How we prioritize and schedule our time with our partners can change throughout the years, based on any number of life circumstances. What we used to think was a no-brainer might suddenly be on the back burner.
This is how we can suddenly wake up one day, look at our partner, and ask, “How did we end up in a sexless marriage?” What is a sexless marriage? Your definition of “sexless” might be vastly different from another couple’s or even from your own partner’s. Everyone is different, and every relationship is different. One couple might consider daily intimacy to be their standard, whereas another might prefer weekly, bi-weekly, and so on.
If both partners are satisfied with how often intimacy is occurring, then what some may think is infrequent may not be for the couple in question. Asexual couples, for example, will have a different definition of intimacy. It would be simple to categorize “sexless” as “never” or “less than once per month.” But it is probably more realistic to define a sexless relationship as one in which otherwise-desired intimacy is being suppressed or avoided.
Intimacy is a Common Concern in Relationships
If this sounds like you, you are not alone. Many relationships struggle with intimacy, and everyone’s timeline is different. Some people increase a steady decrease that continues until sex is essentially off the table. Some people experience a sudden dropoff due to changes in situations. For some people, it’s a combination of factors and a set of nuances. But there are a few common obstacles that can come up for couples who would ideally like to be enjoying sexual intimacy with one another
How did you end up in a sexless marriage?
1. Life events affecting the marriage:
Many life events can negatively impact the sexual health of any relationship. Aside from the obvious work and parenting, there can be physical and/or mental health issues that get in the way of maintaining a fulfilling sex life. Sometimes, we can overcome one of these obstacles. Sometimes, even two. Perhaps your job stresses you out and exhausts you, but reconnecting with your partner invigorates and calms you. Add parenting stress and exhaustion to that, as well as the extra time it takes to care for your little ones, and now you’ve got the makings of a priority shift.
If on top of all that, you fall ill in some way, sex with your partner may be the last thing on your mind. Sometimes, an unforeseen life event such as a loss leads to a period of grief that puts you out of step with your partner’s needs; the partner gives up attempting to initiate after a while, and then time passes, and a new routine has formed without any conscious effort on either side.
2. Unresolved sexual or relationship issues:
We often think the problem is just sex, but sex is usually just the tip of the iceberg. Issues are never what they appear; interpersonal relationships are complex and nuanced. When it comes to the impact our relationships have on our sex lives, it is no different.
There are plenty of issues that can lead to a decrease in intimacy and sex: difficulties with parenting, finances, or family issues. Any resentment triggered by these areas of your life is eventually going to ruin your sex life. How could you have sexual desire towards a partner with whom you have unspoken and unresolved hurt, resentment, or sadness?
This can impact both sexes, but can be especially tricky for women, for whom emotional connection is often important to feel relaxed and safe enough to enjoy physical intimacy. Most women also have some history of sexual assault, abuse or misconduct, and value the emotional safety created by their partners; it is hard to feel that same level of trust and vulnerability when you’re upset with your partner in some way.
3. Fear of addressing the problem in your marriage:
We often avoid challenges because we are afraid that talking about them will only make it worse. Even worse, we often fear that we won’t be able to handle the conversation. So we avoid it. However, the more we avoid these challenges in our relationship, the bigger the problem gets. This is how that period of grief turns into a year of physical avoidance, or how that minor dispute earlier in the week kills our sex drive on the weekend. We haven’t addressed whatever the problem is, so it grows.
Eventually, the problem is simply that your sex life has become a problem, and one that feels awkward, hurtful, and/or vulnerable to bring up. You may be of the impression that your partner no longer desires you – how are you supposed to ask something like that? The fear that the truth will hurt can keep us silent.
Maybe the problem isn’t new for you & your partner…
You may have been “in a rut” in your sex life for a while now. Perhaps it’s been gnawing at you for awhile. You’re not sure how to bring it up, or when, or if it will make a difference. Maybe you tell yourself that it’s normal for sexual relationships to change, so why bother? While it is true that lifestyle changes can impact a couple’s sex life, the key factor is if that change works for both people.
If you find that you are having little to no sex with your partner, and that works for both of you, then there is no shame in that. But if you wish that there was more intimacy, that is where there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Whether you’ve just realized “how long it’s been” or whether this issue has been nagging at you for a while, there are steps that you can take to improve your situation, your intimacy, and your connection with your partner.
