Q: My second marriage of 25 years isn't real happy these days. Aside from worrying about the financial well-being of my children, I'm supposed to have a sixth spinal operation sometime in the near future. While I'm still debating about the surgery, our biggest issue is the lack of sex. Not only am I afraid of the pain sex with my husband might cause, the desire isn't there. Every position we have tried hurts and his comments to me don't help the matter. I told him to find someone else to have sex with. You can imagine the tension in the house. Any help? --MD, Virginia
Dr. Schwartz: Life is so much harder with physical pain. It saps everyone's emotional strength as well as physical strength. Life always has major complications but add significant physical pain and the balance of everything else easily tips. You have been under stress of every kind and of course you want to escape from the pain.
I think, however, that making big decisions when you are under this kind of pressure and pain is not an optimal choice.
You say that you have money issues, relationship issues and pain issues. I am not sure that leaving will help. Being alone for these next set of operations (even though I am sure your children would be supportive) doesn't sound like a good idea to me. I think it would be potentially easier to find a sexual solution and create more kindness in the relationship ... or at least it's worth it to try.
Men, in general, need a sexual outlet in more than one way. Women seem to be able to get affection from a variety of sources in a multitude of ways, but for most married men sex is not only erotic it's loving. Having an orgasm, feeling wanted and desired brings out their best and most generous emotions. Take that out of the marriage and you get push back. Telling him to go to another woman makes him feel profoundly rejected. His mean comments may, in part, result from this feeling of rejection and being unloved. I'm not excusing them, and they certainly don't prompt loving responses from anyone, but there might be away to get rid of the comments without getting rid of him.
So, what are your options given your physical condition? There are several. You can use your mouth, your hands, or experiment and only have sex in the most comfortable position you can find. You can make him feel wanted and desired even if you can't do anything. Most partners, male or female, need that reassurance.
None of this may be the answer - but I would give this approach a try - even if it is hard at first because the two of you are estranged. Still, you would be amazed at what a little physical kindness can do. Start by holding hands, maybe giving and getting a foot rub and doing small things like that to resume a physical connection. I think it will be good for you too. Let's get some positive emotion flowing between you and see if there is a way to sustain the relationship. Going at it alone may seem like a relief now, but I say if you can repair this 25 year marriage you will be glad you did.
Follower Pepper on Twitter @pepperschwartz.