She fiddled with the strap of her bag, trying not meet my eyes, “ummmm… I don’t know how to say this, I’m not sure I’m attracted to my husband anymore.” “Ok.” I said and waited. She gave a quick glance to check out my expression and perhaps encouraged, she gushed out, “he’s never there when I need him. I’m tired. It’s like my being there does not matter at all to him. Of course, due to his schedule, sometimes he cannot come back home, but even when he comes back he’s tired, talks in monosyllables, eats and sleeps.” “Cannot come back?” I interjected. ” Yes”, she replied, “he’s a doctor.” “Ah!” I exclaimed. “I feel unwanted in the relationship,” she continued, “and now…… I met someone and I feel attracted to him. He too feels the same way. But I’m disturbed.”
“Does your husband know how you feel?” I asked. “He doesn’t care.” she replied angrily.
“Did you tell him how you feel?” I asked again. “I tried.” she said, as she lowered her eyes again. “Ummm….we haven’t had sex in over a year and I can’t keep telling him…when I tried to long back, he called me needy…This other guy makes me feel I’m wanted. I feel good with him,” she said in a broken voice.
This dear readers, is a classic case of a sexless marriage with all its side-effects.
Physical intimacy or sex is what makes a relationship between a couple stand apart from a platonic relationship. So, what happens if the sex stops?
According to a former data scientist at Google, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, “sexless marriages” is the top-searched marriage issue on Google.
Here’s what he has to say, “Searches for ‘sexless marriage’ are three and a half times more common than ‘unhappy marriage’ and eight times more common than ‘loveless marriage’.”
It is normal for a relationship to have its ups and downs, it is also normal for sex levels to drop after having an exhausting day at work, or after having children, but if a marriage becomes completely sexless, with one or both partners feeling dissatisfied about it, then it is cause for concern.
In this article we will look at:
- How does it feel to be in a sexless marriage?
- What are the causes of a sexless marriage?
- What can be done about a sexless marriage?
You can click on any of the links above to navigate to the section you are interested in.
How does it feel to be in a sexless marriage?
So, how does it feel to be in a sexless marriage? If both the partners are contented in a sexless marriage, and it is not affecting the relationship adversely, there is nothing to be done. If, however, the sexless relationship is leaving one partner feeling dissatisfied, then it is an issue that needs to be addressed without delay. Overtime, in a sexless marriage each or any of the spouses can experience:
- A constant feeling of rejection and emotional dissatisfaction in the relationship.
- A feeling of emotional confusion and ambiguity especially if the partner does not explicitly say “no”.
- Anxiety especially if he/she is not able to discuss the matter with family or friends.
- Resentment as he/she feels the other partner is rejecting him/her and does not want to be intimate with him/her anymore.
- The feeling of emotional emptiness and of living as roommates instead of spouses
Sexless marriages can ultimately lead to problems in the relationship such as:
The queries related to sexless marriages asked in counselling forums are diverse in nature. Here are a few examples:
- “In the beginning the sex was good. We had sex maybe four to five times a week. Now we barely have sex once in eight months.”
- “Before the wedding, he would come after me doggedly, he was pretty forthcoming and expressed his feelings without reservations. On the wedding night, nothing happened. And now even after four years into the marriage, nothing happened.”
- “After having kids my wife is not interested in sex anymore.”
- “It’s been more than eight years now since we had sex! We are simply like roommates. We love each other but somehow the relationship seems incomplete without the physical intimacy.”
- “In the first few years after marriage the sex was good, but now I simply don’t feel like having sex anymore. If we have it once in four months, it is like a routine affair. It is not the vibrant sex we had earlier. I feel it is affecting my relationship, but I feel too tired or uninterested even.”
Taking a look at all the possible causes affecting the sexual intimacy in a marriage, can help understand what core issue needs to be addressed for healing to occur in the relationship.
What are the causes of a sexless marriage?
There could be many reasons for a couple to be in a sexless marriage, and here are some of the most prominent ones:
- Too fatigued: Couples, especially in the larger cities of India, are too exhausted after a hard day of work. It has been especially observed that if both the partners in the relationship work regular office jobs and also have children, they are too fatigued to have sex. Romantic gestures and actions become a luxury, and sex takes a backseat
- Constant criticism: Constant nagging, complaints and criticism can push a partner away emotionally. The constant criticism can make one partner feel never good enough for the other partner. Therefore, how can one initiate or have sex with a partner who is never satisfied anyway?
