Prudie? REALLY???) I think it’s kind of shitty to announce, after you get married to your spouse, that there will be no more sex, ever, after giving no indication that this would be the case before you got married. Fair enough if you can’t bring yourself to do it (though I’d be really freaked out at the thought that the person I was with for five years prior to my marriage was actually not into it at all). But then set them free to find someone who will. Tell them, “Look, I know it’s not fair to you and I completely understand if you want to end this.”

  3. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    I took it as “no sex for the duration of treatment”, which makes me wonder why this therapist hasn’t, after three years, expected more progress (or has s/he?). It’s not like there’s a magic number of sessions a person has until they’re “cured”, but an ethical therapist will make a conservative judgement call on the type, level, and length of treatment a person is receiving so as not to extend it into the future indefinitely.

  4. FashionablyEvil
    November 30, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I’m pretty cynical about the whole thing. Five years and the wife never thought to disclose this rather relevant piece of personal history? And then they get married and KAPOW! That’s a pretty significant breach of trust to my mind.

    • November 30, 2011 at 1:22 pm

      I’m pretty cynical about the whole thing. Five years and the wife never thought to disclose this rather relevant piece of personal history? And then they get married and KAPOW! That’s a pretty significant breach of trust to my mind.

      I agree. At the same time, though, we don’t know all the circumstances. Maybe she felt fine while they were dating and thought she was over it, but it was entering into marriage and the possibility of children that shifted things for her emotionally. Who knows — big life transitions do often bring up feelings that one didn’t realize they had before. Obviously if she intentionally waited for marriage to stop having sex that is really really fucked up, and from the husband’s description it does sound fishy, but it’s not implausible that this was not contemplated by her. It’s totally possible that neither of them are selfish assholes, just two people who have very different needs and, unless they communicate those needs clearly to each other, may not be able to meet in the middle. And if they can’t meet in the middle, then either of them has the right to end the marriage.

  5. November 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks for this. I totally agree that the wife has a right to refuse sex.

    I really like what Susan Brownmiller has to say on the subject:

    “In the cool judgement of right-thinking women, compulsory sexual intercourse is not a husband’s right in marriage, for such a ‘right’ gives the lie to any concept of equality and human dignity. Consent is better arrived at by husband and wife afresh each time, for if women are to be what we believe we are – equal partners – then intercourse must be construed as an act of mutual desire and not as a wifely ‘duty,’ enforced by the permissible threat of bodily harm or of economic sanctions.”

    The quote is cited on this blog: http://toomuchtosayformyself.com/2009/10/30/your-husband-has-a-right-to-expect-regular-sex/

  6. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    I’m sorry, but this man sounds like a jerk and I don’t trust his description of the situation. I don’t know why everyone is in such a hurry to care so much about what he deserves.

    • November 30, 2011 at 2:09 pm

      Astrea, why does the man sound like a jerk? Because sex is important to him, and he entered into a marriage with the assumption that he would be having sex with his wife? Honestly, if I were in his shoes, I’d be feeling the exact same way.

      • November 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm

        And it’s important to think about what both partners deserve in a relationship. And both partners deserve to have their most important needs met. No one deserves to have their needs met at the expense of someone else’s needs, though. And here, if sex is one of the husband’s non-negotiables, and not-sex is one of the wife’s non-negotiables, then that sounds like a good reason to end the relationship. It doesn’t make either party a jerk. I mean, how would the husband be a not-jerk in this situation? Agree to not have sex or be intimate indefinitely?

  7. November 30, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    There’s a reason that all 50 US states have no-fault divorce: sometimes a marriage becomes inconsistent with one or more participant’s needs, for reasons that are nobody’s fault.

  8. November 30, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I find it impossible to believe that this was some sort of premeditated, or even just callous, “switcheroo” by the wife. I think the writer needs to ask himself some tough questions:
    1) If she foresaw the possibility of needing a celibate period after marriage, what did I do that made her so uncomfortable raising the issue that she had to wait until after we were hitched to bring it up?
    2) What did the words in our wedding vows mean? Why did I say them if I wasn’t ready to make a true commitment to supporting her even if it’s sometimes not super fun times for me? (After all, long-term cohabitation without the commitment of marriage was an option.)
    3) Have I really tried sympathizing with her position (I’m going to guess she’s not exactly thrilled at having such serious issues that she has to take a period of celibacy) and the value she finds in having a supportive partner? Or at least, have I recognized the limits to my ability to really sympathize, and been willing to trust her on the parts I’m missing?

    I’m not saying that he absolutely has to stay in the marriage, but I think serious probing of those sorts of questions will help him a lot more than Prudie’s suggestion to run for the hills if your wife’s not putting out.

    • November 30, 2011 at 2:45 pm

      1) If she foresaw the possibility of needing a celibate period after marriage, what did I do that made her so uncomfortable raising the issue that she had to wait until after we were hitched to bring it up?
      2) What did the words in our wedding vows mean? Why did I say them if I wasn’t ready to make a true commitment to supporting her even if it’s sometimes not super fun times for me? (After all, long-term cohabitation without the commitment of marriage was an option.)
      3) Have I really tried sympathizing with her position (I’m going to guess she’s not exactly thrilled at having such serious issues that she has to take a period of celibacy) and the value she finds in having a supportive partner? Or at least, have I recognized the limits to my ability to really sympathize, and been willing to trust her on the parts I’m missing?

      I think you’re being wildly unfair here. Yes, marriage vows mean supporting each other through not-super-fun times. But pulling the plug on intimacy (not just sex! physical intimacy generally) as soon as you’re married, and having sex indefinitely off the table? I mean… people get married for lots of reasons, but for the vast majority of people there’s an understanding that part of marriage is a sexual relationship. Some sort of sexual relationship. That may wax and wane as the marriages progresses, but “no sex for years and I can’t tell you when or if I will ever have sex with you again” is, understandably, not what a lot of people want to sign up for for the rest of their lives. I would leave a marriage like that. Also, wedding vows have long been quoted to women as a way of saying that they need to provide sex for their husbands because it’s their marital obligation. I think that’s bullshit too. Both parties have a right to have their fundamental needs met.

      As for sympathizing with her position, it sounds like he’s done that. But three years is a long-ass time, and there’s no indication that it’s going to end soon, if ever. That’s not “a period of celibacy.” That is a relationship in which there has not been sex for the duration of the marriage. Three years would test my sympathy, too. I mean, I would still be sympathetic that she has needs and should have the right to refuse sex. But my own needs would have to factor in at some point also. And i think it’s unfair to suggest that someone is selfish or unsympathetic for wanting a marriage that includes sex.

  9. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    You got me jill. It’s just because he wants sex. not because he’s repeating a typical sexist theme of “she trapped me with marriage.”

    He sounds like a jerk for spinning it in a way that portrays his wife as deceptive and him as completely innocent and sympathetic. It rings all kinds of alarms for me.

  10. Matt
    November 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    He should get divorced, full stop.

  11. November 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Florence: I took it as “no sex for the duration of treatment”, which makes me wonder why this therapist hasn’t, after three years, expected more progress (or has s/he?).

    I wonder if the therapist even knows about the rule, to be honest.

  12. Esti
    November 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I agree that Prudie’s advice was a trainwreck, but also that her bottom line was right: if this wife doesn’t want to/can’t engage in any physical intimacy for three years with no end point in sight, and that’s something that’s important to the husband, then I think it’s pretty reasonable for him to consider leaving. I’d like to think that he’s tried to talk with her about the subject before, and I like the suggestion that they try some couples counseling, but ultimately if things are as they say then I couldn’t blame him for leaving.

    But just because he’s not in the wrong doesn’t mean that his wife is. And that’s where I think Prudie really went off the rails — sometimes people have needs that are totally legitimate and real, but are things that are inconsistent with their partner’s legitimate and real needs. I think it’s doubtful that his wife deliberately trapped him in marriage, and I think it’s gross that Prudie even suggested that she might be lying, but those issues are kind of big offensive sideshows distracting from the legitimate point being made — his needs aren’t being met, and he has to decide whether he can live with that. And I think it’s one thing to stick by your partner when they’re going through a rough patch, but another to marry someone and then later be told you will never have sex again and be expected to live the rest of your life that way. If you’re willing to make that adjustment for your partner, that’s fantastic, but I don’t think it’s obligatory.

  13. November 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I think ultimately it comes down to love and compassion. This marriage doesn’t seem to be based on it. Partners I’ve had have been sympathetic and patient towards my own issues of abuse, but I’ve always had the strong need to be a sexual being. If I wasn’t able to be sexually active, for whatever reason, I often felt guilty that I was depriving my partner of something deserved. So even when I wasn’t entirely in the mood, I still complied with their requests of me.

    I’m not sure what sort of therapy the wife is going through here. Sex may be a delicate subject during treatment, but to end up in complete celibacy is a bit extreme. No therapist or therapeutic modality I know of reduces someone to near asexuality.

  14. November 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    If someone got me into a hard to escape situation and cut me off of a basic part of love, be it sex or emotional support, I’d be frustrated or pissed, too. Cut him some slack. Three years of enduring this treatment from his wife, whether she meant it or not, is a long fucking time.

  15. Lindsay Beyerstein
    November 30, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I wonder whether the wife fell under the sway of a bad therapist. Maybe the therapist started telling her she needed to swear off sex in order to heal from this trauma. That might explain why she suddenly swore off sex after being fine with it for years.

    Or, maybe marriage itself brought up new psychosexual issues for her. It’s really cruel to insinuate that she’s using her history of sexual abuse as front to deny sex to the man she “tricked” into marriage.

    In any event, I wonder whether the therapist is doing a good job if she’s still celibate after three years of therapy. Is s/he advocating this as part of treatment?

    It might be worth trying a new therapist, plus a couples’ counselor before heading to the divorce attorney.

  16. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    I’m not going to cut any man some slack when he takes such care to frame himself as the victim of an abuse survivor’s self care, just because that self care doesn’t appear to be doing very well.

    • November 30, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      I’m not going to cut any man some slack when he takes such care to frame himself as the victim of an abuse survivor’s self care, just because that self care doesn’t appear to be doing very well.

      But he is kind of a victim of that self-care though. That isn’t her fault, and she has a right to self-care. But the reality is, having your partner refuse to be intimate with you does feel awful. It does feel lonely. It does undermine your sense of self-worth. It’s a really terrible feeling, and he’s entitled to it. That doesn’t mean that she is intentionally making him feel that way, or that she should be doing anything differently, or that she’s obligated to have sex with him to make him feel better. She is 100% entitled to refuse sex if that’s what she needs (or if that’s just what she wants, under whatever circumstances). But that has very real effects on him. And he is being hurt by the situation. We can have it both ways here, you know? We can recognize that she has every right to do what she needs, but that the outcome of that is that he isn’t getting what he needs, and that sucks and it hurts, and it means that he can leave the relationship.

  17. Rodeo
    November 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I really have no idea where people like you are coming from, Astraea. He IS a “victim,” as you so artfully put it, of her need to care for herself. He feels hurt, confused, and angry and wants to know if sexual incompatibility is a reason to end a relationship. And it is.

    If neither party are getting their needs met (his for sex and hers for support and understanding), why are we vilifying either? They’re both hurting each other, which means it’s time to have an intense conversation, enter couples therapy, or break up.

  18. Q Grrl
    November 30, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    If someone’s self-care is so immense that they can’t do marriage-care, then they need to be an adult and dissolve the marriage. If self-care needs to come first, then it really needs to come first. Otherwise a person is lying to their spouse and is actively deceiving them into thinking that the marriage is viable. The wife has a relationship, the husband has a relationship, and the marriage has a relationship. Respect and consideration are due all three.

  19. Q Grrl
    November 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I should be more clear. She does not owe him sex; however, she does owe him a way out of the contract they have together if she continues to monopolize and re-create the framework of that contract. Non-communication is not benign and his value as a human entity is far greater than her need not to communicate with him.

  20. Rodeo
    November 30, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    QGrrl, I like that part about marriage-care. I sometimes think about my relationship with my partner involving three entities: me, him, and us. I need to care for myself so I can be a decent part of “us,” and same for him. When one of us is going through a rough patch, the other might need to set aside their own self-care to do more heavy lifting for the “us” part.

  21. November 30, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Astraea: I’m not going to cut any man some slack when he takes such care to frame himself as the victim of an abuse survivor’s self care, just because that self care doesn’t appear to be doing very well.

    Just because something shitty happened to you does not mean you have the right to treat other people shittily.

    She has a right to self-care, but she also has an obligation not to put her husband in a bind because of it. Which means that, no, he can’t demand sex from her, but at the same time, she has to tell him what the heck is up with her and her treatment and if things are going to change. She also really should have told him about this before she married him.

  22. November 30, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Yeah that frigid bitch tricked him into marriage with the ole bait and switch! Doesn’t she know men have “needs”? And of course trauma survivors just really get a kick out of prolonged periods where they are too freaked out to do normal human things with the person they love more than anything!

    Next thing you know she’ll oops him into parenthood and then take him to the cleaners in the divorce. Bitches! You know how they are!

    Sex “positivity” (aka SEX SEX SEX UBER ALLES!) has officially destroyed feminism. I would say some of these comments are an embarrassment to the movement but sickeningly, Amanda and Jill ARE the movement now. It’s a true shame.

    • November 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      Yeah that frigid bitch tricked him into marriage with the ole bait and switch! Doesn’t she know men have “needs”? And of course trauma survivors just really get a kick out of prolonged periods where they are too freaked out to do normal human things with the person they love more than anything!

      Next thing you know she’ll oops him into parenthood and then take him to the cleaners in the divorce. Bitches! You know how they are!

      Sex “positivity” (aka SEX SEX SEX UBER ALLES!) has officially destroyed feminism. I would say some of these comments are an embarrassment to the movement but sickeningly, Amanda and Jill ARE the movement now. It’s a true shame.

      ….um. Did you read the post? Because I did not say that she tricked him into marriage — I criticized Prudie for suggesting that, and for using the term “switcheroo.” I’m not saying “men have needs and trauma survivors get a kick out of prolongued periods of celibacy.” I am saying that it sounds like these two people have very different needs, and both of their needs are justified and fair, and it doesn’t make either of them jerks to express those needs. It does maybe mean that the relationship isn’t working.

      What would you suggest, Anonoregonian? He should stick with a marriage that is making him profoundly unhappy and resentful, and not say a word about it?

  23. November 30, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Y’know, I wonder if this flashback-to-past-abuse issue came up *because* of the marriage? Specifically, because of the societal expectation—or even the husband’s suggestion—that they have kids? So, having sex wasn’t an issue *prior to* the marriage because the expecation of not having kids?

    Don’t get me wrong here; I agree that something here doesn’t fit….that a reputable therapist would be able to posit a time-frame for therapy, and would either offer (or refer) couples’ therapy in addition to the wife’s therapy…..but I think it’s entirely possible that her trust issue revolves around not wanting to bring a child into the world to suffer sexual abuse, and that she wasn’t consciously aware of the depth of her fear/distrust of men until after the marriage (and hearing people say, “so, whenya gonna have kids?”). Her sexual abuse by her father (FFS, Prudie! Go fuck yourself with the “assuming that’s true” schtick) was probably *enabled by* her mother. She took the right step by seeing a therapist, but frankly, isn’t it the therapist’s job to bring up the fact that if progress is glacial, either the form of therapy isn’t working or the therapist is wrong for the client? WTF? And if the therapist knows the client is married, and celibacy is part of the healing process, isn’t couples therapy indicated?

  24. Michelle
    November 30, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I might be more judgmental of this guy if he’d written and said, “My new wife just suggested a period of celibacy and we just got married and it’s unfair— waaaah!” But THREE years. That’s not only their entire marriage, but it’s a LONG time.

    I think Jill’s hit the issue in that the wife is more than entitled to find a way to deal with what’s gone on in her past, and is more than entitled to not have sex if that’s what she needs (or even wants to do). But how long do we tell any partner in a relationship to hang around if their needs aren’t at all being met, with no end in sight? A marriage is supposed to support both partners, and at some point, at a bare minimum, some couple’s counseling should have come up to talk about the impact of three years of no sex on a marriage where at least one of those partners still desires sex.

  25. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I’m not exactly sure what the point of this article is. Are we supposed to cry poor man for being manipulated by his wife in entering a sexless marriage? This guy is making it sound like the wife knew all along that she wouldn’t want to have sex after they got married and tricked the husband into marrying her. I wouldn’t blame the guy if he wants to get a divorce but the way he frames the issue, with his wife as a manipulative person isn’t making him sympathetic.

  26. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    The husband has had just as much responsibility to care for the relationhip and communicate with his wife all these years. She didn’t “put him” into this situation, he didn’t get trapped or tricked into it. He willingly committed to a huge commitment. Sometimes in life things don’t go as we planned. He has had plenty
    of options over three years, including communication, suggesting couples therapy, and divorce. Just as many options as she has had.

  27. Q Grrl
    November 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Yeah that frigid bitch tricked him into marriage with the ole bait and switch! Doesn’t she know men have “needs”? And of course trauma survivors just really get a kick out of prolonged periods where they are too freaked out to do normal human things with the person they love more than anything!

    This? This is emotional blackmail. If the “freaked” out wife loves her husband more than anything, that love isn’t going to magically dissolve if the marriage contract is re-negotiated. That isn’t how love works. Or any other human emotion, for that matter. Or contracts, for pete’s sake.

    Just because someone loves someone else “more than anything”, doesn’t mean they get to dictate what that other person does with his or her body. If he has needs for sex, she has no right to tell him he can’t use his own body towards that end. Not her choice. Now, she and he can enter a contract (marriage) in which they stipulate monogamy, but that stipulation is only one of many, and if she isn’t willing to bear the contract to the same degree that he is, he has every right to break the contract.

  28. Sheelzebub
    November 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    I. . .wow.

    I can see we’re going to shame and belittle people who would find sex in their marital/intimate relationships to be important again? He didn’t write in asking how he could “get her” (read: coerce her) to have sex. He said he feels confused and hurt, he’s at the end of his rope, and he’s wondering if he should stick around. My answer would be no. I sure as fuck wouldn’t be sticking around. (And you know, I’ve seen it go the other way as well, with husbands basically telling their wives they’re SOL when it comes to sex.)

    I think it’s extraordinarily shitty to decide that someone is not taking their vows seriously because they find three years of no sex (and being shut out in general) to be untenable. (Didn’t we already go over this before?) I think it’s pretty fucking nasty to decide that he’s got a huge part in her decision to not say anything until after they got married. There could have been all kinds of reasons why she didn’t say anything until after the wedding that has nothing to do with the ethics of either her or him. She has every right to not want sex and to refuse it, and no she should NOT have sex she does not want to make him happy. But at the same time, he should not be shamed into sticking around in a marriage that is proving to be miserable and soul-killing to him.

    She has a right to self-care–no one is saying that she does not. She has the right to never have sex–no one is saying she has to shut her eyes and think of England. HOWEVER, he has a right to leave a marriage that is miserable to him and find someone more compatible. He doesn’t have the right to demand sex from her, and she doesn’t have the right to try and make him stay in a marriage that is lacking in something he feels is very important.

  29. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Who is shaming him for wanting sex? I’m questioning the willingness of so many people to come very close to shaming an abuse survivor for not having sex.

    But I guess people are so focused on defending sex as a dealbreaker that they’re willing to scapegoat a woman and not question a man who poses himself as a victim.

    • November 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      Who is shaming him for wanting sex? I’m questioning the willingness of so many people to come very close to shaming an abuse survivor for not having sex.

      Who’s doing that, though? I agree that Prudie crossed lines, but has anyone on this thread done that? No one has scapegoated her.

  30. tg
    November 30, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    If the wife is refusing sex for this long over events that occurred a long time ago than clearly she is not in the mental state to be involved in a relationship much less a marriage.

    Divorce!

  31. Michelle
    November 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Who is shaming her? I’ve seen several posts indicating that she is well within her rights to NOT have sex, if that’s what she needs to do. Given that sex in a monogamous marriage is a dealbreaker for a lot of people would it have been nice for her to tell him about this before they got married? Sure. It may not have been possible for her to do so, however. Most of the posts I’m reading acknowledge that as well. Honestly, reading this I feel really sad for both of them. I’m not sure how that’s shaming.

  32. No name for this
    November 30, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    There’s a lot of lack of understanding here when it comes to how trauma works. The nature of being triggered by something is that you don’t always know what’s going on or why. Marriage itself can be a huge trigger. You go from being your own person to suddenly being referred to socially as though you were someone else’s property. It may seem like just a few dumb comments from clueless older family members, but it can set off a chain reaction in your head. You go from not being expected to necessarily be sexual unless you choose to into a situation where all of society is telling you that you must–take care of his “needs” do your “wifely duties” consummate, etc. You may see your father at the wedding–maybe for the first time in a while–and he may talk about “giving you away” and essentially transferring ownership. Many of our old-timey wedding traditions center around the woman being transfered from father to husband. Symbolically, the man you trusted enough to marry has put on your father’s hat. That can be tough to grapple with.

    And I think most therapists are useless, even harmful when it comes to this stuff. Either they don’t know what they are doing or they actively use an approach that prolongs the misery. They won’t help you figure out and articulate all the stuff I said above–I had to work that out for myself, over the span of years. They may, if they are clueless, have you dig deeper into the trauma and make it worse and worse and worse. Very, very few therapists are trained in the techniques that actually work to get a survivor OUT of that loop. And if you’re cynical, you can see why–the more chronic the patient, the more money you make. Even if they are a good therapist using the right techniques, it’s a crapshoot as to how well it will work and there can be a lot of set-backs. I would imagine every time Mr. Sensitive here nags her for sex, that’s another big setback.

    I freaked out like an animal in a trap after I got married. We had lived together 4 years and I still freaked out, felt like I would rather die than be where I was. I tried all kinds of crazy things to get away, not even knowing what I was trying to get away from. He didn’t change at all, nor did my feelings for him. What changed was the stuff I mention above. It took 6 years for me to even begin to be able to articulate what was going on like I did in the previous paragraphs. At the time, I could not have told you why I felt the way I did, I just wanted to die all the time. It took another, more obvious trigger (childbirth) for me to realize that the feelings marriage brought up were completely and totally about my prior abuse, and not any of the other things it seemed to be.

    • November 30, 2011 at 3:51 pm

      No Name For This, totally — that’s why I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that things really did change after marriage, and were triggered by the marriage. I agree that it’s unfair to cast her as manipulative. At the same time, if his needs aren’t being met, I don’t think he’s a jerk for leaving the relationship, even under these circumstances.

  33. November 30, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Astraea: She didn’t “put him” into this situation, he didn’t get trapped or tricked into it. He willingly committed to a huge commitment.

    And she changed the terms of that commitment after it was difficult to end it.

    There are two partners in a marriage, and while circumstances do change, unilateral change, especially drastic change, is really something the parties should try to avoid or work through.

  34. tinfoil hattie
    November 30, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    But I guess people are so focused on defending sex as a dealbreaker that they’re willing to scapegoat a woman and not question a man who poses himself as a victim.

    Don’t you know, astraea, that if you have been sexually traumatized for most of your childhood, or even for just a PART of your childhood, you are obligated to be up front about that even before you reconcile yourself to it! And therapy should follow a specific timeline, and if you’re not “better” by then (in this case “better” means “all ready for sex with hubby, now!”), your therapist is probably incompetent, or evil, or maybe you’re even having sex with him/her, as was intimated in the original “Prudence” comments.

    If this man is not getting what he wants from his marriage, then yes, he should leave. Period. But framing it as, “Lying bitch used to like sex but as soon as we got married she clamped her legs shut with some (made-up?) excuse about sexual abuse!” is appalling.

    Has anyone here ever been sexually abused and carried that dysfunction forward into adult life? If not, has anayone here ever read, or listened to, victims of sexual abuse talk about how horribly this ruins lives? Has anyone watched the Oprah episode where men came on and talked about how awful it was? And how most of them had never, ever talked about it? And yeah, their wives had similar sadness, loss, and frustration around the loss of marital sex. It is ALL a HUGE deal.

