I’ve been married to my husband for 24 years. We’re in our early 50s and got married when I became pregnant with our son. To be honest, I’ve never been sure he’s my type. I think he’s an intellectual snob, he likes to talk about art and literature and music and seems quite dismissive of popular culture, like Eastenders, which I love. We split up several years ago and while we were apart he started seeing someone else. We got back together, but I’ve never really trusted him since. He seems obsessed with sex and thinks we should have sex regularly – but we’re in our fifties, surely we should just be friends and content by now. But last year, he met someone else. He claims to have fallen deeply in love and wants to be with this woman. She is your typical career woman who probably wants to talk about books and politics with him. But I’m his wife. I want to find a way to make him stay.
Why? You’ve made it abundantly clear in your letter that you have little in common, you don’t want a physical relationship with this man and you no longer trust him. I’m all for compromise in order to keep promises made but in your case I’m not sure where to start the rebuilding process. More importantly I’ve got no clue as to why you’d want to remain stuck like glue to a man simply because you’re “his wife”. “In sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer” and all that does cover a vast terrain but I’m not sure such ambitions can stretch to a relationship that’s only held together by the paper its printed on. Let’s start with sex. You don’t want to have a physical relationship with him because you are in your fifties and therefore, in your opinion, it shouldn’t be an issue. Yet age; particularly middle age is no barrier to a healthy sex life and many people of your generation are enjoying the physical side of their lives more than ever before. If its become such a burdensome duty for you it is likely one of two things; either you no longer love the man you married or you are in a menopausal phase where the right medication might reignite carnal impulses you currently can’t access. It may even be a combination of both but certainly many women at our age need a little bit of support to get that side of our biology back on track. Have you checked with your GP where your hormone levels are? I’d certainly suggest a consultation. Whether or not you stick with your husband, complacently accepting that your sex life is over when you have decades of potentially great experiences ahead of you is no way to face the future. You’ve given me plenty of reasons for why you are ill matched while the only argument you present in favour of your union is that you are “his wife”. It suggests a proprietorial attitude to your marriage that leaves little room for renegotiation. When you elect to become a couple in the eyes of the law it’s not a buy out. There are standards on both sides that need to be maintained. Stamping your foot and saying he’s mine is not the solution. So what to do? You really need to examine your motivation in hanging on here. Do you still love this man, do you want to have a full relationship with him, which would include a physical one, and can you forgive the past and envisage a better future? Or could it be that you are afraid of being alone (nothing to be ashamed of and a pretty universal worry) and are hanging onto this man with whom you no longer share the essential elements for a partnership? Living together harmoniously without sex, trust or mutual interests is a tall order and while you could agree to forgo the former, the latter two seem pretty non negotiable. It’s not compulsory that you watch the same TV or share the same pleasure in cultural pursuits but you certainly need enough material left between your individual extremes to find moments of intellectual union. There are couples that reach the end of the road physically but are so deeply entwined in partnership that they are prepared to make sex an extracurricular activity but stay together for all the other benefits their union brings. The trouble is that to reach such a compromise you need to really like, respect and trust each other. I am struggling to find any such qualities in what’s left of the marriage you describe. One thing gives me hope. You’ve split up before and returned to each other. I’ve no idea what promises were made then or what precipitated the reunion but you must have cared deeply enough at the time to try and forgive and move on. It’s those qualities you’ll need to muster up again if you really want to save your relationship. Sex is a key that could unlock further intimacy, mutual interests will help rebuild your partnership but if you don’t actually like this man you can’t expect cohabitation to continue simply on the basis of your stubborn refusal to let go. Your letter makes clear that you are at an impasse and that neither of you are happy with the status quo. I’m sure with an entire change of attitude and priorities you could win your husband back but then what do you do with him? The path ahead must be decided on by thinking hard about what you really want instead of demanding what you feel you should have.