Advice: Shut Out by Impotence

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on how to deal with an impotent man and the responsibilites of a husband who leaves the family because he is gay.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on October 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Shut Out by Impotence

I have been seeing a man off and on for the past two years. We have had a sexual relationship but have also become close friends. He tells me that he has never talked to any other woman the way he confides in me. Recently, he has been experiencing impotence due to prescribed medication and has totally shut me out. I care very much about him and know he cares about me. He is humiliated and
embarrassed about his sexual problems. I have been trying for several months to convince him that I care about him regardless and am willing to work with him about this problem. But the more I try, the more distant he becomes. I am not sure whether I should just give up and let him go or not. It hurts my feelings terribly to know that he is willing to lose me even as a friend rather than meet me half way. Is it typical for men with this type of problem to totally withdraw from intimate relationships? I have emailed him several times during the past few weeks and he has only responded twice. I told him that I missed talking to my friend so, he called that night but he has not called again since then. He told me that he is just working, eating and sleeping. Should I take it that he is not interested in me any longer or just back off and give him plenty of space? I care very much about him but, I don't know how long I should give him to come around. I think this problem has shattered his confidence and I don't know how to help him.

It's too bad your boyfriend hasn't heard the news that impotence is no fatal barrier to giving or receiving sexual satisfaction. Or that there may be ways of adjusting the medication or timing "holidays" from it to restore sexual potency. But for now, his disappointment has overwhelmed desire. And yes, men frequently withdraw when they experience any kind of emotional difficulty they don't know how to handle. Sexual potency goes right to the core of his manhood and of cultural expectations of men, and how he handles this issue reflects not only how comfortable he feels in the relationship but how comfortable he is with himself. Your friend obviously doesn't see how he can hold up his half of the friendship/sexual relationship. But there is some deeper wound to his self-concept and sense of shame that is also holding him back. Perhaps the erectile dysfunction set off a bout of depression. After all, for men, sexual intimacy is typically the gateway to emotional intimacy, while for women, it's commonly the other way around.

Clearly, your strategy of pursuing a withdrawer isn't working. It rarely does. Don't stop caring, but simply demonstrate your feelings by backing off and holding steady during this confused time for him. You might send an infrequent email (no more than once a week) saying nothing more than "hi" or forwarding, without commentary, some bit of independent news you come across that you think he might be interested in. Don't expect immediate response—or any response.

You can't control his response but you can let him know by this action that you aren't giving up—yet. Loyalty generally means a lot to people and may help him come to his senses.

My Husband Is Gay

I'm divorcing after 20 years and two children, now teenagers. My husband left us one month after moving into our newly built home. He says he's gay and has been with several men found on
the Internet but now has a partner. He neglects his children and since our state is a no fault state, the judge is unaware of his sexual orientation and appears to be giving him the upper hand. Child and spousal support are reduced. I'm still going through the court procedures but I'm very bitter and feel used and taken advantage of. I understand temporary insanity now. Where are the support groups for women like me? The Internet sides with gay people, not straight spouses. I want my kids to be healthy and not have head issues like my ex.

Don't blame on sexual orientation what is really a reflection of bad character. There are plenty of gay men who maintain excellent relationships with their exes and their children (and straight guys who behave just as miserably). Your husband just happens to be a dud as a dad and that has nothing to do with who lights his fire.

There's something about building a house that rocks people to their foundation and forces them to confront their deepest values. Your husband must have decided he was living a lie. It's the way he's handling the big switch in his life that is so destructive and painful.

Your disappointment is making you bitter and leading you to expect the rest of the world to share in your desire to punish your husband for his abandonment of you, your kids, your new home—and women in general. Would it have been easier if he left you for another woman and still neglected his own children? Rejection is always painful, and for many wives in your position the rejection is doubled—rejecting not just you but a whole gender—and compounded with shame, as if something about you turned him off all women.

This is not a new drama in our culture, or in any culture that gives people as many choices as we do. In all likelihood, his sexual orientation and how to deal with it are things he's secretly struggled with all his life.

By itself, sexual orientation should not factor into any judge's decision of custody. What counts far more are such critical matters as caring, monitoring and providing a stable home environment. If your husband is demonstrably lacking in these areas, as you indicate, then the facts should be brought to the attention of the court. Forget about seeking justice on the Internet; that's not its purpose. This is strictly a matter for your attorney to handle.