Mallory: 55, dentist
Robert: 55, software engineer
Married: 27 years
Kids: Gabby, 25; Jenny, 23; Stephen, 11
Debra Castaldo, PhD, Midland Park, New Jersey
For nearly their entire marriage, Robert has wanted more affection, attention, and intimacy from his wife. Mallory loves her husband, but his neediness is suffocating her. Robert isn’t sure he can live with the rejection anymore.
“I’ve never been an openly affectionate person. In my family we never talked about how we felt and we weren’t huggy and kissy, so I’ve always thought that was normal. Robert knew that about me when we got married. And our marriage does work, day to day — we have enough money and we’re good at keeping our household and our kids’ schedules organized. Not to mention, we have sex at least once a week, which is more than most couples. I guess I just don’t understand what else he needs from me.
“I do love him! And I tell him that, but it’s not enough for him. It’s like there’s always this pressure on me to give more, and it’s suffocating. Sometimes I feel like he sees our relationship as a tally board. As in, ‘I mowed the lawn and fixed the dishwasher and rubbed your feet, so now you should have sex with me.’ I know he’s probably not asking for too much, but I have a busy dental practice and after a long day of tending to other people, I just don’t have the energy to think about what Robert wants. Having sex just feels like one more chore.
“Well, since he’s mentioned it, there are things that might make me more interested. To be honest, he’s gained weight since we first got married and I’m not that attracted to him anymore. I know it sounds terrible, but maybe if he watched what he ate and lost a few pounds, I would be more into him.
“I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. I was brought up in a house where people just said what was on their minds, so maybe I don’t say things the right way, but I’m honestly just trying to help. It’s one of the ways I show people that I care about them.
“When he’s gone, I guess it gives me a chance to miss him — or a chance to breathe. I do get all warm and fuzzy when we’re on the phone, and sometimes I even think about initiating sex when he gets home. When the time comes, though, I’m just not that into it or I’m too tired. But hey, sometimes I still go through with it. Don’t I get points for that?
“The few times Robert has tried to talk to me, it feels like he’s attacking me. He compares me to my mother, which just pisses me off. Actually, I don’t think either one of us are very good communicators. We rarely fight, but when we do, we never resolve it. Like the time we were redecorating the living room. We couldn’t agree on a paint color, so we dropped it and just never repainted. The same thing happens with our sex life. He’ll try to initiate sex, and if I don’t feel like it he gets angry, but we don’t talk about it. We’ll just go to sleep, or sometimes he’ll sleep on the couch. Then we go to work the next day, let things cool off, and pretend nothing ever happened. I think that’s one of the reasons therapy would be good for us — we need to learn to communicate better. I might not be very affectionate, but I do want to have an emotional connection with Robert, and right now that’s just nonexistent.”