Sleeping in the basement

Jennifer Roback Morse
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Posted: May 09, 2006 12:05 AM

When you have a reputation as a defender of marriage, you’ve got to deal with the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This week, I got an e-mail that was definitely, well, Not Good.

"Dear Dr. J,

I'm part of a group of 5 men. We all work together; we are all married, with children. Our ages range from 35 to 45. All but one of us sleeps in the basement because our wives don't really want us very badly. The youngest of our group does not yet sleep in the basement but he reports the same frustration that moves all of us there. Sharing a bed with a woman who does not want you is painful.

Oh, she wants you to pay the bills and be a father to your children, but she doesn't want you. It’s difficult to just leave when you know you've created responsibilities, but it is pretty clear she'd rather you just left.

It's entirely possible that all 5 of us are losers, bad lovers and just plain whiners. It's possible, but it's statistically highly improbable. All 5 of us have good jobs; all but one has an advanced degree. We live in pleasant houses in safe neighborhoods.

So pardon us if when we read the phrase "abandoned their wife" we are more inclined to believe that is was a "sotto voce ejection".

            Mr. No Name."

OK Ladies: Can we talk?

This is Not Good. Take your pick between Bad and Ugly, but let’s be clear. It isn’t good for a man to feel his wife doesn’t want him sexually. It isn’t good for him to feel that he is a combination ATM and Assistant Mom.

My husband and I have been there. Not that either of us ended up in the basement. But we have had our share of conflict over sex and intimacy. I can remember many conversations where he was trying hard to explain himself and I was trying hard to listen. He may as well have been speaking a foreign language, which, come to think of it, he was. He was speaking Man-ish.

I had no idea what he was talking about.

He was really asking me to open my heart to him, and to take this issue seriously.
Men and women are very different from each other, and in no area more different than sex. There may be absolutely nothing wrong with either one of you. You are confronting the Great Divide between men and women. If you can bridge that sexual divide, and make marriage work, it is magic. If you can’t, the alternatives are lousy: adultery, alienation or divorce.

I don’t want you to become a divorce statistic. Nor do I want you to make a mockery of marriage by allowing yourself to get comfortable with a situation that is inherently unfair to your husband, yourself, your children, and to marriage itself. Too many women take this route, thinking it is the easy way. But it isn’t. Ignoring your husband’s sexual needs is the low road, not the high road.

I wish I could give you the Three Steps to Marital Bliss, and your husband the Five Secrets to Driving Her Wild. But I can’t. I can’t even put my finger on exactly what we did that broke the deadlock between us. We muddled through. We didn’t give up and we’re still muddling through. It would be foolish to presume to tell you in particular, what you should do to get your husband back in the bedroom and your heart, where he belongs. There are ten thousand different ways to do this right.

Unfortunately, there are probably fifty thousand ways to do it wrong. If your husband is sleeping in the basement, literally or metaphorically, you’re doing it wrong.

I would just ask my women readers to do this. Forget your own feelings for a moment. Think about how unhappy your husband must be if he is sleeping in the basement. Take this column to him, and say something like this:

"I’m sorry for the pain you must feel over sleeping in the basement. I’m sorry for my part in causing it. I don’t know what to do to improve this situation. But I want you to know that I’m committed to trying. It is not OK with me for you to be this unhappy."

And ladies, if you can’t do this, if it really is OK with you for your husband to be this unhappy, you need a heart transplant. The one you have isn’t working.