- Clingy partner: Being with an overly clingy and possessive partner can put one off. If one of you in the relationship uses sex with the other partner to feel validated, loved, fulfilled or to ward of tension, the other partner may feel used and even burdened. In this equation, your partner may feel like the adult who has to deal with a needy child. This situation may get even worse if one of the partners in this relationship was sexually abused and the other partner is needy. This can potentially give rise to feelings of sexual repulsion in the partner who faced sexual abuse.
- Lack of emotional intimacy: Most people, especially women, need to feel emotionally connected with their partner before making love. If both of you do not spend time together emotionally connecting with each other, which can include, hugs, kisses, cuddles, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, in other words expressing love in different, yet sweet intimate ways, sex can be a difficult proposition.
- Resentment: This can be a relationship killer. Resentment in a relationship can start with small things. It can start if one of you feels criticized, or if the woman in the relationship feels she alone has to do all the household work after coming back from office while her husband simply sits and watches T.V. after office hours, or if the husband feels the wife spends too much money. Resentment breeds when there is a lack of communication. And there can be no intimacy when there is a lack of communication.
- Controlling partner: If one of the partners feels controlled in the relationship, even in minor areas of life and has to give more of themselves into the relationship than the other, the person will automatically feel less sexual desire. The more the control the more affected the sexual life.
- Lack of safety in the relationship: If both of you are unable to create a safe space for each other where you can express your feelings comfortably, and address any conflict that comes up without playing blame games, being defensive, resisting, withdrawing, the situation can change into a lack of sexual desire for the other.
- Sexual abuse: If one of the partners in the marriage suffered from any form of sexual abuse in childhood or even during adulthood, they may shut down sexually in a relationship
- Physical conditions: Physical conditions in a woman such as vaginismus (a condition where the vaginal muscles clench and prevent entry into the vagina) and dyspareunia (persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse) may prevent her from being able to have sex. Such conditions in a woman can occur due to a range of emotional and physical factors such as, a history of sexual abuse, fear, anxiety, depression, strict religious upbringing where sex is seen as a taboo, insufficient foreplay before sex, infections, childbirth, menopause, cancer etc.
Dyspareunia can also occur in men due to causes such as sexually transmitted infections, hernia, Peyronie’s disease, fear, stress, guilt, emotional instability etc. Men can also suffer from a condition called erectile dysfunction or the inability to have an erection or maintain an erection during sexual intercourse. All these conditions are very much treatable with various forms of therapy, counselling and medicines. Other physical conditions such as low levels of testosterone or thyroid disorder too can affect the sexual life.
- Cheating partner: If a partner in the marriage cheats his/her spouse, it can lead to the other partner shutting down emotionally and sexually towards him/her.
- Mental conditions: Mental conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder can lead to sexless marriages. A person suffering from schizophrenia may have no desire for sex, on the other hand, bipolar disorder patients are known to have an excessive desire for sex, which often puts off the other partner.
- Strict religious upbringing: If a person experienced a strict religious upbringing in a family where sex was treated as a taboo topic, it can often cause a person to have shameful and guilt-filled thoughts around sex. This will definitely affect his/her sexual life.
- Finance & career related issues: If there are money-related problems or career-related problems a spouse may be worried to distraction about it which can affect his/her sex life. Infact, serious financial problems can cause panic, apprehension, depression, and can push many couples to the brink of divorce.
- Feeling unattracted to the partner: This can be an issue in arranged marriages especially in India. If one of the partners was forced into the marriage by the family, the sexual experience with his/her partner may not be satisfying which can make him/her avoid sex altogether.
- Age and familiarity lead to declining interest in sex: There is a saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” No doubt sexual urges diminish with age, but familiarity over the years too can cause the excitement of sex to wear off.
What can be done about a sexless marriage?
First and foremost, know that you are not alone. This issue can be addressed, but of course, you will need your partner’s support as well. Addressing the issue of lack of sex in a marriage requires fixing the deep-rooted problems that is causing it in the first place.
Here are a few tips you can use to address the lack of intimacy in your marriage:
- Do some soul-searching: Find out how are you contributing to this issue. Are you being overly critical or controlling? Have you been unfaithful? Change first begins with oneself. First, find out what can you change in yourself that can change the sexual equation in the relationship. Are you committed to let the relationship grow?
