Is My Marriage Dead or In a Coma? Part 1


Welcome to the premiere “Ask DesCamp” bifurcated advice column!

I received the letter below early last week.  It was long – really long – and made longer via my email discussion with the writer about specifics.  There is a LOT going on here!

As I sat down yesterday to begin the editing process, I realized I could not cut enough to render it both attractive to those of you with a short attention span (i.e. most of you) as well as complete with all relevant information.

Today’s advice-seeker is expressing the angst that comes with a long-term marriage suffering from chronic ennui and extramarital temptation.  I’ve been getting a ton of these lately and now I’m convinced the majority of married people are experimenting with the flexibility of their vows.  

Be sure to read all the way through.  I’ll be giving an advice preview today and the full meal deal tomorrow.

Hi Robin,

I’ve been with my husband for 15 years. 

Over the years and especially after our 2 kids were born I’ve felt a growing disconnect with my husband and we have no real emotional connection. I have several examples but, one should sum it up for you: On the day our first child came home from the hospital (after a natural albeit 30+ hour labor), he asked that I retrieve his cell phone charger because he was “tired.”

He never volunteered with the baby, but would assist when asked. Basically the “baby” and all things related to it were my responsibility and he would help out financially or as otherwise needed.  I did everything from changing/feeding/washing to every doctor’s visit.  I doubt he could tell you the location of our children’s clinic.

I was terribly ill when I was pregnant with #2 and once I had to be hospitalized for dehydration. That morning I couldn’t move and he left for work angry that he had to take our older son to daycare.  My Dad took me to the hospital where I stayed all day with an IV but my husband never left work.  

He’s come to apologize for this in our recent therapy sessions (which I insisted upon about 6 months ago), but according to him “never realized” that his sick pregnant wife would want him to come to the hospital.

Throughout our relationship he makes sure that he takes one night every week to go out with his friends.  During championship sporting events such as NCAA or Football or Baseball he may be gone more frequently and I am left to do everything.

While his friends and sports are “can’t miss” events his time with me is not an equal priority.  At home after the kids go to bed, he often watches TV or read or spends time alone on a hobby.  

I used to schedule “date nights” but stopped because he was clearly not interested and would tune me out, increasing the lack of connection and my desire to be intimate with him.  In the past year, I’ve resolved to taking my own “night out” every week but I can see that has caused further deterioration in the marriage.

Since beginning therapy he is much more engaged and has made efforts to compliment me and even wants to go out with me on dates that are not Valentine’s Day or our anniversary, but I don’t feel any different. While I love the practical aspects of our marriage I don’t feel connected to him romantically anymore.

That lack of connection has also opened the door to an old boyfriend, who I can only characterize as the “love of my life.”


Reconnecting with this old flame has awakened a deeper part of myself and some untapped sexual frustration.

The long-term potential with this guy is low.   He is the opposite of my stable, loyal husband.  He changes jobs every 2-5 years and, at 44, is still finding himself. However he admitted he still loves me and has never been married or had children because in his mind no relationship matched up to what we once shared. 

I feel like I’m at a cross-roads. Do I fight for a marriage that has all the accoutrements of the “ideal family life” or chase the more passionate but uncertain route?  Clearly for my children’s sake I should try to make my marriage work. I just don’t know how much longer I can keep trying.

Where do I go from here? Or, do I make the best of where I am?

Thank you for your sage advice.

Lost in Portland

Readers, here is where you get a peek into how the sausage of this blog is made.  I do not simply take people’s questions and answer them without further contact because to do so would result in an inferior advice product.  Read on to see my questions (in bold) to Lost in Portland and her answers:

1.How often on average are you intimate with your husband?

At our peak we would be intimate 2-4x a month.  After kids, that number dropped off a cliff! When he wanted sex he would say things like “Can I get laid tonight?” Which is just SO sexy (not!) which made sex feel like just one more thing I had to do so I resisted.

After we started therapy, he has stopped the “can I have” approach my 3 year-old uses for a cookie and acted more like a man who actually desired me so now we are back up to 1x month (maybe 1x every 6-weeks).

However, when we do have sex it’s almost like he’s crossing it off a list. Ok start–ok, ok, are you done (I can literally just lay there and fake a “yes”) ok, here I go. Great. Done. Roll over. Good night. Yep, that’s my Casanova. 