How to bring intimacy back into your relationship:
1. Face the music:
The first step in solving any problem is to come to terms with the fact that such a problem exists. I should also add that how you talk about the problem is more important than just talking about it. After all, both you and your partner know that there has been little to no sex in your relationship. If you are concerned that perhaps your partner hasn’t noticed, you can gently ask if they/she/he have as a way of opening up the conversation.
When I say to talk about the problem, I expect you to follow a few guidelines. In situations where we are psyching ourselves up to talk about something important that has the potential to get emotional, we may find that we just blurt out our concerns or forget to approach the conversation from a problem-solving point of view.
Do your best to set yourself and your partner up for success.
Make sure that you are having a private conversation; if you have to get a babysitter for the evening, or send the kids on a playdate, do so. If you are among friends or family, that is not the time. While conversing with your partner, remind yourself to engage in active listening without blame or judgment. Be curious about what your partner is saying, as opposed to defensive. Some of what is discussed may feel bad, but it is important to know where you are beginning as a couple so that you can head toward where you want to be. Trying to navigate somewhere without a starting point is impossible when hiking, and it’s impossible in problem-solving as well.
2. Get to know each other’s sexual needs:
Most often, couples feel a sense of disconnect because of their mismatched sexual desire and drives. One partner is usually more interested in having sex than the other partner; it is highly unlikely to find a partner whose sex drive perfectly matches your own and stays matched throughout your entire relationship. Most couples ask the therapist, “What’s the minimal amount of sex?” While there is no specific answer, the most important thing is to find the best solution for your relationship.
Understanding your mismatched sexual drives can lead to an improved sex life
This does not mean that the person with the lower drive has sex when
he/she/they don’t want to. It means getting creative about keeping your intimacy going when you’re in different moods. Through conversation, you may find that the partner with the lower drive has the lower drive because of specific stressors that kill the romance.
The partner with the higher drive may look at one of those stressors as a piece of cake to take off the other partner’s plate and be surprised that that was an obstacle; bam, you’re one step closer to improved intimacy. The partner with the higher drive may begin to feel self-conscious or undesired because they are always the one initiating. The partner with the lower drive may make more of an effort to flirt or compliment, or even employ non-sexual touch, such as hugging, massaging, or cuddling; these are ways of paying attention and affirming your attraction to your partner.
3. Prioritize your sex life in your marriage or relationship
Think of your sex life as any other aspect of your life and relationship that is important. There are plenty of examples of habits, activities, and behaviors that are important and rewarding that we let slip from time to time. Your sex life is no different. Making the conscious decision to prioritize it is the same as prioritizing any aspect of your relationship that is special and worth having.
When I ask you to prioritize your sex life, I don’t want you to think of it as a homework assignment or a final project you need to pass to get an A in the class. Having a sense of obligation isn’t going to put you in the right mindset. But I do ask that you make it a priority.
This could mean a variety of things. It could mean that you will seek out couples therapy because your sex life is a priority. Or, it could mean that you find a small way to keep track of the last time you were intimate in the beginning while you get back into the habit of prioritizing having personal time with your partner. It also could mean that you will have more date nights or other activities to strengthen the connection in the relationship. A weekly class you take together is a great way to ensure this; it would happen for a set number of weeks, on the same night every time. It builds a routine of time together, providing the space for you and your partner to connect and grow.
You need to develop intimacy on all levels in your relationship and marriage.
Sex is still such a taboo subject; we feel curious about if what we are doing is “normal,” and we also feel uncomfortable asking about it. If you grew up in a household that never talked about sex, this subject might be complicated for you to broach. But the important thing to remember is that there is no shame in that desire for intimacy, whether it is a strong and frequent desire, or an intermittent desire, or a constant yet faint desire.
Every person is different. Every relationship is different. Honestly, all that matters is finding out what yourself and the other person consciously want and consent to. Provided both yourself and your partner count yourselves as people who desire sex, there is no reason why either of you should feel bad or embarrassed or ashamed to do what it takes to maintain that aspect of your marriage or relationship.
Embracing You Therapy Group Practice
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couples therapy. Both Dr. Menije and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer online therapy in California to treat a variety of mental health concerns. For example, our therapists can help with anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Therapy for young adults and college students; Relationship issues, both in marriage counseling and couples therapy, and with individual clients for codependency and attachment issues; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression and/or anxiety; and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress, and then let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.