Life's Too Busy for a Sexless Marriage
“He hasn’t touched me in six years,” she said. “And I’m getting to the point where I’m asking myself if I can go on with a man who doesn’t want me.”
“Why have you stayed?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I always assumed things would get better. When he got that new job. When the kids got older. After we moved into the new house. I just kept saying - ok things will settle down now, and he’ll initiate soon. He still hasn’t.”
I looked at him. He sat quietly and solemnly as she described her heartbreak over feeling undesirable and untouched for so long. I could tell he was feeling something. “What’s coming up for you as you listen to her pain?”
He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly in preparation for what he was about to say, “I don’t know.”
There are myriad reasons couples fall into a sexless routine. But most can be boiled down to one basic problem: avoiding sex is easy. It’s easier than talking to you about why we’re not having sex. It’s easier than trying to understand why I don’t want to have sex. It’s easier to masturbate to porn. It’s easier to watch rom-coms and read salacious fan fiction.
One of the great American myths about sexual fulfillment is that it is essential for sanity and survival. In fact, when stability is threatened (when life gets hard), sex is one of the first things to be put on hold. When he gets depressed. When she has the baby. When life’s obligations take up more time than there are hours in the day. When mental and emotional energy become life’s most precious commodity. Sex is not necessary.
It’s sad to me that so many who are struggling don’t know this basic truth. Many of the relationships I see who are enduring a sexless marriage find relief in the idea that many, if not most, relationships struggle to find time for sex, let alone good sex, in the chaos of their lives. The problem of finding balance in an unbalanced life is a challenge all relationships will face at some point. However, relationships transition from struggle to stuck when the problems that cause them to set aside sex for a time become systemic, ingrained, routine, normal.
Although setting aside sex out of necessity in struggle is an almost universal phenomenon, successful relationships recognize that their sex life is suffering and decide to change. Reintroducing sex back into a routine of life often requires life changes. Reducing work loads. Putting down phones. Asking family or friends to baby sit occasionally. Asking older kids to develop more independence of self-care (laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc.). These changes may make more room for sex, but they often don’t change the fundamental problem: one or both of us sees sex as something we *do*.
Sex should not be something we do. It should be something we participate in. This distinction sounds like semantics at first, but it points to a fundamental shift in a relationship’s ability to transcend what makes sex so hard sometimes. For many who endure a sexless relationship, sex is harder than the alternative. It’s not an oasis of connection, an escape from the pressures of life, an intimate getaway for those precious 30 minutes. It’s another job, another burden, another pressure, another thing to fail at. It’s not an escape. It’s running into the burning building. But because life is too hard, we need sex to help make it bearable. To give our minds and hearts and bodies a rest from pressure, anxiety, and worry. Life is too busy for a sexless marriage.
Sex, and the “work” that’s necessary to make it good and enjoyable, require skills that most are not taught. Most people are taught to avoid difficult emotions especially the ones that are asking us to look at our partner and complain about sex. These conversations are some of the most vulnerable discussions relationships must have. But they are possible. A good sex therapist can help teach these skills and restore a sense of escape to sex that most sorely need. Instead of seeing this problem as evidence that your marriage is bad, that your relationship never should have been, that one of you is broken, see it as a normal issue that can be fixed. You and your partner can learn to have sex again. All it requires is the willingness to reach out for help to solve a problem you were never taught to avoid.