By Hara Estroff Marano, published on December 6, 2005 - last reviewed on March 30, 2009
I'm a 37-year-old female who has been in two seven-year relationships and have two kids, ages 7 and 12. I recently broke up with a longtime friend with whom I was together for the last two years. He was recently divorced from his wife and has four kids. For some reason he was never emotionally connected to me; he would always seem irritated, constantly argue with his ex about his kids, and she would always use the kids against him, I suggested that he get visitation, but he never proceeded. When he would get upset with her, it would kind of put a dark cloud over our relationship. I decided that I couldn't compete with the ex anymore. Was that right on my part? How come it's so hard for me to find a loving, dedicated and god fearing man; everyone I've dealt with has always cheated in some form of way.
You've discovered that it's impossible to be in a relationship with someone who really is tied to a relationship with someone else. You may have lived with your friend and although that looks like a relationship and smells like a relationship, it isn't automatically a relationship unless you establish an emotional bond. In fact, without an emotional connection it's just room and board—a nice comfortable place to sleep and pick up mail. What all your relationships seem to have in common is that you expect and demand so little of a partner—and that is what you wind up getting. The way you establish a real emotional connection with someone is by sharing your inner worlds, confiding your hopes, dreams and disappointments, and supporting each other's goals. It has to work two ways; it's not a relationship unless it's fully mutual. You communicate lovingly and in your own way that you expect something in return for your emotional support. You would have been much better off if you had told Mr. Friend very early on that you love being with him but as long as he is so deeply involved with his (now-ex) wife it would be best if he lived on his own, and he should call you when he is really free. That at least sets up reasonable expectations, and it could have given him an incentive to get his emotional life in order and make some equitable arrangement with his ex. If not, at least you would have known where you stood—and walked away with your self-respect intact. Each failed relationship is devastating not only because you lose a partner but because you wind up feeling debased. Until you let a potential partner lovingly know that he has his part to hold up in a relationship, you're just going to keep on repeating the pattern of disrespecting yourself with some new guy. Use the feeling of having been cheated—and you were, but mostly by yourself—as an incentive to treat yourself better in future relationships.
I have been in counseling with my husband, who is 21 years older than I am and seems to use that as an excuse for sex only once a month. We have been together for well over 10 years and he has changed drastically since we married. There is no emotional involvement on his part—and I guess because I have had an affair, there is none on mine, either. I love my husband and honestly wish I hadn't done what I did but I cannot change that now. I need to feel the closeness of a man's arms around me, kiss me, just generally need a husband. There are no children so that isn't even an issue. I just do not know what to do anymore. Should I call it quits?
You can't change the past but you can change the present state of alienation. It doesn't matter how much older your husband is; everyone needs to give and to get affection. Your husband is perfectly capable of engaging in sexual activity. He just doesn't want to and he's grabbed the nearest excuse. That may be his way of paying you back for your transgression. In any case, if there's to be a future together, you must stop the cycle of retribution for pain from the past. You can't be emotionally close to someone if you are concealing something from them, or unwilling to discuss the consequences of your own actions on them. What you need to do is sit down with your husband and have a kind, loving, honest, no-holds-barred conversation in which you establish what you both must do to make amends and to go forward in a way that meets the needs of both of you. First, of course, you must recognize that you hurt him. You hurt him emotionally, and you ruptured the trust between you. That's a big deal. You can start off by telling your husband that you miss the closeness you used to have and you want to know what you can do so that you can have it back. You need to acknowledge that you strayed, and that it caused him pain. It may be very uncomfortable for you, but you need to listen to how your actions impacted him. You also need to ask your husband what it would take for him to trust you again. It's his call. Emotional closeness starts by removing the big barrier to intimacy.