I am 58 years old and have been married for 17 years. My husband is a good man with crippling anxiety. Our marriage has been celibate for 16.5 years because my husband says his anxiety is so strong that he cannot think about or talk about having sex with me; instead, he uses pornography which involves torture and sadism to satisfy his sexual needs. After 7 years of marriage counseling, I accepted celibacy and have ignored his pornography use because I felt that there were other aspects of our relationship which were valuable and satisfying. However, one by one, he has withdrawn each of these other aspects of our relationship (companionship/friendship/collaboration/vacation/emotional support/good humor/shared responsibilities). My husband acknowledges that he has been actively avoiding any other contact with me for more than 15 years and has stepped up his efforts to do so over the last 7 years, because “every sentence that comes out of my mouth” spikes his anxiety, he feels “better and happier” when I am not around the house or him and prefers that I speak to him only when he initiates conversation, and then prefers to talk about things that are “outside,” such as history, weather, politics, etc. We have been in marriage counseling off and on for more than 10 years total, although my husband’s “schedule” allows infrequent sessions, which he acknowledges is one of several ways he continues to avoid being around me or communication. Our children, through IVF since there was no sex), are 15 years old and I am committed to not leaving them with my husband as his anxiety also affects his ability to parent.
One of the persistent issues is that my husband says his anxiety drives him to spend an enormous amount of emotional energy trying to guess, glean or otherwise figure out what he can do “make me happy.” I have let him know repeatedly that my happiness is my responsibility, but that I am willing, if asked, to share ideas with him for things that could occur between us that would make a positive impact for me. It’s a bit like Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football. He asks what would make a positive impact and I tell him, for example: It would be helpful for me in planning the evening meal if you could let me know a timeframe in which you will arrive home from work. He willingly agrees to do so, and then does not do so. When asked about it, he says that he was unable to do so because his anxiety led him to believe that no matter what timeframe he might offer or what manner in which he communicated about it, that it would be “wrong” and that I would be upset. He asks and I say, I would like to have you assist me with household responsibilities or projects for a total of 3 hours each weekend. He enthusiastically agrees and then helps/participates for 2 weekends in a row and then that’s it. He volunteered to mow the grass in our large yard – a task which was difficult for me at the time because I had an injured foot and an injured arm; after six weeks of saying that he was going to do it and it not getting done, an after my asking once for him to do so in that 6 weeks, he said that he had changed his mind about mowing the lawn because he wasn’t “really interested” in doing it and that he did not like the words that I had used to ask him whether he was planning to mow the grass on a particular day (Are you planning on mowing the grass this weekend?). When I point these things out to him, he has a very long list of reasons why he does not keep his word: I am too tired, I wasn’t sure, I didn’t feel like it, I didn’t have enough time, I didn’t know how, I did not think I could do it well enough, I plan to do it later, etc.
He likely is very tired as I imagine that managing his anxiety is truly exhausting. He also stays up many nights playing video games, watching movies or using pornography, often going to sleep as late as 4:00 a.m. He has a great job which he loves and is very, very good at which also requires him to rally his emotional wherewith-all and executive functioning skills each day. He was tested for autism a few years back and found not to be on the spectrum, but suffering from (surprise!) anxiety and ADHD; he was also found to have the highest IQ of any person ever tested by this nationally renown center (and who directed him both to resources to address and his sexual anxiety issues as well as resources to identify and participate in groups – in person and online – of people who have the same sexual interests as he does so that he does not feel isolated or that his sexual preferences are either wrong or unique.
I long ago figured out that I cannot change what he does or does not do – and he gets to pick and choose for himself who he wants to be and how he wants to use his time and energy. I know and understand that his anxiety is very real and very powerful and I am hopeful that some day he will choose to utilize some of the many resources to which he has been directed or exposed to address those things, but whether he does so or not is entirely up to him. I have walked a very similar walk with depression and am clear that it’s his life to make of it what he will. My focus has been on patience, support and encouragement but…
My issue is with myself in that I keep doing the same thing over and over and over and over; I am resentful and eventually angry and then blow up when I have stepped back onto the same merry go round.
So, here’s my unintentional model:
Circumstance: My husband asked me what he could do that would make a positive impact. I suggested/asked for something and he agreed.
Thought: It’s so nice that he’s asking and is concerned about improving our marriage! Great, something positive may happen here!
Action: Expressions of Kindness and Appreciation
Result: I feel closer to my my husband.
This model is then followed my the following:
Circumstance: My husband is not doing the thing that he asked me if he could do to make a positive impact and is neither acknowledging the thing or advising me that he will not be doing the thing.
Thought: Here we go again; why do I bother telling him what would make a positive impact at all?
Feeling: Duped, resentful and angry.
Action: Withdraw or Blow-up
Result: I hate myself for being vulnerable and then angry. Husband doesn’t want to be around me.
We are now discussing separation and divorce, as I often teeter in the general direction of suicidal, as the futility of the situation wears me down.
As a result, my husband has really stepped up his asking me “What can I do to make a positive impact in our relationship” and – boom – I tell him, he agrees, etc.
Thank you in advance for your assistance.