For many people sex can be a crucial part of their relationship or marriage. Over time, though, it’s common for sexual desires and appetites to change and many clients come to our practice wondering if they must walk away from a sexless marriage. Usually, they arrive feeling hopeless, frustrated, and a little rejected and insecure. If you find yourself reading this article feeling similarly, read on to learn more about:
- what causes sexual dysfunction in relationships
- strategies to address
- when it may be time to walk away
It Can’t Get Better If You Don’t Talk About It…your feelings that is
At first it was once a week, then once a month, maybe every few, then six months. And now we never have sex. We used to fight about it but now we don’t even do that and I just don’t know what to do!
Sound at all familiar? You aren’t alone.
What Is Sex Positivity
In a nutshell, sex positivity is about an open and inclusive view of sex and sexual activity. It means understanding your own needs and being open to discussing them with your partner in a non-judgmental manner.
Reasons Your Partner May Not Be Interested In Sex Right Now
That’s the very first step – find out why your partner might not want to have sex, and discuss your needs right now. It’s important to know there are many reasons your partner may not be interested in sex right now. Different medications like antihistamines, and SSRIs can impact sexual desire. It’s also common for changing bodies and other medical issues to lead to shame. The point? It might not have anything to do with you.
Discussing sex problems? Make it go better
Regardless, most of my clients get anxious just thinking about having this conversation. When they’ve attempted to discuss the lack of sex in the past, it’s gone poorly. Why?
Usually the main need isn’t about sex, it’s about emotion! If it was just about getting an orgasm we’d probably be happy masturbating on our own. When clients discuss what they’re actually missing in session though, it’s not the release. It’s the sense of intimacy with their partner, the thrill of exploration, the fun of spontaneity, and the laughter we share. With me they share fears their partner is cheating, unattracted to them, or falling out of love.
This is what you talk about with your partner. Tell them about the emotions you are missing, what you’re afraid of losing and check in to see what they feel. Maybe you both want to work on the same thing. Pro tip – check out our blog on how to talk to family when big emotions are present!
Lower your sex anxiety and spice up your life
Once you are both open to working on your sex life, what I can promise you is with a desire discrepency there is another character very present in your relationship: anxiety.
Couples often enter this stage filled with fear about performance, falling into the same issues, and failure. When I work with couples, we first discuss developing a more expansive definition of sex. Goal directive sex, or sex with the primary aim of orgasm, heightens performance anxiety, encourages couples to get ‘stuck in a rut’, and can take the spontaneity out of sexual encounters. After all, you don’t want to risk trying something new that might not work if the whole point is to get off.
However, the data is pretty compelling especially for women: variety really is the spice of life when it comes to sexual satisfaction. Removing the burden of orgasming is the very first step.
Knowing where to start on that journey can be overwhelming though. Sensate play is a great place to start.
This is a method we often prescribe to clients as they find their way back to each other sexually in which you first experiment with yourself using friction, temperature, and pressure across your whole body to discover previously unknown erogneous zones and sensations and does not end in orgasm.
At a later date, you guide your partner to those areas using your words and hands, and swapping roles, with the goal of enjoying each other in a fun, erotic way without orgasm being the end result.
We generally recommend clients continue these ‘pleasure dates’ for a minimum of 3-4 weeks before introducing orgasm back into their sexual intercourse as a way of reinforcing play in sexual activity. Be sure to continue bring new playful activities into your sex life regularly and remember, orgasms shouldn’t be the only goal.
What to Do If You Can’t Talk About Sex
Navigating sexual issues is hard. It’s one thing to intellectually understand the reason your partner isn’t interested in sex may have nothing to do with you. How you feel in the midst of that conversation is an entirely different matter.
Try Couples Counseling
If you find yourself unable to broach the subject, or are fighting whenever you try, it might be time to try couples counseling.
We use an evidenced based approach here at Best called The Gottman Method. Each of our sex-positive relationship nerds is certified in this approach to truly become relationship experts. Our intake process includes testing at the beginning and one on one sessions with each of you to help us diagnose not only where you are, but also where your relationship is thriving. This allows us to develop a treatment plan customized to your relationship.
Not only does couples counseling provide a safe place to explore why your partner may not be interested in sex any longer, it also provides you both with skills to navigate this and so many other conversations to become stronger.
Even if you discover that your partner doesn’t want to, or can’t, begin having sex again it need not be the end of the end of the relationship.
Many individuals find themselves in alternative relationships that allow for sexual contact and exploration outside of one’s partner. You may have heard this called polyamory or consensual non-monogamy, and there are many flavors and ways to exist in this space. Some people who find themselves in a sexless relationship may choose to explore this lifestyle as a way to maintain what they enjoy about their current relationship while having their physical needs met.
Exploring your needs, your emotions, and your worries is a vital part of considering this option and doing so with a therapist is always a good idea. Best Therapies specializes in supporting folks just exploring this lifestyle and those who are veterans and our team of therapists would be thrilled to work with you.
When is it time to walk away from a sexless marriage or relationship?
Only you can know if lack of sex is an important enough issue to end a relationship over. When I work with clients, a discrepancy between desire is often the norm instead of the exception so if you find yourself here, know you aren’t alone. Also know that wanting sex in your relationship with your partner is a reasonable need and one it is OK to end a relationship without it.
When is it time to walk away from a sexless marriage or relationship? The easy answer is when your partner doesn’t want to have sex anymore and you don’t want to open your relationship. The harder answer is when progress isn’t being made fast enough.
The question then becomes: how do you know it’s not happening fast enough?
When I am in session with clients, we begin discussing this when the majority of the focus is on what isn’t happening instead of the progress that is being made.
A good sign this might be the case for you is a concept the Gottman’s call “The Four Horsemen” Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, Stonewalling. The presence of these regularly in your relationship are a sign you might be in “Negative Sentiment Override”, or that you are prone to find the negative faster, see it when it’s not there, and fight longer than you would otherwise. As you might expect, it’s really hard to get out of this space.
At this point it may be time to consider more serious options such as separating or ending your relationship.
This can feel terrifying. After spending all this time and building a life with someone you love, ending a relationship often feels like too large a step for my clients.
To mitigate this, taking smaller steps that aren’t forever can help. If feasible, separating for a few months is a good way to do this. If you’re married, and especially if you have children be sure to consult with a lawyer as leaving the home can have consequences in some states. But when possible having space, with little to no contact, can give both of you time, distance, and room to consider your next step. Our individual and couples counselors can help you during this time too.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that relationships end all the time. The goal shouldn’t be to stay in a relationship at all costs.
The goal should be for two people to be happy and thriving together and if that is not possible, the goal should transition to parting in as healthy a manner as possible.
Remember, you will both find love again. You will both find joy.