    And it’s not “zero-sum,” a favorite expression here. It is possible to feel deep empathy for the man who is grieving a great loss AND deep empathy for a woman whose life was RUINED by sexual abuse. This guy, though? He’s not coming across as feeling anyting but “Oh no I can’t fuck my wife now because she deliberately tricked me” in the way the letter was presented.

  35. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    @zuzu

    Ok so? Both your posts imply that the wife manipulated the poor innocent husband into entering a marriage. That’s pretty shitty of you.

  36. November 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    tinfoil hattie: But framing it as, “Lying bitch used to like sex but as soon as we got married she clamped her legs shut with some (made-up?) excuse about sexual abuse!” is appalling.

    It certainly would be if that’s what he were doing.

  37. November 30, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    pawnee: Ok so? Both your posts imply that the wife manipulated the poor innocent husband into entering a marriage. That’s pretty shitty of you.

    No, you infer that. And your characterization is rather insulting (“poor innocent husband”? Bite me).

    Just because someone changes the basis for a marriage because of a reaction to trauma they didn’t anticipate doesn’t mean that they manipulated the other party into the relationship. But it also doesn’t mean that they didn’t change the basis for the relationship. The husband now has a relationship he didn’t bargain for, and he sees no end in sight. Divorcing his wife so he can move on and she can concentrate on dealing with her shit does not make him an asshole.

  38. FashionablyEvil
    November 30, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    I’m questioning the willingness of so many people to come very close to shaming an abuse survivor for not having sex.

    I just don’t see this happening. Her needs and his needs are simply not compatible at this point. This does not make either of them bad people. I do, however, think she had an obligation to disclose what happened to her before they got married.

    • November 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm

      I just don’t see this happening. Her needs and his needs are simply not compatible at this point. This does not make either of them bad people. I do, however, think she had an obligation to disclose what happened to her before they got married.

      I actually don’t think she had that obligation, UNLESS she was aware that she was going to want to stop having sex as soon as they got married. And for reasons others have illustrated, there are good reasons to believe that marriage triggered feelings that she didn’t know she would have. Which places this situation pretty firmly in the “neither of their fault, but still clearly not working” category.

  39. Ryan
    November 30, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Apologies in advance for the digression, but I’ve been struggling with something similar lately and don’t have any other place to air my thoughts or ask advice. My partner of many years functionally ended our sexual relationship four years ago for reasons that were initially partly medical but are now solely psychological/mental. Prior to this our sex life was very active and mutually satisfying. For the first two years I was patient and didn’t press the issue, but for the past two years have been aggressively trying to get us back on track. My partner acknowledges that this is a problem and our communication about the issue has been candid and (usually) civil, if obviously strained. To address it together we’ve tried (i) changing contraceptive methods, (ii) scheduling time for sex, (iii) consulting with doctors, a psychologist, and sex therapists (in both individual and couples sessions), (iv) reading books, (v) watching movies, (vi) incorporating toys and other games into the bedroom.

    The results so far have been underwhelming to say the least. We’ll now have unvaried, uninspiring, cursory sex quarterly to monthly, always on my initiative. We’re frankly out of ideas as to what else to try, but it’s pretty clear sex is only happening at all at this point to placate me. I’m starting to face down the reality that my only realistic options are (a) to resign myself to celibacy, (b) to seek sexual fulfillment outside the marriage, or (c) to get divorced.

    We’ve discussed each option and she’s indicated that she won’t give me permission to go outside the marriage but that she’s even more opposed to divorce and will not seek one under any circumstance. In fact she made it very clear she wants me to either quietly settle for option (a) and/or to extremely discreetly pursue option (b). I’m concerned that if I do that I’m both setting us up for potentially nasty and very messy conflicts. I’m concerned that presenting her with such a stark choice between these options is cruel. But I’m even more concerned that it’s damnably hard to find a suitable casual sex partner, and frankly, this is not a small part of what was so appealing about coupling with another person to begin with.

    The marriage is truly otherwise phenomenal and if I tried to find someone new I’d inevitably end up having to sacrifice significantly in the many other areas where we fit so well. I honestly have no idea what to do, but ordering my thoughts by typing this out was at least somewhat helpful.

  40. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Zuzu, you said:

    She also really should have told him about this before she married him.

    And she changed the terms of that commitment after it was difficult to end it.

    • November 30, 2011 at 4:03 pm

      …she did change the terms of that commitment after it was difficult to end it, though. That does not necessarily make her manipulative. But it’s a fact that the terms of the commitment were radically changed at the point where the relationship became much more difficult to end.

  41. Super Anon For This
    November 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Yeah, I’m a sexual assault survivor and I’d rather that Astrea and Anonoregonian NOT presume to speak for me.

    I had issues around sex and intimacy as a result of my rape, but I can still see where he’s coming from. He’s not a bad person for wanting to leave an unhappy marriage or for feeling like this was sprung on him unexpectedly. She’s not a bad person for having the trauma come to the fore after she was married and having shit to deal with. We can acknowledge that she didn’t realize this would be an issue until after the marriage BUT we can also acknowledge that it was a shock to him and that he’s been left adrift for three years. Sounds like he was plenty committed to his marriage but he’s deeply unhappy and very resentful. There is nothing wrong with ending things–in fact, it may be better for the both of them in the long run.

  42. November 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Ryan: We’ve discussed each option and she’s indicated that she won’t give me permission to go outside the marriage but that she’s even more opposed to divorce and will not seek one under any circumstance.

    Well, then, you have two options: be involuntarily celibate or divorce her. Because going behind her back, even “extremely discreetly,” is a non-starter.

    No, it’s not a good choice, but since she has been clear that she does not consider your sexual needs important enough to give you the go-ahead to fulfill them outside the marriage, she’s basically saying it’s her way or the highway. Your job now is to decide whether you can live like that.

  43. Athenia
    November 30, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Yeah I’m with Astraea on this one. I find it hard to believe that they were having sex and then the next day after the ceremony, she’s all, “no more sex!” Unless somehow the ceremony itself was triggering for her.

    There’s many ways to have sex and if she’s 3 years in and “progressing”, the husband needs to start attending the therapy session as well.

    • November 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm

      Yeah I’m with Astraea on this one. I find it hard to believe that they were having sex and then the next day after the ceremony, she’s all, “no more sex!” Unless somehow the ceremony itself was triggering for her.

      There’s many ways to have sex and if she’s 3 years in and “progressing”, the husband needs to start attending the therapy session as well.

      He says in his letter that she doesn’t want any physical intimacy, not just sex. So that takes “there’s many ways to have sex” pretty much off the table.

      And I don’t find it hard to believe that the marriage triggered her PTSD. I don’t find that hard to believe at all.

  44. November 30, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    pawnee: Zuzu, you said:

    I don’t see a “poor, innocent husband” or “manipulative frigid bitch” in there at all, pawnee.

  45. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    @ Jill

    You’ve said yourself that getting married could have triggered her and resulted in her not wanting to have sex so I’m not sure what your point is. Was she supposed to suck it up and have sex with the husband anyway since she didn’t foresee being triggered by marriage? Honestly, I just don’t get why you and other commenters are focusing so much on this guy’s pain while mostly ignoring the wife’s situation.

    • November 30, 2011 at 4:12 pm

      You’ve said yourself that getting married could have triggered her and resulted in her not wanting to have sex so I’m not sure what your point is. Was she supposed to suck it up and have sex with the husband anyway since she didn’t foresee being triggered by marriage? Honestly, I just don’t get why you and other commenters are focusing so much on this guy’s pain while mostly ignoring the wife’s situation.

      Huh? No, not at all. Look at what I said in the post. I don’t think that either of them should have to suck it up. I think that they both have legitimate needs that are not being met in this relationship. And since it was the husband who wrote in asking for advice, my advice to him would be, “Your wife has the right to refuse to have sex with you, now and forever. You need to decide if this is a dealbreaker for your marriage, and you need to discuss that with your wife. And if this is a deal-breaker, and if your wife needs to do the self-care of not having sex right now and indefinitely, then your options are (1) stay in a sexless marriage, or (2) get a divorce.”

      No one has even suggested that she suck it up and have sex with her husband. I am suggesting that these two peoples’ needs are incompatible.

    • November 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      And to Pawnee, Anonoregonian, Athenia and Astraea, what would you suggest the solution is? That the husband suck it up and not mention sex and stay in a marriage where he is unhappy and increasingly resentful?

      My solution is (a) figure out if this is an absolute deal-breaker for you, because coercion isn’t ok, and (b) if it is, communicate that to your partner, and probably end the marriage. What’s yours?

  46. JD
    November 30, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    @Jill and No Name For This – thanks for bringing that point up. What triggers realization of the full effects of abuse can vary, and the implied assumption (in the letter and somewhat in a few of the comments here) that the wife already had a full grasp of the situation and just chose to not bring it up disturbs me. We don’t know the full situation, so making judgments like that (that she’s manipulative, deceptive, etc.) is very troubling to me. Does the husband have a right to reconsider the situation and point out that he has needs that are not being met? Absolutely. Same for the wife. But we shouldn’t forget that she did not necessarily *know* before they married what the full impact would be.

    @Comrade Kevin – celibacy =/= asexuality. The one is a chosen behavior, the other is an orientation, and the implication in your comment that “asexuality” is something negative is profoundly troubling to me. You could have avoided the Fail there simply by using the perfectly servicable word you had already used – celibacy. Please look up the difference.

  47. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    I’m not speaking for any survivors and never claimed to.

  48. chingona
    November 30, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    zuzu: Because going behind her back, even “extremely discreetly,” is a non-starter.

    He said she made it clear she wants him to either be celibate or pursue outside sex very discreetly. If she can’t bring herself to give him permission but has indicated she just doesn’t want to know, what’s wrong with that?

    This is always a minority opinion in these situations, but I don’t think 100 percent total honesty is always the highest and best virtue.

    • November 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      He said she made it clear she wants him to either be celibate or pursue outside sex very discreetly. If she can’t bring herself to give him permission but has indicated she just doesn’t want to know, what’s wrong with that?

      Nothing, if that’s what actually happened. But it isn’t clear how she has “indicated” that she would be ok with him going behind her back. It doesn’t sound like she’s said, “Go ahead and do what you need to do, I just don’t want to hear about it.” It sounds like he’s reading into things she has said, which leaves room for a very incorrect interpretation.

  49. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    No one’s calling the husband an asshole for wanting a divorce. I’m calling him an asshole for framing his wife as a manipulative person who tricked him into getting married. I don’t know why you chose to ignore that and instead focused on this guy’s pain.

    • November 30, 2011 at 4:30 pm

      No one’s calling the husband an asshole for wanting a divorce. I’m calling him an asshole for framing his wife as a manipulative person who tricked him into getting married. I don’t know why you chose to ignore that and instead focused on this guy’s pain.

      Because I’m not reading his letter that way (I do think Prudie’s response did that, which i said in the post). He says, “I’m confused, hurt, and feel that she was less than honest entering into our relationship; it seems as though she hid this until we were lawfully wed and then it was too late for me to back out,” which I think is what you’re referring to, right? I don’t think that’s him saying she’s a manipulative bitch. I think he is genuinely confused, and as evidenced by this thread on a feminist blog with a deeper-than-usual understanding of sexual assault and trauma, lots of people really don’t realize how triggering something like marriage can be. So if you’re in a relationship for years and your sex life is totally fine, and then you make a life-long commitment and suddenly BAM no sex for a reason you had never heard from your partner before, that really can feel like someone was hiding a very important detail of their lives from you. That might not be the case, but it’s not the equivalent of him saying she is a manipulative person. It is him expressing the fact that this feels very unfair and sudden, and like she made the choice based on the fact that the relationship is hard to leave. I dunno, if I got married and my husband then decided to stop having sex with me, I would likely feel the same way.

  50. FashionablyEvil
    November 30, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    If she can’t bring herself to give him permission but has indicated she just doesn’t want to know, what’s wrong with that?

    If that’s actually the case, nothing. But, given Ryan’s other comments, it sounds like it would be a huge mess if she found out or suspected something.

  51. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    What pawnee said.

    My issue isn’t with the solution.. that’s up to the married couple. My issue is with the way this is being discussed, both by the husband and by some commenters.

    “she was less than honest entering into our relationship;”

    “it seems as though she hid this until we were lawfully wed and then it was too late for me to back out. ”

    She changed the terms of the contract.

    She put him in this situation.

    etc.

    Dealing with trauma wasn’t her choice, and how to deal with the effects of trauma in a marriage – especially when it’s sexual truama and especially when it involves issues loaded with a history of sexist expectations – should be more nuanced than a matter of a man’s right to sexual pleasure.

  52. Myca
    November 30, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Honestly, I just don’t get why you and other commenters are focusing so much on this guy’s pain while mostly ignoring the wife’s situation.

    Maybe because she’s getting care for her situation, and has been for three years now? Maybe he’s the one asking? I mean, I don’t think there’s a villain here, and I don’t think there has to be a villain here. This sucks for everyone.

    And not to be all polyamory uber alles here, but maybe nonmonogamy is the answer? I mean, if they love each other and want to stay together despite their incompatible needs that might be one way.

    —Myca

  53. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I think part of the controversy is the meaning of marriage. If you think marriage means you are obligated to endure life’s tradegies together (and you are anti-rape), then he should just live with celibacy and chalk it up to one of those things. Personally, this view of marriage makes me a bit nauseous.

    If you think marriage is a bundle of legal rights that you attach to a relationship and carries no specific obligations beyond those specifically negotiated, then he should figure out what works for him (without coercing her) and do that.

    Since he’s asking the question and hasn’t suggested coercion, I’d guess he’s in the second category in which case he’s got a decision to make.

  54. chingona
    November 30, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I think one of the things that makes this even messier is that both divorce and non monogamy can feel coercive to the partner that doesn’t want sex but also wants to keep the relationship. Yeah, it’s not rational or fair, but most of us bring a lot of cultural, social and personal baggage to our relationships that is hard to just turn off. I’m not going to keep arguing it because I don’t expect to persuade anyone here that sometimes a discreet affair is the lesser evil, but from where I sit, sometimes it is.

  55. Archie
    November 30, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Well yes this is an awful situation for everyone. This marriage should end, because as time passes, the knot is harder to unravel. It’s nearly impossible if there are children involved (although I guess there’s no danger of that happening, now is there?) What’s particularly sad about this is that neither partner appears to be acting with malice towards the other.

    There is one thing, though – there’s the old chestnut that after about 7-8 years of being together, relationships seem to hit a hard patch. I don’t know why that is – some kind of “wiring,” maybe? instinct? That old movie “The 7 year itch” is an attempt to inject some entertaining humor into that faded bit of folk wisdom. That was my experience, although it was much less entertaining than the movie.

    Anyhow, I think that there is no reasonable expectation that any relationship – or any person – will remain static over a period of time. Also, if they get divorced, they can still be friends.

  56. November 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    chingona: He said she made it clear she wants him to either be celibate or pursue outside sex very discreetly. If she can’t bring herself to give him permission but has indicated she just doesn’t want to know, what’s wrong with that?

    Because he’s well aware that it’s setting up “nasty, messy conflicts” if he does. Sounds like he’s expecting drama if he goes with that interpretation.

    She’s trying to have things both ways: keep the marriage while not fully dealing with the issue of sex (at the same time, by thinking he can discreetly get his needs filled, he’s doing the same). She’s giving him contradictory signals: I won’t divorce you, and I won’t give you my blessing to go outside the marriage for sex, and I’d rather you just sucked it up and had sex only when I wanted it, but I might look the other way if you had affairs and made sure I didn’t find out about them.

    That’s a recipe for resentment and disaster.

    And Ryan’s language is squirrelly: he says that she won’t give him permission to go outside the marriage but (impliedly, if he did), she wouldn’t seek a divorce.

    Why is it squirrelly? Because he can seek a divorce, too. If it’s not working for him, he needs to seek a solution (which he’s done, without success), seek a change in terms (which he’s done and which has been refused), learn to live with the way things are, or leave. Everything else is rationalization.

  57. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    I don’t think that’s him saying she’s a manipulative bitch.

    It is him expressing the fact that this feels very unfair and sudden, and like she made the choice based on the fact that the relationship is hard to leave.

    These two statements contradict each other. So yeah he’s not calling her a manipulative bitch, he just felt like she hid her abuse until they got married on purpose. Got it.

  58. Ryan
    November 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    @Jill, zuzu, Fashionably, et al

    What she said verbatim was (to the best of my memory): “It would break my heart to know that you were with other women, and I can’t bring myself to give you permission to do that, but I don’t want to divorce over this, and if you do cheat, I don’t want to know about it.”

    Basically, she wants to have it both ways. I’m also torn because I feel like putting the choice in such binary terms is potentially coercive (i.e., either you let me do this, or I’m leaving). Furthermore, I can’t for the life of me figure out how the logistics could work trying to be discreet, not only with family and friends, but also with the partner. I mean, I work a lot and people can be pretty willfully blind when they want to be, but I just don’t understand how you accomplish sneaking around on the person you live with.

    • November 30, 2011 at 4:39 pm

      I hear you, Ryan — and that sounds really, incredibly difficult for both of you. I’m sorry that the two of you are in that situation. I wish there were an easy solution.

  59. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Ryan: but I just don’t understand how you accomplish sneaking around on the person you live with.

    Trust me, it can be done. It’s better (for the sneaker) if there’s no reason to suspect that anyone is sneaking around. In my experience, once that suspicion has been aired, you have the choice of mutually pretending that no one is sneaking around while sneaking around, or dealing with the circumstances that makes one sneak around. Personally it’s just better to deal with it directly and face the possibility of heartache.

  60. November 30, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    The victim-blaming is really on Prudie, who is routinely awful and needs to be sacked. The husband didn’t call his wife manipulative — the closest he came was to say it “seems as though” she hid her history. He didn’t even say she did that! Only that it seems that way to him, which is expressing hurt and dismay, and not to my mind accusation.

    I see two victims and no villain here. She has to work through her recovery, and after trying to stick with it through three tough years he can’t stay in a relationship where his needs go unmet. Why are people trying to blame someone? Prudie is trying to blame the wife, with no evidence, because Prudie is a shit. But the answer to that is to call Prudie on her bullshit, not construct a polar opposite narrative where the husband is a gorgon, a reading that is also pretty unsupportable from the text.

  61. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    @Ryan,

    It might also be useful to consider that while divorce or separation may be horribly painful, it would also be temporary. Hearts heal. People move on. The current situation is painful for you and its no stretch to believe that it is fairly miserable for her as well. Many women feel horrible when their sex drive is lower than their partner even when they are not coerced into sex. If you divorce you may both be able to find relationships with people who are wonderful in different ways and with whom you each have compatible sex drives.

  62. FashionablyEvil
    November 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    These two statements contradict each other. So yeah he’s not calling her a manipulative bitch, he just felt like she hid her abuse until they got married on purpose. Got it.

    If he doesn’t realize that marriage could be a trigger and lives in a culture where the woman “letting herself go” after getting married is a common trope, it’s a pretty convenient explanation.

  63. FashionablyEvil
    November 30, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    Also, what Thomas said.

  64. chingona
    November 30, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    And Ryan, I don’t want to come off like I am casually suggesting you have an affair. I started to write a bunch of other stuff, but it’s more personal than I really want to share under my handle. I’ll just say that I know it’s really hard and hope you guys find something that works.

  65. tinfoil hattie
    November 30, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    It certainly would be if that’s what he were doing.

    The letter, Prudence’s response, and the comments in the original post most certainly support this view.

    The husband also does feel that the wife should have disclosed this before they were married. Unfortunately for them both, that’s not the way a revelation of trauma works.

  66. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    At this point if he still doesn’t realize that marriage can be a trigger then it shows that he hasn’t made a lot of effort to understand his wife’s situation.

    • November 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      At this point if he still doesn’t realize that marriage can be a trigger then it shows that he hasn’t made a lot of effort to understand his wife’s situation.

      Um, why? WE don’t know if marriage was a trigger — we’re speculating on that.

  67. November 30, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    FashionablyEvil: I do, however, think she had an obligation to disclose what happened to her before they got married.

    I don’t think anyone can ever be under an obligation to disclose their sexual abuse to anyone. That’s a step too far. He’s not obligated to stay with her though, and I don’t think he’s an asshole for not being satisfied with the arrangement.

    Honestly, I file this under “Life Sucks Sometimes”, and I don’t think either of them are at fault. Life is messy and unpredictable, and people’s needs, duties, and rights just don’t match up perfectly. I would hope there would be a way for him to negotiate his way out of this relationship in a way that leaves them both relatively whole.

  68. November 30, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    I don’t like the whole idea that if people divorce, the people have failed. The marriage has failed, in the sense that most marriages have aspirations to permanence, but I think one of the major leaps forward in domestic relations law in the 20th century was no-fault divorce. If two people have joined their lives, but they can’t stay that way without making one or both miserable, it’s not working. The more smoothly and painlessly people can walk away from that and move on, the better. And I say that having recently celebrated my twelfth anniversary.

  69. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    @pawnee

    Or she hasn’t talked to him about it. We’re making enormous assumptions about marriage being the trigger. But it could have been anything at the wedding. Or it could have been something that occurred just before the wedding and she thought it would be better to discuss after the fuss was over (which would still not make her a “manipulative bitch”). Triggers are weird and not necessarily predictable. We’re just throwing shit on the wall over here and you’re determining he must be an asshole.

  70. Ryan
    November 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Thanks everyone. Your input has been really helpful and validating. To think I started reading here long ago just to make sure I was adequately exposed to feminist concerns, and instead the site adds the most value helping me confront my most pressing issue as a guy.

    I think I need to form a plan for the dissolution and retain someone who can serve as joint counsel. There’s a prenup and no kids, so things won’t be contentious. If I present her with the plan and she chooses independently to reopen the outside option then I won’t have to feel like I’m being unfaithful or coercive.

    If I did only one thing right it was to get us to sort our affairs in the prenup in good times, so there’s nothing to fight about when emotions are raw. That’s such a lame take-away…

  71. November 30, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I can’t get behind mandatory disclosure of abuse. There are too many factors that impact ability to do that. I just don’t think there can be a bright-line rule.

  72. Anonymous for now
    November 30, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    This letter-writer could have been my husband, if things had gone differently. We were together for about 5 years and had 2 children before we were married. He knew about the abuse, but we had a healthy, active sex life. After we were married, I completely lost interest in sex. Immediately. I didn’t know I was being triggered; I didn’t know WHY I didn’t want sex. I just knew that my desire had died (I didn’t even masturbate). I would experience any request for sex from him as “pressure,” which made me even less likely to want sex. He experienced my lack of response as a rejection of him as a person. After about a year, I approached him and suggested that we open the marriage. I’d been in poly relationships before, so this wasn’t much of a stretch for me. He agreed to try and he eventually did find someone to date. A few months later, I realized that my sex drive was starting to return. Now that I didn’t feel like I was contractually obligated to “satisfy” him, I was able to concentrate on my own needs and wants. He was in no way responsible for my for my baggage, by the way; I had absorbed cultural tropes of “wifely duties” that had nothing to do with his expectations. Once the pressure of those tropes was released, I was able to examine them. We still officially have an “open” relationship, but neither of us have been inclined to pursue anyone else for some time. I am NOT saying that our solution would work for everyone. If I hadn’t been familiar with polyamory, or if I would’ve felt pressured by it, I doubt it would have worked. But marriage comes with a LOT of cultural baggage, and I don’t think the woman in this situation is an outlier.

  73. Esti
    November 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I think there’s a huge difference between “I feel like she might have waited until we were married so it would be harder for me to leave” and “she’s a manipulative bitch”. She very well might have waited until they were married because she didn’t trust that anyone would stay with her if they knew, and because she loved him, and because she thought it would be easier to deal with her trauma within the security of a marriage. Maybe she needed that level of commitment to feel comfortable disclosing it to him.

