I’ve been married for ten years, but have felt disconnected from my wife for about the last 8 of them. When we were dating she seemed to share my interests and to be sexually open-minded, but now I realize that she was just playing the devoted girlfriend, a role she has since exchanged for “Mommy”. Though we both wanted kids (we have two), we had originally planned to enjoy time as a couple for a while before starting a family; instead she started to pressure me after a year of marriage, and we argued about it every month until she got pregnant. After the second child, she grew even more distant and I went into a deep depression and started therapy. Since then, I enjoy what you might call “family life”, but not my private life; my wife wants me to be happy, but with her way of things, not by actually trying to make me happy. We only have sex when and how she wants it, which is seldom and perfunctory.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to lose my family because I do treasure it, but I feel (and my therapist agrees) that I can’t live like a monk the rest of my life and still be happy. I’m reluctant to try a professional because my employer has a “zero tolerance policy for human trafficking”; if caught I’d be fired on the spot. And as you’ve said many times, amateurs can’t be trusted not to destroy the family life that I do love. I do love my wife, and do not want to leave her or my family. Your thoughts and advice on the matter would be greatly appreciated.
My cousin Jeff used to say that the tragedy of relationships is that women want men to change, and they don’t, while men don’t want women to change, and they do. The truth, as much as nobody wants to hear it, is that Western people have been sold a lie. Marriage was designed in ancient times not for companionship, but for social, economic and political expediency; it would still work just fine if we remembered that. But somewhere along the line people started wanting to pretend that the hormonal rush we experience from being strongly drawn to someone is the same thing as love, which it isn’t; we even started calling it “falling in love” (which, again, it isn’t). As if that weren’t bad enough, some two centuries ago we decided for some absurd reason that this temporary neurochemical derangement was in and of itself reason enough to make a lifelong commitment to someone, without any concern for economics or personal compatibility. In fact, within the past century we completely departed from rationality by deciding that this quasi-inebriated condition was the only valid reason for marriage or (some believe) even having sex, and went so far as to create social institutions (such as anti-prostitution laws) to enshrine the fallacy as Divine Truth.
But that feeling of romantic love, though very powerful and as real as any feeling, is by its very nature ephemeral; it usually lasts no longer than two years, and almost never longer than seven. Even couples who swear that they’re still “in love” after 20 years or whatever aren’t being entirely honest; what happens in the best, healthiest modern relationships is that the feeling of romantic love is gradually replaced by the stronger, sturdier type of affection we feel for our friends and children, just as the tissues of a fossil are slowly replaced by minerals. The original shape is thus maintained, often perfectly, but the fossil is not the same as the organism it replaced, and never can be. Sometimes the copy is as good as or even better than the original, but at other times the resemblance is superficial at best. And if one of the couple just adores the fossil while the other feels it stinks, we arrive at a situation like yours: your wife thinks it’s just wonderful that what was once living flesh has turned to stone, while you grieve for the living thing you lost; worse still, she can’t comprehend why you don’t prefer the nice, clean fossil which doesn’t crawl around or eat or get sick or anything messy like that.
I’ve written four times before about situations not dissimilar to yours, in “There Ain’t No Bad Guys“, “Late Bloomer“, “On a Mountaintop” and “Familiarity Does Its Thing“; you may wish to take a look at those, because elements of each might prove helpful. The good news is, you don’t need to choose between a fulfilling sex life and a rewarding family life; the bad news is, you do need to choose between getting what you need and obeying the perverse and arbitrary dictates of your busybody employer about what you can do with your own life and money when you aren’t on the clock. You wouldn’t obey a boss who told you that being a vegan or a teetotaler was a condition of employment, would you? No, you’d talk the talk when necessary so as not to lose your job, then do what you wanted when you were off the clock because it isn’t any of their damned business. Obviously, you need to be careful; in my examples it wouldn’t do for you to be caught in a bar or a steakhouse, so massage parlors or street girls are an absolute no-no for you. Do your research, find a mature and established escort with a reputation for discretion, pay her what she asks and maybe a little more, and then as long as you’re careful you can have the advantage of a mistress without the emotional attachment and resultant risk of exposure. You will get what you need, your wife will assume you’ve adjusted (as long as you keep trying her defenses regularly without actually harassing her), and both your family and your sanity will survive intact.