Decoding the Sexless Marriage
By Stephanie Rosenfeld, LMFT
"My husband and I don’t have sex. It has been 18 months. I don’t know what happened to us. I love him and I want to be with him, and I believe he loves me too. We just stopped trying. What do we do, and where do we start?"
The above scenario is a common one. If you are reading this, and this describes your marriage please know you are not alone. According to several recent studies anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of couples in the United States are “sexless”. That means, when you are out to dinner on date night, and you look around at the other couples in the restaurant, around two to four couples in that restaurant are probably not having sex. These numbers are significant.
First of all what is a “sexless marriage”?
Sex therapists define a marriage as “sexless” when a couple has sex one time per month or less over a 12-month period. Just to clarify, this term does not include couples that cannot have sex due to medical issues.
Is not having sex with your spouse a “bad” sign?
Simply put, yes. Sex and sexual intimacy in a marriage is a vital component that helps promote feelings of connectivity and togetherness between two people. Sex is essentially the glue that helps bind individuals together. When sex is absent from a marriage, couples tend to report feeling more alone, distant, and less invested in the marriage. This is a problem.
Being in a sexless marriage is often reported as feeling “shameful”.
I can’t tell you how many couples come to see me, and when I ask what brings them to therapy, they whisper the words “we don’t have sex anymore”. Many of my clients who are in sexless marriages feel like there is something wrong with them due to the fact that they are not having sex with their spouse. You can feel the shame and embarrassment radiating from the sofa. Couples know they should be having sex, but when days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months, and months turn into years, even though you know you should be having sex with your husband you have no clue how to correct your course. This is where therapy can be very helpful.
So, where do you start? How do you change this unhealthy pattern?
7 things to know about healing a sexless marriage:
1. I’ve said it once, and I’ll probably say it 100 times more, get help EARLY. Marital problems, and any problem for that matter, are much easier to correct if the problem has not turned into a way of being. Put your shame aside, and let someone safely guide you back to your partner.
2. Go on a date with your spouse. Many couples after years of marriage stop “dating each other” due to kids, careers, daily stressors, Netflix…. You are more likely to want to have sex with your spouse if you are spending pleasant quality time together. It does not have to be fancy or expensive. Have a picnic in your living room, I don’t care, just go on a date.
3. Have sex. Seems pretty simple right? Don’t wait for the perfect moment, or when you feel in the mood, because chances are that you do not feel in the mood and this isn’t the perfect time to try, but do it anyway. Having sex leads to more sex, and conversely not having sex leads to dry spells.
4. Accept responsibility for your part in the problem. No one is to blame in this situation. You both got yourselves into this problem, but the good news is you both can work yourselves out of this problem too.
5. Having children is beautiful and amazing, but understand that having kids never helped a couple’s sex life. Kids are libido killers. They represent pure love, but also pure responsibility. It is essential that married couples share in moments that are just about them, and not the children. Often couples put all of their energy and focus on their children, and then leave nothing for their spouse. Find a balance between being a Mom/Dad and being a spouse.
6. Know that getting “back in the saddle” with your spouse initially is going to be awkward. The first few times you have sex again will most likely feel forced and mechanical. This is fine, and it will pass. Go have sex!
7. Work on becoming more physical with your spouse outside of the bedroom. Hold hands, kiss each other hello and goodbye, give random hugs, cuddle on the sofa, or touch feet in bed. All of these seemingly minor acts of affection set the stage for intimacy. Every effort towards physicality will help.
Sex is important when you are married. Please don’t waste another day not connecting with your spouse sexually. You picked one another for a reason, and sometimes we all need a little help in refocusing our energy towards the one we love. If you are in a sexless marriage speak up, and ask for help.