I want to stay in my marriage and think it’s the right thing to do, but I just don’t know if and how I can recapture the goodwill I once held for my husband.

We’ve been married for 8 years, together for 11. It was great for many years. I admired my husband for being the kindest, most gentle man I had ever known. But things started to change when we had our first child 4 years ago. My husband desperately wanted kids, and a lot of his self-regard was tied up in the certainty that he would be a good father. I also assumed he’d be a good father. He was always the more patient, less moody one of us, and he really liked children. This sort of balanced out the fact that, of the two of us, I was more assertive and successful at work.

Then our son arrived, and my husband sort of lost his way. He was frustrated by the fact that he couldn’t soothe our colicky baby (and so was I), and for the first year of our son’s life, my husband was sort of absent from our lives, although he was present in the house. He would do his share of non-child-related housework, but he had a really hard time connecting with the baby. Meanwhile, he was defensive, and I began to feel like I couldn’t really talk to him. I grew closer to my friends and more distant from my husband.

Anyway, through all this, my husband became very anxious. I’m certain it was rooted in good intentions: He desperately wanted me to be happy. Gradually, he began to look to me to make all the decisions in our family. Because he’s a good guy, he always made sure he was doing at least half of the "work". But we slowly lost the equality in our marriage, and we stopped being friends. We were more like very good roommates or high school lab partners.

And then, about a year ago, my husband… let’s just say he stopped being *able* to engage in intimate relations with me.

At first, I took it very badly. I accused him of not being attracted to me. I asked him if he was having an affair (he said he wasn’t, and I believe him). Without being graphic, I tried every trick in the book and probably some that weren’t in the book, but it didn’t help.

And despite the fact that I was trying to maintain a good game face during our attempted couplings, it was miserable for me, too. For one thing, I felt like all of my reactions were being scrutinized, which I was. I sent my husband to the doctor to make sure there was nothing medically wrong. There wasn’t. I sent him to a therapist to see if there was anything psychologically wrong. There was — anxiety, although nothing so bad as to require medication. I sent us both to couples counselling — two different counsellors, actually, the second of which is pretty good. So now we have a lot of third parties weighing in on this, but meanwhile, I’m getting more and more frustrated by the fact that I’m the one solving this problem, and that my husband doesn’t seem concerned enough about the deterioration of our relationship to contribute to its rebuilding — other than, as is the typical pattern, doing exactly what I tell him to do.

His therapist and our marriage counsellors all agree that to save the marriage, my husband has to somehow reclaim some of his identity. And maybe he’s doing it, maybe he’s not. I can’t really tell. It’s probably too early. Everyone also agrees that, during this process, I should probably be extra careful to be gentle in any criticisms I have concerning my husband, and I’m in agreement with that.

I really want to stay in the marriage. Or, more precisely, I really want to want to stay in the marriage. But, right now, every impulse I have is telling me to run screaming down the street. Somewhere along the line, I lost any sexual desire for my husband, and now when he tries to touch me — I can’t explain it, it just feel so, so wrong. Meanwhile, God help me, I had a brief sexual affair with another man, mostly just to see if it would clarify things. As you might imagine, it didn’t help. Not only did it not clarify any of my feelings about my marriage, but even though I had no intention of becoming emotionally involved with this other man, being with him — a relatively normal guy who is capable of making life decisions on his own — just exacerbated my bad feelings about my husband. Anyway, that’s over.

I think staying together is the best thing for our family. But how do I do it? Has anyone gone through this? Is it possible to get the love back? Or if not, is it possible to take comfort in other things, like the community provided by our families and mutual friends? Is this a rough patch or is this how it’s always going to be? And how do I resist the urge to run away screaming? Can a person fall back in love?

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