Sexual Anorexia and the Anorexic Marriage

Lately I’ve been pondering something my husband said to me on D-day when I begged him for the reason why. Why? Why did you betray me? His answer at the time was that he missed intimacy. How well I remember my reaction! Intimacy? You miss intimacy so you have sex with an erotic massage therapist and then an affair with someone from Craig’s List? That’s intimacy?

Intimacy has many definitions. Before D-day for me it meant being comfortable, warm and familiar with my husband. I regularly shave the back of his neck. I know his favorite foods, his favorite color, his likes, and dislikes. I know his family, his roots. We raised two beautiful children together. We’ve lived in four different states, bought and sold houses, made financial decisions, and enjoyed friendships,  together. We’ve seen each other through surgeries. We’ve laughed, fought, reconciled and loved together. Everything that I considered “intimate” we’ve done together.

But for my husband, intimacy meant sex. What he was really missing in our marriage was sex. First, he tried an erotic massage therapist. Next, he actively searched for sex outside of our marriage. When he found his AP on Craig’s List she asked what kind of sex he wanted. His reply? Just straight sex. Nothing kinky. Sex is what he wanted,  it didn’t matter who it was with.

I’ve explained in previous blog articles how our sex life had withered to practically nothing. We slept apart due to his snoring. We had become roommates instead of lovers. So instead of talking to me about his needs my husband explored sex outside of marriage for “intimacy”. He is not a sex addict. He is not addicted to pornography. After years of sleeping in separate beds, our sexual intimacy had dwindled to the point that we only had sex a handful of times a year. I was concerned only to the point that I know a man needs sex. So, I convinced myself that he would never cheat and was taking care of his needs in the shower.

Stupid. I know.

How did we get there? It undoubtedly didn’t happen overnight. Certainly our poor communication skills played a huge part in how dysfunctional our marriage had become.

Rick has an excellent article titled The Anorexic Marriage: A Void of Intimacy.  He explains that marriage has three entities, me, him and us. He warns that if both spouses don’t engage with one another there won’t be a healthy sense of “us.”

It’s Rick’s next point that finally expressed, in part, how our marriage had lost intimacy. Rick explains that anorexia is a Greek word meaning without appetite.

Bingo! I was a sexually anorexic, completely without appetite for my husband when it came to sex. As Rick states,

“The sexual anorexic has a lack of desire for a relationship of a sexual nature.”

I could care less whether I had sex with my husband or not. As a matter of fact, I really didn’t want sex. On those rare occasions when he would come to my bed seeking sex I never said no but I certainly didn’t encourage him either.

Now I’m going to be brutally honest. From the time we were married sex with my husband was pretty much about him and his needs and desires. I remember in the first few years thinking that sex should be more than just making him happy. I was unfulfilled. Bored. Wishing for more. It got to the point that I just wanted it done and over with. We became masters at the quickie. I never told my husband how I was feeling. As we continued sleeping apart we were also having sex less and less. He never communicated to me his needs and desires. I was thrilled we were having less sex. I figured as long as he didn’t ask I didn’t have to offer.

Yes, we were definitely disengaged not only from our own emotions but from the well-being of “us.” As my sexual anorexia progressed my husband developed ‘marital anorexia.’  In his article Rick defines this as

“…a marriage where either one or both partners lack or are without appetite for the marriage."

In other words, it’s a marriage where one or both partners compulsively withhold themselves from the marriage.”

Rick’s article lists six characteristics of the anorexic marriage. My husband developed attributes of all six characteristics but the one he struggled with the most is his unwillingness to share his most intimate feelings. He does great sharing his day to day home and work concerns and frustrations but when it comes to his most intimate thoughts and feelings my husband hides himself from me and the world. As a matter of fact, my husband started his affair looking for sex but it became an excuse to try and get out of the marriage. He didn’t communicate. He had checked out physically and emotionally.

What’s ironic is that Rick’s article warns about the anorexic marriage after discovering infidelity. It’s normal for the betrayed to hold back engaging in the marriage. But couples should not stay stuck there. For us, D-day and Affair Recovery woke our anorexic marriage up. EMS Online also helped us tremendously. My husband is working on learning to communicate on a deeper, more intimate level. His own ‘marriage anorexia’ slowly faded away. He engages in our marriage in ways he never has before. Before D-day my husband had stopped calling me sweet pea, an endearment he had used since our marriage nearly 25 years earlier. Now he uses it daily. He had also quit wearing his wedding ring. He couldn’t wear it at work because of machinery but he stopped wearing it on weekends as well. If asked why his answer was always the same, “I forgot”. Now, with a different job, he always wears his ring.

Since D-day I’ve struggled with my own marital anorexia but nothing compared to the wasteland our marriage had become before. It’s been difficult to find the courage to trust again. Sometimes self-protection seems wiser than full engagement. Yet I made a conscious decision to forgive my husband’s infidelity and have a stronger, healthier and yes, more intimate marriage.

As for my sexual anorexia, it’s gone away as well. Again, being brutally honest, for the first time in our marriage my husband is just as concerned about my sexual gratification as he is about his own. We actually communicate about our needs and desires in ways we never have before. Not just sexually but in many aspects of our relationship.

