My husband says he's "allergic" to me

Our marriage has been sexless for 15 years. Is it time to leave while I still have my looks?


Cary Tennis
April 18, 2006 3:37PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I've been with my husband for 20 years, married for 12. This year on our anniversary, Christmas Eve, he went feral.

We didn't have much money this year and decided not to "go overboard" on Christmas and anniversary gifts. I made a little "love book" and designed a fragrance for him. He did nothing. I was devastated. I felt completely unloved. He won't admit it, but I think he was mad at me for not working this year. He makes plenty of money on his own -- but without my income he had to sell the BMW.

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Feeling bad about not doing anything for the holidays, he took me out to a new restaurant and we had a nice evening of lively talk, red wine and seared tuna. I was exhausted and inebriated by the time we came home and let him know that I was going to lie down and that he could come with.

He didn't. Instead, he threw a fit in the kitchen, breaking dishes and finally speeding off in the car. The next morning I found him on the couch covered in popcorn. Apparently he made a snack and passed out, spilling it before he could eat it.

In the coming days unfolded a story that was so outrageous I didn't know how to react. He said he went down to the local lesbian karaoke bar, enjoyed a burlesque show, treated every woman he saw like an object, culminating in giving oral sex to a woman on a pool table which led to his being asked to leave. After he told me the sordid tale, he proceeded to tell all his friends and report back to me their approving reactions -- as if I was supposed to applaud his moxie.

At first I was too angry and confused to know how I felt. My husband has never been able to "own" his sexuality. We've been 15 years in a basically sexless marriage (the first five years were OK). When I say sexless, I'm talking about twice a year in dry years -- a little more frequently in others. He tells me he thinks he is "allergic" to me -- that there's some chemical in my skin that irritates his penis. That's when he's able to achieve an erection at all. For him, sex is something that other people do. So, I was totally blown away by the way he kept telling the story and throwing it at me as if I was supposed to appreciate the fact that he's "growing up" sexually.

I've been in therapy for two years now addressing feelings of alienation in my marriage. Unexpectedly, I became sick a couple of years ago. It was a spinal infection and blood clots. Then I got medicinal hepatitis and pancreatitis due to a reaction to the antibiotics. I spent five months in the most incredible pain you can imagine. I thought I was dying.

During this time he spiraled into depression. He grudgingly visited me, but usually just sat and read consumer magazines, planning to purchase a motorcycle. When I finally came home from the hospital the house was a wreck. No homecoming. No flowers. The bed wasn't even made. He didn't even bother to ask off of work to pick me up. My aunt and uncle took care of that. We've done couples therapy on and off and he now has his own therapist. I "love" him, but I don't get anything out of the relationship except a place to live.

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My question is: How long do I keep trying? I turn 40 in a few short weeks. I thought I'd have children by now, but that's not possible in a marriage where there's no sex (and I'm too old now, anyway). He agreed to "try" for a while, but never followed through.

Have I given the best years of my life to a person who couldn't care less about me? Do I move on while I still have my looks? I can't stop thinking about the possibility of dying in the arms of someone who couldn't care less about me. In the second half of life I feel like I need more in a mate than insurance and a roof over my head.

Desperate in Nashville

Dear Desperate,

I would say, sure, get out of this marriage. This sounds terrible. And it doesn't sound like it's getting any better. If you stayed in it, it might just get worse. I think you have the right idea. File for divorce. And try not to look back in sorrow too much. Best years of your life? I'd say the best years are yet to come, if you can get out of this crazy house.

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I don't know that there's too much else to say. Whatever your husband's problems are, it's evident that you can't fix them. But he doesn't sound like he's in any great danger. He has a job and he has a therapist. If he is clinically depressed, or bipolar, his therapist should be able to figure that out. And it doesn't sound like he's greatly attached to you, so maybe divorce will be good for him too. It may inconvenience him, but it doesn't sound like he's clinging to you for support. It sounds more like the marriage exists for him primarily as an arena of constant failure.

That can't be good for him. If he gets out of the marriage and stops failing at it, maybe he can arrive at a manageable life. He can just stick to things he's capable of. And then perhaps gradually he'll get some emotional maturity. Or not. Either way, what I'm saying is that it would be normal to feel some compunction about divorcing a deeply troubled and helpless mate, but he doesn't sound helpless. He just sounds like he's not capable of being a good partner to you.

So in the best case scenario, he'll be OK, and you get to move on and have a life. There may still be time to have kids if that's what you want. And of course you don't have to bear them yourself. Adoption is an option (that should be a slogan!). After what you've been through, divorce and a fresh start sounds like something to look forward to.

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