Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Sad and sexy: I am a woman who has been married since I was 20. I was raised sheltered in a strict religious (but supportive and affectionate) household. I knew my husband for less than a year before marriage, and had never kissed a boy until our wedding. We have four beautiful kids and generally a great marriage and sex life. However, lately, I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety. I have had short episodes of it my whole life, but the last few months have been awful for me for a number of reasons. Foremost is that my dad is dying of cancer after a decades-long battle. I was always a daddy’s girl growing up, helping him with projects and spending time together; even in my teenage years, he was super supportive and affectionate. I would give him hugs any time I saw him and could always cry on his shoulder (even after I was married).
On the other hand, my husband is a stoic, morally-upright military engineer who loves his family very much, but loves us through working long hours and bringing me flowers or my favorite take-out if I’m sad. He’s really an incredible man, but he does not understand depression or anxiety and doesn’t really comfort me if I cry. He doesn’t understand why I’m sad about my dad, because I’ve known this was going to happen for years. I’ve talked with him about how I’m feeling unloved, but he gets defensive, points to all the things he does for the family, and is frustrated because his behavior isn’t any different than it has ever been through the last decade. He’s not wrong. I’m just upset because his main concern is just that I get better and things get back to normal, not understanding how I’m feeling. I made an appointment with a therapist, but it’s still a month out.
Lately, I’ve also been feeling much more sexual than normal, and while hubby has been obliging in that area, he also works nights and is tired when he gets home. Neither of us has ever had a wandering eye, but lately I’m wondering what it would be like to sleep with someone else (male or female), or even to kiss someone else. I’ve been purposefully putting myself in situations where I can flirt with other people (talking to the hot neighbor while taking out the trash, organizing a lake trip to drink with friends, etc.), when before it wouldn’t cross my mind to do that. I would never cheat, but the fact that I can even fantasize about it terrifies me. Am I just thinking these things because I’m emotionally fragile? Is this a part of a grieving process? How do I stop these thoughts? How do I stop myself from ruining my own life?
A: Maybe the way to stop yourself from actually doing it is to allow yourself some space to fantasize about it. Fantasizing isn’t a gateway drug to actually cheating, inevitably getting caught, and upending your life. It could actually be a good alternative.
The larger issue is that you have some serious questions about whether this relationship can make you happy. Those are worth taking seriously. I would do things in this order: Get help for your depression and anxiety (is there any therapist who might have an earlier appointment?). Take as much time as you need to mourn your father’s death. And then, when you feel more like yourself, explore with your therapist what you’re feeling about your relationship and whether it is—or could be—fulfilling to you. Try couple’s counseling—perhaps a professional could get past your husband’s defensiveness. And if you do decide being married to him isn’t what you want, you can start to think clearly about ending things without the complications that infidelity, depression, and major life events can bring.
Q. (Don’t) talk dirty to me: My husband is a smart, nice, funny guy. We have the same taste in movies, books, and music and have similar political views. We’re less compatible in the bedroom, though our sex life was generally adequate. One issue was that he was raised as a bit of a prude and was always dead silent during the act. In an effort to spice things up, I asked him to talk dirty to me. After a lot of cajoling and encouragement, he finally agreed to try it and was much pleased with the results. Unfortunately, this apparently opened a floodgate because now … He. Won’t. Shut. Up.