    If she purposefully waited to tell him until they were married, I’d think that was not a great thing to do to him and something he could rightfully be upset about, but it’s an enormous leap from that to calling her a manipulative bitch. The latter requires you attribute some type of evil intent to the wife, which I’m just not seeing in his statements about being hurt and confused.

  74. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Um Jill, that was a response to FashionablyEvil’s scenario.

  75. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Why hasn’t he talked to her about it in an open, honest, non-pressuring way? Why hasn’t he suggested couples therapy as a way to navigate what this means for their relationship or even just outright said he wants couples therapy because he’s struggling? What has he done to make this relationship work, other than passively ~respect her wishes~ and wait for her and her therapist to magically fix everything in a time frame he considers acceptable. Oh, right, grown resentful of her.

    I’m with Astraea and everyone else on her side on this one. This man sounds entitled and like an ass. Frankly, I hope this couple divorces so that he can be out of her life; I doubt his impatience and resentment is so well-hidden that she hasn’t noticed and felt shitty about it.

    • November 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm

      Why hasn’t he talked to her about it in an open, honest, non-pressuring way? Why hasn’t he suggested couples therapy as a way to navigate what this means for their relationship or even just outright said he wants couples therapy because he’s struggling?

      We don’t know that he hasn’t.

  76. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Jill: Wedon’tknowthathehasn’t.

    Oh, come on, Jill. He can mention they had sex before marriage, that she’s been in therapy for three years, and imply that she trapped him by ~hiding it until they married, but he can’t mentioned “btw we talked about it and also got couples therapy”? Now you’re just being ridiculous.

    • November 30, 2011 at 5:44 pm

      Divine Exploit, Slate also edits the letters for length. There’s a lot more info he could have put in, or maybe that he did put in but was cut. We do not know.

  77. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I’m really disappointed that we can’t talk about the way we see sexism in this guy’s letter and in the focus on his needs without being accused of sex shaming here.

  78. November 30, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Divine exploit, please note that there is an ellipsis in the letter after between “tried to be supportive these last three years” and “respected her wishes …” For all we know, he recounts suggesting or attending couples’ therapy and Purdie cut it for length. Just like we don’t know what triggered her or even if she knows what triggered her, we also don’t know how he’s communicated.

    Seriously, people trying to figure out who is to blame here are engaged in a complete fool’s errand. There’s not enough information to really understand what happened.

  79. November 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    tinfoil hattie: The letter, Prudence’s response, and the comments in the original post most certainly support this view.

    Yet we’ve established that Prudie is kind of a shaming asshole here.

  80. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Me too, Astraea.

    And lol, okay. We’re going to assume he mentioned it somewhere in something that might have possibly been cut out for space maybe and therefore give him the doubt, but to read this letter and find sexism and entitlement in it is just beyond the pale and so unfair.

    • November 30, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      And lol, okay. We’re going to assume he mentioned it somewhere in something that might have possibly been cut out for space maybe and therefore give him the doubt, but to read this letter and find sexism and entitlement in it is just beyond the pale and so unfair.

      You can find sexism in his letter. I personally don’t see it, but if you do, ok. It’s the “entitlement” part that has people bringing up the sex-shaming. Because yes, he wants to have sex. He entered into a marriage where he believed he would be having sex with his wife. Instead, he has been celibate for three years, because the terms of the relationship changed. Saying that he’s being “entitled” because he expresses frustration with that is sex-shaming, and it does go beyond simply pointing out that the letter might have had some sexist undertones.

  81. November 30, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    I really believe it’s not fair to hold the letter writer responsible for Prudie’s awful response. If the letter writer wrote what Prudie wrote, I’d agree with Astraea & co. But the really terrible stuff isn’t in his text at all; it’s in Prudie’s.

  82. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Lol yeah I love how people would perform mental gymnastics to say that the guy isn’t framing his wife as manipulative but how dare you imply that maybe he hasn’t made an effort with his wife.

    And Jill I think it’s pretty telling that you made a token mention of Prudie’s completely fucked up “advice” but devoted the rest of your article to this guy’s suffering.

    • November 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      Pawnee, the letter was from the guy and was about his situation. Of course that’s what I talked about. I mean, we’re all on board that his wife is suffering and went through a terrible ordeal and deserves time and space to recover. What more is there to say about that? The only other information I had to write about was the man’s self-reporting of how difficult this has been for him. So yes, that is a lot of what I wrote about.

      And I didn’t make “token mention” of Prudie’s fucked-up advice. I spent two paragraphs on it.

      And I find it telling that you keep insisting that I have devoted most of the post to the husband’s suffering. I’m not sure what you’re reading, but I didn’t do that at all. I compared and contrasted each parties’ rights and obligations. It’s almost like you’re building a strawfeminist to knock down.

  83. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    He’s being entitled because he thinks healing from something as traumatic as being sexually abused by your own father should happen on a timeline he determines. He’s being entitled because he has not demonstrably put any work into making a future with her that does include sex, rather than sitting around and expecting her to come to him one day and announce that everything’s fine and they can fuck again – all while patting himself on the back for being so great by “respecting her wishes.” He’s being entitled because he says things like “it seems as though she hid this until we were lawfully wed and then it was too late for me to back out,” as though she tricked him into marriage and as though he is completely at her mercy, unable to back out (divorce is legal, bro), and that this is just so unbearable for him, all without recognizing the pain it must be causing for her.

    • November 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm

      He’s being entitled because he thinks healing from something as traumatic as being sexually abused by your own father should happen on a timeline he determines. He’s being entitled because he has not demonstrably put any work into making a future with her that does include sex, rather than sitting around and expecting her to come to him one day and announce that everything’s fine and they can fuck again – all while patting himself on the back for being so great by “respecting her wishes.” He’s being entitled because he says things like “it seems as though she hid this until we were lawfully wed and then it was too late for me to back out,” as though she tricked him into marriage and as though he is completely at her mercy, unable to back out (divorce is legal, bro), and that this is just so unbearable for him, all without recognizing the pain it must be causing for her.

      What? You’re jumping to a lot of conclusions here. He doesn’t want to determine any timeline — he simply indicated that there doesn’t appear to be a timeline, and that kind of lack of information makes the relationship difficult for him. And it sounds like he’s put three years into the relationship, and we don’t know what their discussions have been. I think it’s safe to assume that they’ve discussed the issue, though, since he obviously has some information about her decisions. And honestly, if in the letter he said that he brought the issue up repeatedly, I would bet $5 that you would be criticizing him for that, saying that bringing it up is coercive and entitled. He specifically says that he had spent three years trying to be supportive.

      And yes, divorce is legal. But divorce is not easy, or something entered into on a whim. If he’s been supportive for three years and respected her boundaries and her wishes, it’s a big of a stretch to say that he has not been recognizing the pain that this causes her. But this is a letter to an advice column, not a novel about their relationship. Reasonable people will probably assume that one does care greatly about the pain that one’s spouse suffered if they were sexually abused; if he didn’t say that, or if Slate edited it out, that’s probably why. He’s not acting like he’s completely at her mercy, but he’s reaching out to a third party to try to make sure that he isn’t being unreasonable in doubting whether the marriage is worth it. Of course he’s able to back out, but ending a marriage sucks and is hard and is incredibly painful, and he’s asking for advice on that. That’s not entitlement.

  84. November 30, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I love how people perform mental gymnastics to say that a guy who stayed for three years in a celibate marriage is an entitled asshole because he’s frustrated but how dare Jill imply that he didn’t sign on for a sexless marriage and maybe if he leaves now it doesn’t make him a villain.

  85. Q Grrl
    November 30, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Well, I’ll put it out there: if she is withholding sex from a previously sexual relationship and he is confused enough to write to an advice columnist, then I would damn well say that she is being manipulative. She can be both traumatized *and* manipulative. Shocker, I know. She could even *be* manipulative directly as a result of her trauma! Go figure.

    Just like he could be both sexist *and* concerned about his marriage.

  86. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Thomas, literally everyone has said they have no problem with him leaving. We have a problem with the way he talks about his wife and conceptualizes this problem. Maybe before you hand down some more of your sacred man snark, you read our comments.

  87. November 30, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    There’s no saving this one either. Another sinkhole of polarized positions and accusations of ruining feminism, and now I’ve gotten sucked into the polarizing flamewar.

    This is not a productive conversation.

  88. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    divine exploit: Maybe before you hand down some more of your sacred man snark, you read our comments.

    Dude.

  89. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Thomas MacAulay Millar:
    There’snosavingthisoneeither.Anothersinkholeofpolarizedpositionsandaccusationsofruiningfeminism,andnowI’vegottensuckedintothepolarizingflamewar.

    Thisisnotaproductiveconversation.

    Then leave, bro. Nothing of value is lost when a man’s opinions on another man’s sexual entitlement are kept to himself.

  90. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    You talking about Prudie’s fucked up advice:

    “So some of Prudie’s advice is totally jacked — like insinuating that the wife might be lying about the abuse, or that she’s pulling a “switcheroo,” or that she’s punishing her husband for the sins of her father.”

    You talking about the guy’s suffering:

    “I agree with her that ideally, the wife would have been upfront about this before these two decided to get married — sex, for a lot of people, is a Big Deal, and a necessary part of marriage, and if you are going to withhold sex upon getting married, I think you do have an obligation to tell your partner that, so that your partner can decide whether or not to continue the relationship. And since ending a marriage is much more complex than ending a non-marital relationship, best-case scenario is that you put potential deal-breakers on the table before you tie the knot. So yes, I actually do think it was kind of shitty of the wife to not bring up the whole “I’m going to want to stop having sex” thing before they got married.

    But I think where Prudie is right on this one is that it’s messed up that the husband doesn’t get to address his own needs. Does the husband have a right to demand sex from his wife? No. Does he have a right to coerce or guilt her into sex? No. But does he have a right to decide that he does not want to be in a celibate marriage, and to present that fact to his wife, and then to leave the marriage? Yes, he does, and he’s not a bad or selfish or unreasonable person for wanting a marriage that includes sex.”

    • November 30, 2011 at 6:13 pm

      Actually, I said this critically about Prudie’s advice:

      So some of Prudie’s advice is totally jacked — like insinuating that the wife might be lying about the abuse, or that she’s pulling a “switcheroo,” or that she’s punishing her husband for the sins of her father. …

      That said, of course, we don’t know if that decision was even contemplated before marriage — maybe it wasn’t. And as circumstances change, so do feelings and needs. She has a right to not have sex if she doesn’t want to. That doesn’t make her manipulative or mean.

      And most of what you quoted about “the guy’s suffering” was not at all about his suffering. It was about mutual obligations in a relationship, not about “oh poor him.”

  91. Anonymous For This Thread
    November 30, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Jill, every time the topic of withholding sex comes up, you get very passionate about how painful it can be to the person who wants to have sex. I don’t know if that’s coming out of a bad personal experience, but I have definitely noticed that you consistently emphasize the suffering of the wants-to-have-sex person over the suffering of the doesn’t-want-to-have-sex person. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that – you’re going to emphasize whatever you emphasize for your own reasons. But I think the perspective of the doesn’t-want-to-have-sex person has been less covered, so in this comment, I’d like to share my perspective as someone who has been in this situation.

    I am a sexual assault survivor. When I want to *want* to have sex, but having sex is so emotionally devastating that I can’t bring myself to do it – and many times I have, with horrible results – I do not feel at all neutral about it. On the contrary, I feel like shit. I feel pathetic and weak for being traumatized, but moreso I feel horrible about myself as a partner because sex matters to the person I’m with. I feel insecure because I know he may decide to up and leave me. I feel ashamed because for most women my age, being a great sexual partner is something that’s valued and extolled socially and culturally. You don’t have to say: “you know, it’s shitty when your partner withholds sex and you have the right to leave them”. I know. They know. Sometimes it’s all I can think about. It eats me up inside because instead of getting a delightful, playful, adventurous freak between the sheets, he gets someone who cries during sex and sometimes can’t stand to be touched at all. He is pitied and commiserated with for having the poor fortune to land someone with my “issues”. And I am alone.

    I did not tell my partner about this before we became involved because it didn’t begin until well after we were involved. If I had known, I would have said something vague about having a low libido, because I was not ready to disclose at that time.

    I am not the exception. Many of the sexual assault survivors I know, who are in the same circumstances, feel equally awful about the situation. You may not realize this – and I don’t mean that in a patronizing way – but the messages we get are not “celibacy = cool!”. The messages are that you’re selfish, you should suck it up, you owe this to your partner. Everyone, like you Jill, reminds you over and over that it’s your partner’s right to leave you, as though you don’t already know, as though it’s not obvious to absolutely everyone, as though it’s your partner’s right to leave that needs the most defending, as though that right is in any danger at all.

    As a sexual assault survivor, what I’d like hear more of is:

    – It is not going to help a survivor like me fuck you if they constantly feel the crushing weight of a relationship ultimatum on their shoulders. It will probably make them either freeze up completely like deer in the headlights, or “suck it up” and have soul-sucking sex that will just further deter them from wanting to have sex again.

    – Yes, it’s a partner’s “right” to leave you. It’s also your fucking god-given right to be loved *even if you can’t or don’t have sex*. This right is just as important, and what it means is that you are not a worthless partner just because you can’t or don’t have sex, even if the person you’re with is not going to stick it out. The curveballs that can arise out of sexual trauma are not the end-all or be-all for everyone.

    – If the person you’re with reacts initially with a sense of injustice and outrage that you’re “springing” this on them or otherwise acts as though having no sexual trauma symptoms that get in the way of fucking is something they are entitled to, ditch them. They are not being reasonable. They are not the victim. You should not feel bad. If someone gives a shit, they will give a shit about this. (Yes, Jill, that doesn’t mean they are obligated to stay, but any good partner will at least react with patience and compassion.)

    – Think outside the box. You do not have to act like a living porno. Think of alternate ways to express physical affection. Full-body massages. Mutual masturbation. Handjobs, not blowjobs. Non-penetrative only. Fantasies, roleplay. BDSM. Cybersex. Whatever is inside your comfort zone.

    – You are not alone. It may feel like you’re in a world of fuck-happy people. There are many survivors out there going through the same thing. You don’t have to frame yourself as “broken” or “healing” or “working on it” or “having issues”. You don’t have to frame your sexuality as flawed or in need of improvement. Your sexuality may be more complicated than others, but it can also be just as fucking awesome as anyone else’s in its own beautiful, complicated ways. Fuck the sex-positive feminists who cluck and sigh at your survivor sexuality. You do not have to aspire to being the living porno!! It’s okay for your boundaries to hover pretty much where they are!

    – Do not have sex you, deep down, don’t want to have. No matter how shitty or scared you feel that you’re letting your partner down. A good partner won’t want to fuck if it’s going to be that way either.

    – When / if you do have sex, do not try to compensate for infrequency by putting a show for your partner unless, deep down, you are really into it. It’s okay to have sex infrequently and still demand that some or all of it be on your terms or centred around your body and arousal. (Yes your partner still has the “right” to leave you or not participate! We know!!)

    – If you feel like you can’t bring yourself to say no (even if deep down, you really want to) then be really, really careful. You may luck out and be with someone who senses that “no” and backs off…but you may not, and that may retraumatize you or re-affirm to you that it’s okay to let your body be fucked even if your heart is frantically tunneling deeper into the earth to get away.

    – If your partner senses that “no” but chooses to ignore it because it’s more convenient if they tell themselves it’s okay, drop them.

    – There will be a lot of pressure to “suck it up” and fuck. From your partner. From yourself. From feminists. From mainstream society. When your sense of self-integrity and bodily autonomy has already been violated, it is really fucking hard to not cave into this pressure, especially when (cough) you hear over and over that your partner has the right to leave you, and when you sense how bad your partner feels and how bad others may feel for your partner. Do not suck it up. Do what you need to do. You may lose partners. But you will not lose another ounce of that thing you’re building in yourself. Which is what matters.

  92. November 30, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    divine exploit: Then leave, bro.

    You’re new here, aren’t you?

  93. PrettyAmiable
    November 30, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Anonymous For This Thread:

    Thank you so much. Because all of that.

  94. November 30, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Anonymous For This Thread: It’s also your fucking god-given right to be loved

    No. No one has a right to be loved. Absolutely no one, regardless of what their sex life looks like.

  95. November 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    So I’ve re-read the published part of his letter a few times now, and the only part where I can see misogyny is in his feelings that she purposely withheld the information. But…I can also kind of understand it. Mr. Shoshie had some issues that didn’t come up until shortly after we became engaged. They led to an incredibly stressful year+ for both of us and I admit to feeling a bit misled at the time. I think it’s really easy to feel betrayed in a situation like that, unfair as it might be. I also think it’s important to deconstruct the misogynist tropes that might have led the LW to jump to the conclusion that he was purposely misled. But I think it’s possible to do that without thinking he’s a woman-hating POS who’s probably constantly nagging his wife about sex and doesn’t at all care about her recovery beyond his ability to get laid. I mean…count me in as one of the people who wouldn’t be happy with 3 years of celibacy.

  96. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Thank you for that, Anonymous.

    It reminded me of something, as well. Jill: We get it. He has the right to leave his wife. She deserves someone to love and support her even when she can’t provide that person with sexual gratification, but whatever, oh well, if that’s just a deal-breaker for him then yes, he does have the right to leave his wife. Like the large number of men who leave their wives when they get cancer, he has no obligation to stick around, to care for her, to support her, to nurture her, even. And as you’ve shown, big-name feminists will even defend his right to do so without any criticism.

    Because women, like the wives whose husbands get cancer and stay at a rate that is statistically significantly more than those husbands I mentioned, are the ones who maintain relationships. Who put work into them and care for their partner and support them no matter what, through thick and thin, even if it means the sacrifice of their own health or mental well-being. And when the relationship doesn’t work out because they try their hardest but it’s still not pleasing the passive male partner, then he has the right to leave. We’re all very aware of that.

    So I’d be fascinated to hear why another screed on the rights of a man – a man who has given a large chunk of us plenty of reason to read him as sexist and entitled – to leave his wife was needed, on a feminist site, no less?

    • November 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm

      It reminded me of something, as well. Jill: We get it. He has the right to leave his wife. She deserves someone to love and support her even when she can’t provide that person with sexual gratification, but whatever, oh well, if that’s just a deal-breaker for him then yes, he does have the right to leave his wife. Like the large number of men who leave their wives when they get cancer, he has no obligation to stick around, to care for her, to support her, to nurture her, even. And as you’ve shown, big-name feminists will even defend his right to do so without any criticism.

      Because women, like the wives whose husbands get cancer and stay at a rate that is statistically significantly more than those husbands I mentioned, are the ones who maintain relationships. Who put work into them and care for their partner and support them no matter what, through thick and thin, even if it means the sacrifice of their own health or mental well-being. And when the relationship doesn’t work out because they try their hardest but it’s still not pleasing the passive male partner, then he has the right to leave. We’re all very aware of that.

      So I’d be fascinated to hear why another screed on the rights of a man – a man who has given a large chunk of us plenty of reason to read him as sexist and entitled – to leave his wife was needed, on a feminist site, no less?

      So basically, you think that this dude should stay in a sexless marriage that makes him miserable… because he should? Because some women choose to do that?

      I have not said that men have a right to leave and that women don’t. I think that anyone has the right to leave if their needs are not being met. And yes, she deserves someone to support her even when she can’t provide that person with sexual gratification. She has a therapist for that. But no one “deserves” a romantic partner. No one “deserves” the romantic partner of their choosing. That’s a gender-neutral argument. I think any partner whose needs are not being met has the right to leave. I think if they are fundamentally unhappy, and if the needs of both partners are in direct conflict with no real middle ground, then ending the relationship is probably the best option. It’s not because he’s a dude and his needs are superior (although I wonder what you would say if the genders were reversed here — should a wife who wants to have sex stick in a sexless marriage?).

      Are you really saying that he has an obligation to stay in this marriage just because? Even though a fundamental tenant of the marriage is not happening?

      As for “another screen on the rights of a man to leave his wife,” give me a fucking break. Are you new here? Because I don’t actually dedicate a lot of time to defending the rights of men to do whatever the fuck they want. I do dedicate a lot of time to writing about obligations and rights within relationships, because I think it’s an interesting topic.

  97. November 30, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Jill: And most of what you quoted about “the guy’s suffering” was not at all about his suffering. It was about mutual obligations in a relationship, not about “oh poor him.”

    It’s almost like people didn’t even read the post or something. /:

  98. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    groggette: No. No one has a right to be loved. Absolutely no one, regardless of what their sex life looks like.

    What the fuck.

  99. Anonymous For This Thread
    November 30, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    groggette: groggette 11.30.2011 at 6:23 pm

    Anonymous For This Thread: It’s also your fucking god-given right to be loved

    No. No one has a right to be loved. Absolutely no one, regardless of what their sex life looks like.

    Actually, what I said was:

    It’s also your fucking god-given right to be loved *even if you can’t or don’t have sex*.

    What I’m trying to say, clumsily I suppose, is that not having sex does NOT mean you don’t deserve love as much as the next guy does, and it does NOT mean you are less lovable as a human being.

    Whether we have the right to be loved, in a general sense, is not something I want to get into nor intended to opine on.

    • November 30, 2011 at 6:33 pm

      What I’m trying to say, clumsily I suppose, is that not having sex does NOT mean you don’t deserve love as much as the next guy does, and it does NOT mean you are less lovable as a human being.

      Has anyone ever suggested otherwise?

  100. November 30, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Anonymous For This Thread: – Yes, it’s a partner’s “right” to leave you. It’s also your fucking god-given right to be loved *even if you can’t or don’t have sex*.

    No. You do not have a right to be loved.

    No one does.

  101. November 30, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    divine exploit: She deserves someone to love and support her even when she can’t provide that person with sexual gratification, but whatever, oh well, if that’s just a deal-breaker for him then yes, he does have the right to leave his wife. Like the large number of men who leave their wives when they get cancer, he has no obligation to stick around, to care for her, to support her, to nurture her, even. And as you’ve shown, big-name feminists will even defend his right to do so without any criticism.

    Holy fuck.

    You can’t be for real.

  102. tinfoil hattie
    November 30, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Yeah, groggette, we do all come into this world with the right to be loved. We suere as hell do.

    And finish Anon’s quote: It’s also your fucking god-given right to be loved *even if you can’t or don’t have sex*.

    Anonymous For This Thread, thank you a THOUSAND times over. You speak a strong truth, and I applaud and stand with you.

  103. November 30, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Finishing the quote doesn’t change my response. Which should be clear IN my response.

  104. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    It’s clear in context that anonymous meant that survivors have the right to not have sex without having the withholding of love held over their heads as leverage or coercion.

  105. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Oops Jill sorry my bad. You devoted two short paragraphs about Prudie’s advice and two long paragraphs about the guy’s suffering.

    • November 30, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      Pawnee, can you please explain how contrasting rights and obligations in a relationship are “about the guy’s suffering”?

  106. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    I’m not saying he has an obligation to stay. I’m saying he has an obligation to put as much work into the relationship as she does, and, rather than being a resentful shit, if he doesn’t want to do that he can get gone. But he can’t leave criticism-free after contributing to the deterioration of the marriage but refusing to pin the blame on anyone but her.

    The point isn’t that ~oh men can leave but women can’t~. The point is that women are expected to put their whole selves into relationships, which often means staying long after there is any chance of salvaging the relationship, and men aren’t. And regardless of your interest in the rules of your relationships, you chose to take this post and write about how much it sucks to be that guy and how he totally has the right to leave (which he does, but not blamelessly, because he contributed to the failure of the relationship), rather than, idk, noticing that both he and Prudie put the onus for making the relationship work on her, even if one did it more covertly than the other.

    Jesus Christ.

    • November 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm

      I’m not saying he has an obligation to stay. I’m saying he has an obligation to put as much work into the relationship as she does, and, rather than being a resentful shit, if he doesn’t want to do that he can get gone. But he can’t leave criticism-free after contributing to the deterioration of the marriage but refusing to pin the blame on anyone but her.

