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Pity, Not Love

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

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 minutes.

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 need.