Dear Dr. Pomfrey,
I’ve been married 28 years. I’m 57 years old and have three grown kids. Now I want a little peace and quiet—flower gardens, meditation, early bedtime, maybe dinner out on Saturdays, yoga classes with lady friends. My husband, however, wants “sex, drugs (ice cream), and rock ’n’ roll.” He comes home from work revved up on coffee, eats in front of the TV, and then, after a romantic evening of stuffing crunchy things into his mouth, wants sex. I don’t want sex. (Maybe occasionally if he’d behave.) I want sleep and maybe a foot massage. Yesterday he told me he’s looking for a “girlfriend.” I thought he was joking. He’s not. In fact, I checked his email and I think he already has one—and what’s worse I think she’s in her late 20s.
I don’t need advice. I know how to pack bags. Just another warning to women, men are pigs. I’m outta here. —Outta Here
Dear Outta Here,
First, let me say I’m sorry for your pain. I’m fairly certain that after decades of living with the man you loved, raising children, and surviving all that marriage requires, you currently feel angry, hurt, betrayed, and abandoned. You have every right to feel that way. The question is, do you want to continue to feel that way?
I’m not going to be easy on you. Your friends can play that role. If your husband had written me, I would not have been easy on him. He didn’t. That means I have only you to work with. Please raise your right hand if you understand I am not blaming you. I am giving you the hard facts because you had the courage to show up. If you are willing, you can transform your relationship by yourself.
Outta Here, your ideal lifestyle sounds like the daily routine at Sunnybrook Assisted Living. You’re 57, not 87. Hey, life is in session, and your husband still wants to feel alive. Yes, he has some bad habits. But I wonder if he developed those habits in part because you are so boring to him he needs something to stimulate himself. His habits are unconsciously designed to replace the “young and alive” you.
Did you notice you didn’t mention your husband in your ideal lifestyle? This suggests to me he may have felt deserted by you for sometime. You’re “outta here” because you’re outta touch with him. You’ve been so busy with the responsibilities of marriage and raising children that you’ve forgotten what marriage is fundamentally about—each other. If you are like many women, you have traded your partner for your children. Now he has fulfilled his task of providing an income for 28 years and you want to go off to yoga . . . with the ladies!
And, by the way, I’m sorry to hear your husband still finds you attractive and wants to have sex with you. I know you’d rather be napping or eating prune pudding! All joking aside, you stated you didn’t want sex; well, maybe if he behaves himself. The more you demand he behave himself, the more you become the mother—and he’ll become more juvenile and eventually rebel and run away from home—you know, like he is currently doing. He’s had enough of mommy. Stop setting rules for him. Mothers set rules. You’re not his mother. Stop it.
If your husband is interested in another woman, it may be for two potential reasons. One, you have not shown respect for him, have no real interest in him, and have slowly pushed him out of your life. Research indicates the majority of affairs result from another woman showing appreciation, interest, and admiration for the male. The second most common cause of infidelity: frequency of sex at home. Bingo.
Outta Here, in working with men in my practice, I hear the same story—how the love of their life stays busy all day giving to others. Yet at the end of the day when the men express interest in making love, their wives look at them as if they’ve just gotten a $200 ticket for parking in the handicapped zone. This is a deep wound to the male. Don’t make the mistake of believing that it’s an ego problem and that it would be good to take him down a notch anyway. It has to do with his sense of self as a man, his emotions, and his overall relationship to you. If you castrate him in the bedroom (or anywhere else), don’t expect him to act like a man in other areas of your life.
Your task is to join with your husband. You’re a team—work with him. Stop resisting him. If he likes coffee and donuts, go to the coffee shop with him! If he likes potato chips and crunchy things, buy him a five-gallon container! Be his girlfriend and he’ll never need a girlfriend. Shake off this crusty old lady act.
Okay, are you still holding up your right hand? Good. Tell him you’re sorry you have forgotten about him, misunderstood him, and failed to provide what he needed. Take responsibility for your part. Tell him you respect and love him and will follow him to the ends of the earth. And then show it. If you want true love, be a true lover.
And finally, Outta Here, men are not pigs—they are dogs. Their needs are simple. Feed them, pet them, and play with them and they will give their life for you—and to you.
Patrick Pomfrey, Psy.D., is a doctor of clinical psychology in Fairfield, Iowa.