      Again, you have no idea how much work he’s put into the relationship, or whether he’s contributed to the deterioration of the relationship. And no one is “pinning blame” on anyone. Actually, scratch that — you are pinning blame on him. I think I’ve been pretty clear that I don’t think anyone is at fault here. I think there are two competing sets of interests, and they don’t match up. You are the one who seems awfully gung-ho about blaming him for the deterioration of the relationship, and suggesting that he has done nothing to make it work, and basically acting like he’s leaving a cancer patient on a whim. I mean, come on. This is beyond ridiculous.

      • November 30, 2011 at 6:49 pm

        I mean really: What should the advice have been? I agree that a lot of Prudie’s was bad, and I spelled out what my advice would be (which isn’t “dedicating the entire post to his suffering.” It’s responding to a letter for advice, and giving a better model than what Prudie gave). What would you all have said? “You’re a selfish dick for wanting out, and you clearly have not supported your wife”?

  107. DP
    November 30, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    divine exploit:
    Thankyouforthat,Anonymous.

    Becausewomen,likethewiveswhosehusbandsgetcancerandstayataratethatisstatisticallysignificantlymorethanthosehusbandsImentioned,aretheoneswhomaintainrelationships.Whoputworkintothemandcarefortheirpartnerandsupportthemnomatterwhat,throughthickandthin,evenifitmeansthesacrificeoftheirownhealthormentalwell-being.Andwhentherelationshipdoesn’tworkoutbecausetheytrytheirhardestbutit’sstillnotpleasingthepassivemalepartner,thenhehastherighttoleave.We’reallveryawareofthat.

    I think you got some pretty serious gender essentialism in your screed.

    Bro.

    :/

    @Anonymous, I think there’s a very complex issue of social vs. personal messages. I agree with you that socially, women are expected to perform in various ways sexually and then judged on their (inevitable?) failure to do so. So I get the *social* message that the partner of an abuse survivor is ‘trapped’, ‘has the right to leave,’ etc.

    But on a personal level – like if you took a straw poll of 100 family and friends – you’d get something quite different. If I went to all my friends and said Hey, I’m divorcing my wife because she is dealing with the fallout from some really tragic abuse and we haven’t had sex in a long time, what I’d get is almost universal opprobrium and probably a fair bit of being ostracized. Some of my guy friends might back me (quietly, in private) but I’d probably lose almost all my female friends on the spot.

    Maybe the key point is that this letter, and Prudie’s (awful) column, and this post, have nothing to do with abuse at all, really, except tangentially. The message of this post is to people who, *for whatever reason*, including abuse, are dealing with some kind of sexual dysfunction in their relationships.

  108. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    @DP: Don’t call me a bro, I’m a fucking woman.

  109. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Please tell me where in this he accepts any responsibility for the quality of their relationship, except to insist that he has been so good:

    My wife and I have been together for eight years. We regularly had sex until three years ago, when we got married. Almost immediately after we were married, my wife told me that we couldn’t have sex anymore as she entered therapy for abuse that her father committed to her when she was a child. I’m confused, hurt, and feel that she was less than honest entering into our relationship; it seems as though she hid this until we were lawfully wed and then it was too late for me to back out. I’ve tried to be supportive for the last three years … I’ve respected her request for abstaining from sex and physical intimacy, but although she has regular therapy and the therapist says she’s progressing, I see no end to this situation or any signs of improvement. Am I wrong to question whether this marriage is worth it or not?

    And no more crying about how that was probably edited out. We can only work with the information we’re given.

  110. November 30, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    divine exploit: I’m saying he has an obligation to put as much work into the relationship as she does, and, rather than being a resentful shit, if he doesn’t want to do that he can get gone. But he can’t leave criticism-free after contributing to the deterioration of the marriage but refusing to pin the blame on anyone but her.

    divine exploit: he totally has the right to leave (which he does, but not blamelessly, because he contributed to the failure of the relationship)

    First, we don’t know how much work either partner has put into the marriage, but we do know that the marriage has lasted three years. Is that long enough for you to stick it out? Or is the husband supposed to make it to the silver anniversary before he can be considered “blameless”?

    The wife may be putting a lot of work into self-care and not putting any work into the marriage because she’s got nothing left. But that does not mean that the husband isn’t putting work into the marriage.

    Also: what’s your problem with leaving a marriage without criticism? People are allowed to leave their marriages at any time, for any reason. If you don’t like his reasons for leaving, tough shit. It’s not your marriage.

    divine exploit: Jesus Christ.

    Indeed.

  111. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    “I agree with her that ideally, the wife would have been upfront about this before these two decided to get married — sex, for a lot of people, is a Big Deal, and a necessary part of marriage, and if you are going to withhold sex upon getting married, I think you do have an obligation to tell your partner that, so that your partner can decide whether or not to continue the relationship. And since ending a marriage is much more complex than ending a non-marital relationship, best-case scenario is that you put potential deal-breakers on the table before you tie the knot. So yes, I actually do think it was kind of shitty of the wife to not bring up the whole “I’m going to want to stop having sex” thing before they got married.”

    Poor guy got blindsided by his wife when she suddenly didn’t want to have sex anymore! Especially now that he’s trapped in a sexless marriage that he didn’t sign up for.

    “But I think where Prudie is right on this one is that it’s messed up that the husband doesn’t get to address his own needs. Does the husband have a right to demand sex from his wife? No. Does he have a right to coerce or guilt her into sex? No. But does he have a right to decide that he does not want to be in a celibate marriage, and to present that fact to his wife, and then to leave the marriage? Yes, he does, and he’s not a bad or selfish or unreasonable person for wanting a marriage that includes sex.”

    This paragraph is all about the man’s needs. Yeah sure he shouldn’t coerce or guilt his wife into having sex but he’s suffering can’t you see! He’s suffering! Barely a mention of what the wife must be going through.

    • November 30, 2011 at 7:07 pm

      This paragraph is all about the man’s needs. Yeah sure he shouldn’t coerce or guilt his wife into having sex but he’s suffering can’t you see! He’s suffering! Barely a mention of what the wife must be going through.

      Um. I didn’t harp on what the wife must be going through because I assumed that we all agree that she’s going through hell, and that sexual abuse is a hell of a lot worse than a sexless marriage, and that she’s in an awful situation. Like, that’s a no-brainer. I didn’t think I had to explain super-basic things that every reasonable person in the world would agree on. Apparently I do. And apparently this blog has an unusually large number of people who do not fall into the category of “every reasonable person in the world.” It’s actually amazing.

  112. Sheelzebub
    November 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Shoshie: I mean…count me in as one of the people who wouldn’t be happy with 3 years of celibacy.

    THEN YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN A MAN WHO WOULD LEAVE HIS WIFE WHO HAS CANCER, SHOSHIE.

    /sarcasm

    Goddamn, people. So, he’s within his rights for leaving, but he sucks as a human being for doing so. Right. No shaming here, none at all. And FTR, not one person here said that his wife was obligated to fuck him. Not ONE. They said if he was that miserable in his marriage, he was within his rights to leave. But do go on building strawfeminists and being disingenuous.

  113. November 30, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Astraea: It’s clear in context that anonymous meant that survivors have the right to not have sex without having the withholding of love held over their heads as leverage or coercion.

    That’s a lot of mindreading required there.

    But no one has the right to a relationship with the person of their choice no matter what the person of their choice is getting out of it. Which means that even if you’re going through something shitty, your partner has his or her own needs and also deserves happiness. If you are not dealing with your shit, or not dealing with it effectively, and your inadequate/ineffectual shit-dealing is making your partner miserable, your partner is not obligated to suck it up and stick around for pity.

  114. November 30, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    pawnee: Lol yeah I love how people would perform mental gymnastics to say that the guy isn’t framing his wife as manipulative but how dare you imply that maybe he hasn’t made an effort with his wife.

    What makes you assume she isn’t manipulative? Are women suddenly not capable of manipulation anymore? Or were we never? Or are we, but we just don’t have to take responsibility for it, because we’re perpetual victims under The Evil Man?

    Get real. Men aren’t auto-villains whose desire for sex should be continually shamed and framed as mean and bad. He sounds reasonable enough here, and by the way, it’s a letter to a newspaper advice columnist and has probably had been edited to hell and back. We’re sitting here criticizing to the death a letter written by a man none of us know about a marriage to a woman none of us know that probably isn’t even made up of his own words anymore. Drop the self-righteous garbage and chill the hell out. You don’t know what you’re talking about anymore than anyone else here. Quit acting like you’re marginally more in the know.

  115. November 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    divine exploit: And no more crying about how that was probably edited out. We can only work with the information we’re given.

    And some of us, apparently, have been given a great deal of information from within the confines of our own asses.

    You got the Library of Congress up in your colon there.

  116. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    So.much.straw.

    We could build a eco friendly condos for all the people who are obligated to love us.

  117. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    @zuzu: If you think that just sticking around and being celibate is all the work this guy could have been putting into his marriage, or the equivalent to all the work this woman is doing to improve her mental health and be a better partner, then I just don’t even know what to say. Wow.

    @Sheelzebub: You do know your capslock… is an actual strawfeminist? I’m referring with the cancer example to an actual phenomenon on which we have concrete data: that men will leave while women stay when their partner is diagnosed. Because women have been socialized and are constantly pressured to stand by their men, care for them, nurture them, sacrifice everything for their family, etc., while women are not.

    Really, the concept of a strawfeminist is a strawman argument modeled on what someone would imagine the most radical horrible eeeevil feminist would suggest. Sticking up for a man is like. The opposite of that.

  118. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    zuzu: And some of us, apparently, have been given a great deal of information from within the confines of our own asses.

    You got the Library of Congress up in your colon there.

    I’m flattered by your fascination with my ass, but I’m still waiting to be shown where he accepts any responsibility for the current state of affairs in their relationship.

    • November 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm

      I’m flattered by your fascination with my ass, but I’m still waiting to be shown where he accepts any responsibility for the current state of affairs in their relationship.

      If the problem with the relationship on his end is that they haven’t had sex in three years because she is doing some necessary self-care to recover from sexual abuse, what exactly is he supposed to take responsibility for?

  119. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    April: Whatmakesyouassumesheisn’tmanipulative?Arewomensuddenlynotcapableofmanipulationanymore?Orwerewenever?Orarewe,butwejustdon’thavetotakeresponsibilityforit,becausewe’reperpetualvictimsunderTheEvilMan?

    Getreal.Menaren’tauto-villainswhosedesireforsexshouldbecontinuallyshamedandframedasmeanandbad.Hesoundsreasonableenoughhere,andbytheway,it’salettertoanewspaperadvicecolumnistandhasprobablyhadbeeneditedtohellandback.We’resittingherecriticizingtothedeathaletterwrittenbyamannoneofusknowaboutamarriagetoawomannoneofusknowthatprobablyisn’tevenmadeupofhisownwordsanymore.Droptheself-righteousgarbageandchillthehellout.Youdon’tknowwhatyou’retalkingaboutanymorethananyoneelsehere.Quitactinglikeyou’remarginallymoreintheknow.

    Oh yeah I’m sure she manipulated him into marrying her and now he’s trapped and helpless. If you don’t think women are often painted as manipulative bitches who constantly trap men then I don’t know what to tell you.

  120. November 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    divine exploit: @zuzu: If you think that just sticking around and being celibate is all the work this guy could have been putting into his marriage, or the equivalent to all the work this woman is doing to improve her mental health and be a better partner, then I just don’t even know what to say. Wow.

    Working on yourself is not working on the marriage.

    Fucking duh.

    If she’s not present in the marriage because she’s working on her own shit, then it doesn’t really give him much to do to work on the marriage, now does it?

    Besides, what else should he be doing? You seem to know an awful lot about their marriage. Put on your marriage counselor hat and give him some concrete steps before you’ll approve their divorce.

  121. Sheelzebub
    November 30, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    divine exploit: Because women have been socialized and are constantly pressured to stand by their men, care for them, nurture them, sacrifice everything for their family, etc., while women are not.

    Indeed. And we’ve heard the same shaming bullshit that you and others here have trotted out when we’ve been in miserable marriages and relationships and wanted to get out. Not trying hard enough/not taking our vows seriously/oh, he’s going through some shit/you’re being selfish.

    Stop being a disingenuous asshole. Some of us here can relate to this guy not because we think a man deserves sex no matter what, but because we’ve been at the business end of that shaming bullshit.

  122. DP
    November 30, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    divine exploit:
    @DP:Don’tcallmeabro,I’mafuckingwoman.

    U mad?

  123. Ryan
    November 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Wow, this thread really went off the rails in the last two hours. It seems to me like there are two people in that relationship who are both due a significant amount of sympathy, even if their sources of pain are in mutual tension. Trying to slice so little information as thinly as some of you are and to parcel out blame seems woefully unproductive.

  124. November 30, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Okay, I don’t really have the time to read through 150ish responses here, but has anyone brought up the possibility of opening up the marriage rather than ending it? As in, the husband is in need of sexual intimacy and the wife is in need of sexual abstention, so why not consider the possibility of the husband getting that sexual intimacy from someone else, with the knowledge and consent of the wife?

    They can still maintain emotional intimacy, but he can get his physical needs satisfied, too.

  125. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Tell me more about his pain though. I’m sure he must be going through hell right now.

  126. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Blogs are not therapy. Blogs are crappy places to work out your own issues. Blogs are not therapy. Blogs are crappy places to work out your own issues.

  127. valentifan69
    November 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    “What would you all have said? “You’re a selfish dick for wanting out, and you clearly have not supported your wife”?”

    I just don’t think the first response should be ‘you’re well within your rights for wanting sex and if it’s non-negotiable chuck her’. Call me a hopeless romantic but they’ve been together eight years, he married her, they might have something special and he might just be insecure and going through a rough spot. If they do love each other, then even if they’re not having sex they’re still better off than most people. If he stays with her the worst thing that happens is he doesn’t have sex, if he leaves the worst thing that happens is that he blew a shot with someone who really loved him. I would remind him of that and tell him to think really hard about his priorities. It’s just depressing that the first response is to tell him to talk to a lawyer.

    “But does he have a right to decide that he does not want to be in a celibate marriage, and to present that fact to his wife, and then to leave the marriage?”

    If you are going to do it then I think you should just leave rather than drop an ultimatum. If you do someone might sleep with you out of fear of being abandoned and that’s just horrid.

  128. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    What he should do:

    -talk openly, honestly, non-coercively about her with the struggles he’s having, with an emphasis on…
    -feeling like he is struggling with their relationship and lost wrt what to do and suggesting that they should therefore supplement her therapy with couples therapy
    -taking the initiative and investigating ways in which they can stay connected and maybe even be intimate WITHOUT crossing her boundaries. couples therapy is one way. more fun options might involve taking up a hobby together, having scheduled time every x interval during which they just hang out in a comfortable room and talk, no proximity but mental proximity needed. make a two-person book club so that they have easy, natural segues into conversations about “harder” things that will bring them together.
    -don’t just passively do as she asks and thinks that’s all it takes to support her. again, take the initiative. express interest in her well-being, ask casually how she’s doing but don’t press for deep answers. after a difficult therapy session, take her out to ice cream. remind her he loves her – not if it’s a lie, of course, but you know.

    Most of her work is, yes, going to be on herself. Because sometimes working on ourselves is working on the relationship, because our own baggage is what’s holding us back from being the partner we want to be. Similarly, he would be working on himself by doing these things, not just their relationship; working to do these things would make him a more openly caring man, more competent in expressing himself, etc.

  129. November 30, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    pawnee: Oh yeah I’m sure she manipulated him into marrying her and now he’s trapped and helpless. If you don’t think women are often painted as manipulative bitches who constantly trap men then I don’t know what to tell you.

    I didn’t say that women aren’t often painted as manipulative bitches. That does not mean, however, that some women aren’t manipulative, and that it’s stupid to assume that no woman is or can be just because you interpret a man to be framing her that way.

    Then again, judging by your comments, you’d probably find something misogynist about a tree trunk, if given the opportunity, so whatever.

  130. November 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    pawnee:
    Tellmemoreabouthispainthough.I’msurehemustbegoingthroughhellrightnow.

    Nah. We should probably be listening to this man discuss his personal problem with his wife, and then calling him a misogynist instead, and reframing the issue to make sure that we ignore his concern and talk sympathetically about his wife, instead. Because since we live in a misogynist world, men don’t ever matter and people who think they do should be yelled at on blogs. Because that’s super productive and makes sense. Yay! You win!

  131. Ryan
    November 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Also, I’m now realizing that having (or trying to dodge) the inevitable “So what happened?” conversations is going to be absolute hell and that a lot of people are going to want to string me up. I think we need to concoct a more benign reason, like that I’m a raging heroin addict/dealer.

  132. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    April: Then again, judging by your comments, you’d probably find something misogynist about a tree trunk, if given the opportunity, so whatever.

    STRAW FEMINIST STRAW FEMINIST

  133. pawnee
    November 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Yup you’ve got me pegged, April. I just love being offended it’s such a nice feeling. And just so we’re clear you do think the wife manipulated the husband right?

  134. Q Grrl
    November 30, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Pawnee: If it were me, if I married someone who had been sexually active with me for five years and then they rather abruptly disengaged from almost all physical intimacy, I would be, you know, traumatized. Especially if that other person had formed a legally binding contract with me that is, in fact, contingent upon a degree of intimacy that isn’t or cannot be replicated in many other manners. Women are not children. Trauma does not lend moral superiority, anymore than a penis conveys moral inferiority. If she is three years into this marriage and still cannot reconcile her trauma, she is indeed responsible for rectifying the marriage. If she is incapable of doing so because of the trauma, then she needs to initiate divorce. Putting him in the position where he has to consider divorce as a means to his personal/emotional safety and health, when she is the one who is compromising the strength of the marriage (regardless of traumatic circumstances), is, in fact, manipulative.

    • November 30, 2011 at 7:27 pm

      Also, the speculating on my personal relationship and sexual history is fucked up. So is putting “Jill” on one side and “sexual assault survivors” on the other. As you may have noticed, I very rarely discuss my personal life or my personal history, other than a handful of amusing anecdotes, so anonymous, you really have no idea. And I think the expectation that you show your bones to have credibility to speak on a topic is thoroughly fucked. I’m not going to participate in it.

  135. November 30, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    valentifan69: Call me a hopeless romantic but they’ve been together eight years, he married her, they might have something special and he might just be insecure and going through a rough spot.

    Three years out of eight is kind of a big chunk of a relationship for a rough spot.

    • November 30, 2011 at 7:30 pm

      Especially when those three years constitute the entirety of your marriage.

  136. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Sheelzebub: Indeed. And we’ve heard the same shaming bullshit that you and others here have trotted out when we’ve been in miserable marriages and relationships and wanted to get out. Not trying hard enough/not taking our vows seriously/oh, he’s going through some shit/you’re being selfish.

    So much word.

  137. November 30, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    divine exploit: What he should do:

    And where’s your proof he hasn’t done any of this?

  138. November 30, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Ryan: Also, I’m now realizing that having (or trying to dodge) the inevitable “So what happened?” conversations is going to be absolute hell and that a lot of people are going to want to string me up. I think we need to concoct a more benign reason, like that I’m a raging heroin addict/dealer.

    “We grew apart. It’s no one’s fault, we just weren’t right for each other.”

  139. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    zuzu: And where’s your proof he hasn’t done any of this?

    And where’s your proof that he has? We can only work from what we’ve given and, again, all we’re given is that he’s complied with her wishes. And also implies that their problems are her fault for “tricking” him into the marriage and not getting better faster.

    And regarding, Sheelzebub, there’s this thing where there’s a power differential between men and women? And also that relationships do take work, and we have no evidence to suggest he’s done anything to actively help his wife figure out a way to be together despite the effects of her trauma? Which is a very different situation from many divorces.

  140. November 30, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    divine exploit: The point is that women are expected to put their whole selves into relationships, which often means staying long after there is any chance of salvaging the relationship, and men aren’t.

    So the solution is that from now on men need to stay in relationships long after there is any chance of salvaging it? You say that this man hasn’t put anything into saving his relationship. What about the three years of supporting his wife in her therapy? What about his respecting her wishes for not physical intimacy or sex? If he had said, at the moment she told him sex was off the table, “Well, forget you, you manipulative wench” and then walked out, then yes, I would agree that he was insensitive and didn’t try to help. But he didn’t.

  141. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Questioning the effects of sexism and gender dynamics in a situation is not ok on a feminist blog now because we don’t have proof that the man involved did anything sexist.

    Great.

  142. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Yet again, if you think passively sitting around celibate is all the work he should be putting into their relationship, I don’t know what to say except wow.

    At this point, I think this relationship has a chance, but only a small one, of being salvageable. It maybe be better for him to just leave. But that’s not for no reason – that’s because, as far as we know, he’s failed to take an active role in their relationship.

  143. November 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    divine exploit: And where’s your proof that he has? We can only work from what we’ve given and, again, all we’re given is that he’s complied with her wishes. And also implies that their problems are her fault for “tricking” him into the marriage and not getting better faster.

    No, no. You’re the one condemning him for not doing anything to work on the marriage. You come up with proof he hasn’t.

    But you can’t, of course, because we have no evidence either way. Except what you’ve pulled from your commodious ass-files.

    By the way, where did you and pawnee come from, anyway? I’ve never seen you around here before.

  144. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    As a sexual assault survivor, not only would I not want to be in a relationship where I felt obligated to pity fuck my husband, but I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who was fundamentally unhappy with me. Suggesting that they should be hostages to one another’s unhappiness is fucked up, personally and politically.

  145. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Astraea: Questioning the effects of sexism and gender dynamics in a situation is not ok on a feminist blog now because we don’t have proof that the man involved did anything sexist.
    Great.

    You’ve been questioning all thread. People just happen to disagree with you. You’re wrong =/= You can’t talk about that.

  146. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Almost immediately after we were married, my wife told me that we couldn’t have sex anymore as she entered therapy for abuse that her father committed to her when she was a child.

    Look, the wife can actively speak up about her needs and feelings and enforce her boundaries.

    I’m confused, hurt, and feel that she was less than honest entering into our relationship; it seems as though she hid this until we were lawfully wed and then it was too late for me to back out.

    He implies here that she lied in order to trick him into a situation in which it would be difficult for him to leave her. He frames himself as a victim.

    I’ve tried to be supportive for the last three years … I’ve respected her request for abstaining from sex and physical intimacy,

    Based on the information we have, his idea of support is merely to abstain from sex and physical intimacy. Nothing else.

    but although she has regular therapy and the therapist says she’s progressing, I see no end to this situation or any signs of improvement.

    Translation: Even though she has therapy and her trained therapist says she’s progressing, I, a totally unqualified layman, see no signs of this and am getting impatient. Hurry up already!

    It is disingenuous to claim we cannot criticize sexism, entitlement, relationship dynamics, etc. because we “don’t have the whole story.” For one thing, whatever conclusions we come to won’t actually affect this guy. We can only discuss the theoretical situation that is made up only of what we know, not their real lives. And in that theoretical situation, this guy has done nothing active to maintain his relationship in three whole years.

  147. Anon21
    November 30, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I really do not even understand the burning desire to apportion blame for the situation. I mean yes, push back on Prudie’s bullshit wherein she blames the wife, but that doesn’t mean we end up with a bunch of excess blame sitting around that now needs to be dumped onto the husband. We have no idea what this marriage is like except what the guy told us. There are some hypotheticals we can spin in which he’s been a complete piece of shit, some hypos where he’s been a decent guy who has handled it poorly (perhaps partly due to patriarchal expectations about sex and marriage), and some in which he’s been an utter saint, dealing with all sorts of emotional abuse that he was too nice to put in the letter.

    To what purpose? We don’t know the details, and blaming the hypothetical husband for not hypothetically doing more just seems like a profoundly negative activity with no obvious rewards for any participant.