- Discuss with your partner: Without blaming your partner initiate a discussion about how you feel. You can start by saying, “I feel—–” Listen to what your partner has to say and do not react. Let your partner know it is safe for him/her to talk and you are here to listen and not judge. Ask what you can do to help in the situation.
- Make sure your spouse is willing to work on the sexual intimacy: A relationship takes two to tango. Find out if your partner is committed to make the relationship work and how important is sexual intimacy to your partner. If your partner shows unwillingness towards sexual intimacy find out why? Find out if there are feelings of resentment or bitterness or insecurity. Find out if there is a physical problem. And take it forward from there, all the while making your partner feel safe to open up and talk to you without feeling judged.
- Plan some “us time”: Take your partner for a surprise date. Initiate a physical contact by holding his/her hand, and then look into his/her eyes.
Eye contact can be a powerful tool to increase intimacy in a relationship.
Tell your partner how much you appreciate having him/her in your life and how much he/she means to you. Switch off your phone during this time and focus exclusively on your partner.
- Touch each other everyday: Touching each other everyday does not mean in a sexual way. It can be a soft stroke on the head, holding each other’s hands, a soft stroke on the arm or the back, a quick soft kiss. The importance of these sudden soft touches cannot be stressed enough. These touches can make a person feel appreciated and safe and can become the precursor to joyful sexual intimacy. Infact, keep some time everyday solely for each other. At these times switch off your phone and listen to your partner. Really focus and listen. Ask him/her about their day and you tell about yours. Listening can help you cue in about how your partner is feeling and what you can do to help. Another great tool I suggest to couples is taking the Five Love Languages Test. Infact, I suggest you read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. You will get a greater understanding of what you want in the relationship as well what your partner wants in the relationship.
- Take care of yourself: Learn to appreciate and love yourself first. No one likes a partner who is clingy and needs constant validating, or who is constantly complaining. Instead, pursue your own hobbies and passions. Take care of your appearance. Go to the gym, or for a massage in a spa.
Remember, you can give others what you have. When you are full of self-appreciation and self-love you can share your love and yourself intimately with your partner, without fear or neediness. You partner too in turn will readily respond to you, because personal power is more attractive than clinginess or the need for constant validation.
- Let your spouse know you are thinking of them: When at work send messages to your partner expressing your love or while leaving for work leave little romantic notes may be on the fridge or near the breakfast bowl for your partner to see. They can act as reminders of why you chose each other in the first place and what you loved and found attractive the most about each other in the initial days.
Little things add up to bring back the magic in the relationship.
- Practice forgiveness: To move forward in the relationship you need to let go of the past hurts. Know that each of you are growing together at your own pace so learn to forgive, be compassionate, make room for the other to feel safe and grow together.
Forgive each other and begin on a clean slate.
You need to let go of the anger, resentment and bitterness. Let your partner know what you can do to make the relationship grow and what you would like from your partner for the relationship to be healthy and respectful.
Know that a marriage is also about serving the other, and not only getting from the other.
- Celebrate little moments of togetherness: You know when you have a sudden moment together, prolong that moment. Maybe it happens when you look into each other’s eyes during a walk, or when you are cuddling. You will know when you feel a sudden spark again. Prolong and celebrate these moments. These are the moments that can bring back the spark into the marriage and also the sexual intimacy.
- Consult a doctor: For any form physical issues (vaginismus, erectile dysfunction, dyspareunia, etc.) that could be preventing a sexual relationship consult a doctor. Let your partner know that he/she has your full support during this time.
- Consider marriage counselling: A marriage counsellor will be able to diffuse any conflicting situations between you two by giving you a different perspective altogether. Very often in a relationship since both of you are completely inside the picture, engaged in the situation, you are not able to see the bigger picture from the outside. A relationship counselor who is not involved in any way with you, can help you to step out of your picture, and provide a different perspective. There are dedicated platforms such as askmile.com where you can choose a counselor for guiding you through this rough patch in the relationship. Alternatively, you can also post a query anonymously here, related to your relationship issues, and a relationship counselor will get back to you at the earliest.
At the end of the day all relationships need work, more so marriages and more so sex in a marriage. Infact, I’m sure most of us will agree great sex is hard work. But what makes sex great in a marriage is the investment in emotional bonding. Invest in emotionally bonding with your partner and your sex life can be quite enriching!
– Anoo Pathak
Spiritual Counselor & Mentor