Pity, Not Love

Her husband is a bully. Is she crazy for staying in a sexless marriage for 33 years?

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on July 1, 2004 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015

On a scale of one to 10, how crazy am I for staying in a
sexless marriage for 33 years? Is it just me and my countless fears
causing me to stay with him, or is it something more from my family
background that has made me the person I am? When he shows me his
abusive side, he does it verbally and with a great deal of drama, which
leaves me feeling emotionally exhausted. He frequently nit picks at me
for anything I do that apparently annoys him, and I do not complain
back, as he is prone to displaying his anger in childish ways. I have
witnessed his behavior escalate into more violent outbursts where he
throws or breaks things, to make a point of how I have "wronged" him. I
have pity for him, not love. Anonymous

The short answers to your questions: about 5 and both. Things from
our family background always contribute to making all of us the persons
we are. You will do better focusing less on yourself than on the
situation and how to improve it. First of all, abusive mates ALWAYS shift
the blame for their bad behavior onto their partner. Don't buy it. Your
husband is all growed up; he's in charge of his own temper. Blaming you
for what goes wrong in his life is how he exercises emotions he has no
idea how to deal with.

Second, he is a bully, abusing his power over you. It's not you who
is making him into a bully. However, it is important to know that bullies
don't pick on just anybody. They pick on those who don't stand up for
themselves -- because they can get away with it.

Your life could improve dramatically if you were to create some
simple boundaries. You're right; complaining is useless; it's a sign of
powerlessness, as opposed to stating what you don't like and why and
requesting a change. I suggest that when he shows his verbally abusive
side, you instead, say -- very calmly and politely -- I'm sorry, you may not
talk to me that way any more. I will be happy to discuss anything with
you when you can talk reasonably."

And then walk calmly to another area of the house and get busy
doing something. You must truly demonstrate that you will not put up with
bad behavior, as you have done for 33 years. Often, that's all it takes
to elicit the beginning of respectful treatment. As many times as it
takes -- and it's guaranteed to take several times, because he's been
trained for 33 years that it's OK to do it the abusive way -- demonstrate
that his behavior is unacceptable by telling him so, kindly and firmly,
and removing yourself from the discussion.

The reason you and your husband are in a sexless marriage is that
the relationship you have doesn't really make either of you attractive.
You and your husband need to re-establish a relationship that works for
both of you, one where there is mutual respect, and one where you both
feel that you give roughly equally and get pretty much equally.

Suggest some ground rules for a discussion in which you discuss new
terms of the relationship. One such rule: If either one of you starts
getting angry, then you will adjourn the conversation for 15

Will you feel comfortable establishing behavioral boundaries at
first? Of course not. But you can spend 33 more sexless years being ruled
by your old fears, with which you are way too comfortable, or you can
step out of your comfort zone and try to get more of what you