  148. Esti
    November 30, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Jesus Christ. I am often on the “sex positivism can be exclusionary/shaming for people who do not, for whatever reason, want or feel capable of being as sexual as other people expect them to be”, but man have people gone off the deep end here. No one has a right to be with their partner, and if their attempts to deal with (very legitimate and devastating) problems in their lives mean that their partner is not having a need they consider important met for three years, with no end in sight, then the partner has done absolutely nothing wrong by choosing to exit.

    That is not a judgment on the person who is processing their trauma. But although you should be able to expect love and support from your partner, those things are unlikely to be available in neverending quantities and at some point — even if through absolutely no fault of your own — what you need to do to heal and what your partner needs in a relationship may become incompatible.

  149. Anonymous For This Thread
    November 30, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Jill: Jill 11.30.2011 at 6:33 pm

    What I’m trying to say, clumsily I suppose, is that not having sex does NOT mean you don’t deserve love as much as the next guy does, and it does NOT mean you are less lovable as a human being.

    Has anyone ever suggested otherwise?

    Have I suggested that no one has ever suggested otherwise? :) What I said is that I’d like to hear these sentiments more, because I don’t think sexual assault survivors here these sentiments enough.

    Also, the speculating on my personal relationship and sexual history is fucked up. So is putting “Jill” on one side and “sexual assault survivors” on the other. As you may have noticed, I very rarely discuss my personal life or my personal history, other than a handful of amusing anecdotes, so anonymous, you really have no idea. And I think the expectation that you show your bones to have credibility to speak on a topic is thoroughly fucked. I’m not going to participate in it.

    Is that comment directed at me? If so, I am not “speculating”, in my first comment I was trying to acknowledge that you may have negative personal experiences around withheld sex and that’s one – of what I acknowledged could be many – possible, perfectly valid reasons that one might focus on the “pain of not having sex” side of the equation. However, I never suggested that one must “show your bones” to have “credibility to speak” so I don’t know if your comment is for me or a different anonymous commenter??

  150. November 30, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    divine exploit: Yet again, if you think passively sitting around celibate is all the work he should be putting into their relationship, I don’t know what to say except wow.

    The fact that they are still married indicates to me that he HAS done more than just sit around celibate. He must be providing her with the support she needs on some level, or surely in the last 36 months of therapy her therapist would have suggested SHE divorce HIM, and the whole discussion would never have taken place.

  151. November 30, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    divine exploit: It is disingenuous to claim we cannot criticize sexism, entitlement, relationship dynamics, etc. because we “don’t have the whole story.”

    It’s disingenuous to make shit up out of whole cloth to serve our own agendas.

    You’re making a lot of interpretations of thin statements. I asked you for proof he hasn’t *done* the things you’ve recommended he do, like support her, etc. You haven’t come up with any such proof. You’re still just pulling shit out of your ass.

    He’s discussing his feelings in this letter, not his actions. He feels hurt and confused, and he feels like she misled him. He’s not saying definitively she has, but he’s feeling as though she did. And as far as his actions, he’s given her space to deal with her shit, but there is no end in sight and he wants to know if he should leave. Not if he should coerce her into having sex with him, but whether there is anything to salvage at this point.

    You can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts.

  152. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Words are actions, zuzu. They reflect attitudes that can be helpful or harmful to a marriage.

    And furthermore, “space” is not all anyone needs to heal.

    And as I’ve said before, I would tell him to leave, because I think she’d be better off without him.

  153. Rodeo
    November 30, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    I think I said this in the last thread about sexless relationships, but the word to describe a person you love but don’t have sex with isn’t “spouse,” it’s “friend.” Perhaps “roommate.”

    If someone sexually traumatized you and made it impossible for you to have a normal/decent/healthy sexual relationship with another person, getting those issues resolved should be the first priority. Not working through those issues is a pretty fantastic way to make sure a relationship ends with even more trauma and hurt feelings.

  154. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I think divine exploit is laboring under the assumption that the anonymous letter writer is secretly Newt Gingrich. Nothing else explains the froth and spittle.

  155. November 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    divine exploit: Words are actions, zuzu. They reflect attitudes that can be helpful or harmful to a marriage.

    And yet the only words you have given are your own, interpreting his. How does “I feel confused and hurt” mean that the guy has been a shit to his wife?

    divine exploit: And furthermore, “space” is not all anyone needs to heal.

    You haven’t shown that he hasn’t done anything else. You’ve simply assumed he hasn’t.

    divine exploit: And as I’ve said before, I would tell him to leave, because I think she’d be better off without him.

    You’d tell him to leave, but you hold him to blame and you don’t think he should be able to get out of the marriage “criticism-free.”

    Sounds to me like you’re projecting your own issues onto this letter.

    Where did you come from, again?

  156. November 30, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Florence: I think divine exploit is laboring under the assumption that the anonymous letter writer is secretly Newt Gingrich. Nothing else explains the froth and spittle.

    The words “confused” and “hurt” should be a dead giveaway… Newt would never admit to such human failings as confusion and pain, even anonymously…

  157. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    You’d tell him to leave, but you hold him to blame and you don’t think he should be able to get out of the marriage “criticism-free.”

    Because his passivity makes it clear that he is not committed to being an equal partner with her and so she would be better off without him, dipshit.

    And I will say again, zuzu, that we can only work off what we have. We are essentially working with a theoretical, bare bones version of the situation, where all there is to the story is his brief description, because it would be literally impossible to have any kind of discussion if we insisted on pretending to discuss the full, complex reality. Any and every conclusion would be undermined by not having enough facts. We simply don’t have enough information.

    And in this bare bones theoretical, he has done nothing but respect her boundaries, which is the bare minimum.

  158. Fenriswolf
    November 30, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Can we please just remember this is about more than just sex. No sex or physical intimacy for 3 years? You don’t think that would be a little soul destroying? And I really don’t know but the phrasing kind of implies he’s not really let into her process of coping, she doesn’t like to talk about it; and that’s certainly understandable but doesn’t help the feeling of being lost and abandoned.

    Mostly I find this depressing because that poor bastard is going to be getting that awful person’s advice. God knows how he’ll take it but he’s just been told that his wife is selfish and possibly lying about being abused. That makes me sick; I’m disgusted that’s what she thought and I’m horrified that is being given as advice. It is quite scary people might take her seriously. :(

  159. November 30, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    divine exploit: Because his passivity makes it clear that he is not committed to being an equal partner with her and so she would be better off without him, dipshit.

    Ooh, here comes the name-calling! Such a darling, you are.

    Make up your mind, sweetie. Either he’s actively — because words are actions! — harming her, or he’s passively stepping back and therefore harming her.

    Mwah!

  160. Yeny
    November 30, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Ok I see how things work in the sex-positive feminist camp: you’ll jump down the throat of someone for saying that even sexual assault survivors have a right to be loved, but not a single one of you has questioned the idea that has been repeated a few times about there being a right to have sex. Well fuck you. The absolute callousnous of the comments of this feminist commentariat make me, as a sexual assault survivor, want nothing to do with your movement.
    Thank you to Anonymous in This Thread for putting into words some of the reasons why this thread has caused me such hurt and anger and why feministe is not a safe space for survivors like me. (I am well aware that other survivors may indeed feel perfectly happy with this thread, however, that does not negate that for some of us this thread, and feministe in general, is not a safe space)

  161. November 30, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    divine exploit: And in this bare bones theoretical, he has done nothing but respect her boundaries, which is the bare minimum.

    You’ve managed to construct quite an edifice of evil for this guy out of such bare bones, pumpkin.

    The horrors! He respected her boundaries! OHNOEZ!

  162. Astraea
    November 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    d_e is being questioned and accused of overreacting for calling a man sexist? really?

  163. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Ooh, here comes the name-calling! Such a darling, you are.

    Make up your mind, sweetie. Either he’s actively — because words are actions! — harming her, or he’s passively stepping back and therefore harming her.

    Mwah!

    You know it’s really sexist to condescend to women using cutesy pet names, right? Just checking.

    And, uh, actions don’t mean he’s actively harming her. Everything he does is an action. Passively doing the very least is an action, but it is not active in the sense of taking the initiative.

  164. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    zuzu: You’ve managed to construct quite an edifice of evil for this guy out of such bare bones, pumpkin.

    The horrors! He respected her boundaries! OHNOEZ!

    It’s good that he respected her boundaries, because if he didn’t he’d be fucking abusive.

    But it’s not all he should be doing, god damn.

  165. November 30, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Astraea: d_e is being questioned and accused of overreacting for calling a man sexist? really?

    No, she’s being questioned and accused of overreacting for constructing a fantasy where the husband is abusive and coercive and completely to blame for the demise of the marriage out of thin air.

    Come on. You’re smarter than that.

  166. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Yeny: the idea that has been repeated a few times about there being a right to have sex.

    Cite please.

  167. Rodeo
    November 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    I was in a relationship while I worked on my issues. It was a shit relationship for many reasons, the primary one being that I had so much crazy that I’m surprised I could see straight (the second being that he was patently not good enough for me). However, he was really supportive of me dealing with my crazy and being in therapy, and pretty much all he ever did was ask me how therapy was going, and accept celibacy for a few weeks/months at a time.

    If he had tried to:

    talk openly, honestly, non-coercively about her with the struggles he’s having, with an emphasis on feeling like he is struggling with their relationship

    well, what would have happened is the same thing that happened every time he tried: I would have picked a passive aggressive fight until I could burst into tears and get him to apologize for sharing his honest feelings with me. I was a victim of trauma and that meant I wasn’t healthy enough for the sexual relationship. I needed to feel a sense of power in the relationship and he was a genuinely decent guy who didn’t want me to hurt. Telling me shit like this wasn’t “supportive,” it made me feel like a crazypants who had no power.

    I’ve since apologized to him for manipulating him like this and probably giving hm a nice set of baggage for future partner to deal with.

  168. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    zuzu: No, she’s being questioned and accused of overreacting for constructing a fantasy where the husband is abusive and coercive and completely to blame for the demise of the marriage out of thin air.

    I don’t think he’s abusive or coercive (unless he gives her an ultimatum, that is). I just think he’s a shitty husband who feels awfully entitled to having everything turn out his way when he puts in just the minimum required effort to not be abusive.

  169. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    zuzu: You’ve managed to construct quite an edifice of evil for this guy out of such bare bones, pumpkin.

    The horrors! He respected her boundaries! OHNOEZ!

    I believe we can safely call this “projection”.

  170. November 30, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    divine exploit: You know it’s really sexist to condescend to women using cutesy pet names, right? Just checking.

    Okay, fine. How does “you fucking fuck” work for you?

    You’re really a piece of work.

    And how did you find this post? I’ve never seen you or your friend pawnee at this blog before, and I’ve been hanging around for years.

  171. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    @Rodeo: Hence the suggestion of couples therapy.

  172. Anonymous For This Thread
    November 30, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Rodeo: Rodeo 11.30.2011 at 8:06 pm

    I think I said this in the last thread about sexless relationships, but the word to describe a person you love but don’t have sex with isn’t “spouse,” it’s “friend.” Perhaps “roommate.”

    If someone sexually traumatized you and made it impossible for you to have a normal/decent/healthy sexual relationship with another person, getting those issues resolved should be the first priority. Not working through those issues is a pretty fantastic way to make sure a relationship ends with even more trauma and hurt feelings.

    Whoa, hold up there. Sex is not an inherent aspect of every romantic relationship. Asexual people, for example, can be romantic without having sex. Some disabled folks also have romantic relationships without sex, or without sex as defined by mainstream (and, often, even feminist) cultures. Some polyamorous people don’t have sex with some romantic partners but do have sex with others. Some kinky people only engage in activities that are tied to sex – like BDSM – but may not be personally experienced as such. And some couples are celibate for personal, cultural or spiritual reasons. And what constitutes a “normal/decent/healthy sexual relationship with another person” is in the eye of the beholder. You are welcome to define what a normal, decent, and healthy sexual relationship is like for you, but don’t impose that shit on everyone else.

  173. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    divine exploit: I just think he’s a shitty husband who feels awfully entitled to having everything turn out his way when he puts in just the minimum required effort to not be abusive.

    I like how you bend over backwards to say that we can’t know anything for sure based on the “bare bones” information provided, and then confidently conclude that the letter writer is a sexist asshole who’s done the bare minimum to save his marriage. Oh, and berate other people for being unable to draw the same clear, rational conclusion.

  174. Esti
    November 30, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    No one — absolutely no one — is saying you have a right to have sex. Sex, being a thing that involves (at least) two people, is inherently not something you can have a right to, because all other people have a right to *not* have sex with you. Which is why no one is saying this guy’s wife should be having sex with him.

    What people *are* saying is that you have a right not to be in a sexless relationship. Maybe you’ll then enter a relationship that involves sex, or maybe you’ll end up alone with no sex, but you absolutely have a right to leave.

  175. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    I like how you bend over backwards to say that we can’t know anything for sure based on the “bare bones” information provided

    That’s not what I said at all.

    I said that we could not know anything for sure if we insisted on pretending we’re talking about the actual, real life situation. We can know plenty for sure if we instead recognize that we are talking about a theoretical, bare bones situation borne out of the real one, made up entirely of what information we have been given. And that information includes his only example of being supportive being respecting her boundaries.

  176. November 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Rodeo: I think I said this in the last thread about sexless relationships, but the word to describe a person you love but don’t have sex with isn’t “spouse,” it’s “friend.” Perhaps “roommate.”

    Happily, your opinion is your opinion and not a universal edict.

    What two consenting adults do in private is their business, isn’t it? Sure, if they specifically ask for advice, like in this case, then it’s fine to speculate and give advice on their particular case. But to generalize about all sexless relationships? Nope, none of your business to label, especially if the consenting adults in question have a different opinion.

    I would say couples therapy might be good for this couple, too, since they both seem to think the marriage *might* be worth saving (she hasn’t initiated divorce, he’s still divided on the question). I do wonder why, in three years, he’s never thought to have a gentle and respectful conversation along the lines of “How long have you known about this?” It’s not her responsibility to disclose, but a good faith attempt to initiate something like that seems at least more productive than stewing in the assumption that she lied to or tricked him.

  177. November 30, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Who and what are the default here? The assumptions themselves are quite revealing. If the husband believes that lack of sex is a deal-breaker, now *he* should state this clearly and baldly as a condition of marriage. It should not have to be assumed by either party, whoever has the higher drive. Both parties are responsible for stating their deal-breakers before they sign on the dotted line. Why does the wife have to be the one to reveal her expectations more than the husband?

  178. November 30, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Yeny: Ok I see how things work in the sex-positive feminist camp: you’ll jump down the throat of someone for saying that even sexual assault survivors have a right to be loved, but not a single one of you has questioned the idea that has been repeated a few times about there being a right to have sex. Well fuck you.

    No, fuck *you.*

    Because no one has said that the husband has a right to sex with his wife. Or with anyone. But if he feels that sex is important in a relationship, and if he entered this marriage after a five-year sexual relationship and suddenly the ground rules changed, then he has a right to take care of his own needs and desires and leave this relationship in order to seek out one where his needs and desires will be fulfilled.

    So, to sum up:

    No one has a right to be loved.

    No one has a right to a relationship with the person they choose.

    No one has a right to sex from another person.

    Everyone has the right to leave a marriage or other relationship at any time, even if the other person wants them to stay.

  179. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Florence: I like how you bend over backwards to say that we can’t know anything for sure based on the “bare bones” information provided, and then confidently conclude that the letter writer is a sexist asshole who’s done the bare minimum to save his marriage.

    Not to menion…its dependent on a definition of a “good” spouse that requires you to work on a marriage even you’re emotionally done with the relationship. Personally, I think staying when you’re done is far worse than walking out.

    Relationships are work, but you should only do the work that you want to do.

  180. Anonymous For This Thread
    November 30, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    zuzu: But no one has the right to a relationship with the person of their choice no matter what the person of their choice is getting out of it.

    Saying that sexual assault survivors are not undeserving of love just because they can’t or won’t have sex – which, as I’ve stated upthread, is what I mean – is not the same as saying you deserve a specific person sticking around. I mentioned multiple times in comment that yes, a survivor may lose their partner and that yes, that’s the partner’s prerogative.

  181. Q Grrl
    November 30, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    And in this bare bones theoretical, he has done nothing but respect her boundaries, which is the bare minimum.

    That’s assuming a 50/50 level playing field in the marriage. Her actions, almost immediately after marriage, indicate that the playing field is not level.

    Earlier you assumed she’ll be better off without him? Why? He seems to be key to her working through her trauma. Maybe the reason that she was able to start working on the trauma after the marriage is… I dunno… because she feels safe with him? We’re all kind of assuming that the marriage was a trigger for her. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe she finely felt safe but didn’t know what the consequences would be.

    Either way, she’s had enough time to dig into both the trauma and the marriage to know that she is hurting her husband. And even if she is unintentionally hurting him, it takes a pretty callous person not to want to spare your spouse from harm.

    I don’t always agree with where my partner’s trigger points are (because sometimes they seem strange to me), but I sure as hell recognize that if I keep doing something that hurts her, regardless of how much I need to do that something, I am not respecting her, I am not loving her, and I am most certainly not actively working to ensure a healthy and strong partnership.

  182. November 30, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Dominique: Both parties are responsible for stating their deal-breakers before they sign on the dotted line. Why does the wife have to be the one to reveal her expectations more than the husband?

    You didn’t read the post, did you?

  183. Onymous
    November 30, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    pawnee:
    So yeah he’s not calling her a manipulative bitch, he just felt likes he hid her abuse until they got married on purpose. Got it.

    One of these implies deliberate action, the other implies deliberately malicious action. There is a huge gulf of semantic, legal and (in this case) above all moral difference between them, and the same gulf applies to accusations of them.

  184. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Kristen J.: Not to menion…its dependent on a definition of a “good” spouse that requires you to work on a marriage even you’re emotionally done with the relationship. Personally, I think staying when you’re done is far worse than walking out.

    Relationships are work, but you should only do the work that you want to do.

    I’m talking about what he should have been doing this whole time, not just what he should be doing now if he wants to take a stab at continuing the relationship. He was apparently willing to sit around and wait three years, he couldn’t have put active work into the relationship as well?

    Oh, and Q Grrl, I’m not engaging with you because your comments have been, frankly, disgusting.

  185. November 30, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Anonymous For This Thread: Saying that sexual assault survivors are not undeserving of love just because they can’t or won’t have sex – which, as I’ve stated upthread, is what I mean – is not the same as saying you deserve a specific person sticking around.

    And yet no one here has said that sexual assault survivors of being undeserving or unworthy of love.

    What people has said is that one cannot expect even a loving partner to continue to love you no matter what.

  186. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    divine exploit: I’m talking about what he should have been doing this whole time, not just what he should be doing now if he wants to take a stab at continuing the relationship. He was apparently willing to sit around and wait three years, he couldn’t have put active work into the relationship as well?

    You’re talking about your magical thinking of what he may or may not have done and filtered it through your personal expectations of marriage.

  187. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Okay, fine. How does “you fucking fuck” work for you?

    You’re really a piece of work.

    And how did you find this post? I’ve never seen you or your friend pawnee at this blog before, and I’ve been hanging around for years.

    I don’t have to provide you with my credentials to be taken seriously.

    Now engage with my points or stop pretending that you’re engaging me in good faith.

  188. November 30, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Yeny: but not a single one of you has questioned the idea that has been repeated a few times about there being a right to have sex.

    Wait…what? Who has said that someone has the right to sex? People have the right to pursue consenting sexual relationships, but no one has the right to sex with anyone but themselves.

  189. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Kristen J.: You’re talking about your magical thinking of what he may or may not have done and filtered it through your personal expectations of marriage.

    No, I ‘m talking about what he’s said he’s done, and accepting that I cannot know anything else about their situation and therefore basing my opinion only on what information we’re given. Which is that he says he’s tried to be supportive, and his one example of this is respecting her boundaries and not forcing her to be physically intimate with him.

    Real magical thinking is thinking that the one key sentence that would make it clear he’s been the superest super husband there ever was happened to be the one sentence also edited out.

  190. November 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    divine exploit: Now engage with my points or stop pretending that you’re engaging me in good faith.

    Physician, heal thyself.

    Pumpkin.

  191. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    divine exploit: Oh, and Q Grrl, I’m not engaging with you because your comments have been, frankly, disgusting.

    What? What’s disgusting about her comments? She has essentially said that the husband is responsible for his own happiness and that the wife needs to be honest about her capabilities and limitations. If they can’t do this mutually, it’s more than reasonable that they are at an impasse and a dissolution of the marriage is not only inevitable, it’s PREFERABLE! What is gross about this?

    Or are you just trolling?

  192. Q Grrl
    November 30, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Oh, and Q Grrl, I’m not engaging with you because your comments have been, frankly, disgusting.

    LOL. I understand. I used to think that the fulcrum of morality was the penis too. I got over it.

    On the other hand, I’ve always felt that radical feminism was about getting to the root, not just blaming men. If part of the root is perpetuated by a woman’s behavior, I don’t have a problem with looking at the ethical and moral outfall of it all.

  193. Anonymous For This Thread
    November 30, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    zuzu: zuzu 11.30.2011 at 8:48 pm

    Anonymous For This Thread: Saying that sexual assault survivors are not undeserving of love just because they can’t or won’t have sex – which, as I’ve stated upthread, is what I mean – is not the same as saying you deserve a specific person sticking around.

    And yet no one here has said that sexual assault survivors of being undeserving or unworthy of love.

    What people has said is that one cannot expect even a loving partner to continue to love you no matter what.

    As I said to Jill, did I ever say that people in this thread have said sexual assault survivors are undeserving of love? :)

    I made that statement not to disagree with people in the thread, but to add my perspective to this thread. There are other reasons to speak, you know, than to contradict someone else’s statement. :) My reason, which I stated clearly in my first comment and in my followup to Jill, was to share sentiments I think survivors don’t hear enough.

    I don’t think survivors hear enough that they deserve love even if they don’t have sex. And I think when you keep hearing, over and over, how your partner totally has the right to leave you (which they do! I’m not arguing with that!) it can reaffirm your sense that you don’t deserve love, and that your survivor sexuality is some kind of universally recognized dealbreaker.

    Threads like this have popped up in the past on different feminist websites. Back in the day, when this stuff was especially fresh and raw and still bleeding for me, I was that survivor reading the comments and literally crying (from the Internet!!) because comment after comment expressed sympathy for the poor guy going through this terrible situation with this survivor who was, at best, fucked up, and at worst, cruel and manipulative.

    Now that I’m in a place where I can talk about it and speak to my own perspective, I want to say this shit because I’m sure there are some survivors reading who are similar to me; who have gone through periods of intense shame and guilt because of their sexuality, and who will appreciate some supportive words.

  194. November 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Florence: Or are you just trolling?

    Oh, that horse left the barn about 100 comments ago.

    Now it’s just performance art. Really, it’s hilarious, watching the little monkey dance and order around longtimers when she’s never commented here before.

  195. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    divine exploit: Which is that he says he’s tried to be supportive, and his one example of this is respecting her boundaries and not forcing her to be physically intimate with him.

    As far as the one example we have, he’s respected this pretty harsh no sex, no intimacy boundary for the entirety of their marriage, which was not on the table when they got married. That’s… totally decent behavior, especially considering the loneliness and confusion this entails. This sounds like a letter written out of sadness and desperation. Your hyperfocused insistence on this being asshole behavior is totally normal and not at all weird, pal.

  196. November 30, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Anonymous For This Thread: Whoa, hold up there. Sex is not an inherent aspect of every romantic relationship. Asexual people, for example, can be romantic without having sex. Some disabled folks also have romantic relationships without sex, or without sex as defined by mainstream (and, often, even feminist) cultures. Some polyamorous people don’t have sex with some romantic partners but do have sex with others. Some kinky people only engage in activities that are tied to sex – like BDSM – but may not be personally experienced as such. And some couples are celibate for personal, cultural or spiritual reasons. And what constitutes a “normal/decent/healthy sexual relationship with another person” is in the eye of the beholder. You are welcome to define what a normal, decent, and healthy sexual relationship is like for you, but don’t impose that shit on everyone else.

