Each Wednesday, I answer one of your burning questions on the blog. This week Repressed Beyond Belief asks:
Hi there. I’m a 33 yr old male and I enjoy listening to the show for your honest discussions and advice. It would mean a lot to me if you could read this and just give it to me straight because I sincerely don’t know what to do.
I’m in a 9 year relationship with a woman and we have been living together for 3 years. Sadly, we have not had sex or been intimate in any way in a little over 2 years. Even hugging and kissing are relegated to simple pecks and side hugs, as if I were an acquaintance. Needless to say the passion is not there. I have tried to talk to her about our lack of intimacy and how I feel lonely, but the conversation turns to how she feels inadequate as a woman who has no sexual desire at all. She says she does not like showing love or being touched, and that makes me feel so rejected. Whenever I try to express how I feel, she becomes distraught and talks about how horrible she is and how much she hates herself for it. I do my best to reassure her and console her, now to the point of trying to ignore my feelings and the issues just to prevent her from feeling down on herself.
We are both larger sized people (BBW & BHM) and size doesn’t matter to me. I’m actually turned on my curves. She is insecure about her weight and looks, despite my reassurance that I find her beautiful and sexy. She also has health issues such as diabetes and PCOS that she says hinder her desires but does nothing to address those issues. But over the last 2 years, being pushed aside has made it hard to reassure her that I still care since I don’t know what to say about our lack of intimacy.
I have not cheated on her and am finding myself tempted to venture out and seek the intimacy I am lacking, but I don’t want to break my word to her that I wouldn’t cheat. I feel trapped because when I try to talk to her about our issues, it turns into her talking down about herself. She always says its her, not me. I have been honest in asking her if there is something I am lacking or need to do to help or fix the issue, but she always just says its her and that she doesn’t feel the need or desire to be intimate.
Sorry for the novel, but I am so confused that it hurts. I am literally on anxiety meds because it just bothers me not being close to someone who I am living with and sharing a life with. That you for your time and any advice you have is greatly appreciated. Godspeed.
I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Feeling lonely and rejected inside of a relationship can be terribly painful. I know I’ve been there, as have so many other folks.
The good news is you have many options in front of you, even if it doesn’t feel like that’s the case right now.
First and foremost, if you need permission to end this relationship, I want to offer you that permission. Your needs, your desires, your feelings – they all matter. If you feel like you’re at the end of your rope and have nothing left to give, it’s OK to decide it’s time to move on.
That said, my guess is that because you’re writing to me, you want suggestions on how to make it work. That is also a beautiful and fair option. Just know that choosing this option means facing some truths and putting more time & energy into a situation that’s already taking a toll on you.
Neither path will be easy, and both routes will invite different challenges and rewards. Only you can tap into your heart to decide what is next for you.
I’m a sucker for hope, though.
I believe too many of us wait until we’re in crisis before we start practicing the skills we need to make a relationship thrive over the long-term.
And often in waiting until that crisis point, we’ve exhausted ourselves and built up so much resentment it can feel nearly impossible to overcome.
But feeling impossible and BEING impossible are two different things.
I believe that all relationships take practice. If you’re with anyone for long enough – family, friends, lovers – there will be points when shit just breaks, when tempers flare, when you feel lost or at whits end. A lot of people think that when it gets too hard, that’s the time to leave. And sometimes that is the best option.
But there is something really powerful in sitting in that darkness and making a conscious choice to reach across the divide and find a new way to connect.
Deep, profound connection can blossom from that choice.
So, for the remainder of this post, let’s entertain the possibility that you want to try a few more things to make this relationship work. If at any point, you decide you’re ready to move on, that’s OK. But let’s take a closer look at where you might go from here.
In order to take care of you, I want you to take a deep breath and repeat after me.
You cannot force her to change. You cannot make her change. You are not responsible for changing her.
She has to want to change FOR HERSELF. Not for you. Not for her friends. But for her.
That said, what you can do is foster an environment that holds space for her to relax some of her fears and to begin to see that change is possible.
So what does that look like?
My guess is you’re in so much pain, you have so much anxiety, and you two have been feeling so stuck that you haven’t made a lot of time for playfulness or curiosity and fun.
Sometimes when we get stuck in suffering, we zero in on this one problem and it can take up our entire field of vision. Every word and gesture serves to reinforce this microscopic view we’ve taken of our relationship. Our thoughts are obsessed with analyzing our feelings and our partner’s words and sighs and silences.
Talk about smothering the good stuff! (I am the queen of this anxiety-induced hyper focus, so I’m preaching to myself as well as you, Repressed.)
My therapist once told me to treat my problem like a Christmas tree ornament. It’s just one of many ornaments on a great big tree. I’d taken that one ornament off the tree and had been holding it so close to my face that I couldn’t see anything else, so she suggested I hang that ornament back up and take a step back. Appreciate the tree. Take in all of the aspects of my relationship, all of the memories, all of the branches and colors and textures that exist beyond that singular point of view.
It’s not that you’re ignoring the problem, but that you’re setting it down to focus on some other stuff for a while. You can circle back to it once you’ve had some space.
If you and your partner haven’t read Emily Nagoski’s “Come As You Are” yet, I think that’s a really important place to start.
