Avoiding sex in a committed relationship derives from a lack of trust. But that is not the same as a spouse deliberately withholding both physical and emotional affection. The latter springs from a narcissistic bend toward control--a form of social betrayal--while the former develops only in response to betrayal itself. If you have communicated your needs and your partner still fails to recognize them, especially when you have expressed the same thing for years, basic human requirements for a healthy adult existence are not being met. When that happens, it's a form of spousal neglect, and ultimately, abuse. That's a breach of marital contract, or a betrayal of intimacy. In fact, it's even legal grounds for divorce.
"Cheating" isn't just connected to sex--it's also deliberate, sustained efforts to socially sabotage your partner or spouse by cheating them out of the love and life they deserve.
You've had a rough day. In the safe space of your own home, you express a negative thought. It's not something you'd say outside of your house. But it's also not racist or related to hate-speech. Just something more honest than you'd typically say aloud. Perhaps it's a comment on someone's choice of clothing. A day or so later, you and your spouse are with others at a social gathering when he makes this unnecessary contribution, "My wife thought that outfit was "horrific," but I don't know why...I liked it."
Oversharing a private conversation is social sabotage. Everyone needs a safe space to breathe. You have to be able to express private thoughts to your partner, or at least in your own home, and not worry about those thoughts leaving the safety of that space. When a partner breaches that privacy or the implied intimacy contract that comes with any couple-relationship, and does so repeatedly over time, it's passive aggressive behavior meant to cause harm. Akin to a wife saying offhandedly, "I have to pee," before heading into a restaurant with her husband, yet once inside, her husband feels the need to loudly announce (in front of all the people waiting to be seated), "She has to pee, but we still need a table for two."
A WTF-moment if ever there was one...but in Psychology, this attempt at public humiliation is called "baiting." It can happen privately, too, through tactics like name-calling or simply attempting to start an argument. Criticizing you in front of family is another form of baiting--it's an effort to make you angry so you react in front of others, appearing "crazy" or unstable.
Another red flag is when friends and family of your spouse blatantly dislike you for no apparent reason. You can't seem to understand their distrust and overall disdain, yet it continues, no matter what you do to change it. That's a sign that your spouse has been continuously feeding negatives to people in his circle. A spouse is supposed to defend their partner's honor, facilitating trust and love within their own circle (at the very least). When that doesn't happen, it facilitates distrust in the relationship, disrupting intimacy--which may be the point. People get married for many reasons, most of which have little to do with love. A break-down in a given dynamic is not always a true break-down. If you look closely, you may be able to see that the pattern pre-existed the commitment, too.
Love protects, not provokes. Ignoring your needs, unnecessarily spreading rumors or negatives about you, speaking out of turn, sharing your private thoughts publicly--these are ALL betrayals of trust. When you constantly undermine your partner, you are also undermining the overall relationship.
Setting people you supposedly love up for failure is connected to the Dark Triad in Psychology. All social sabotage is. The Dark Triad includes psychopathy, Machiavellianism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Malignant narcissism includes isolation of a partner from family and friends, sabotaging employment/employability, "hovering" or keeping track of a partner's whereabouts, spending habits and social engagements, as well as giving the silent treatment and holding a spouse emotional (and financial hostage) by threatening to remove or harm a beloved pet, and/or turning friends and family against their partner.
More examples? Let's say you have a minor surgery coming up and need someone to pick you up afterward. Yet your spouse refuses, stating that they can't afford to take the time off from work. Meanwhile, they have asked you to pick them up after minor surgeries or procedures countless times, and you have always agreed. But that's not the kicker: Your spouse's sister, mother, brother, brother's dog, friend, neighbor, cousin five-times removed, etc. needs help, so your spouse takes the day off to assist--in fact, many days off. What that communicates to the neglected partner is that other people's problems matter more than yours. Your spouse is supposed to be there for you above all others. But when they repeatedly fail to do so, they do not love you and are proving it to you in a myriad of ways.
Bringing you flowers and saying, "I love you," is not proof of love. Fucking you is not proof of love either. Proof of love is being there, over and over and over again. Proof of love is not allowing any person to speak a single negative about you, or, to you. Proof of love is a willingness to take time to talk, to listen and to give advice when requested. Proof of love is putting your partner's needs above anyone else's. You can't make time for everyone else yet relegate only an hour or two a week to a partner and still claim to love them. I mean, you can, but you'd look like the liar you are.
I haven't even gotten to financial abuse. That means exploiting a less-advantaged (usually younger) spouse's resources, or lack thereof, in an attempt to keep them dependent. This might include usurping inheritances, hiding what is supposed to be shared monies in secret accounts, not giving them access to any financials, giving them an allowance, asking them to cash out their retirement to pay your bills when it's not needed, taking out loans then asking them to repay it, even asking to use things like student loans to pay for taxes instead of tuition, etc..
Spousal abuse goes well beyond obvious physical violations.
A person living with someone constantly undermining their authority, relationships, privacy, and even financial health and well-being is in need of serious help, and needs compassion, not judgement. Women especially have difficulty leaving an abuser--not because they don't want to, but because they lack the financial support to effectively do so, which is only made worse through the systematic financial abuse of a malignant partner. It's like being trapped in a maze, and every time you get close to the exit, an immovable door abruptly appears out of nowhere. Even when you directly ask for help, people don't give it to you. The best you can count on is a friendly ear once in a while. Hard to keep spirits high while also being abused, but you really have no choice in the matter. If you break down, your abuser wins. But if you have suffered abuse, it's you who deserves to win--no one else. .
If you or someone you know is in need of a compassionate ear, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a valuable free resource:
1-800-799- SAFE (7233) or TTY: 1-800-787-3224
While going outside of your relationship to meet basic physical and emotional needs is understandable in an abusive/neglectful situation, it's important to address what's happening with mental health and/or medical and legal professionals before making any major decisions. Family and friends can also be a good source of support, but many may not understand what's happening behind closed doors. Abusers can be very aware of appearances as a means to throw people off and may look like good Samaritans, attending Church regularly, etc. while in reality, they are working behind the scenes to cause harm to someone they have made into a dependent. Even obvious abuse can be explained away by well-meaning people. Curling iron burns on the face, bruises or scratches on parts of the body usually covered by clothing, occasional black eyes (when asked, the answer is often, "I'm just clumsy" or, "I walked into a tree"), frequent food poisoning, the "accidental" closing of a car door on an appendage or limb, and, either excessive weight gain in a short amount of time or severe weight loss are all physical signs of abuse.
Financial independence is the only way for a victim of spousal abuse to end the cycle. Educate or re-educate to obtain employment that allows for you to leave. Permanently.
Don't give up. No matter how frustrating or difficult, you are your own best friend while in an abusive relationship. Stay focused and keep working toward change--even in the midst of a pandemic.
Evolution may take time, but it does not stop for anyone. Both change and success are incremental. Stay positive, strong and uplifted. Your fortitude will eventually pay off.