    This. I like sex and sex is a pre-requisite for a romantic relationship with me (at the moment, at least), but it’s certainly not the case for everyone.

    Dominique: Who and what are the default here? The assumptions themselves are quite revealing. If the husband believes that lack of sex is a deal-breaker, now *he* should state this clearly and baldly as a condition of marriage.

    The issue is the change. If sex was part of the relationship and then suddenly stopped, it’s the responsibility of the stopper to be upfront. Same with any change that impacts both parties in a relationship.

  197. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Okay, you know what, I’m out.

    This asshole husband can respect boundaries, but zuzu can’t. And Q Grrl’s insistence that it is the sole responsibility of an abuse survivor who rightly set boundaries and sought therapy to fix the problems in their marriage, but my belief that they are equally obligated to work on their relationship and the husband needs to step up to do so is just beyond the pale.

    This whole conversation was just. Really fucked.

  198. divine exploit
    November 30, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    divine exploit: nd Q Grrl’s insistence that it is the sole responsibility of an abuse survivor who rightly set boundaries and sought therapy to fix the problems in their marriage

    *is fine

    droppin words, droppin words

  199. November 30, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    divine exploit: Okay, you know what, I’m out.

    Flounce!

    divine exploit: but my belief that they are equally obligated to work on their relationship and the husband needs to step up to do so is just beyond the pale.

    No, sweetpea, no one thinks that they shouldn’t work on the marriage. What’s fucked is that you keep insisting, based on no evidence other than a letter which basically says, “This bad thing happened and I’m hurt and confused and feel misled and have totally respected my wife’s wishes not to touch her for three years but it’s getting to be too much now,” that the husband has done nothing at all to help his wife out and is in fact displaying a sense of entitlement to her body that even you admit he hasn’t acted on, even though words are actions!

    That’s fucked.

    Don’t let the door hit ya on the way out.

  200. Kristen J.
    November 30, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    divine exploit: No, I ‘m talking about what he’s said he’s done, and accepting that I cannot know anything else about their situation and therefore basing my opinion only on what information we’re given.

    Actually you’re talking about your extrapolations of what he has or hasn’t done. After all you could as easily read the word “supportive” as indicating he did all of the things you suggest. But no, you know the TRUTH and will brook no disagreement. He is a sexist, lazy, immoral asshat because of a single sentence which is sexist because you say so.

  201. Q Grrl
    November 30, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I point out that the situation is, in fact, not 50/50 vis-a-vis the marriage and that she needs to work more to make it 50/50; you say that what he is doing is just shades away from abuse.

    But I’m beyond the pale?

    LOL, whatever you’re smokin’? Keep it.

  202. November 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Ryan:
    @Jill,zuzu,Fashionably,etal

    Whatshesaidverbatimwas tothebestofmymemory):“It would break my heart to know that you were with other women, and I can’t bring myself to give you permission to do that, but I don’t want to divorce over this, and if you do cheat, I don’t want to know about it.”

    Basically, she wants to have it both ways. I’m also torn because I feel like putting the choice in such binary terms is potentially coercive(i.e., either you let me do this ,or I’m leaving).

    I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and observe that when a woman says something breaks her heart, that’s what she means – not, say, “I want to manipulate the heck out of our relationship so I get everything I want and to hell with you, nyah, nyah, nyah nyah, nyah”.

    Your wife is not the manipulative one. You are. She’s in a world of pain. Your pain is nothing in comparison. Suck it up and try to understand. And yes, it’s very fucking possible to sneak around on your wife without throwing it in her face, the way she says you could, please. Just ask Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. It doesn’t take that high of an I.Q.

  203. November 30, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    It’s sad to see the number of males out there willing to come here, to a feminist site, and try to manipulate the commentators into patting them on the head for their patriarchal bullshit.

  204. Florence
    November 30, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Dominique:
    It’ssadtoseethenumberofmalesouttherewillingtocomehere,toafeministsite,andtrytomanipulatethecommentatorsintopattingthemontheheadfortheirpatriarchalbullshit.

    We little ladies can’t help but coddle the big, strong males who come to a feminist blog asking about ethical ways to handle interpersonal relationship dilemmas. We’re so easily duped because patriarchy.

  205. Q Grrl
    November 30, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    And whatever Dominique is smokin? I’ll pass on that too.

  206. FashionablyEvil
    November 30, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    And whatever Dominique is smokin? I’ll pass on that too.

    Well, it does look like it’s rather strong.

    Side note: I came back to this thread to apologize for/amend my earlier comment about her having an obligation to disclose, but I seemed to have missed the opportunity amidst the clamoring to be FNNT.

  207. Locke
    November 30, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Dominique:

    She’sinaworldofpain.Yourpainisnothingincomparison.Suckitupandtrytounderstand.Andyes,it’sveryfuckingpossibletosneakaroundonyourwifewithoutthrowingitinherface,thewayshesaysyoucould,please.JustaskHermanCainandNewtGingrich.Itdoesn’ttakethathighofanI.

    Are you possibly conflating Ryan’s situation with the Letter Writer’s? As far as I could tell from Ryan’s post his wife’s disinterest in sex doesn’t appear to stem from past of sexual abuse. It seems as if she simply lost an interest in sex. Perfectly valid. However, I may have missed something, because I just don’t see how that amounts to the wife being in a “world of pain.” She isn’t interested in sex, her husband is. Her husband is, in his account, attempting to find a mutually agreeable solution. How is that “manipulative”? What is it that he should “suck it up and try to understand”?

    • November 30, 2011 at 10:27 pm

      Wow, this thread.

  208. William
    November 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    He must be providing her with the support she needs on some level, or surely in the last 36 months of therapy her therapist would have suggested SHE divorce HIM, and the whole discussion would never have taken place.

    Not necessarily. A lot of therapists don’t suggest specific courses of action or offer advice, period. Given that this woman has been in therapy for three years its likely that she’s undergoing either psychodynamic or humanistic treatment. If that guess is correct, its very likely that her therapist will abstain from suggesting she do anything because that just isn’t how those techniques work.

    I avoid it as much as is humanly possible because, honestly, telling people what to do isn’t my place. Therapy isn’t about making good decisions for people who make bad decisions or substituting the judgement of an expert for the judgement of the patient, therapy is about providing a neutral observer to help identify why someone feels the way they feel. What they do with that comes down to them if you’re going to be serious about respecting the autonomy of a patient.

    Then again, if we were serious about respecting autonomy we probably wouldn’t be second guessing one person’s experience in order to avoid second guessing another person’s experience because we feel like we need a hero and a villain. This whole situation seems like a manual for how to fuck people over with coercive social messages.

  209. tinfoil hattie
    November 30, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    @zuzu, If an argument is getting this heated, and someone says she’s not going to participate any longer, is there any way to void the accusation of “flouncing”? What is wrong with leaving an unproductive, nasty conversation? On the one hand, you asked the commenter repeatedly where she “came from,” (not sure why new people aren’t welcome here, even if they disagree with long-time commenters). On the other, when she had enough, you
    commented, “Flounce!”

    I experience that as “crazy-making” behavior.

    Also, I too believe people here are way more supportive of the man who wrote the letter than they are with his wife. I believe people have made up all kinds of stuff about her, not just about him, to bolster their arguments. My favorite part, though, is people commenting on the competency of the therapist, based on some arbitrary prejudices about how long therapy should take, and what the outcome should be.

  210. November 30, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Dominique: And yes, it’s very fucking possible to sneak around on your wife without throwing it in her face, the way she says you could, please. Just ask Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.

    I’m sorry, are you really giving Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich as examples of discretion in the conduct of extramarital affairs?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

  211. November 30, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    tinfoil hattie: @zuzu, If an argument is getting this heated, and someone says she’s not going to participate any longer, is there any way to void the accusation of “flouncing”?

    Well, she could have argued in good faith, but as I said, that horse left the barn about 150 comments ago.

    tinfoil hattie: Also, I too believe people here are way more supportive of the man who wrote the letter than they are with his wife.

    Really, what’s to say about her? Nobody’s saying she can’t work on her shit, or that being sexually abused isn’t terrible, or what have you. All the juice, conversationally, is on his side, and yes, that includes having to speculate on his perceptions of her actions, so she’s necessarily under some kind of discussion. As for her therapist, well, three years without any sense of progress is kind of a long time. One wonders what the treatment plan is at this point.

  212. miga
    November 30, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    I’ve never been comfortable with advice columns for reasons exemplified by this thread. I assume very few of us here are trained therapists, and I honestly wouldn’t trust any professional who claims they could provide strong advice or judgement based on a write-in problem. Not even the car-talk guys do that! And cars are relatively simple when compared to humans and relationships.

    So why is it that any of us (Prudie especially, since she’s paid for this and responding to the guy directly) feel we have enough facts to make a character judgement? All we know is what’s in the letter, and not necessarily all of that. This guy could be lying about everything, nothing, or he could just a bad letter writer. And with no dialogue between the asker and the advice giver, there’s no opportunity to clear up even the smallest question. We’re more qualified to make judgments on each other than this guy, his wife, or their marriage.

  213. PrettyAmiable
    November 30, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    I wonder if I’m the only sexual assault survivor on this thread who doesn’t tell guys she’s dating about her history. Maybe if every idiot I fucked didn’t think I was broken because of some shit that happened one time to me, and maybe if I wasn’t paying for someone else’s mistake everyday for the rest of forever, I would find a way to sympathize with men in the LW position. As it is, I am, and I can’t. And you know what? I frankly couldn’t give a fuck if that means other people think I’m bitchy. Oh noez, I’m holding the specific responsible for the attitudes of the general. But no, can’t give a fuck.

  214. Lauren
    November 30, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    PrettyAmiable: I wonder if I’m the only sexual assault survivor on this thread who doesn’t tell guys she’s dating about her history. Maybe if every idiot I fucked didn’t think I was broken because of some shit that happened one time to me, and maybe if I wasn’t paying for someone else’s mistake everyday for the rest of forever, I would find a way to sympathize with men in the LW position. As it is, I am, and I can’t. And you know what? I frankly couldn’t give a fuck if that means other people think I’m bitchy. Oh noez, I’m holding the specific responsible for the attitudes of the general. But no, can’t give a fuck.

    I’m all boring and married now, but I told everyone I dated because it wasn’t anything I felt I should be ashamed about (okay, I argued with myself that I shouldn’t be ashamed, hence my willingness to tell) with the thought that anyone who was turned off by it or thought I was broken isn’t someone I wanted to be with anyway. It’s not for everyone, but it worked for me.

  215. tinfoil hattie
    November 30, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Well, zuzu, nobody knows what kind of progress has been made, do we? Her husband’s definition of “progress” might not be relevant, since it’s her therapy, and not his.

  216. tinfoil hattie
    November 30, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Another point: the LW is speaking for himself and for his wife. I’d hazard she really wouldn’t enjoy being fodder for internet discussions.

  217. December 1, 2011 at 12:09 am

    And yet he’s allowed to seek advice for himself, which is what he did.

    Autonomy! You’re soaking in it!

  218. LotusBen
    December 1, 2011 at 12:34 am

    I like reading conversations like this. Everyone is talking about each partner’s obligations; what the man “should” do, what the woman “should” do; who deserves what or is entitled to what or has a right to what. I like conversations like these because it reminds me of how grateful I am that I don’t believe in any of that shit anymore. The way I approach life is pretty simple: I do what I want. That way I’m not worrying about all sorts of complicated responsibilities or moral obligations; I’m just doing what I feel like. It makes my life a lot more enjoyable and simple.

    Of course, I still like to judge people from time to time. And I don’t know anything about this guy’s wife, but from how he talks in his letter, I don’t feel much sympathy for him. I understand being ambivalent–loving your wife and wanting to be with her but being frustrated about the lack of sex. But it seems like he’s adopted a sort of powerless victim role here, and I’m not sure what his problem is. Sex is a pretty strong need for me, so I can’t imagine having handled this for 3 years. I would have either asked my wife how she felt about me getting into some sort of polyamory situation or seperated from her. But it seems like he’s been holding a grudge for 3 years instead. Dude, if this is such an important need to you and you’re not getting it met for 3 years; that’s your fault–don’t blame your wife.

  219. EG
    December 1, 2011 at 12:38 am

    Dominique: I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and observe that when a woman says something breaks her heart, that’s what she means – not, say, “I want to manipulate the heck out of our relationship so I get everything I want and to hell with you, nyah, nyah, nyah nyah, nyah”.

    The two things are not mutually exclusive, you know. Hey, here’s a thought–maybe he doesn’t want to sneak around behind her back, knowing that if she found out that it would “break her heart” because he’s not a shithead, and doesn’t enjoy being dishonest.

    Dominique: Your wife is not the manipulative one. You are.

    How…is he being manipulative, precisely? By…saying, forthrightly, “I’m really not happy with the way things are, how can we address this?” That’s…not manipulation. It’s pretty much the opposite of manipulation.

    Dominique: She’s in a world of pain. Your pain is nothing in comparison.

    Ok, so tell me, at what point on the objective Pain Measurement Scale to which you clearly have access is it all right to start taking one’s own feelings into account?

    tinfoil hattie: If an argument is getting this heated, and someone says she’s not going to participate any longer, is there any way to void the accusation of “flouncing”?

    Sure. Just shut the browser and walk away. What makes it a flounce is the act of publicly announcing it, as though your unhappiness with the argument and arguers is so! fucking! important! that everybody is fascinated to know your personal threshold for it. Want to walk away from an argument? Fine. Want to make a spectacle of walking away from an argument? You’re a flouncey drama queen.

  220. EG
    December 1, 2011 at 12:40 am

    tinfoil hattie: Her husband’s definition of “progress” might not be relevant, since it’s her therapy, and not his.

    It’s certainly relevant to his assessment of whether or not he wants to stick it out for what could be another few years of no sex.

  221. tinfoil hattie
    December 1, 2011 at 12:41 am

    Yes, zuzu, asking a stranger for advice on an extremely private matter, in an extremely public setting, is a stellar example of “autonomy.” In fact, my first reaction to the letter was, “My, how individuated this man is! Boy, I sure wish I had his autonomy!”

    My point stands: Neither you, nor I, nor even the woman’s husband can determine how much “progress” has been made in the woman’s therapy. To assume otherwise is the utmost in arrogance.

  222. December 1, 2011 at 1:05 am

    Here’s what he said about her therapy:

    I’ve tried to be supportive for the last three years … I’ve respected her request for abstaining from sex and physical intimacy, but although she has regular therapy and the therapist says she’s progressing, I see no end to this situation or any signs of improvement. Am I wrong to question whether this marriage is worth it or not?

    He’s talking about his perceptions of her progress. He’s not saying she’s not making progress, just that he doesn’t see it and doesn’t see an end in sight. He discusses his feelings throughout and does not say what her feelings are. He’s asking for advice on what *he* should do.

    Yes, that is autonomy. He’s allowed to have his own feelings and to seek advice about his course of action with regard to his relationship to another person. I don’t see him stepping over the line into speaking on her behalf, or saying what her feelings are, only how her actions have made him feel (Prudie, OTOH, has made a bunch of assumptions about whether the abuse was real).

    His biggest mistake was writing into Prudie rather than to Carolyn Hax, who would have asked him whether he’d done a bunch of things people here have suggested are missing from his letter, suggested counseling, and advised him to face his limited options: accept things as they are, ask for some kind of accommodation on the side, or end the relationship.

  223. earyles
    December 1, 2011 at 1:37 am

    Kristen J.

    Not to menion…its dependent on a definition of a “good” spouse that requires you to work on a marriage even you’re emotionally done with the relationship. Personally, I think staying when you’re done is far worse than walking out.

    Relationships are work, but you should only do the work that you want to do.

    Yes, yes, so much that. I’m a sexual assault survivor and I have some pretty awful health problems, and how those things affect my relationship with my partner are always on my mind. It’s not improbable that I’ll have periods of time when I’m unable to handle physical intimacy. Which sucks, and I’m still figuring out how the heck to be in my relationship without constantly worrying about the able/not always able power dynamic and fair expectations for a long term relationship and blah blah blah. But early on in the relationship my partner and I were open about what life issues we were willing to deal with (as far as we knew) and where we’d draw lines in the sand. We’re obviously still working through stuff and it’s not always fun, but we both want to work through it, and that’s what makes it bearable. If that “want” wasn’t there….that would just be terrible on all fronts.

    Finally, are we positive that the letter writer is a guy? Not to bring a whole other conspiracy theory into the equation, but when I read the letter I couldn’t tell the letter writer’s gender. Prudie’s the one who calls the letter writer a husband.

  224. tinfoil hattie
    December 1, 2011 at 3:04 am

    @zuzu: Still doesn’t qualify him to judge the progress or prognosis of the therapy. If she’s not recovering quickly enough to suit him, he should leave. That is autonomy.

    And IMO his biggest mistake was not gettinh therapy for himself. Asking people who are paid to entertain their readers what to do innthis sad situation? Stupid, I think.

  225. karak
    December 1, 2011 at 4:35 am

    To the anon that’s been posting, and in general:

    All people are worthy of love. Love is like forgiveness, so it can’t be demanded, or coerced, or cajoled, or begged, but you are worthy of love, you do deserve love, and I deeply, deeply hope someday we all find someone who can love us. Regardless of what we’ve done or what has been done to us.

    And on a super-different note:

    I think a person that stays in a sexless marriage, encouraging his wife in her therapy and respecting her boundaries, is a goddamn saint.

    I’m not an abuse survivor, but I am chronically ill and before I die I’ll probably be pretty seriously disabled. I lay my cards on the table repeatedly to my partner, “This is what I am. This is what you have to put up with. This is what I expect from you.” and if he can’t. or won’t, deal with it, then I deserve someone better who will. I’d rather be alone than be with someone inadequate. And if he leaves me because of my illness, then yeah, he wasn’t a good man. But if he stays only because I am sick, then he isn’t an honest man, and I don’t want that either.

  226. Anecdotal
    December 1, 2011 at 8:00 am

    As a lesbian, I was in a relationship with an abuse survivor. The first year of the relationship was very healthy and satisfying, sexually speaking. After that it dropped off rather suddenly. For a long time there was no explanation on her part, and what was really painful, she wouldn’t talk about our relationship. I respected her need for boundaries for another year and a half. What made me leave ultimately, is that she wouldn’t discuss possible solutions for us to work on together. It was tough watching her come to terms with the abuse she’d suffered years before, and it was tough to bring up my own needs. I eventually left the relationship.

    For the abuse survivors on this thread, it sounds like the pressure of knowing your partner may leave you over something that is now a part of your identity (that you didn’t ask for) almost feels like another form of abuse. For reasons I won’t go into I can sort of relate to that double-whammy of being victimized and then feeling that your way of dealing with that victimization is hurting others. It’s an awful consequence, and it’s one more of a myriad of reasons why abuse is such a horrible experience.

    As the partner-whose-needs-were-not-being-met in the relationship I described above it killed me to realize my girlfriend was experiencing that. Ultimately, it was kinder for me to tell her that a. my sexual needs were not being met and b. the dealbreaker was that she was unable to discuss alternatives with me. I understood why she couldn’t, but staying in that relationship was putting my own life on hold, and sticking around for her to see that in me day after day after day was hurtful to her. I took responsibility and ended the relationship, devastating as it was for both of us.

    In the years following, she thanked me for it because she said it helped her get to the next level in dealing with her abuse and that while it was painful to watch me go, it was also a weight off her shoulders.

  227. December 1, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Q Grrl: Trauma does not lend moral superiority

    Thank you.

    I am really tired of the notion that OF COURSE a trauma survivor is automatically a SAINT, surrounded solely by EVIL BASTARDS who just DON’T UNDERSTAND, or WORSE.

    The reflexive desire to cast one person as the “villain” when a relationship falls apart, on the other hand, is not surprising. Prude cast the wife. Some of the people commenting here have cast the husband. But sometimes, it’s an issue of Life Sucking, as opposed to a profound injustice that can, of course, be corrected by adhering to the right kind of ideology or lifestyle. People will get together with the best of intentions, and the entire thing may still collapse like a house of cards. No one is to blame. That’s what makes the aftermath of relationships, romantic and otherwise, so damn hard.

  228. Randomizer
    December 1, 2011 at 9:09 am

    We’re mostly focussing on the sex while the real issue seems to be the lack of intimacy. There is no communication. He has to infer and feel things about his marriage and there are key things he should, if in communication with her, know. We don’t know what either has done to stay in the loop on what is going on with the other, so there is little basis for assigning blame.

    More useful advice to him would have been for him to seek individual couselling to get a handle on his own self and his part in the whole scenarioi before he goes to see a lawyer.

  229. Ryan
    December 1, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Dominique:
    It’s sad to see the number of males out there willing to come here, to a feminist site, and try to manipulate the commentators into patting them on the head for their patriarchal bullshit.

    Actually, I’m here, almost always as a non-participating lurker, to make sure I expose myself to ideas and issues that don’t pop-up in my usual RSS diet, which I hope make me a better boss, coworker, partner, family member and friend to the women in my life. I chose this specific site because I respect Jill’s opinions and writing and find that I’m often challenged by what appears in these pages. But I can redirect my bookmarks to Maxim if you’d rather not have people like me.

    Dominique:
    Your wife is not the manipulative one. You are. She’s in a world of pain. Your pain is nothing in comparison. Suck it up and try to understand.

    And this is why I usually skim/skip the comments. I’m not even going to engage with your willful misinterpretation of my situation.

  230. Athenia
    December 1, 2011 at 10:19 am

    @Jill

    I’m not saying that he needs to “suck it up.” If he is truly unhappy, he can get a divorce–is it inconvenient? Sure. But not anymore inconvenient if his wife had an affair or had a terminal illness (which dudes bail out all the time on too cuz men aren’t socialized to be caregivers).

    I’m not a huge fan of advice columns because it’s very hard to know the full details. Seeing as how he’s writing to Prudie and not jumping in with his own therapy session, it leads me to believe he already knows what he wants to do and just looking for confirmation. Which is generally how it goes.

  231. wriggles
    December 1, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I’m presuming “sex” means “intercourse” perhaps he is being too rigid (no, I didn’t mean it that way) maybe he could try negotiating mutual masturbation and/or a hand job and take it from there?

    If he’s desperate for something warm and wet, he could always stick in a pie, like in the film.

    • December 1, 2011 at 11:00 am

      I’m presuming “sex” means “intercourse” perhaps he is being too rigid (no, I didn’t mean it that way) maybe he could try negotiating mutual masturbation and/or a hand job and take it from there?

      It says in his letter that the wife wants to abstain “from sex and physical intimacy.” So I think handjobs are out.

  232. FashionablyEvil
    December 1, 2011 at 11:02 am

    I’m presuming “sex” means “intercourse” perhaps he is being too rigid

    I’ve respected her request for abstaining from sex and physical intimacy (emphasis added)

    Or, you know, you could read the original post.

  233. Safiya Outlines
    December 1, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I don’t if it’s too late, or too Pollyanna-ish to say this, but I’ve really found it very interesting reading everyone’s viewpoints and experiences related to this. I suspect I’m not the only lurking reader to think that either.

    I do wish there was a bit more playing the ball and less playing the man, but I guess that’s par for the course with such sensitive topics.

  234. DouglasG
    December 1, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Given that the Monday/Tuesday “column” is really the transcript of the DP weekly online chat, it seems probable that the letter might be more thorough had it appeared in the Thursday column, which deals with fewer question in greater detail.

    I’d inquire into:

    : what (if anything) besides respecting her boundaries he’s done to be or try to be (more) supportive and how it was received;

    : why there’s such a discrepancy between the progress of the therapy and his perception;

    : if (and/or how well) the marriage is working for her as it is.

    These are all things for which I can come up with various explanations of at least some plausibility.