Part of me wonders why it took an affair to wake us up to our sexual and marital anorexia. Why did it take the agony of an affair to shake us from complacency? 

I cannot change the past. But I can embrace the future.

The closing paragraph in Rick’s article states it best:

Whether the problem (marital anorexia) existed before the infidelity or was triggered by the infidelity, it has the potential to affect your most significant relationships for the remainder of your life. Please have the courage to come out from behind the wall of self-protection and begin to take the risk to both love and to let someone love you. If you or someone you know may be struggling from marital anorexia EMS Online is a great step by step process to begin healing and building a new type of marriage. Please do not spend the rest of your life robbing yourself of intimacy which we has humans so desperately need.

I second Rick’s admonition. You deserve true intimacy. Now is the time to reach out for help.  Stay strong. Have courage. You’re braver than you believe. Stronger than you think possible. Good luck.

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Thank you for sharing your

Thank you for sharing your feelings in this post. I can relate. But I have become a sexual and marital anorexic after discovery of my husband's infidelities which occurred over a period of 20 years of our 38 year marriage. The last discovery was 4 months ago and it was an entirely different partner from the one he had been with off and on for 20 Years. He has disclosed details through the "drip feed" method. I get better only to find out something new, have to start over in grieving and processing, and this has been going on for almost 4 years. We too are living as roommates. I am now too afraid to let go and come out from the huge wall I've built. It's just too risky. How were you able to do it? I must be doing something wrong....

You are NOT doing anything wrong

Karen, I'm so sorry you're going through such torment.

This is NOT your fault and you are NOT doing anything wrong. How did I "let go and come out from behind the huge wall"? It would not have happened if my husband gave me the drip feed method. It would not have happened if he continued to betray after d-day. It would not have happened if he wasn't willing to humble himself and lay bare his shame. My healing has been possible because he has been willing to be a new man. Does he have more work to do? Absolutely! There are changes that I fear he may never make. He still hides his feelings. Read my next blog post (out in a couple of weeks) and you'll see that we still struggle. But I have no doubt that I know everything I need to about his past affairs. I have no doubt that he's been faithful since eleven days after d-day when he returned home and we committed to recovery. When asked he's been brutally honest. If I had trickle truth for four years I would not be writing a blog about our recovery. I would be learning to live a much different life than I have now.

You deserve better. You deserve truth. You deserve full disclosure. You deserve a life that is honorable, fulfilling and full of integrity and joy.

Do not settle for second best. I used to. No more. Demand respect and integrity. I do.

Good luck. My thoughts are with you.

So are you saying that if it

So are you saying that if it were you, you would have left the relationship? I am feeling so ashamed of myself for staying...obviously Hope for Healing and two rounds of EMS just didn't stick with him. I am judged badly by so many friends and family for staying but I do so because I made vows and keep my commitments. I have integrity. However, that being said, Maybe I should consider just throwing in the towel. This is not what I wanted when I said my vows 38 years ago. I am so unhappy bitter and resentful and wouldn't be this way if he had been forthcoming from the beginning. He appears to want the marriage but just won't talk about anything anymore without a major verbal onslaught. Thank you so much for your insight and honesty.

Anorexic marriage

Nailed it. As betrayed this relationship has dynamics maybe not unusual to anyone else. The unfaithful was previously traumatically betrayed repeatedly. The emotional and sexual anorexia is a thick painful fog for both of us at times. I allow both of us a little time for withdrawal. When I come out and take a risk I sense that his consent to emotional and sexual intimacy is perceived as a threat to him as well. On some level I knew this. These discussions give it a rational frame work. Thank you.


When my husband first started seeing prostitutes (13 years ago), we had a a very active sex life. There was plenty of "variety." He had absolutely no reason to go outside our marriage.
I did, however start to become very resentful about how much time he spent on the computer. We had many, many arguments about it when I would beg him to get off of it and told him it was destroying our marriage. He was in complete denial and selfish to the core. Its not an exaggeration to say that he spent around 80% of his time at home on that thing. He had several obsessive hobbies that were on the computer: the stock market, online gambling, researching anything and everything to do with hunting and fly fishing, etc... What I didn't know was that he was also watching porn, sex chatting with other women, having webcam sex with them and researching hookers for upcoming trips.
Entire weekends were spent on the computer, unless we were out of the house doing something else. So many nights I went to bed alone. So many mornings I woke up alone. But we were still having sex.
When he wasn't on the computer, we took fabulous trips (which he also researched to death - another excuse to sit there staring at that stupid screen) He also did random, unbelievably romantic things for me. My friends we're constantly telling me how lucky I was.
Our sex life had started to taper off somewhat, due to my resentment and his growing interest in other women, however, we were most definitely not "anorexic". It wasn't until the last two years before discovery that our sex life really dwindled. I had convinced myself that it was a combination of me being peri menopausal, and him losing his sex drive. I didn't want to "embarrass" him by suggesting he talk to a doctor about possibly having low testosterone. Little did I know he was having incredible amounts of sex, while I was trying to accept that this was our new normal because we were getting older.
My point is that lack of sex was not a factor in my husband's choices. He persued other women because he wanted to. Period.
The more ignored and alone I felt, the less I Initiated it.
His betrayal eventually led to our lack of sex, not the other way around.
What I will never understand, is WHY?

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-D, Texas