Evidently, “sexless marriage” means different things to different people. For some, it means never having sex—not even on their wedding night. Or, it means that it was sizzling hot before the marriage but soon afterward it simmered and fizzled. For others, it’s NO SEX EVER! Basically, it means a relationship between two committed people in which there is little or no sexual activity between the two spouses.
So, who cares if people’s marriages are sexless? A lot of people! The New York Times reported that renowned data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz says “sexless marriages” is the top-searched marriage complaint on Google. In fact, on average, more than 21,000 people scan the internet monthly with online searches for sexless marriages! Whether we talk about it or not, we all care.
What happens that causes a marriage to become sexless? Kids, schedules, exhaustion, rejection, blame, finances … take your pick. Then, sprinkle some resentment and you’ve got a recipe for no communication and a lot of unexpressed hurt feelings.
The number-one response in a Huffington Post survey, was: “My wife isn’t interested.” In that same survey, only 21% pointed to the husband as the culprit. Despite what the media depicts, there’s a significant percentage of couples not having sex for a wide range of reasons: emotional, psychological, physical, religious, or other reasons.
Even if we can’t agree on the definition, we can agree that “sexless marriage” is common. The National Health and Social Life Survey identified that 20% of couples were in the “sexless” category—meaning they engaged in intercourse less than 10 times per year. The Guardian reported on a study by Georgia State University which suggested that 15% of married couples have not had sex in the past six to 12 months. All the while, a Huffington Post article by Abby Rodman revealed that most survey participants defined “sexless” as having sex on an average of once a month.
The biggest barrier is a build-up of silent resentment over time. It’s a pile-up of past hurts left unspoken. It’s all the conversations that resulted in you projecting blame onto your spouse for what’s happening in your marriage now; or, the blame you put on yourself for your role in this bed of silence. It’s both the frustration and confusion as to how to start disentangling yourself from the jumbled mess you find yourself in now.
Ask yourself what changed between you. Remember when you used to talk about sex with each other? You probably discussed your sexual activities all the time and even made sexual innuendos to him. You laughed and teased and flirted with each other. You may have even shared your sexual fantasies with each other. Now you don’t.
Something shifted in the relationship between the two of you and neither of you noticed it or talked about it at the time. Isn’t it amazing how life can interfere with your sex life? How can anything interfere with sex? Well, it does! First, you’re exhausted, and then your routine changes. After that, your sexual habits change, so you do more of this and less of that. Over time, the excitement fades and so does the anticipation. Finally, everything stops, including the excuses.
What can you do? The most important thing for you to do is to figure out for yourself what you need and how you feel about what’s happening to the two of you right now. Once you figure that out then you can decide next steps. Despite the external pressures, the best thing to do if it bothers you is to talk about it. The more time that passes without conversation, the more awkward and disconnected you may feel. Lack of sex is not an easy topic for conversation, but the strategy is simple: Just talk!
Have you listened to your partner’s perspective without the finger pointing, blaming, or yelling?
This is about having a kind discussion between the two of you. Express your sincere desire to start having sex again. Also, touch, feel, and love. Remember, whatever you’re feeling and thinking, your partner probably feels the same way: the awkwardness, the hesitation, the embarrassment, the desperate need to go back to the way it was.
Remember, if you keep doing the same thing (not talking), don’t expect a different outcome. Start a safe dialogue between the two of you and see what you’ll discover. Do you still love him even without the sex? Have you ever talked about it to each other without resentment and blame? Have you each discussed the lack of sex in the marriage and how you feel about it?
Talk honestly and respectfully to each other like good friends. Reach out and touch their hand while you look into their eyes. Tell them how difficult it is to speak your unspoken thoughts and feelings and that you really miss feeling close to them. Don’t expect anything, just talk. If you hit a roadblock and there seems to be less dialogue from your spouse, then, gently, let them know how it feels for you to be with them now, to sit and talk and to look into each other’s eyes.
Check in with your partner. How do they feel? What’s going on with them?
Remember, it takes courage to break the silence. What a huge step you took! First, you thought about talking to your partner; then you practiced how to say it; then you chose the right time to discuss it; and finally, you gently spoke to them with love in your heart. What a statement of love to reach out with kindness to your best friend and loving spouse.
When one thing happens in life, sometimes that one thing by itself is not difficult or significant. However, it quickly gets more complicated when the first problem gets covered up with layers upon layers of other problems that are created by the first problem. That’s when it gets compounded with time, silence, and disconnection. Don’t be too critical of yourself or your spouse—life happens!
Your biggest fear is that your marriage can’t recover from this stillness between you. You may worry that they’ll leave you, or cheat on you, without a word spoken between you. When you decided to sit down and have that conversation with your spouse, you expressed your fears of being alone in this marriage. You shared your hopes for the future together. The hardest thing of all was when you waited for them to speak.
Ask what they think you can do as a couple to move forward from this stuck point. Does your spouse want to move forward together? Would they be open to suggestions, such as seeing a professional counselor, a couples therapist, or sex therapist? Whatever you do, don’t shelve it. Keep the dialogue going.
Don’t stop now! While you’re talking, if you sense that your spouse doesn’t know what to say but is listening to you without getting defensive, perhaps you can tell them how important it is for you to hear what they’re thinking and feeling right now.
Margot Brown has helped couples and individuals create happier lives for over 20 years. She’s the author of Kickstart Your Relationship Now! Move On or Move Out.