If you feel stuck in a sexless marriage, you’re probably considering if and when to walk away from it. This is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions to make, and comes with some measure of grief, shame, resentment and loneliness. You may ask yourself, “Is this really the end of the relationship?”, “What if things can still get better?”, “How will I know if I’m making the right decision?” These questions are not to be taken lightly. Read on to learn about the few key considerations which will help you assess if your sexless marriage has run its course. Thinking through these will help you decide when it’s time to walk away from a sexless marriage.
3 Most Common Causes of a Sexless Marriage
It’s important to recognize that a sexless marriage is a symptom of a deeper issue within the relationship. It’s normal for the frequency of sex to fluctuate, and sometimes dwindle, in the course of any long-term relationship. But when there is very little to no intimate contact at all for a year or longer, it’s time to look closer at the root cause of the problem. Typically, the cause falls into one or more of these 3 categories:
1. An “other-centered” relationship
“Other-centered” simply means the main focus within the relationship is on matters other than the couple itself. This focus can be on children, career, or anything else that becomes a higher priority than marriage (and intimacy) itself.
If you feel your marriage is other-centered, consider how you could make your relationship a priority again. Could you arrange weekly date-nights? What about carving out time for you and your partner to connect and talk about things other than work, children, and finances? Can you engage in an activity or hobby you both enjoy, like hiking or cooking a favorite meal together? Consider this the maintenance work that’s required to keep your marriage healthy.
2. Manage Stressors Outside The Relationship
If you’re constantly too tired, don’t sleep well, have medical problems or experienced some type of trauma, sex is probably the last thing you want to think about. These stresses add up over time and frequently impact your sex life, not to mention your overall health.
If you recognize that a stressful, unhealthy lifestyle has become an obstacle to sexual intimacy, see if you can identify even just a few ways to remedy this. The same applies to physical or mental health. How can you manage your stress better and improve your sleep hygiene? How can you take better care of your body and mind to create more space for your relationship?
3. Issues of Desire
Desire and libido will likely fluctuate over time, and will wane if not nurtured. Libido is more biological, while desire is driven by emotions. Desire is often a matter of effort. If you or your partner don’t put in the time to maintain your emotional connection, desire will dwindle. This is especially true after kids, when connection and intimacy requires a more intentional approach and planning ahead. As most couples realize later in life, it’s easy to find time for connection before children arrive.
Desire grows from a strong emotional connection. Consider how you can spend more time with your partner, how you can better communicate, and how to strengthen your bond. And don’t forget about foreplay, which I define as every interaction (sensual and not) since your last sexual encounter with your partner. It can be as simple as holding hands, discussing an interesting article, or sharing a laugh.
Assessing when to walk away
When considering whether to walk away from a sexless marriage, first work on repairing the above 3 issues. Get clarity on whether sex is an absolute requirement for your marriage. Remember that sex isn’t always intercourse. There is a wide range of intimate activity that qualifies as sex. So take some time to define or redefine what sex looks like in your relationship.
If one partner is no longer interested in sex but the other partner still is, consider non-monogamy. Perhaps this can be a viable compromise to explore that would address the misalignment in sexual interest while still keeping the marriage intact. This is often fraught territory, so consider working with an experienced couples therapist to help you navigate this sensitive issue.
Lastly, look for a well-trained couples counselor to provide discernment support. “Discernment Counseling” is typically a brief couples therapy designed specifically for couples who are unsure whether to continue their relationship. Marriage retreats have been shown to be especially effective as a mode of discernment counseling.
If you’ve tried repairing the relationship, considered other options, gotten professional support and still don’t see a way to continue the marriage, then it’s time to walk away. Get professional help from a therapist or couples counselor to guide you through this difficult process. If you’re separating, consider looking for a mediator who can help you with the logistics and safe you thousands of dollars in legal fees.
It’s important to note that many sexless marriages can be repaired and revived with the right support and commitment from both partners. Having assistance from an experienced couples counselor is an important part of this process. A well-trained professional will help you navigate and provide a different angle or insights into your relationship which you may not have considered. If you’re interested in getting couples counseling, the LifeWise team is here to help you every step of the way.