Unconditional love. That's how Paula McFadyen best describes her feelings towards husband Ian. Otherwise she would have left him long ago. The probable reason? A sexless union.
Paula, when she consented to marry Ian 10 years ago, admitted she knew Ian had been a victim of sexual abuse when he was still in preschool. He told her every single bit of his harrowing experience, leaving no stone unturned. She felt for him, but thought now that he'd let it out on the open, things will turn for the better.
"I thought I understood. Naïvely I thought: "We can work on this. It will be OK". But it wasn't. The fact is, though, I've never doubted Ian's love and I don't know any couple who have a closer relationship," she told the Daily Mail.
But the reverse happened.
Marrying 13 months after they first met in 2004 as support workers at a hostel for the homeless in Edinburgh, Paula took the blows of a physically detached husband.
"For the first six years of our marriage he wouldn't even sleep next to me in bed, because beds had such horrific associations. He'd be on the sofa instead. And he can't say, "I love you" either. He uses other words - adore, worship - but never love."
"Ian has warned me, too, that if I touch him when he's asleep, he'll lash out and hit me," she said. "If I hug him I actually feel him wince and bounce away from me. It's as if he's surrounded by a rubber wall."
And on the very few times they managed to had sex, it happened only because Ian was drunk.
"We've been together ten years and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we've had sex. It's usually been when Ian's drunk. But he's always distant, detached. It's never been satisfying for either of us."
Ian knows his wife is suffering so much. That's she's silently bearing it out pains him much more than her.
"What hurts me most is that I can't be intimate with my wife because of the abuse," he said. "I've always equated physical closeness with abuse. And I can't have sex with Paula because I cherish her. My wife is only asking me to hold, to hug her, and I struggle, and that hurts me as much as it does her."
But outside of the bedroom, Paula only have praises for her dear husband. She said Ian is resourceful, generous, confident, determined, "and we have a lot of fun and laughs."
"He's like no man I've known: he goes shopping with me; picks out clothes and waits for hours while I try them on. He makes me feel protected and valued. He boosts my confidence."
More importantly, Ian slid into the role of father to Paula's son Kris quite effortlessly. "He'd caper round with Kris and have great fun. We'd fly kites together... And Ian taught Kris how to be gentlemanly and independent; how to cook and clean and look after himself."
Still, Paula admits she is no saint. Frustrations still take over her, and when they do, she just cries privately. Occasionally Ian will make an effort. "But nothing ever felt right. Ian was always remote, detached."
Ian likewise admitted he's no saint and that yes, he also feels the sexual urges. But his control to consume, or rather the fear, is far greater than his libido. "Occasionally I had sexual feelings, but I didn't want to have sex with anyone because it took me back to being a frightened eight-year-old boy."
More specifically, the thought of surrendering to his emotions and sexual urges is what hampers Ian to please his wife. "I was forced to do it as a young boy. Now I struggle to surrender."
Three years ago, Ian agreed to undergo counselling, where he eventually understood how his childhood ordeal had eaten him up. Growing up, Ian abused drugs and alcohol to cope with what had happened to him. During counselling, he was made to understand that his destructive behaviour emanated from that sexual abuse. "He hadn't realised there was a link before. So he got a better understanding of himself."
However, the counselling may have helped Ian get to know more of himself, it did not trigger any change in their sex life.
Paula nowadays would rather just look at Ian's other qualities and focus on the more bright side of their sexless marriage.
"I often think, "Apart from the sex, I have the perfect marriage". It doesn't cross my mind to have an affair because I love Ian too much. And I realise it's not his fault he's as he is."
"Ian is intensely special to me. Even though we don't have sex, I'd never leave him."