Marion and her husband have experienced a lot together. She accepted that he no longer had any major sexual needs – until she found out that he was going to a brothel. Can their actually strong marriage survive?

Dear Ms Peirano,

I currently feel insecure, desperate and hurt like I haven’t in a long time. My husband Stefan (solid as a rock) and I have been married for 40 years now (he is 73 and I am 67). Our relationship is loving, stable and storm tested. After all, among other things, we raised a wonderful daughter with severe epilepsy together.

Our couple relationship was always characterized by trust, partnership, respect and love. Over time, we have developed a really good culture of disputes, so that conflicts can also be resolved without damaging each other. Or even when an existing difference of opinion could be filed away. When I got my hands on Gottman’s book “The 7 Secrets of a Good Marriage” I almost had to laugh, because we had obviously done so many things intuitively right long before that. Although he rarely says that my husband loves me, he does so many small loving gestures in everyday life envelop me like a warm coat.

Be it coffee in bed in the morning, loving mutual teasing about each other’s weaknesses, a hug in passing… He often expresses his appreciation for me. He is reliable, caring and responsible to both me and our daughter. We have the same sense of humor and can make each other laugh. But while I still find my husband erotically attractive after all these years, despite his wrinkles and belly, his physical interest in me has apparently long since expired. At some point, sex only happened on my initiative, and at some point I just gave up. Added to this was his increasing impotence.

It’s been like this for a long time. And by now I had convinced myself that at our age, interest in sex can be lost. But now I found out by accident that my husband seems to be a frequent visitor to brothels. I had often wondered why his trips to the hardware store, to the gas station or to change a tire sometimes took a surprisingly long time. When I confronted him, he initially tried to deny it. It was awful how he squirmed and squirmed and accused me of “insinuations”.

What was even more terrifying was that I literally had to nail him to the wall until he finally admitted at least some things he just couldn’t deny anymore. But then he realized how hurt and humiliated I felt and his contrition at having hurt me so much was real.

Since then he has been doing everything “so that everything will be fine again” to show me his physical appreciation. And I just really like feeling his big hands on my body so much. He even went to the doctor and prescribed Viagra And he’s unhappy that the success isn’t entirely satisfying (at least not for him).Regarding his visits to brothels, he claims that he just wants to “look” because he “can’t get one up anyway”. That’s natural Not very believable but not completely outlandish either, I know he likes to watch porn with girls in lingerie from time to time so I don’t have a problem with that, but if I were to force myself into lingerie now at my age it would be rather silly.

He does have these fantasies, but how am I supposed to deal with them now? I’ve been spying on him non-stop ever since, and I feel horrible about it. Of course, he continues to call up relevant websites. That he has such fantasies is one thing. I can live with that, and why shouldn’t I begrudge him his mental cinema. But the fact that he completely shut me out of his sex life, made me think he didn’t have a need for it anymore, and literally “dried up” me in the process is what hurts me so much. And that he’s watching porn, I think It’s not too bad, but I definitely can’t stand him going to the brothel while I’m going out on my own.

What do you advise me?

Many greetings

Marion L.

Dear Marion L,

I can imagine how horrified you were when you found out that your husband was secretly going to the brothel. This discovery does not fit at all into the picture of your life together and of your husband, who has shown himself to be a good, reliable partner and father of your daughter for decades. A man you thought you knew and trust deeply. It might seem like a fake movie or the Jekyll/Hyde phenomenon that the same man has a dark secret!

From your husband’s point of view, the story is quite simple: he seems to have lost his erotic interest in you over the years, and he obviously prefers young women, if possible in lingerie. Unfortunately, it is very often the case that couples who have a harmonious and reliable partnership often lose their erotic interest because there is no attraction of adventure and the unknown. The tension between closeness and distance is often balanced in favor of closeness – and the price the couple pays is drowsiness in bed.

As it sounds, your husband is not looking for understanding, love, closeness, intimacy or a new partner. He lacks erotic stimulation and has sought it out in anonymous, impersonal relationships. And since he may be ashamed of himself and unable to relate these tendencies to you and your relationship, he has been actively hiding them from you. He has probably done a violent balancing act internally – or even repressed and split off that he leads a double life that would cause horror in you. Due to the concealment, the inner balancing act became bigger and bigger over time.

I can understand that you were extremely hurt and upset when you exposed his double life. Because he only thought of his needs and longings, which he wanted to fulfill in the brothel. But he didn’t try to find ways with you to get erotic or sexual satisfaction. He left you on the track, so to speak. And that’s what’s catching up to you both now.

Because trust has been severely damaged by his hiding, his silence, and his denial, you will have a hard time believing what he was being forced to admit to you: that he was supposedly just looking. Let’s leave that there. You will never find out or prevent what really happened.

The important question is how you deal with the situation now. And that raises two questions from my point of view.

I think it’s important to calmly investigate these questions and to answer them for yourself in trusting conversations with friends or a therapist in order to decide about the future of your marriage. It is not, in my view, possible to prevent your husband from going further into the brothel and trying to control it would take a great deal of your strength and create constant conflict between you. It would be more a question of whether and, if so, how you continue on the basis that he will probably continue to go to the brothel.

Best regards

Julia Peirano