Realized I didn't do the quote correctly for your questions in my post above, and might not be easily readable. So here goes a second try:
Interesting. What happened 3-4 years into the relationship? Kids? Something else?
----- Got married around then! A major move. Some clear depression on her part. You are smart targetting that as root. She once mentioned in therapy having first weaponized sex (withholding it) back then because of the turmoil of the life upheaval. That was the first time I proposed therapy when I saw the signs.
Check. On what, I'll say below.
I'm also curious here about your wife's comment about liking to be the leader. Does that mean she likes to be dominant or assertive sexually?
---- Not at all. Over time, super passive. Occasionally she used to mention how in the past (college, before me) she was very comfortable sexually and there were no issues, and yeah..... that's something you really want your wife to say? TO my ears, that translates basically to: "Why yes, before you, I had no issues with desire. So is must be you that I don't desire" NICE. See my above points about being hurt, self esteem eroded from all this!!
Gotcha. I'm testing here because you may have to risk your marriage to save it, then. And it still might not work. So I'm trying to gauge your stakes here.
---- I understand.
My interpretation of this behaviour based on what you wrote might be that she wants to be married to you, knows that you expect a good sex life as part of being married, and she wants to want to have a good sex life with you, but doesn't really. This could be:
1. low libido as a change - hormones, diet, exercise, sleep, depression, etc.
2. low libido as her normal - meaning, she was just kind of faking it in the beginning or was caught up in the new relationship energy and once that wore off, she went back to her normal, default sexuality, which is at a lower level than yours.
3. something happened 3-4 years into your relationship that was a crisis point for her heavily impacting how she felt about you, or how she felt about herself, or how she felt about the relationship. This could be something bad you did, something bad she did, or some perceived core failing in the relationship.
4. she feels unattractive.
5. she feels you are unattractive.
6. she was never that into you at the beginning (doesn't sound that way but I'll throw it out there).
7. she's into someone else. (again, doesn't sound that way, but a lot of stuff you're describing here happened in my first marriage when she started sleeping with someone else).
------ Yeah, in a way at this point I've stopped wondering about the "why" and more about the okay, so what....? Through the years potential explanations from her, me, therapists.... have included depression, low libido. Part of the journey with this has been reading books and through that she started to feel like "there was something wrong with her" for low desire, low initiation and has said before that she "feels like a disappointment." TO which, over time, I've grown more direct in my response saying that, no, she is not a disappointment, though our lack of intimacy very much IS a disappointment. I suspect this, to her, must sound to her ears about as pleasant as the veiled insult from her I quote above, but it is the truth and not sure how else to put it.
Big fat check in red marker here.
Hmm. When you say "early on" do you mean 3-4 years into the relationship? Or at the beginning of the relationship?
------ Beginning and early on. Yes, 3-4 years.
What kinds of things would she say specifically when in therapy? Does she ever throw out reasons or justifications? Or is she exasperated and confused?
----- See above. Very rarely has therapy focused directly on the sex. But that's where the above comments come from. Then more complex stuff, therapists volunteer about virgin-***** conundrum.....
****ing MCs. Often focus on the wrong things, and let people off the hook. Check.
How happy is she otherwise in the marriage?
---- AS team mates, maybe. But lately, no. Said something to the effect of, she wanted a reset button, that this wasnt the life she had been expecting (haha, again, nice.... you see why I feel like I'm on a railroad track toward divorce! Thus this last ditch desperation plea for wisdom).
Does she say she loves you often?
----nahhhh, not in a meaningful way too often. More out of habit. End of phone conversations, going out the door for work, etc... But often those are more of actually a habit of mine she reciprocates.
Is she affectionate with you in non-sexual ways?
------- Hell no. And that's as aggravating as the non intimacy. A hand on my back, grabbing my hand while driving.... all long gone in the relationship. Only time she is directly affectionate is when she feels me pulling back. After I shut down the other night after my initiation was refused, she no doubt then felt guilt or some such and as I laid on the bed for a moment, she rubbed my back,. leg, etc... made a flattering comment about my backside (haha) but that is hard to take too seriously. ALl part of what I now tend to see as non-intentional manipulation. She would NEVER have been that affectionate if things hadnt gone the way they had. THrough the years, she has always given our internal clocks as a reason for not matching up with sex. Im a nigfht owl, she prefers it early. To which I have said, she was free to wake me up whenever. Only time she ever took me up on it and woke me up to initiate sex was a month or so ago after a big fight about the same. Wow, that night she desired me, took me up on it and woke me up affectionately and wants..... I stopped her though and said I would only do it (sex) if the advances were for real and not just the same old yoyo ride of manipulation: I pull away, she pulls toward.....
Check. Oh, the stories I could tell.
Does she show you appreciation, respect, compassion?
---- yes definitely on all these. And in terms of these emotions they are/seem sincere. There is still love there, I think from these.
Ah, ok. Our first non-check mark.
Wow, okay, clearly I have a lot to say on all this!!!! Thanks for the good questions.
Any more advice on how to proceed? I have been away from the house for a few days for work and family, and the absence has dug me in in dark ways and not too excited to go back!
OK. All those check marks above are extreme similarities to my first marriage. My ex wife was (and still is) extremely beautiful and intelligent, but also very calculating with many sexual hangups. She hid many of these from me until we got married. We got to this point where you're at - and continued.
We ended up totally sexless, with an increasing amount of head-****ery and infidelity and straight out emotional abuse. I'll skip past that, because there's one big difference here, and that is that she still seems to respect you. My ex didn't.
What I came to understand is that my ex saw sex differently than I did. For her, from what I've gathered in her relationships since, it's something to use to get what you want. And when she wants it, she gets bored and moves on, often without breaking up with the other guy first. That was her solution to the whole madonna/***** complex - to leverage and use sex, because good girls shouldn't directly want it. I'm bringing that up because it was very much a component of the whole deal here - that she shouldn't (and maybe couldn't) just have sex be a normal part of a relationship.
If that's where your wife is at, then she must choose to change or she must choose to respect you enough to wish you well on your journey forward without her.
Alternatively, it's very possible or even probable that she was never that into you to begin with. Many a guy here has posted just to discover that he was the husband his wife wanted to want... but just didn't want. In this scenario, surprisingly, all might not be lost depending on what triggers her. Do you know what guys she was into before she met you? Do you know why she picked you instead of those other guys? Are you the stable one that she was expected to marry?
Some of the other alternatives still stand, for example depression. However you first and foremost need to find a new therapist, one that will hold her feet to the fire. She needs to understand that you are at a decision point. She needs to understand that you took an oath of monogamy when you married her, not an oath of celibacy. And she needs to understand - like my ex wife refused to - that you can't tick sex off like check box on your to-do list to get your spouse off your back. Like the rest of the relationship, you need to be in or out.
And quite frankly, she sounds like a friend that you have children with, not a wife.