I don't know how to make it work with my wife anymore

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African black man

We've been married for 5 years, together for 10. We are each other's firsts. For the first few years, things were amazing, like almost perfect. She's beautiful, bubbly and adventurous. The sex was great, the dates were amazing and my life seemed to be getting stronger and stronger.

Then things started to go south on me. I've thought about it a lot and now know when it started, she had surgery on her vagina (nothing major and no lasting issues) and ever since she has gone from a wonderful lover to very closed off. She also started to struggle with her career. Things didn't go the way she had planned out her life and she started to resent me for it (she made some decisions to stay with me instead of being close to her family who had doted on her forever). Boredom crept into her life as a result of her lack of confidence in her career.

I'm the kind of person who really needs sex to feel loved. By that, I mean that I know that I have all of these other qualities but when it comes to love, it is sex that really drives it home to me that I am loved. I do enjoy hugging/kissing but sex is the real intimacy to me.

After she stopped wanting to have sex with me, things went bad fairly slowly. First, she started only sleeping with me after she'd been drinking, then not at all. I did not react well to this. I can't remember if I redoubled my efforts to keep her happy or not but I do know that eventually, I sank into a bad cycle of work, alcohol and video games. I gained weight, a lot of weight. I became the sort of person that she, at least her from when we first met, wouldn't want to be with. She took a long break from us to spend time with her family and do an internship - with my full support (no concern about infidelity).

Things got better. I improved myself again and sex did restart briefly. My career was on track and we had some lovely trips together. I allowed myself to think that we were happy for a time and proposed. We got married. Then things started to take a dive again. She still felt unfulfilled in life, from a career standpoint, and was in hindsight unhappy with everything. She used to make comments that made me feel awful about myself on a daily or weekly basis ('you've ruined my life', 'im only in this shit situation because of you', 'look at you, why didn't you stay in the gym for another hour?'). She stopped touching me all together and rarely said anything nice to me at all. Nearly of my physical advances were rejected, harshly in a lot of cases, and eventually, I stopped trying.

Recently (last 2 years) I started a new job and things got dramatically better for us on the surface. Lots more money, I managed to get her a job which she enjoys, we live in an interesting place with so much to see and do and I think the boredom thing has largely disappeared. We have been getting on better in general.

About 9 months ago, she was having a bad day and told me something that no man wants to hear - I haven't found you attractive in a long time. Suddenly it all became very clear to me. The total drop off in sex, the lack of any physical interest at all. Now two things have become obvious since she told me this:

Firstly I have some serious body self esteem problems. People have been telling me for a long time that I was looking good and I honestly thought that they were making fun of me. It wasn't until I noticed some girls checking me out at a bar that I wondered if I wasn't looking ok. After looking through pictures, it turns out that I have the best body that I've had since I was 21.

Second, she hasn't really seen me as a husband but as a best friend for a long time.

Something recently provoked me to speak up about my feelings at last. I told her that I need to feel more physically fulfilled and that she hasn't been making me feel truly loved in a long time. We've had sex maybe 10 times in 2 years and all of them have been really unfulfilling 'duty' sex. She claims that she does find me attractive and that I'm being selfish by airing my feelings. She's started almost spitefully complimenting me and touching my arm in a non-sexual way and saying 'see I touch you!'. She's also saying that I haven't been making her feel loved either and that I don't try - whilst rejecting my feelings that she's shut me down so frequently and harshly that I don't feel confident to do that anymore.

The problem I have is that physical stuff aside, she is perfect. She's enthusiastic and helps me try to get the best out of life, she pushes me to things I'd never thought I could do, she is my creative muse. She's beautiful. If that weren't enough, her parents have been better to me than my own parents ever were.

The wildcard in all this is that we have a planned separation due to my career anyway. For at least 6 months, probably a year, I will be in another country. She pushed me to do it citing how good it will be for my career and claims it isn't to get space from me. Would this separation help matters or just let the frost settle more? Would this be a better point for the start of a divorce?

I'm open to all questions/ideas/advice at this point because I just feel numb. I'm terrified by the idea of losing the only woman I've ever loved (and feeling like I've failed at my idea of the ideal life) but I don't know if I can handle feeling like this for another 5 years. So far I've tried open communication, date nights, spontaneous gifts, improving all of the things she doesn't like about me and a few tries to get her to be more intimate with me (not even sex yet) but nothing seems to be working.

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