Please help, sadness is destroying our intimacy
Let me apologize in advance for the long post.
My wife and I have been married for two years. We are both educated, physically healthy, and in our late 20s. My wife is the sweetest, kindest, and most thoughtful person I know, and she has said similar things about me on many occasions. Neither of us is abusive, we are both prepared to make sacrifices for each other, and we share household responsibilities in a fair way. We spend good, quality time together almost every day, and can talk extensively on any number of subjects.
My problem is that my wife seems to suffer from two problems (both psychological, one of which is sexual), and I feel I have reached a point of mental and emotional exhaustion trying to cope with them.
First, she has been in a constant state of sadness since she was in her early teens. This has, over the years, manifested as everything from low self-esteem, to mood swings, to a general morose, to full-blown I-want-to-sleep-all-day-and-I-sob-three-times-a-day depression. She is, in every sense of the word, always sad. I have not known her since she was an early teen, but her own accounts—as well as the accounts from her family—indicate that she has NEVER had a period of emotional stability or high-spiritedness in the last 10-15 years.
Second, she experiences virtually all of the textbook symptoms of someone who has suffered long-term sexual abuse as a child (i.e. severe anxiety attacks brought on by no apparent cause during sexual intimacy, an inability to talk about sex or sexuality, feeling herself to be “dirty” or “broken”, a visceral negative reaction to seeing virtually any depiction of sex in movies or in writing, crying afterwards, etc, etc.). These things will happen to her even when she has been the one to initiate sex (which is rare), or even when she is masturbating alone.
These things are things I knew about when we got married, and are both things I was (and still am) understanding of, and wish to help her with, as she is a very special person and I love her dearly.
Here, however, are the complications that leave me lost and feeling alone:
1. She has been to numerous counselors over the last 15 years, has been diagnosed with (at various times by various doctors) chronic depression, social anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia (ongoing life-long minor depression, basically). She has been treated for each and every one of these conditions, with therapy, lifestyle changes, dietary and exercise changes, dialectical behavioral therapy, and virtually every medication on the market—all to no avail. Not a single things has brought her even close to what her or her doctors would consider “normal” or “healthy”. In fact, none of these things have seemed to have any effect whatsoever, much to the chagrin of her family and her therapists. The only exception to this is Xanax, which will, when taken, relieve any anxiety she may be feeling, but has no effect on her depression. As a result, she feels (and thus I feel) hopeless and pessimistic, imagining an entire life spent in melancholy and low-spirits on the good days, and catatonic depression on the bad days.
2. Our sex, though frequent, feels boring and lacking in any intimacy or excitement. When we first got together we had sex around 4-6 times a day, and over the course of a year that slowed down to about twice a day (with all of the above issues I mentioned showing up regularly). Now we have sex about 5 times a week (usually because she wants to), but we are both bored with it. The problem here is that while she wants sex, she doesn’t do anything to make me feel wanted. She will touch my shoulder or rub my leg, and if I don’t start touching, kissing, caressing, and generally acting lustful toward her, she will get sad and feel like I don’t want her. Unfortunately, even when she initiates things, she wants me to do all the work. She will lie there for 10-20 minutes, with no visible sign of arousal and no reciprocation, wanting me to turn her on, even though she has done nothing as yet to turn me on. It is like she expects me to be always-aroused. All of this wouldn’t be so bad except that her paralyzing trauma always prevents her from being able to tell me how she wants to be touched, and no matter how much I tell her what I want, she finds herself unable to do it (e.g. sexual flirtation, sultry glances, passionate kissing, etc.). As a result, it is becoming harder and harder for me to continue to think of her sexually, because she perpetually acts (and always has acted) so non-sexual and non-sensual (even though she enjoys having sex regularly). It is almost as though she craves my sexuality, but feels none of her own. We’ve tried buying, reading, and implementing the advice from a half-dozen or so books on overcoming sexual issues, and none have seemed to help in any noticeable way. The worst part about it is that nine times out of ten we can’t even talk about it, because whenever we try she becomes frozen with anxiety, and will begin to sob with tears at the mention of anything I would like her to try, or the mention of anything I am frustrated about, or at any suggestion of using any sort of roleplaying, or erotic fiction, or exchange of fantasies, or anything else that is commonly recommended by “spice up your sex life” guides.
Here’s the kicker: though she suffers from all of the symptoms of childhood sexual abuse, even after several years in therapy (including a 2 stays in a psychiatric hospital) with several doctors, and extensive exploration of her background, and with a clear memory of everything else in her childhood, she can recall no abuse whatsoever. No strange people in her upbringing, no shadowy figures in her dreams, no family members or family friends that make her uncomfortable to be around, nothing. Furthermore, her mom was herself abused as a child, and is very vocal about bringing any such abuse to light, and even with her mom’s help, no one can recall anything even mysterious or unusual that may have happened to her. She’s even had therapists so sure she was abused they have accused her of lying because she can’t remember any such thing happening.
I don’t know what to do anymore. I am at my wit’s end. I am tired of feeling sexually un-attracted to my wife (who is very pretty, by the way), am tired of feeling like I am making love to a robot, of having a partner who is so non-sensual and unresponsive, who is so emotionally understanding, but so unable to actually perform any of the actions that she and I both wish she would. All the books, and all the therapists talk about coming to terms with the trauma, but have no advice on what to do when you can’t remember the trauma (if there even was any, which my wife thinks there was not).
As for the depression, it is hard to constantly face life’s challenges with someone who is so consistently pessimistic, low-spirited, and defeated. When we try to talk about things, she freezes up. When I hold her for an hour, she unfreezes, but is still unable to talk about the issues. When I walk way, she cries. Her constant sadness has made me sad. I find myself so depleted from spending hours a day dealing with her issues that I have no energy left with which to take care of my own things. Distance often helps me recharge, but when we’re apart, she gets even worse, and so after the day or days apart are over, things are worse than they were before.
I have a good circle of friends, but none of them have any experience with such intense depression and sexual anxiety, and so have little to say on the matter. We cannot afford any more counseling or doctors, and all the ones we’ve dealt with have been of no help anyway. I feel like I have nothing left to give, and the thought of this continuing for our entire lives fills me with dread. I don’t know what to do. My wife is the most beautiful, sincere, sympathetic, understanding woman in the world, and I love her dearly, but as time has gone on, I have found myself more and more feeling like I just don’t want to be around her. She is not abusive, nor is she demanding or unfair. I just don’t know how to make this work.
Please, if anyone has any input, especially with how to deal with sexual anxiety or any ideas of other possible diagnoses for her symptoms that might lead us to find more effective treatments, I would be forever in your debt. What do you do when, for all your effort, books, doctors, medication, and counseling don't work?