From the forums:
I told my husband (then boyfriend) that I won’t be able to have kids and he was distraught, to say the least, but he told me he still loved me and would stick by me. We eventually got married and have had a great marriage.In the beginning, I’d say we had sex about 10 times a week, and weekends were our special days. But about three years into our marriage I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and, soon after, all the medication I had to take made sex unbearable. My husband and I would still try certain things, but I knew it wasn’t going to be the same. I felt like the most selfish wife ever — I had robbed my husband of having a family, and now I was having him stay with me in a sexless marriage.
I couldn’t keep living with the guilt, so I told him that it was if he slept with other women. I told him not to tell me about it but to just do it behind my back. We had arguments about this, but I remained firm. Not too long after, the husband of our mutual friend, “Lisa,” passed away. In all honesty, we weren’t a big fan of her husband. He and Lisa weren’t on good terms, and, although technically they were still married when he died, they lived in separate homes and her husband would rarely visit her and their daughter (“Dani”). Dani was 5 years old at the time of her father’s death.
Lisa needed a lot of help, and my husband and I volunteered to assist with things such as picking up Dani from daycare, spending some time with her, and doing house work. I noticed that my husband connected with Dani right away, and he started spending more and more time with them. Initially when Lisa needed help, I’d be out and about, but then my RA really limited me. By the time I’d come back from work I’d be exhausted and couldn’t really be that active.
I noticed that Lisa would frequently upload photos of my husband, herself, and Dani together on Facebook. I didn’t think too much of it at first until someone commented on a photo, saying: “You guys look like such a happy family.” I had a sinking feeling in my heart. I started noticing that my husband would come home from their house happier than normal. We still spent a lot of time together, but it wasn’t the same. The highlight of his week would be spending time with Dani and Lisa.
My husband and I were invited to Dani’s birthday party, and I noticed that she pretty much described my husband as “her dad” to her friends. I also noticed how Lisa would stand around my husband as if he were her husband. I didn’t really know what to do at this point; I just wanted to vanish. My husband made plenty of attempts to make sure I was not out of place at the party, but it almost seemed like he and Lisa were the ones that were the family and I was the guest.
Since then, I have tried to make an effort to connect with him more. We still spend a lot of time cuddled up in bed together. I tried to be physically intimate with him as well, but even after trying a bunch of different things, it was still extremely painful and it didn’t look like my husband was having any fun either.
I feel like I failed as a woman. I can’t give my husband anything. I fear my husband’s attachment to Lisa as well and think there might be things going on between them. I did tell him he is free to sleep with other women, so I can’t even hold it against him if I’m right about a relationship with Lisa. And I don’t think it would be fair to stop him. I’m not really sure about what to do. Dani is really attached to my husband and I’d feel terrible taking him away from her. I don’t know if I should ask my husband if he and Lisa are doing anything because I told him earlier that I didn’t want to know if he was intimate with someone else. What should I do? — Third Wheel Wife
More than anything else, you need to remember that you are your husband’s wife. You are his family — not Lisa and not Dani. YOU are. And I don’t care that Lisa is a widow or that Dani is a young child who has lost her father. That’s certainly sad, but it’s not your husband’s job to fill the vacant roles. Not only is it not his job, it’s highly inappropriate. It’s inappropriate because caring for another woman and another woman’s daughter is an intimate act and you are uncomfortable with him being intimate with another woman. And you need to admit that to yourself. You are uncomfortable with it. It’s why, despite giving your husband permission to sleep with other women, you told him to do it behind your back. Because thinking about it, let alone knowing any details, is upsetting and uncomfortable. So, rescind your permission and ask your husband to stop spending time with Lisa and Dani.
You know what will happen? Lisa and Dani will be fine. They were fine before the husband, who resided somewhere else and hardly ever visited them, passed away, and they will be fine now. Take your husband back and focus on getting your marriage on track. Go to therapy together. Find a doctor who can help you treat your pain with as minimal side effects as possible. Find ways to be intimate with your husband and to give him physical pleasure that won’t cause you pain. Communicate your needs to him. Communicate your fears. Express the guilt you’ve been holding on to.
Maybe your husband doesn’t want to be married to you anymore and, if that’s the case, you should go your separate ways. But there’s a much bigger chance that your husband absolutely does want to be married to you and misses who you were before you got lost in the murk of guilt and depression.
You need to make your marriage a priority. Instead of giving your husband permission to seek satisfaction elsewhere, you have to figure out how to satisfy each other — and not just sexually, but emotionally and intellectually, too. Turning away from your husband because you feel so guilty about what you can’t give him is the worst thing you can do. Instead, focus on what you CAN give him and then give it to him. And tell him what he can give you.
And if having a family is something your husband really wants, have some discussions about whether that is something you are interested in too and if there’s any way you can make that happen. What about adoption? What about foster care? What about surrogacy? What about just getting a puppy?
It’s clear your husband relishes the caregiver role, so, instead of sitting around at home, too exhausted to go out, while he cares for another woman and another woman’s daughter, tell him how he can care for YOU. You deserve care, too. You certainly deserve the care and love of your husband more than any other woman does. And right now you’re hurting — emotionally and physically. So tell your husband that you need help. And your marriage needs help. It’s nice that he has devoted so much time and energy into caring for this widow friend of yours, but the immediate needs have been met and it’s time for him to come back home, metaphorically-speaking, to you. And if he isn’t able to do that, you deserve to know so that you can move on and quit feeling like you’re imposing on someone else’s life and happiness.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.