Monday, August 23, 2010

Is She Asking the Wrong Question?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: A woman I work with filed for divorce recently after thirty-three years of marriage. I'm not that close to her and have never met her husband, but she told me at lunch last week that it just hit her one day that she didn't find him attractive any more, either physically or in a personality sense. She said that when she asked herself if she would be attracted to him if she had just met him today, she couldn't honestly answer yes. She felt she had been going through most of her marriage with blinders on, ignoring faults and shortcomings and incompatibilities.

Since that lunch conversation, I've been asking myself if I would be attracted to my husband if I met him today for the first time, and I'm not sure I could say yes. He's a nice guy, but he's let himself go physically over the years and our sex life is almost non-existent (he's 59, I'm 55). I don't want to do something I'll regret, but I don't want to wake up someday and realize it's too late to start over again. Can you help me figure out what to do? ("M.J.")

DEAR M.J.: Your co-worker's story seems to have touched a nerve. It sounds as if you've been aware---maybe for a long time---of frustrations in your marriage, but the co-worker's divorce has brought it all to the surface. I don't advocate ignoring problems and hoping they'll just go away. But neither do I advocate taking drastic measures when less-drastic ones may solve the problems.

My guess is that there's more to your co-worker's story than she's told you. I'm not saying she's lying, but because you're not her close friend you're probably getting a simplified, sanitized version of what happened. The question she raises ("Would I be attracted to him if I met him today for the first time?") is, in my opinion, the wrong question. It's artificial. If you really met someone today for the first time, he would be, to you, a blank slate. He'd have no faults (unless they were obvious ones), no baggage. He's never disappointed you. He could be just about anything you wanted him to be. With your husband, it's impossible to think of him as a blank slate. You know his faults all too well, and you can't pretend you don't.

I think the right question to ask is, "Do I still love this man enough to try to make our marriage more satisfying?" If you can't answer yes to that, then drastic measures may be called for. But if you feel you still love him, your focus should be on working to enhance the marriage.

Because sexless marriages are often characterized by a combination of medical and psychological causes, as well as by avoidance and embarrassment, you're going to need outside help. I can't tell you for sure if that help will include medical specialists, sex therapists, or marriage counselors, but you and your husband should probably begin with frank discussions with your primary care doctors. You might have to gently but firmly urge your husband to do that, but as long as you avoid blaming him or berating him for the situation you're in, he shouldn't resist too vehemently.

Good luck, M.J., and please let me know what happens.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Is it Wrong to Say "I Love You?"

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm 34 and have always been single, although I've twice lived with men and have had several other serious relationships. I'm currently seeing a great guy, but I'm having the same frustration with him that I did with almost everyone else. He never says "I love you" unless I say it first. And even then I can tell that he's just kind of embarrassed and wants to say something. Are all men like this? Am I doing something wrong by expressing my feelings? ("Nicole" in California)

DEAR NICOLE: I don't think all men are like that, but, in general, men tend to feel awkward about expressing their emotions verbally. And as you've noticed, the awkwardness can increase when men are put on the spot. Saying "I love you" to a man does tend to put him on the spot.

Having said that, I certainly wouldn't discourage a woman from expressing her love for a man. If you're truly in love, and have reason to believe the feeling is mutual, why not say it? But I'm wondering if perhaps you're expressing it too early in your relationships. Some people fall head-over-heels in love almost from Day One, and saying the magic words "I love you" just intensifies the pleasure and the rush of emotions they're experiencing. The problem is that the man may not be falling in love quite so quickly (or, sadly, maybe not at all). At the very least, he may need more time to process his emotions.

Maybe you could make it easier on your boyfriend by using the word "love" in a way that is less threatening to him. Instead of saying "I love you", say "I love the way you make me feel", or "I love the way you kiss me", or "I love being with you." That way, he gets to hear the word "love" in a romantic but non-intimidating context. Before long, he might start telling you, without prompting, that he "loves" the way you smell, or the way you laugh, or the way he thinks about you throughout the day. It may or may not lead to his saying "I love you," but it can certainly pave the way.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that a lot of women have had their hearts broken by men who are too quick to say "I love you." Some guys---the pick-up-artist types---will say anything, no matter how insincere, to get a woman into bed. Others will perhaps mean what they say when they say it, but will lose interest in the woman soon afterward. Whatever pleasure you get from men like that is going to be very short-lived.

Anyway, good luck, Nicole, and please let me know what happens.