    And I entirely agree with Ms Kristen’s post earlier about the nature of marriage and how a pair of participants view it. May you go all next year without a three-putt.

  235. Caperton
    December 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Wife. I love you.

    Husband. Well, I love you more.

    Wife. No, I love you more.

    Husband. No, I love you more.

    Wife. No, I love you more times infinity.

    Husband. We should get married.

    Wife. Yes, let’s!

    [They get married.]

    Wife. HOLY SHIT.

    Husband. What?

    Wife. Husband, I’m so sorry. My dad abused me when I was little, and I thought I was over it, but this marriage has triggered something in me and I’m really freaked out right now.

    Husband. And this isn’t something you could have brought up before we got married?

    Wife. Hey, I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. I thought I was over it. It just… came back when we got married.

    Husband. Well, I’m really sorry you had to go through that. It’s awful. What can I do?

    Wife. Just be supportive.

    Husband. You got it.

    Wife. And I don’t think I can have sex with you while I’m dealing with this.

    Husband. … Really?

    Wife. Yes.

    Husband. … Really really? Because, you know, married, sex with your wife…

    Wife. Yeah. It’s important.

    Husband. … Okay. Whatever you need.

    [Three years pass.]

    Husband. Still nothing?

    Wife. Sorry, no. I’m still working through this.

    Husband. You’re absolutely sure?

    Wife. Hey, I’m working hard here, and my therapist says I’m making progress.

    Husband. Do we have any anticipated timeframe?

    Wife. Well, no.

    Husband. Because it’s hard to go three years without any physical intimacy from your spouse.

    Wife. I’m. Still. Working. Through. This. If you’ll remember, I was abused by my father.

    Husband. I get that.

    Wife. Do you really? Because obviously it’s a big deal for me. I can’t even express how painful it was, and I need this time to heal.

    Husband. You need to do what you need to do, and I won’t be anything less that completely supportive of that. If you don’t want to have sex, we don’t have sex. Absolutely. No question. I’m just kind of feeling emotionally rejected right now, and that’s hard.

    Wife. Well, I’ll let you know.

    Husband. This really is the kind of thing that would have been nice to know before we got married.

    Wife. Well, I didn’t expect it then, now did I?

    Husband. I don’t know, did you?

    Wife. Wow. You’re being a total asshole right now.

    Husband. It’s probably the blue balls talking.

    Wife. Very sympathetic, understanding, and not at all harmful to my healing process. Nice job.

    Husband. I’m sorry, I just… It’s hard.

    Wife. I’ll let you know.

    Husband. Got it.

  236. Mediator
    December 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Ryan,

    You don’t need an attorney (you can’t be joint counsel in a divorce anyway.) You need a VERY skilled divorce mediator. As a mediator and an attorney I strongly recommend you stay away from divorce attorneys. They tend to take things downhill, very very quickly.

  237. Astraea
    December 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    What exactly is the point of this completely made up conversation?

  238. Caperton
    December 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    It’s no more or less made-up than all of our current speculation about their situation based on one 150-word letter written to a blog that isn’t this one by an anonymous stranger solely from his own perspective and almost certainly heavily edited by the Prudie staff before being commented upon by a columnist with a deeply shitty track record. Unless you know this couple personally.

  239. Mediator
    December 1, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Also, these two things ARE THE SAME IDEA, from opposite sides.

    1) “I want to have a partner who wants to have sex with me. If I am with someone who does not find me sexually attractive and who will not have sex with me at my preferred frequency, I feel rejected and miserable.”

    2) I want to have a partner who doesn’t want to have sex with me much (at all, etc.). if I am with someone who openly finds me sexually attractive and who wants to have sex more frequently than I do, I feel put-upon and miserable.”

    Both of those are OK. Neither of those makes you a better or worse person. And neither of them changes at all when you start substituting “spouse” for partner, no matter which spouse or which gender is speaking.

    As a mediator, I myself am more in the “full disclosure” camp. Everyone has baggage, of course. But if you’re going to get married, it’s best to put as much baggage on the table as you can.

    What if you can’t talk about it in any detail? Well, even if you can’t talk about any specifics, if you’re getting MARRIED then you still have an obligation to let your future LIFE PARTNER know that there’s something big out there. “I’ve got some stuff in my past which don’t want to talk about. Just FYI. I’ll let you know if I ever want to. Please don’t ask again.”

    That way, you both can make an educated decision. Maybe they’ll marry you anyway. Or maybe they’ll decline, or get scared off by the unknowns. But if you can tell or allude to it, you should.

    Of course, not everyone does. That type of “manipulation” is common, though it’s not really manipulation. It’s selective perception, or maybe a bit of self interest.

    We all try to present ourselves well, and we’re all reluctant to expose problems. But the more important that a problem is, the more we want to hide it: and the easier a problem is to disclose, the less we think it merits disclosure.

  240. Rodeo
    December 1, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    But not anymore inconvenient if his wife had a terminal illness (which dudes bail out all the time on too cuz men aren’t socialized to be caregivers).

    You know, this sentiment has been brought up a few times in this thread to highlight reasons why men are selfish bastards. Can we also leave some space for the recognition that giving care sucks and not everyone has the temperament or desire to do that for their partners? I suspect that if women weren’t socialized to stick around in situations for which you receive no compensation, no sense of inner joy, but you occasionally get a thank you, they’d be leaving their sick partners in droves as well. Maybe then we’d get better social supports for the chronically ill.

  241. Rare Vos
    December 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Wow, this thread.

    Its made me finally understand why there are so many women unwilling to call themselves feminists, while agreeing with the basic tenents. And where the “femnazi man-hater” stereotype comes from.

    Reading this thread made me embarrassed to be a feminist, and that’s never happened in the 20 years I’ve identified as one.

    I am an abuse survivor. I’m also highly sexual. Part of my abuser’s tactics was to berate, humilate, shame and insult for me being highly sexual. This went on for years. It forever changed who I am and how I approach intimate relationships. So, to all the self-righteous sex-shamers, thanks for the triggering. Nothing like watching other feminists behave just like my rapist.

  242. Donna L
    December 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Does anyone have a source for the repeated assertion that wives are far more likely to stay with a sick husband than the other way round? After all, it has long been the case that women initiate divorce a substantial majority of the time, and I doubt that it’s *always* because the husband is an abusive and/or entitled asshole.

    http://www.divorce-lawyer-source.com/faq/emotional/who-initiates-divorce-men-or-women.html

    It’s the wife who files for divorce in about two-thirds of divorce cases, at least among couples who have children. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the proportion has changed slightly over the years; for example, in 1975, approximately 72 percent of the divorces in the U.S. were filed by women, whereas by 1988, only about 65 percent were filed by women.

    The Same throughout the 19th Century
    A study reported in the American Law and Economics Review in 2000, “These Boots Are Made for Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers are Women” also showed that more recently, women file more than two-thirds of divorce cases in the US. Even though the individual states’ data vary somewhat and the numbers have fluctuated over time, throughout most of the 19th century about 60 percent of divorce filings were by women.

    Moreover, in some of the states where no-fault divorce was introduced, over 70 percent of the divorce filings were by women. Among college-educated couples, the percentage of divorces initiated by wives is a whopping 90 percent.

  243. Rodeo
    December 1, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I doubt that it’s *always* because the husband is an abusive and/or entitled asshole.

    Actually, it almost always IS because the husband is an entitled asshole. It’s the “I had no idea she was so angry at having to scrub the skid marks out of my tighty-whities” type of entitlement that these assholes have.

  244. Donna L
    December 1, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    What a lovely thought, Rodeo! (Believe me, I know quite a few middle-aged women who initiated divorce, and some of the stories I’ve heard would curl your hair. Or uncurl it, as the case may be. But I’m still a little skeptical that that’s “almost always” the reason why wives initiate divorce.)

    Donna L: Does anyone have a source for the repeated assertion that wives are far more likely to stay with a sick husband than the other way round?

    OK, never mind, I found it; it’s from a 2009 study of divorce rates among brain cancer patients; it apparently got quite a bit of publicity at the time. See, for example, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/men-more-likely-to-leave-spouse-with-cancer/

    I can’t say it surprises me, and I’m sure it does have a lot to do with how women are socialized to be caretakers, the one who stays, etc. I’d be curious to see if the same pattern holds for other illnesses, and how it does fit in with the overall statistics of wives being substantially more likely to initiate divorce in general.

  245. LotusBen
    December 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Donna L: Whatalovelythought,Rodeo!(Believeme,Iknowquiteafewmiddle-agedwomenwhoinitiateddivorce,andsomeofthestoriesI’veheardwouldcurlyourhair.Oruncurlit,asthecasemaybe.ButI’mstillalittleskepticalthatthat’s“almostalways”thereasonwhywivesinitiatedivorce.)OK,nevermind,Ifoundit;it’sfroma2009studyofdivorceratesamongbraincancerpatients;itapparentlygotquiteabitofpublicityatthetime.See,forexample,http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/men-more-likely-to-leave-spouse-with-cancer/Ican’tsayitsurprisesme,andI’msureitdoeshavealottodowithhowwomenaresocializedtobecaretakers,theonewhostays,etc.I’dbecurioustoseeifthesamepatternholdsforotherillnesses,andhowitdoesfitinwiththeoverallstatisticsofwivesbeingsubstantiallymorelikelytoinitiatedivorceingeneral.

    Well, I think marriage is still largely about the woman serving the man in most cases, so it makes sense that women would continue to serve men during a man’s illness, whereas a man would bolt with a woman’s ability to continue his servicing becomes limited. I know there have been studies that show married men are happier than unmarried men but married women are unhappier than unmarried women.

  246. Raja
    December 1, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I don’t think his wife was intentionally maninuplating him but she should have said something before they got married. He should file for a divorce if he can’t stand the situation any longer as its clear hes not happy in the relationship and no one should stay in a relationship they are not happy with

  247. DouglasG
    December 1, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Ms Caperton – It probably supports your point that the Monday chat often deals with up to 15 questions in an hour or so. I’m not sure about the exact logistics, but usually by the middle or late portion of the transcript there are comments about earlier replies, so that it is interactive. It seems that the first few questions (of which this was one) are probably selected in advance, but it’s definitely more off the cuff, and people are presumably making an effort to be concise, whereas the Thursday column is a more polished finished product.

  248. A
    December 1, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    I’m in a long-term relationship with a guy who initially wanted to have sex regularly but then lost interest almost completely. Frankly, it sucks. It sucks not having your sexual needs met, it sucks not knowing if that will ever change, it sucks feeling like your partner isn’t interested in you sexually, it sucks feeling like every opportunity to have sex with them might be your last one and it sucks feeling like you can’t talk about it without disrespecting their boundaries.

    Of course no one should have sex if they don’t want to, married or not, but I think not getting your needs for sex and intimacy met is a perfectly acceptable reason to leave a marriage too. Because that hurts too.

  249. Sandra
    December 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Yikes! Why is he asking Dear Prudie when he should be talking to his wife? He needs to decide whether no sex in the marriage is a deal breaker. If it is then he needs to tell his wife that. The more pressure for sex he puts on her, the more she will move away from him. They can then decide together whether it’s worth hanging on.

    I bet you a Mars Bar though that there are things that whatshisface doesn’t do that his wife thought would be a part of their married life together. Maybe he’s just a lousy lover.

  250. Athenia
    December 1, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    @Rodeo

    Whoa. I didn’t call anyone a selfish bastard. And yeah, giving care can suck.

  251. Annaleigh
    December 2, 2011 at 1:52 am

    Anonymous For This Thread: Threads like this have popped up in the past on different feminist websites. Back in the day, when this stuff was especially fresh and raw and still bleeding for me, I was that survivor reading the comments and literally crying (from the Internet!!) because comment after comment expressed sympathy for the poor guy going through this terrible situation with this survivor who was, at best, fucked up, and at worst, cruel and manipulative.

    Amen. I hear you. I can still remember being in high school and reading on the intertubes (and admittedly not on a feminist site) a dude saying that survivors weren’t worth the effort. It was very hurtful and I never forgot it. I think we as survivors hear that all the time anyway, but the internet is one place where we can be reminded of it over and over again.

  252. Annaleigh
    December 2, 2011 at 2:20 am

    I am pretty much celibate and not dating right now because of this issue. About three months into a new relationship, flashbacks of sexual abuse and assaults beginning at age 2 and up tend to hit me, complicating things greatly. New relationships seem to be a trigger for me, and also for some reason my relationships have started within two months of a bad anniversary. Of my last two relationships, the first one was great, he already I knew I was a survivor, and was very compassionate and patient, but I ended things with him because I couldn’t deal with the flashbacks and him at the same time.

    Around that same time I was in the Word of Faith cult (evangelical group). Someone sent me a Bible study telling women who’ve been sexually abused that if we are married and our husbands want sex, we must “take authority” over the PTSD symptoms and submit to sex whether we want it or not. A convent was starting to look mighty good to me in comparison.

    The second of the two relationships was awful. I was pressured for sex from the very beginning to the point that it was nerve-wracking to have any contact with him. I finally blurted out that I was a survivor at one point (before I was actually ready to bring up the subject) to try and relieve some of the immense pressure and to try to get him to slow down. It literally took him minutes after I broke my silence before he started again to pressure for sex. No amount of explaining that I wanted him sexually and that I wasn’t going anywhere but also wasn’t emotionally ready for it helped. I put distance between him and myself for obvious reasons.

    After the second relationship fell apart, I was devastated, felt completely worthless, and like I would always be an object for exploitation and not much more. I told my now-former therapist (who is also a survivor) that I was going to take a year off from having anything to do with relationships, esp. with men, because I was too messed up to do otherwise. T was trying hard to encourage me, help me feel like I was not the problem, and to not “punish” myself by taking the year. But a year has turned into four years.

    I guess my point of sharing this as that I get it that three years is a painfully long time to go without intimacy with a spouse, but at the same time in relationships survivors are under so much pressure to get over it and put out and I feel like a lot of people are very quick to defend the LW without thinking of the myriad of pressures the wife is under to do something that she can’t bring herself to do right now.

  253. mkluifa
    December 2, 2011 at 2:39 am

    I don’t know if anyone has brought this up yet, but maybe the woman was afraid that if she told her boyfriend that she didn’t want sex and had been abused that he wouldn’t love her and would leave her. Maybe she thought that, since they were married, that meant he had an obligation to honor his vows to her. Honestly, sex is not supposed to be a commodity or a service. It is supposed to be two people coming together for the sake of pleasure and maybe even love. If he is horny, he can just use his hand or buy a sleeve or something. I think in the reality of sexist america that the woman was right to be afraid about disclosing her issues around sex. Sounds like from this guy’s reaction she has every reason to be.

  254. December 2, 2011 at 3:28 am

    I guess my point of sharing this as that I get it that three years is a painfully long time to go without intimacy with a spouse, but at the same time in relationships survivors are under so much pressure to get over it and put out and I feel like a lot of people are very quick to defend the LW without thinking of the myriad of pressures the wife is under to do something that she can’t bring herself to do right now.

    It seems like this man has already made up his mind about leaving – he just needs some validation of his decision to send him on his way. Which is perfectly reasonable. He doesn’t need defending, he needs encouragement.

    After all, it his wife would not be better served if he were to stay with her out of pity or a sense of duty. It would not be better for both of them if he swept his resentment – however justified or unjustified – under the rug. It’s best he leave now – he’ll be better off, and she will not experience any undue pressure to perform a role she probably doesn’t need to be performing right now.

    I’ve heard the “I don’t really love her anymore, but I *have* to stick around, after all, she’s experienced too much damage!” line before. It ruins lives – for both parties involved. There is never a “right” reason to end a relationship. Relationships just fail sometimes. If your SO falls out of love with you as you’re going through some difficult crap, it’s probably the most unfair thing in the world. I tend to think this, because I’ve experienced it. But at the end of the day, if these two are better off apart, they’re better off apart.

    After all, just as trauma doesn’t make us “damaged goods,” it doesn’t automatically ennoble us either. Nobody is more “deserving” of romantic commitment because of trauma. If her right to self-care means that her romantic partner must then cut her loose, she’s better off on her own.

  255. John
    December 2, 2011 at 4:42 am

    The thing that seems to be lacking from the letter is any discussion about this between the H and W. We’re in the dark pretty much about this, other than what he says, which is not objective.
    Prudie called W’s decision “a switcheroo”: I agree with this, not because I think it was actuated by bad faith – we have no evidence that it was, and it could have been delayed PTSD brought on by marriage – but because it does re-write the basis of their relationship. There is no indication that H understands W’s distress and scant evidence she understands his. Where is the mutual kindness and respect that any long-term relationship is based on?

    They obviously need to talk and by this time I suspect they’ve driven one another to despair and beyond by a failure to communicate with one another.

    However, I know that I would not be able to go through 3 years of celibacy without some hope of there being a recovery. Otherwise it’s an indeterminate life sentence, which isn’t fair on either of them. I would say that if W is unwilling to talk – and she may not be able to – then the kindest thing for them to do for one another would be to split.

  256. DP
    December 2, 2011 at 11:45 am

    mkluifa:
    I don’t know if anyone has brought this up yet, but maybe the woman was afraid that if she told her boyfriend that she didn’t want sex and had been abused that he wouldn’t love her and would leave her. Maybe she thought that, since they were married, that meant he had an obligation to honor his vows to her. Honestly, sex is not supposed to be a commodity or a service. It is supposed to be two people coming together for the sake of pleasure and maybe even love. If he is horny, he can just use his hand or buy a sleeve or something. I think in the reality of sexist america that the woman was right to be afraid about disclosing her issues around sex. Sounds like from this guy’s reaction she has every reason to be.

    Um.

    If she knew that this was going to make him leave and then waited until the marriage came down to tell him in order to make it harder for him to leave, that’s a terrible thing to do.

    That actually makes the whole thing seem like her fault, because it’s manipulative and pointless. If she thought she was going to be OK, but then suddenly wasn’t, that’s one thing.

    If she knew this was an issue, and kept her silence out of fear of losing her BF/fiance, than she’s basically lying to him in order to entrap him.

    Which, like I said, is both terrible and kind of stupid, since it looks like he’s leaving anyways.

  257. anna
    December 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    If he’s desperate for something warm and wet, he could always stick in a pie, like in the film.

    If he is horny, he can just use his hand or buy a sleeve or something.

    All these “he should just masturbate” comments are pretty harsh. Wanting an actual sex life and being unwilling to stay forever in a monogamous relationship with someone who can’t provide that (for whatever excellent reason they can’t) doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about love. Obviously nobody “needs” sex to survive, but some people do need it to be happy. If a man realized he was gay after marrying a straight woman, and wanted to stay in a platonic monogamous marriage with her forever, would we blame her for saying, “Sorry, I love you but I can’t live like that?”

  258. Sad
    December 2, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    I’ve read a lot of these comments, and some of them make me extremely mad and sad.
    I’m sure what I’m about to say repeats things that might have already been said, but here it is:

    It’s not fair for the wife to be with someone who after trying for three years, is having a hard time emotionally supporting her. She needs someone who can do this for her, and unfortunately maybe her current husband no longer can.

    It’s not fair for the husband to be with someone he knows he might not be able to emotionally support, even if he loves her. It’s not fair that he has to put his needs aside constantly for her, even though her needs are very serious.

    In the end, neither of these people are in the wrong. Unfortunately their marriage is unfair to both of them. And although I can understand the need of support from your partner (as a sexual abuse survivor I understand this quite well), I can also understand that sometimes you can only support someone for so long before you are ultimately drained and can no longer handle that kind of responsibility.

    I honestly hope they can work this out, and if not, that these two people can separately become happier, and hopefully find someone who can understand their needs.

  259. stonebiscuit
    December 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    anna:
    Allthese“heshouldjustmasturbate”commentsareprettyharsh.

    Agreed. They also strike me as missing the point: physical intimacy is about more than orgasms. The LW isn’t specific, so we don’t know the extent to which the restriction on intimacy extends. Since he mentioned sex apart from physical intimacy, I’m inclined to believe that it involves more than “we’re not fucking.” If mr. biscuit suddenly told me that he wasn’t going to kiss me anymore, and that continued for three years, I’d be pulling my hair out trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Would that be an entirely fair reaction? Well, no. But it would be an entirely reasonable reaction to being denied physical intimacy with the person I love for almost half of our relationship.

    I think the people who were bringing this up are gone, but I am also irritated by the idea that not having a physical relationship with a spouse for THREE YEARS is somehow the easy road, the bare minimum, or the least he could do. I was away from mr. biscuit for 8 1/2 weeks last year, and by the end I wanted to badly to be held I could barely think of anything else. Three years is 1,095 days. The need for physical intimacy is very real and very valid, and denying that need for such a length of time out of respect for your partner’s needs deserves a great deal more respect.

  260. Ursula L
    December 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Jill: Um,why?WEdon’tknowifmarriagewasatrigger—we’respeculatingonthat.

    We don’t know if the marriage was a triggering event. Maybe it wasn’t.

    But a reasonable discussion of this couple’s problems, with appropriate therapists, should at least have brought up the idea of triggers, and that marriage can be a trigger. The fact that the husband seems unaware of the concept of marriage being a trigger is problematic.

    Likewise, the advice columnist should be familiar with the concept of triggers, and know that major life changes, such as marriage, can be triggering, and bring that knowledge to the advice column.

    A major psychological and behavior change that coincides with a major life changing event certainly suggests a connection between the two. The possibility should be in the discussion, at the very least as a way of showing the way this type of change can be natural rather than a deceptive “switcheroo.”

  261. Ursula L
    December 2, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    zuzu: You’vemanagedtoconstructquiteanedificeofevilforthisguyoutofsuchbarebones,pumpkin.

    Thehorrors!Herespectedherboundaries!OHNOEZ!

    Right now, we only have his side of the story. And he has said only that he respected her boundaries. Which is the bare minimum to not being a rapist, and earns no particular points beyond basic human decency.

    If he did more, he could have said so. He could have said that they’d been in counseling together, if they had been. He could have said that he went for individual counseling, to learn to understand the problem, if he did so. He could have mentioned attending support groups for the spouses of people with a history of abuse, if he’d sought that kind of help.

    He has the soapbox here, and the things he’s chosen to tell about his actions need to be seen in the context that we are seeing him presenting the situation from his point of view, probably in a way that he thinks makes himself look good. The fact that he chose to present his effort at making the marriage work only as respecting her boundaries while she went to counseling is telling.

  262. Annaleigh
    December 3, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Natalia: Nobody is more “deserving” of romantic commitment because of trauma.

    I don’t think anyone is saying that, though. I think what we are saying is that survivors are constantly receiving the message that we are less deserving of love or a relationship because of what was done to us, the idea that we are more deserving of it is something I hear rarely, if at all.

    I do agree though that she is probably better off without him. He doesn’t seem to care very much for her, I think…

  263. Annaleigh
    December 3, 2011 at 12:24 am

    Ursula L: Right now, we only have his side of the story. And he has said only that he respected her boundaries. Which is the bare minimum to not being a rapist, and earns no particular points beyond basic human decency.

    If he did more, he could have said so. He could have said that they’d been in counseling together, if they had been. He could have said that he went for individual counseling, to learn to understand the problem, if he did so. He could have mentioned attending support groups for the spouses of people with a history of abuse, if he’d sought that kind of help.

    He has the soapbox here, and the things he’s chosen to tell about his actions need to be seen in the context that we are seeing him presenting the situation from his point of view, probably in a way that he thinks makes himself look good. The fact that he chose to present his effort at making the marriage work only as respecting her boundaries while she went to counseling is telling.

    Good point. I really don’t see any sign that he’s at all concerned about her or how she’s doing, it’s all about him and intimacy.

    To get back to the two relationships I talked about, the first guy in addition to all of the good things about him, he researched stuff, he learned about triggers and other issues on his own. He’s still a very good friend, and to this day he gives me heads up on movies and books he thinks might trigger me. He showed love and concern for me as a survivor and continues to do so. The other guy on the other hand never showed any concern for me and what I had been through, he only continued to pressure for sex.

