Does a sexless marriage mean you’re destined for divorce?
Well, maybe. Maybe not.
For sure, judging by the number of books and articles and the search requests for my blog, it’s a common issue. My clients and free consults, frequently remark that they’re living more like roommates than lovers.
What exactly is a sexless marriage? What do you do if you and your spouse aren’t having sex? Is it always a problem? What does it mean for your relationship?
Joining me for this Conversations About Divorce is award-winning journalist and author Vicki Larson. She’s been published in many places including New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. She’s also the co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage For Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. You can follow Vicki at her blog OMG Chronicles, on Twitter as @OMG Chronicles and on Facebook
What Is A Sexless Marriage?
There are definitions of a sexless marriage such as only having sex a few times a month or a few times a year. Larson doesn’t find these helpful.
“I tend to think that it’s really up to a couple to determine whether their sexual needs are being met satisfactorily or not,” said Larson. “We all have different sex drives and we have different sex drives at different times in our life depending on if we’re just new parents or we’re older or there’s medical issues.”
Larson also believes that if we try to quantify what is too little sex, it puts unnecessary shaming, guilt and worry on people. A better approach is to talk about this in terms of whether a person feels their needs for physical intimacy are being met.
Clearly though, judging by the number of articles on the topic, many people are grappling with being in a relationship with little or no physical intimacy.
A Sexless Marriage Isn’t Always A Problem
Not having sex doesn’t always mean there’s a problem with your marriage. We know for example that sexual activity drops precipitously after the birth of a baby. It can also fall in response to grief or illness.
What is a bigger problem and more of an indicator of marital difficulties is when sexual activity has decreased and one party is feeling dissatisfied and no one is talking about it.
“People are not really very good about talking about sex and their sexual needs,” said Larson. “The more it doesn’t get addressed, the more it builds into a disconnect and then that can put a real fracture in the relationship.”
You Have To Talk About It
As awkward and uncomfortable as you might feel about talking about sex, it’s important that you do and that you don’t put it off.
There is however an art to this conversation. Rather than just commenting or moaning or whining, go one step further. Explain how that makes you feel. That may be the old joke about therapists but sharing that will help your partner better understand your concern. It might look like, ‘when we don’t have sex it makes me feel that you are not attracted to me,’ or ‘when we don’t have sex it makes me feel unloved.’
Take a tip from the Gottman’s and their 8 Dates: it’s really important that during these initial conversations that you simply listen to each other. Don’t jump ahead to problem-solving. Focus on what your partner is sharing with you so you can understand and appreciate their perspective. This understanding builds the foundation for more open dialogue, creates trust and fosters what is needed for resolution.
Just as the conversation about sex and drugs with your kids is on-going so should the conversation about your sex life with your spouse. It’s never a one and done thing because as Larson said earlier, people’s sexual needs change over time and in response to what else is going on in life.
If you’ve opened up, shared how you’re feeling and your spouse is dismissive or discounts what you’re saying, then there’s a problem.
“To not be heard would be absolutely indicative that something else is really happening in the marriage,” said Larson.
That’s true whether it’s you who’s concerned about the lack of sex or you’re responding to your spouse’s concerns.
What’s Going On In The Home?
Larson says there’s been a lot of coverage lately about the division of labor in heterosexual households. For the most part, women are doing much more of the emotional and physical labor, even if they are working full-time.
“That is something that really needs to be addressed because there’s a lot of women who are just kind of angry at their husbands,” said Larson. “They may not be able to relate that dissatisfaction with sex.”
Withholding sex whether it is a conscious or subconscious decision may be rooted in the unfair burden of household chores.
Get Professional Help
If you’re the one who’s avoiding physical intimacy and you’re not sure why or if your partner isn’t able to open up, then it’s time to get professional help.
“You really need someone who’s going to ask questions to uncover what’s going on in the marriage and to uncover perhaps unconscious things that are working against the desire for intimacy and sex and closeness to your partner,” said Larson.
That professional will also help you and your partner rebuild the trust.
Do Men And Women See This Differently?
Larson believes that men and women are more similar than we have previously thought. A recent book by Sarah Hunter Murray, Not Always In The Mood: The New Science of Men, Sex, and Relationships, debunks the myths that we have about men and sex. Men don’t always want sex and they’re not always ready for it.
There are differences between men and women but in many ways our sexual desires are similar. The problem is that we are raised differently.
“Girls are brought up to be seen as desirable and we’re taught that boys do the desiring,” said Larson. “That kind of narrative sets us up for problems. Women have learned to be passive with our sexuality. We’re the desired one and means we are taught they have to come to us.”
That mindset creates barriers for women to initiate sex.
This would be a great topic to add to your list of conversations to have together about your expectations of sex.
“We want a healthy, happy relationship where both people feel heard, respected and appreciated and treated kindly,” said Larson. “If we’re living with myths and expectations and assumptions, that can be really hard to have happen.”
Joining me for this Conversation About Divorce was award-winning journalist and author Vicki Larson. She’s been published in many places including New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. She’s also the co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage For Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. You can follow Vicki at her blog OMG Chronicles, on Twitter as @OMG Chronicles and on Facebook.