Sex Therapists on Why a Sexless Marriage Isn't the End of Your Relationship

Sep 20, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Man and woman in bed facing opposite directions
Image: Tory Rust. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

Despite what you've seen in movies, most marriages aren't happily-ever-after fairy tales. Marriage is work, and for a lot of couples, sex just isn't something that happens regularly anymore... or ever. In fact, The New York Times reports that 15 percent of married couples aren't having sex at all. 

It isn't a mystery that this can leave both people in the relationship feeling sad, unwanted and unhappy. But what can we do if we aren't having sex for lack of our own desire or if our partner doesn't feel interested? Is there hope for married couples who aren't being intimate any longer? The good news is that the experts we spoke with say yes, but it will take some work.

Lack of sex is a message for your relationship

The lack of sex in your relationship is like an SOS and is sending the message that something has gone wrong, and unless it’s addressed, “this can become status quo," Dr. Mark B Borg, Jr., a clinical psychologist and author of Relationship Safety, tells SheKnows. 

Once you fall into the pattern of not being intimate, you and your partner might find yourselves defending yourself against intimacy, something Borg calls irrelationship, which is the "use of the relationship itself as a joint defense against intimacy," he says.

More: How Much Sex Are Married Couples Actually Having?

Borg goes on to explain this has almost become acceptable in our society and is easily overlooked, "especially when other things in the relationship are going very well."  

Similarly, Dr. Tina B. Tessina, a licensed psychotherapist in Southern California with 30 years' experience in counseling couples and individuals, tells SheKnows that she sees many couples who say their "marriage lost its romance long ago."

Tessina, who has also authored 13 books, including How to be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together, explains it's easy to feel sexy and romantic before you are living together, as every moment you spend with each other feels special. Then, when you decide to move in together, the romance can fade as things like bills and laundry come into the equation.

While those are fun to do together at first, before long the newness wears off, and many couples find themselves worrying whether their partner cares as much and is as excited to be with them, says Tessina.

No sex is usually a sign of a bigger problem

Borg says that we should see lack of sex as a bigger problem, and if couples can work together to repair the damage, no matter how it was caused, "slowly, couples can repair their connection, one intimate moment at a time, leading to renewed connection." 

Moreover, there are many reasons a couple may stop having sex, including emotional or physical trauma or hormones, a clinical psychologist Dr. Lori Whatley tells SheKnows. When the sex slows down or stops completely, many couples don't know how to "bridge the gap and restore this part of the relationship," she says.

More: Why the Pleasure Gap Is a Gender-Equality Issue

How can you avoid or repair a sexless marriage?

First of all, it's important to note that though it's not a great sign, a sexless marriage isn't the end of the world — or your relationship. In fact, Whatley says that with the appropriate care and guidance from a professional, couples can restore their relationship. She goes on to explain that an appointment with a doctor "would be important to gain a better understanding of the issue and properly address it."

Along the same lines, Tessina says it's imperative couples learn to talk to each other openly and honestly and realize having sex and being intimate is an "extension of other communication" between two people. 

She explains that if your communication "shuts down, so will your sex life," as you need to feel a connection to each other if you want to be intimate. 

Don't get stuck in roles

Tessina says you must take turns making the first move and finding ways to express your interest in a nonverbal way, like lighting a candle or buying flowers. If one person feels they are always initiating sex, they will feel resentful.

Don't turn your partner down for silly reasons, but if you must, "find ways to satisfy them when you aren't as interested as they are," says Tessina.

Other ways to keep the romance alive are to laugh together, touch more often, make eye contact and take the time to do little things, such a making dinner together, as it's important to invest in those opportunities no matter how short they are, says Tessina.

Yes, a sexless marriage could very well mean the end for some couples, but it’s nice to know that it's possible for some couples to come back from this problem and go on to have long, healthy relationships. 

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