It talks about desire and the research behind libido. You’ll find that a few of the top culprits that squelch desire are stress, body insecurity, and feeling like you’re broken.
Your partner is probably hyper aware of how she’s failing you. Each request probably feels like another reminder of how broken she is.
So I invite you to completely shift the dialog.
How can you breathe life back into having curiosity for each other? When was the last time you went on a fun date and asked each other questions just for the hell of it because you’re fascinated with each other?
How strong is your friendship and admiration for each other in the day-to-day matters? How are you prioritizing play and fun into your lives?
I cannot stress enough the importance of taking sex and physical intimacy off the table when you’re doing work like this. If she is constantly worried you will ask for sex or want some kind of touch in exchange for her going on a date, that will only make her close down more.
Finding ways to create space where you can enjoy each other without the pressure of sex might revolutionize the way you two connect.
Speaking of connection – how often are you two having fun just for the sake of having fun?
Movies. Dancing. Meditation classes. Cooking classes. Random road trips without a destination in mind. Karaoke.
The more you can create new ways to connect, the more you’ll create a shared dialog that is outside the pain of the current framework that is your relationship.
Delighting in each other in new ways invites new energy and new permission to create shared meaning. And that’s where you may find some erotic energy hiding.
It’s like you’re adding tons more ornaments to that Christmas tree of yours to make it even more glorious and colorful and festive. And yes, your ornament of repression is still there, but with all of those new ornaments, the lack of intimacy might take on a whole new feeling or perspective a few months down the road.
I also want to recommend Hanne Blank’s “Big, Big Love” which is a delicious book all about fat-bodied sexuality. That might be for down the road, once you’ve found other ways to connect, but file it away as a delicious resource.
Another route for you to consider is therapy or counseling with a sex-positive, trauma-informed, fat-informed therapist. Couples therapy could help you two navigate some of the tougher conversations with a third party. And therapy for her could also be beautifully supportive.
You mention her diabetes and PCOS. If she’s on medication for either or both of them, it’s important to note that various medications and medication combinations can wreak havoc on libido and hormones. Most physicians aren’t sexually informed enough to know how to even have that conversation with a patient, so if she’s willing, your partner might want to talk to a sex-positive doctor, like the ones at Planned Parenthood, to see if different medications might help her connect with her body in a new way. (JoEllen Notte at Redhead Bedhead has some terrific stories and advice about medications and libido.
PCOS can come with extreme discomfort in the abdomen and uterus. For some folks with PCOS, orgasms are incredibly painful and vaginal penetration can be agony. But so many folks who have PCOS also feel deep shame around their bodies and the impact it has on sex (because too many of us define sex as involving genitals). This can also completely kill confidence and desire – if your body feels like a betrayal, how can you possibly enjoy touch?
I say all of that because another option might be exploring pleasure in each other’s bodies in ways that DON’T involve genitals or sexual touching. Barbara Carrellas’s “Ecstasy is Necessary” can give you tons of ideas around this.
All of these suggestions can be tremendously powerful, but I want to offer one last suggestion.
If you can’t communicate with each other, this relationship is never going to thrive. But sometimes we forget there are many ways to communicate with someone, and that’s what I want to offer to you now.
Talking with your partner seems to lead to a tremendous amount of pain for you both. What if you write to each other instead? What if you send her some questions about her needs and experiences via email or even a hand-written note so that she can take some time to process and feel her feelings before replying back?
How have you made requests in the past? Have conversations only happened when tension is high and you’re feeling extra lonely or upset?
Charlie Glickman has some wonderful suggestions on assertive communication specifically for men using If…Then statements. For example, “If you’re feeling open to it, then I would love to share a 30-second hug sometime this evening.” Or, “If it would feel good for you, then I would love to cuddle naked tonight.”
It can be scary for someone to hear “I want more intimacy.” or “I feel like we never touch” without offering a specific request.
So, how can you set each other up for success when you have these conversations by making it clear what you want exactly in that moment and that it’s not a demand or an expectation, but rather an invitation to her.
One final little nugget – if she feels really insecure about her body, it might be great to invite her to listen to the podcast. I was also recently a guest on Pleasure Mechanics and Girl Boner Radio talking about being in a fat body and having sex (those links go to the exact episodes). Maybe if she has a chance to hear other folks in fat bodies working through their journeys, it will invite her to open and soften a bit to her own experiences.
Changing the paradigm we’re in can seem super overwhelming, but as you try little things and as you get more information (remember to do all of these things from a place of curiosity, like a science experiment), you can begin to connect in really meaningful ways.
In the end, you need to take care of you. So, if any of these things sound worth the investment, go for it. If you feel like you’ve already tried so many things in so many ways and you just can’t keep feeling rejected, it’s also OK to decide it’s time to transition out of this situation.
I wish you the very best, Repressed. I hope that regardless of what you decide, you find a way to feel accepted and valued in your life.
Well, readers – what are your thoughts? Have you ever reached a crisis point and decided it was time for drastic change? Or did you decide it was time to put your energy into something new? Comment below and let us know.
Have your own question about sex, relationships, kink, or your body? Send it my way (there’s an anonymous option) and I may answer your inquiry on the podcast or in the weekly advice column, Wednesday Words.