    I think it’s quite telling that the LW makes no reference to trying to learn about what she’s going through, has never bothered to look up resources for secondary survivors that could help him help her and help himself, and the only reference he makes to her therapy is that it’s not getting him the results he wants, i.e. for her to put out.

  264. EG
    December 3, 2011 at 1:31 am

    Annaleigh: Good point. I really don’t see any sign that he’s at all concerned about her or how she’s doing, it’s all about him and intimacy.

    I can see a certain level of frustration and/or resentment building up over the course of three years with no end in sight that might cause one that might swamp the showing of concern in a letter to an advice columnist. That doesn’t sound to me like he’s a jerk; it sounds to me like he’s unhappy.

    Annaleigh: I think it’s quite telling that the LW makes no reference to trying to learn about what she’s going through, has never bothered to look up resources for secondary survivors that could help him help her and help himself, and the only reference he makes to her therapy is that it’s not getting him the results he wants, i.e. for her to put out.

    He might not know that anything for “secondary survivors” exists–I’d never heard of support groups for spouses of survivors of abuse until reading Ursula’s comment, and I’d never even heard the term “secondary survivors” before, despite having been hanging around feminist circles for over 20 years now. That sounds like it would have been a good thing for Prudie to tell him, or even the wife’s therapist to mention to her, as I’m sure she’s aware that this has got to be putting a strain on their marriage, but not something that he should be castigated for not magically knowing about on his own. As for the references he makes to her therapy…what other reference would he make? Therapy is private. I would consider it an intrusion if a partner asked, no matter how gently, what I was doing in therapy without me bringing up the topic. And if my partner discussed anything he knew about my therapy in a public forum, no matter how anonymously…there would be serious hell to pay. It’s not his business, and if I make it his business, it’s certainly not his place to discuss it with anybody else. If he does know anything else about her therapy, I think he did absolutely the right thing only to mention what’s absolutely necessary to his situation.

    I do think phrasing the desire to have sex with somebody you love and live with and married most likely, in our culture, at least in part due to your desire for them after three years of unwanted celibacy as “getting her to put out” is fairly dismissive of what sex means in a relationship and what it does to bond people. Speaking only for myself, I am much more likely to argue with and feel disconnected from a partner if we haven’t had sex for a few weeks than I am if we’ve had sex recently. If I were with somebody for three years and hadn’t had sex with them, I’m pretty sure I would be running fairly low on understanding and concern, not because going without sex for three years is so horrible in and of itself–I can be single for that long, no problem, but because being with a partner with whom I can’t have sex is alienating.

    Ursula L: And he has said only that he respected her boundaries. Which is the bare minimum to not being a rapist, and earns no particular points beyond basic human decency.

    Not really. There are all kinds of ways he could be disrespectful without being a rapist. He could constantly nag her about it; he could pick big screaming fights; he could be visiting sex workers on the side; he could have left years ago.

  265. Annaleigh
    December 3, 2011 at 1:50 am

    EG: Therapy is private. I would consider it an intrusion if a partner asked, no matter how gently, what I was doing in therapy without me bringing up the topic. And if my partner discussed anything he knew about my therapy in a public forum, no matter how anonymously…there would be serious hell to pay.

    I wasn’t saying that he should talk about the particulars of her therapy. I’m saying that the only time he mentions her therapy its to say that it’s not getting him what he wants. He shows no interest in whether it’s actually helping her.

    As for the secondary survivor thing, I suppose that’s because although you’ve been in feminist circles for many years, you haven’t specifically been in survivor circles (I’m assuming anyway). I’ve been involved in survivor circles for over ten years, and we do have terminology you don’t necessarily see in feminist circles. But we also have many secondary survivors who’ve managed to realize that they need help for themselves, and advice for dealing with their partners, and they find their way to the many books, websites, and message boards that are out there. I still say the fact that the LW mentions no interest in these things at all is very telling.

  266. EG
    December 3, 2011 at 2:07 am

    Annaleigh: But we also have many secondary survivors who’ve managed to realize that they need help for themselves, and advice for dealing with their partners, and they find their way to the many books, websites, and message boards that are out there. I still say the fact that the LW mentions no interest in these things at all is very telling.

    That’s a fair point…but it’s also self-selecting. You have the ones who managed to find their way there, not the ones who didn’t, so you don’t really have data on what the ones who didn’t find their way there are like, or what the reasons are that they didn’t find their way there (are they more passive people in general? are they uncaring jerks? are they concerned about making any move like that without their partner’s prior approval? blah blah blah). It’s true that I haven’t been active in survivor circles, but I have had, over the years, several friends who are survivors of various kinds of abuse and who have had various kinds of romantic relationships. I’ve been close enough to enough of them that I do think that if they were aware of resources for their partners, the topic would have come up.

  267. December 3, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Annaleigh: I don’t think anyone is saying that, though. I think what we are saying is that survivors are constantly receiving the message that we are less deserving of love or a relationship because of what was done to us, the idea that we are more deserving of it is something I hear rarely, if at all.

    I think if you’re willing to say that the husband is probably the bad guy in this relationship – you’re saying exactly that. Maybe he IS the bad guy, I don’t know. But I won’t assume it, and won’t assume that his wife is a saint either – OR an evil manipulator who wanted to trap him all along. The only thing that can safely be assumed, based on the letter, is that the marriage is on the rocks and probably ought to end.

    Shitty messages about trauma endure for many reasons, most of them unfair – but also because trauma is, well, shitty. Some people wind up coping with it in ways that alienate loved ones, or else expose deep cracks in a relationship that previously seemed to be quite strong. Ain’t nothing surprising about that. Society also tells us that we “don’t deserve” love and understanding – and the answer to that is obviously “no, we actually do.” But assuming we deserve it from one particular person is a problem, I believe. It’s perfectly understandable when an SO winds up being unable to stay.

    I do agree though that she is probably better off without him. He doesn’t seem to care very much for her, I think…

    Maybe he does, or maybe he doesn’t. He does care about himself, which is a good thing for both of them, in the end.

  268. Annaleigh
    December 3, 2011 at 2:16 am

    EG: You have the ones who managed to find their way there, not the ones who didn’t, so you don’t really have data on what the ones who didn’t find their way there are like, or what the reasons are that they didn’t find their way there (are they more passive people in general? are they uncaring jerks? are they concerned about making any move like that without their partner’s prior approval? blah blah blah).

    It’s one thing to be concerned about your partner and to want information on the subject but to have a lot of trouble knowing where to look versus not seemingly interested at all. LW seems to be in the latter category. Nowhere does he say anything like “I want to help her, to help us, I don’t know where to start.” The focus is totally on himself, how he feels, what he wants. Way too many survivors have been with someone like that. And I agree with Natalia that the LW’s wife is better off without him, although I hope that when the LW probably does file for divorce, that his poor wife doesn’t feel the horrible feeling of being simultaneously used worthless at the same time, like I felt when I had to end my second relationship.

  269. Annaleigh
    December 3, 2011 at 2:18 am

    That should read “used and worthless.” I hate it when I leave out words! :S

  270. EG
    December 3, 2011 at 2:21 am

    Annaleigh: I’m saying that the only time he mentions her therapy its to say that it’s not getting him what he wants. He shows no interest in whether it’s actually helping her.

    He says that the therapist says it’s progressing, but that he sees “no end to this situation or any signs of improvement.” Because he separated the two things, I took “signs of improvement” to refer to his wife’s condition in general. I may be wrong, of course, but I think it’s as valid a reading as one in which he is referring only to physical intimacy.

    anna: All these “he should just masturbate” comments are pretty harsh.

    They ignore the fact that for many, many people, sex, especially sex with someone whom you love enough to marry, has a great deal of emotional significance. Masturbation doesn’t provide the bonding experience that sex does, for those of us for whom it does provide bonding. For many, many people sex is not only a physical act; it’s an emotional one. I certainly can masturbate, but that’s not what I want with a romantic partner, and masturbation certainly wouldn’t supply what was missing for me in such a situation. Especially if “physical intimacy” included kissing, cuddling, sleeping in the same bed, etc.

  271. EG
    December 3, 2011 at 2:27 am

    Annaleigh: Nowhere does he say anything like “I want to help her, to help us, I don’t know where to start.” The focus is totally on himself, how he feels, what he wants.

    That would assume that he thinks it’s possible for him to do anything to help in the first place. That’s what I mean by passivity. Does he think that he has any role to play here? If not, why not? Is that part of his character, or is it that the impression he has gotten from his wife, or is that part of respecting her boundaries in his mind (not intruding on what he understands to be a private process) or is he just a jerk? You’re going to the jerk explanation, and you may be right. I just don’t think it’s the only explanation out there.

  272. Annaleigh
    December 3, 2011 at 2:32 am

    EG: You’re going to the jerk explanation, and you may be right. I just don’t think it’s the only explanation out there.

    I may be wrong too, but I after having both the loving ally/partner, and the borderline abusive ally/partner, I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.

  273. petpluto
    December 3, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Annaleigh:

    It’s one thing to be concerned about your partner and to want information on the subject but to have a lot of trouble knowing where to look versus not seemingly interested at all. LW seems to be in the latter category. Nowhere does he say anything like “I want to help her, to help us, I don’t know where to start.” The focus is totally on himself, how he feels, what he wants. Way too many survivors have been with someone like that.

    Maybe I’m odd, but the “I want to help her, to help us, I don’t know where to start” impulse tends to come in the beginning of the issue for me. This is three years later. Whatever he’s done or not done, three years is a hella long time to be in a holding pattern. Especially if that holding pattern is ALL intimate contact.

    We’re making a whole lot of judgements about a guy who had a limited amount of space to get to the root of the problem. And making it about himself and what he’s done versus what he’s feeling and what his (emphasis on his) root problem is may not have been on the forefront of his mind.

    A good advice columnist shouldbring that sort of thing up. Have you done X? Have you considered Y? Your wife may have been triggered by the wedding. The classic line from Ann Landers (back when it was Ann Landers), and it may be classic for others as well was, “Ask her to attend therapy with you. If she refuses, get therapy yourself. There are ways to get therapy that is affordable, and from there you can assess your options and your own needs and wants”. A good advice columnist recognizes when the problem is too large for a roughly 150 – 300 word reply and outsources. Prudie did not outsource.

  274. Ursula L
    December 3, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Maybehedoes,ormaybehedoesn’t.Hedoescareabouthimself,whichisagoodthingforbothofthem,intheend.

    Not really. Him caring about himself is good for him. Him caring about himself but not her, is not good for either of them within the context of their relationship, and definitely not good for her.

    Any relationship or human interaction requires that everyone involved care about the other in an appropriate way. Even if it is just making the effort to be polite to the person checking you out at the grocery store. This fellow’s letter doesn’t even show the awareness of issues that a simple google search would provide.

  275. December 3, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Ursula L: Not really. Him caring about himself is good for him. Him caring about himself but not her, is not good for either of them within the context of their relationship, and definitely not good for her.

    Any relationship or human interaction requires that everyone involved care about the other in an appropriate way. Even if it is just making the effort to be polite to the person checking you out at the grocery store. This fellow’s letter doesn’t even show the awareness of issues that a simple google search would provide.

    It’s good for both of them, because when he cuts his losses, he will be cutting hers as well. A prolonged martyr act is always more devastating in the long run.

  276. FashionablyEvil
    December 3, 2011 at 11:48 am

    The focus is totally on himself, how he feels, what he wants.

    Because he’s writing to an advice columnist about his perception of the relationship. You’re blaming him for not asking the question you wanted him to ask?

    Also, the ellipsis in the letter comes right after “I’ve tried to be supportive for the last three years.” It’s entirely possible that he did describe what else he’s tried to support her and it was just edited for space.

  277. jennifer
    December 3, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I understand that such letters are edited, but I was suspicious of the letter when I read it.

    I have zero experience dealing with abuse issues, but it doesn’t seem logical to me that a person would go along happily in a sexual relationship for 5 years and agree to get married (or want to get married) knowing that they would then need to get therapy and abstain from sex for a significant period of time. So, to me, the whole “hiding something” thing seems very suspect and I’m surprised that Jill and others found this at all plausible. It’s not clear from the letter whether she didn’t disclose the past abuse at all (possible—apparently it wasn’t affecting her life before the marriage in the way it did after), or whether she just didn’t disclose the way that it would affect her in the future, which it seems unlikely that she would know.

    For her to be meaningfully hiding something it seems like she would have to have been pretending to enjoy sex for 5 years while biding her time for marriage, thinking that if she just “tricked” the guy into marrying her he’d have to stay. If he really believes she did this, why would he stay at all?

    It may be that it’s just his way of expressing his sadness over the relationship that was, but it suggests an unhealthy level of resentment toward his wife, or perhaps entitled jerkiness. I don’t blame him for wanting out—I just don’t think he should blame her in the way he does because it sets off too many alarm bells about specious claims of husband trapping and men needing sex/wife’s duty kind of stuff. He could talk about how the relationship wasn’t working for him without vilifying her in the process. Unless they REALLY edited his letter, that’s what he did, and I was surprised to see so many commenters here going along with the vilification.

  278. William
    December 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    I have zero experience dealing with abuse issues,

    Well, theres your problem.

    but it doesn’t seem logical to me

    1) You’re not an abuse survivor so, you know, your personal experience doesn’t really cover what is and isn’t logical here.
    2) “Logic,” when applied to human behavior, is something people in positions of relative power imagine they possess in order to lionize their sentiments while degrading the sentiments of those they would like to oppress.
    3) Repression is a real thing.

    knowing that they would then need to get therapy and abstain from sex for a significant period of time.

    As has been said before…theres a pretty good chance she didn’t know she’d need therapy and have to abstain from physical intimacy. Theres a good chance that the seemingly insignificant shift from fiance to spouse changed the associations and internal experience from a place of happy sexuality to a place of horror. It happens all the time.

    Also, hypersexuality is pretty common in abuse survivors. The sex they were having before the marriage could well have been a symptom too. Or not. The fact is that even as a trained professional this letter doesn’t tell me a whole lot.

    So, to me, the whole “hiding something” thing seems very suspect and I’m surprised that Jill and others found this at all plausible.

    Based, of course, on your admitted lack of knowledge about sexual abuse issues.

    It may be that it’s just his way of expressing his sadness over the relationship that was, but it suggests an unhealthy level of resentment toward his wife, or perhaps entitled jerkiness.

    To me it suggests someone who has relatively little understanding of abuse issues, madness, or psychotherapy who is frustrated and sad. If he wanted out, divorce is generally pretty simple. Three years is a long time to stay if you don’t give a shit.

    and I was surprised to see so many commenters here going along with the vilification.

    And yet, it seems like you want to vilify him. Not all stories have a villain. Sometimes life just sucks. Given that he’s stuck around three years that seems the most obvious answer: two people who once loved each other and who are now broken because of something outside of their control. Its not as satisfying as having someone to hate, I know, but sometimes you don’t get an easy resolution.

  279. Ursula L
    December 3, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Natalia: It’sgoodforbothofthem,becausewhenhecutshislosses,hewillbecuttinghersaswell.Aprolongedmartyractisalwaysmoredevastatinginthelongrun.

    Maybe it’s good for her if he does what he thinks is best for him. Maybe it isn’t.

    She might need health insurance from his job. She may be content with the way things are, and not want a change. There are a variety of reasons why what is best for him and what is best for her may be different things.

    What’s best for her is what’s best for her. She is the one who decides what is best for her. He doesn’t get points for doing what’s best for her, if he’s only thinking about what’s best for him.

    If you’re going to do what is best for another person you actually have to think about that person, their needs. You have to talk with them, and work with them, to discover what is best for them. And maybe you do it, if it is appropriate for you, too. Or maybe you don’t do it, if what is good for them isn’t good for you.

    But you can’t just decide to do what is good for you, and insist that it is therefore good for the other person as well.

    Because you’re different people, with different needs.

    And if you’re going to do what’s best for you, even if it isn’t best for another person, then you need to be honest about it, and say that you’re doing it because it is right for you, even knowing that it is hurting the other person.

    It may well be better for her if he leaves rather than doing a prolonged martyr act. Or it may not. That’s for her to decide.

    But it certainly isn’t better for her if he says he’s leaving because it’s what’s best for her, when all he’s thinking about is what he wants for himself. Doing that is a way of gaslighting her, insisting that what she perceives as best for herself isn’t real, and that what he says is real for her is more real than her own experiences.

  280. December 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    But it certainly isn’t better for her if he says he’s leaving because it’s what’s best for her, when all he’s thinking about is what he wants for himself. Doing that is a way of gaslighting her, insisting that what she perceives as best for herself isn’t real, and that what he says is real for her is more real than her own experiences.

    Obviously, he’s going to do what’s right for him. Or at least he ought to, Christ -since he’s writing letters like that. To Prudie. But I genuinely don’t believe in the so-called “benefits” of a relationship in which one person is feeling trapped and miserable, particularly in the long term. Like I already said, it SUCKS when someone leaves you. But the alternative is worse.

  281. chava
    December 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Best meta-analysis of this genre of threads EVER. Some things don’t have a narrative, people, and trying to impose one on random events/pieces of information/etc just doesn’t work. I know we all like narrative continuity. Sadly, God DOES play dice with the universe, mmkay?

    William:
    Andyet,itseemslikeyouwanttovilifyhim.Notallstorieshaveavillain.Sometimeslifejustsucks.Giventhathe’sstuckaroundthreeyearsthatseemsthemostobviousanswer:twopeoplewhooncelovedeachotherandwhoarenowbrokenbecauseofsomethingoutsideoftheircontrol.Itsnotassatisfyingashavingsomeonetohate,Iknow,butsometimesyoudon’tgetaneasyresolution.

  282. Ursula L
    December 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Natalia: Obviously,he’sgoingtodowhat’srightforhim.Oratleastheoughtto,Christ-sincehe’swritingletterslikethat.ToPrudie.ButIgenuinelydon’tbelieveintheso-called“benefits”ofarelationshipinwhichonepersonisfeelingtrappedandmiserable,particularlyinthelongterm.LikeIalreadysaid,itSUCKSwhensomeoneleavesyou.Butthealternativeisworse.

    That’s a judgment you get to make for yourself in your own relationships.

    It isn’t a judgment that you get to make for another person. It isn’t even a judgment you get to make for a person you’re in a relationship with. They get to decide what is best for themselves. Not you.

    I think the genders of the example in the letter are important. Does it make sense to say that if a husband does whatever is best for him, it is automatically best for his wife as well? I don’t think so. Blurring the genders and the legal relationship doesn’t change the basic absurdity of telling a husband to do what he thinks is best for himself because it will be best for his wife.

    Each person gets to decide what is best for themself. If people are in a relationship with each other, then they need to talk about what each finds best, and figure out what is best for them together.

    But it is really important to be clear about the difference between what you think is best for yourself, what another person thinks is best for themself, and what is best for the two together.

    If the husband thinks that it is the best thing for himself if he ends the relationship, that is completely his right. But that doesn’t mean that it is what is best for the wife, or that she, or anyone else, should accept that he’s doing what is best for her. It’s her judgment that decides what’s best for her. Not his, yours, or mine.

    If he expects her to think that when he’s deciding to do what is best for himself she needs to realize that it is automatically best for her, that makes him a selfish asshole, not a person who is actually looking out for the best interests of their spouse.

  283. December 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    I’m not actually saying that his wife has to “accept” anything. The only thing she’ll have to accept is his decision to leave, should he actually leave. How *she* views it is her decision – relationship fails are never objective. She’s got the right to think that their marriage is The Best Thing To Have Ever Happened To Her. Random people on the internet have the right to think that this is kinda weird.

  284. jennifer
    December 4, 2011 at 11:22 am

    William: And yet, it seems like you want to vilify him. Not all stories have a villain. Sometimes life just sucks. Given that he’s stuck around three years that seems the most obvious answer: two people who once loved each other and who are now broken because of something outside of their control. Its not as satisfying as having someone to hate, I know, but sometimes you don’t get an easy resolution.

    The villain, if there is one, would clearly be her father and not her husband, although from what you and others have said about what is normal behavior among people who have experienced sexual abuse, I think that her husband probably is being insensitive to her and that so are people on this thread who’ve said she should have told him and people on this thread who seem to equate the pain of experiencing sexual abuse with the pain of choosing to stay in a sexless marriage for three years, which is how I would characterize your statement above.

    I don’t see his sticking around as an automatic point in his favor—people stay in relationships for all kinds of reasons other than or in addition to an unselfish love for the other person.

    The “not all stories have a villain” idea does seem, to me, to apply to the situation that Ryan speaks of in his marriage, so it’s not that I always have to find a villain.

  285. Lily
    December 5, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Remember that “In sickness and in health” bit of those marriage vows – this is it.

    Could the couple benefit from some couples counseling as the husband clearly doesn’t get why he is being asked to not have sex – definitely. Does the situation require flexibility and problem solving so that the needs of both partners can be met – sure. But to whole-sale support the dissolution of a marriage because one partner cannot engage in coitus – come on! What if the reason for celibacy where related to a more visible medical difficulty – would the husband be right on then?

    Dealing with past abuse is complicated, and it takes a long time. We don’t know why this woman did not reveal her past to her betrothed before the marriage, but does it fundamentally change who she is? It is very likely that the security of her relationship allowed her to finally admit to herself – better yet anyone else – the truth of her abuse. It could be that she had been white-knuckling her way through their sexual relationship for years – and if that is the case one has to wonder why her partner didn’t notice. There may have been no indication – to either partner that sex in the present was going to be a problem. Sometimes exploring a history of abuse will amplify memories, allow survivors to connect with those past experiences and that process can make sexual acts in the present untenable.

    The problem here is that the husband is talking to Prudy instead of his wife — Perhaps if he spoke honestly and compassionately with his wife he could help with her recovery and they could find ways of satisfying both their sexual needs that won’t re-traumatize the wife. Heck, by incorporating a willing partner into the process their martial relationship and their sex life could amplify the efforts of the therapy sessions to aid in recovery.

    But at the end of the day – In sickness and in health DOES include mental health. Sex is an important part of marriage, but to act like you didn’t know about an illness before hand was some sort of bait and switch…did you not read the vows before you took them?

  286. Kristen J.
    December 6, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Lily: Remember that “In sickness and in health” bit of those marriage vows – this is it.

    Yeah, I didn’t take that vow. Sorry, marriage is just state sanctioning of a heterosexual partnership not some sacred charge.

  287. December 7, 2011 at 7:11 am

    What if the reason for celibacy where related to a more visible medical difficulty – would the husband be right on then?

    Yes he would. If you can’t be a good partner to someone, you can’t be a good partner to someone.

  288. jennifer
    December 8, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Lily: Remember that “In sickness and in health” bit of those marriage vows – this is it.

    It may be that agreeing with this is why he feels so trapped and resentful. He seems to feel like he can’t leave and is looking for permission and wondering whether people will think he’s a jerk for leaving. The judgments in that regard probably depend on more than we know from the letter (whether there are kids, how the wife is functioning, etc.).

    In some ways I agree with Lily in that I’m uncomfortable with the idea that relationships only last as long as they’re meeting your needs because in order to have a stable society, people need to take a fairly long-term view toward at least some of their relationships (kids need stability), and no relationship meets your needs all the time.

    On the other hand, forcing people to stay in relationships in which they’re miserable doesn’t fix this–and it can lead people to concentrate on feeling trapped rather than thinking about whether they want to stay versus other alternatives that could be worked out for caregiving or keeping some aspects of the relationship intact (for example, in Ryan’s case maybe he and his wife can remain friends–it sounds like that’s basically what they are at this point).

  289. Azalea
    December 12, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    This makes no sense to me. She needs emotional support, he can give her that without beng in a romantic monogamous celbate marriage with her. That’s just fact. WHy does he have to sacrifice his own happiness for her to recover, is his celibacy pertinent to her recovery? If the marriage was triggering isn’t it best to dissolve the marriage anyway?

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