Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are in our 60s and have been married 23 years. He's a hardworking, funny, nice guy, and also happens to still be very attractive. I've gained about 10 pounds during our marriage, but still am well within the range for a normal body weight. I also work out at a gym five mornings a week and am considered attractive.
Why in the world are we not having sex?
I've brought it up a couple of times and he always says, "Sure, just not tonight." It's been a sexless five years and I don't know what to do. He keeps telling me it's my problem.
But honestly, does anyone get married to be celibate? I don't know what to do. Can you help?
Carolyn says: Not in any way you'd really want, no. I'm sorry.
But you could help your own cause by cutting out the extraneous points and getting to the only relevant one.
Extraneous: his attractiveness; your fitness and body weight and attractiveness; anyone else's reasons for getting married.
Relevant: "He keeps telling me it's my problem."
This is someone who does not want to — or at least has zero plans to — change anything about himself in any way, for you or himself or to live up to anyone's marital standards, and isn't being "nice" about it at all.
This is difficult, frustrating and sad. It's also the hardest problem to solve — and by "it" I don't mean sex, I mean any problem where one of the people involved refuses to acknowledge a problem, much less take part in solving it.
So my only advice to you is to address not the sex, but the refusal to budge, and do so kindly, warmly, unflinchingly. Ask for what you want, and, if/when you don't get it, challenge any false assertions he makes in response: " 'Sure, just not tonight,' is not a respectful answer to me when we haven't had sex in five years. Please tell me the truth."
And: "OK, let's say it is my problem because I would like to have sex with my husband, and my husband won't have sex with me. But I think it's our problem, together, when you won't tell me the truth about why."
There is a fairly limited number of truths that can fill in that blank: He is either not interested in sex with you, not interested in sex at all, or not able to have sex anymore. None of these is the kind of truth that people are overjoyed to tell.
But he owes you that truth. And right now, by your description, it has been easier for him to hide from his reality than it has been to own it. So, your power lies in changing that dynamic, in making it easier for him to be honest with you than it is to hide. That's where the warmth and kindness come in, and the not-flinching. Make it clear to him that uncomfortable answers are better than no answers at all. They at least let you know what your real options are.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.