2. How are your finances? Good, average, challenging?

Our finances are fine. I feel like it’s the glue that keeps us going. I mean, we may be unhappy, but a little retail indulgence can sweep those feelings of malaise right back under the rug faster than you can say “Kate Spade!”

3. Do you have a solid group of friends around you, especially other couples who clearly love each other?

Most of our friends (90%) are still married, and have kids approximately the same ages as our boys (6 and 3). However, they are also in the thick of parenting. Our best friends travel quite a bit, but we haven’t done anything with them a family for about a year.

4. Are you still taking your one night out per week?

Absolutely!  It’s come to be my avoidance strategy.  Also I’ve taken up running and tend to work out at night after the kids go to bed since Mr. Romantic is off playing video games anyway.

5. Is he still taking his? What time does he usually come home on those nights?

Hubs still goes out weekly with his friends.  He usually comes home around 9:30 or 10 or later. Just late enough that the kids and the wife are asleep when he comes home.  I joke and tell him “I’ll see you a half-hour past I-don’t-care.”

6. Have you taken separate vacations? How many?

We just started this.  Hubs has always had an annual 3-day “man’s weekend” trip with the weekly sports watching bunch. Then he takes a bike trip with his dad and another long camping weekend.

For the first time in 6 years I took a vacation with my girlfriends last summer and it was glorious. I’m doing the exact same trip next month.

7. What is the state of your parents’ marriage and his parents’ marriage?

My parents have been blissfully married for 42 years! They are the couple that Hallmark writes about: they do everything together and they love every minute. They genuinely have more fun together than apart. If they are apart they call every night. It’s beautiful.

To this day, when my mom goes to work at 6am she calls my dad to let him know she arrived safely because he would worry if she didn’t call. 

Hub’s parents were married for 51 years, until his Father died last year. His parents retired about 15 years ago.  Hub’s parents lived together their entire marriage, but I would hardly call them connected.

Emotionally unavailable is pretty much the norm in their family: close enough to know only the superficial aspects of each member. 

8. What happened with the ex-boyfriend? Why did you break up and how old were you when you were together?

I was 22 and EX was 25 when we started dated. We dated for 1.5 years. We burned red-hot: we loved hot, we fought hot. We broke up because he believed the next step in our progression would be marriage and he wasn’t ready for that.

He did try to convince me NOT to marry Hubs in 2005, but I didn’t listen. Hubs was all the “right things” kind, loyal, stable, employed!  EX was employed too, but just chronically dissatisfied with his position and always looking for the next thing.

9. Does the ex live in Portland?

Not only does he live in Portland but he works very close to my office so I run into him randomly.  


I also get the occasional text and we see each other for lunch a few times a year. 

10. (forgive me) Are you having an affair with him? If so, for how long?

Define “affair.”  

Have I had sex with him?  Once.  Last year.  I’m a horrible, person and I know I’m going to hell. But, that also prompted me to go to counseling right away. The therapist understood my misery.

Do you remember this story last summer?

Missing woman in Dundee.

When I first heard about her husband saying “she seemed stressed out” only later to find that she committed suicide I totally understood what she would have felt. I felt the exact same way!  My “Fall from grace” occurred right around that time.

My therapist said that I had to do what I had to do survive, and I should “forgive myself” but I know that it’s a slippery slope from here so I’ve set some strong boundaries.

My Ex now remains firmly in the background. I don’t want to engage him anymore until I have a better understanding of what I should do. So that’s the ugly truth.  I’m going to go puke now.

11. Did you want kids more than your husband?

We always talked about kids while dating.  He knew that kids were definitely part of my plan, and he shared that. However, I think he felt lost when it came to actually BEING a father.  He liked the idea, but didn’t know how to execute the plan.  He had to learn to play, and he has learned a lot from watching other dads play with their kids.

12. Did things get even worse after Baby #2?

Yes! Much worse.

Robin, I can’t just bag on Hubs without telling you some of his finer points.  He is a fabulous planner.  He takes care of all the financial worries.  He loads/empties the dishwasher.  He is obsessive about the cleanliness of the garage and yard and he loves wood working.

He is incredibly intelligent, and I feel like I can ask him any “how to” (so long as it isn’t personal) question and get a very well thought out answer.

Certainly I haven’t been at my best over the past year either.  I’ll wear the scarlet letter.  However, I am committed to making a decision.  I just don’t want to hurt my kids.

