Dear Prudence: I imagine other women while having sex with my wife.

Help! I Can’t Have Sex With My Wife Unless I Pretend She’s Someone Else.

Help! I Can’t Have Sex With My Wife Unless I Pretend She’s Someone Else.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 8 2013 2:57 PM

Georgia on My Mind

In a live chat, Prudie advises a man unable to have sex with his wife unless he imagines she’s someone else.

(Continued from Page 1)

Q. Should I Tell Him He's on Thin Ice?: About six months ago, I decided to assume that my husband will never change, and make the decision whether to continue with our marriage based on that assumption. (He's not abusive, just unreliable in a number of ways.) I didn't tell him this, I just did it. The answer was yes, it is better to stay married to him than be a single mom. That decision has been very freeing—I've stopped nagging and just acted on the assumption that I would take care of everything, so the help he provides is now a nice bonus. I've been happy, and he's been happy. But here's the problem—sometime in the future, probably when our son is older or has left the nest, I think that the answer to that question will turn to "no." When that happens, I know my husband will be shocked. Do I have any obligation to let him know my thinking? We're talking 8–12 years from now, and things could change in the meantime, so my first thought is that no good would come from telling him. However, I also feel in a weird way that I'm now using him as a convenient occasional babysitter/roommate/sex partner without giving him the full picture. What are your thoughts?

A: The decision you have made now, while it may feel like a permanent one, may not be. You've weighed your options and for now it is better for you and your child to stay in the marriage. But life has a way of intervening in our plans and you may find just a few years from now the burden of your marriage has become too much and you want out. It could also be that now that you've liberated yourself from trying to change your husband, your change in attitude prompts a change in him. So I don't think it's useful to begin a conversation with your spouse in which you reveal things are going to stay status quo until you get around to divorcing him sometime in the 2020s.

Q. Re: Depressed Teen: I was "Mary" growing up—if I brought home a 97, the question was, "what happened to the other 3 points?" If a friend's parent had talked to my parents like that, particularly my mother, it would have backfired. My mother would have come down on me and criticized me for taking "problems" outside of the family. On the other hand, I would have welcomed the ability to talk to another adult without fear that adult would go to my parents. Mothers like Mary's are extremely difficult, but I fortunately had other adults in my life. So should Mary.


A: Thanks for this perspective and I'm sorry you were another Mary. I only suggested the talk because lots of times no one is willing to broach things with the wrong-doers and the other mother can say in all honesty she's never discussed this with Mary—and again, there's a chance the father needs a reality check. But once that's done, I see your point about stepping up and being a confidante for Mary. You're absolutely correct that it does help just to hear, "This isn't right and I'm sorry you're going through this."

Q. Bring Up Dead Sibling?: I have been friends with a woman and her husband for about a year (we met through mutual friends). I recently found out, by way of reading a nonfiction book about the event, that her sister died tragically in a nightclub fire 10 years ago. My friend's name was published in the book which is how I figured it out. Anyway, I have been feeling like I should say something to let her know I care and how sorry I am for her loss. On the other hand, I know it is a sensitive subject, and she hasn't talked about it directly with me. We usually see each other at fun social events and I wouldn't want to bring something up that would cause her pain in any way. What do you think is the best way to approach this situation ... Should I say something or keep quiet and see if she decides to open up to me?

A: You've only known this woman for a little while and you generally see her at social events. It would be one thing if you had known this woman and her sister for years, and were moved to say, "I remember how much Natalie loved the Fourth of July and I really miss her." It's another to without any context or prompting from your friend reveal that you learned she suffered a terrible tragedy. I'd keep this to yourself. If you become better friends and she mentions her sister's death, you can say you remember that horrific fire and you're so sorry she lost her sister in it.

Q. Re: Depressed teen: My daughter happens to be 13 and has a friend very similar to the one in the OP's story. Only this girl is actually cutting herself and admitting she is very depressed and feels like she will never measure up. My daughter went to the school counselor and asked her to speak to the friend, who is 14. In this state, a person can talk to the counselor without parental notification at 14. Of course the hope is that the parents will get involved but at least for now this girl has a person she can talk to and trust who can offer some help. Maybe once school starts if nothing has changed for the girl in the OP, the daughter can go that route for her friend.

A: Good idea, but you don't have to put this on your daughter. If you're concerned about Mary's mental state and the pressure she's under, you can confidentially report this to the guidance counselor. Here's hoping it helps.

Q. Taking Care of Aging FIL: My FIL is getting older, and I am experiencing pressure from my husband and husband's family to have him move in with us. We have three small kids under the age of 6, and are barely making ends meet. My husband's two siblings are both empty nesters and financially better off, with larger homes. My FIL has lived all his life with one of these siblings, in return for rent, free child care, gardening, and help with other household duties. Now that he is less able to help out, my husband's siblings want to dump him on us. I don't want to be cold-hearted and turn my FIL away, but I simply cannot handle caring for anyone else, mentally, physically, or financially. I am an introvert, and my home is my sanctuary. We don't have an extra bedroom, so I would lose my home office, where I work multiple times a week. I am currently seeing a therapist for depression and anxiety, which is a secret from our families. My husband is starting to resent me from preventing him from fulfilling what he sees is his duty. I cannot take on one more thing. Help!

A: Stand your ground. Taking on the care of an aging in-law while handling three young children, a job, and dealing with depression is a recipe for collapse. It's good you're in therapy, so have your husband join you for several sessions. You're having a hard time standing up to the pressure, so having a professional help guide your husband to seeing the impossibility of this plan is a good idea. Then your husband and his siblings need to get together and come up with some alternatives for Dad. It could be that with some social service agency help, one of them would be able to continue to keep Dad in their home, once the complete burden of his care is lifted. It could be that they need to pool their resources and see if it's possible to get Dad in assisted living. What's not possible is that you take on this open-ended obligation and find yourself unable to function.

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Emily Yoffe is a contributing editor at the Atlantic.