Carolyn Hax: More a business partner than an intimate one?


Dear Carolyn:

How do you know it’s time to end a marriage? I’m not at all attracted to my husband, the result, I think, of his preoccupation with work (even when he’s home, he’s usually thinking or talking about it, or on his phone or laptop) and just an overall lack of physical chemistry.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

We’ve never had a good intimate relationship — something we both acknowledge — and I’ve ached for something better almost the whole time we’ve been together. He says he’s content.

That said, we have two young children, and for the most part, we are great co-parents, manage the household pretty well together, communicate well and have a solid friendship. Many would say I’m lucky, but the idea of spending my life in what feels more like a business relationship than a marriage breaks my heart. Am I crazy to think of leaving?


Crazy, no, of course not. You want passion, something most people want, and the thought of not having it, ever, knocks plenty of sane people off their hinges.

Still, your decision-making skills aren’t at their peak. You married a man you never found intimately satisfying, brought children into that marriage and now you want out because your marriage lacks intimacy?

Imagine your anguish for your grandchildren if your grown children made that same sequence of choices. Or, maybe more aptly, imagine if your parents took the path you’re eyeing now; you’d be angry at . . . somebody.

Do children adapt? Yes, mostly. Am I playing the guilt card? Maybe. Should kids have the last word in adult relationships? Yikes.

But, the whole purpose of a disinterested observer like me is to point out things like this: You appear not to be giving enough thought to long-term consequences — as you try to find your way out of the pickle you got into by not giving enough thought to long-term consequences.

You want to fix your mistake, not repeat it. So put aside for a moment your emotional impulse to dismantle your marriage and weigh the logical case for (re)building it. You say you are good co-parents and friends who communicate well. That’s not a “business relationship,” that’s an emotional one. Solid at that.

And, have you heard any old jokes lately? Even good marriages grow more comfy than passionate.

Meanwhile, your husband is “content”; that suggests powerful motivation for him to cooperate if you let him know the full truth of your emotional state. Admit you’re lonely, since that’s what you are; admit you’re desperate to feel close to someone, since that’s what you are. Admit you’re so discouraged by his glued-to-a-screen absenteeism that you’re terrified of living the rest of your life this way, since that’s what you are.

A “constant preoccupation with work” is a choice, after all, and if your husband decides he’d rather share a home with you than custody, then he can make a different choice. Choices + time = attraction (or lack of). Moving together — walking, working out, dancing — helps too. Seriously.

He might refuse to budge, and the environment his refusal creates might be detrimental to your kids, and you might need a marriage counselor and ultimately an attorney — but please, for everyone’s sake, take that road only if it’s the last logical choice, not just an emotional one.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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