Thanks for reading this!

Lost in Portland

So we are WAY over our word count limit for today but I hope you all made it to this point.  

Here’s my teaser: after writing this blog for almost two years I am convinced that men and women both cheat, but in very different ways and for very different reasons.  More on that, and my advice to Lost in Portland, tomorrow.  

If you would like to play advice columnist today, leave her some of your pearls of wisdom in the comments.  

Happy Monday!



This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Tamsen

    OK, I’ll make it short. Her marriage is sooooooo much like my first marriage (now there’s a hint), and he sounds a lot like my first husband except he didn’t make any money, I did. My quick answer is that her marriage is irretrievably over (or it was for me at that point anyway). So the best thing she can do is use their marriage counselor to help them end the marriage peacefully and with a great deal of consideration for each other and the kids. DO NOT go running to Ex, at least not in the hope of rekindling any kind of meaningful relationship yet. Get the separation sorted out, deal with kids and housing situations. I would then not rush into a divorce until emotions have calmed down and everyone can find a practical, solution minded lawyer/mediator to help get everything resolved. That’s my advice, from experience.

    1. Admin

      Great advice, Tamsen! GO AWAY! You are making me look bad! 😉

  2. Debbie

    I know this won’t be the popular opinion, but from my experience, the incredible utter crap and BULLSHIT of dealing with exes, step kids, new in-laws, your relationship with them, the ex’s relationship with them, your ex, your ex in-laws, your ex’s new significant other, alimony, child support, possible new half siblings, etc., etc., etc., it is just so much easier to do everything and anything possible to work out your first marriage. No matter how good a new relationship is, the above factors can strain even the best relationship. Go to therapy as many times per week as finances allow and your therapist has time. Make sure the therapist is very well qualified. Don’t just use the one your insurance company pays for. Go to the best of the best and WORK IT OUT!!!

    1. Admin

      Debbie, interesting point, but the ex-boyfriend in question never married because of his feelings for Lost in Portland (or so he says). Assuming they hooked up and it lasted, she wouldn’t have to deal with any of that bullshit. But he would!

    2. Debbie

      Ex boyfriend is not her guy. Ex boyfriend is a wakeup call that she needs to make changes in her life. Her life is not going the way she wants it. She should do everything to make this marriage work. If she can’t make it work, then she will soon realize why she and ex ended things in the first place. She will go out in the dating world and meet someone with lots of baggage. She will have wished she gave the marriage another shot. So, instead of having regrets five years from now, do everything to save the marriage first.

      1. Debbie

        BTW I don’t believe that’s why ex bf never married. He never married because he’s a commitment phobe.

  3. Trish

    This marriage is over. Her husband was unable to provide any emotional fulfillment for the length of the marriage and only now, with probably a flow chart from the marriage counselor is attempting to appease her. Does he love her? Sounds like she does most of the talking in therapy and he takes pointers.
    Bottom line: if she wants to set the same example for her children her in-laws did for her husband, stay married. No one said divorce is easy, but a slow death inside isn’t any more pleasant.
    The ex love of life is an over-grown man child who is merely her wake-up call.
    Use the therapist to identify how to respectfully disentangle the union and be alone for awhile. Love yourself, your kids, and find out what you really want and need with a mate.

    1. Admin

      Trish: You advised much of the same stuff you will see I wrote tomorrow, including the word “man-child,” although I used it to describe her husband. Thanks!

      1. Debbie

        Men, like dogs, are trainable. Even old dogs can learn new tricks. These man-children wind up growing up and doing the right thing in their next relationship. Why not try to train them to do the right thing in yours? Just a thought!!!

        1. Admin

          Oh Debbie, I totally disagree and I think we should talk! Perhaps there is a question you have for me?

  4. Debbie

    No, I don’t have a question. This is just based on my personal observation. I have a great man, but I do face many challenges that I wrote about in my first comment which at times seem overwhelming. My ex husband was a man child, however he seems to have learned many lessons as a result of being divorced, and “appears” to be doing things better on his new attempt. I know I have learned many lessons as well, so why can’t a man who has been a poor husband? If he didn’t have good marriage role models fromm his own childhood, perhaps he can learn from therapy?

  5. Pingback: Is My Marriage Dead or in a Coma? Part Deux! – Robin Descamp

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