How to deal with being stuck in a sexless marriage or relationship

Category: Better Relationships | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 23-09-2010 | Modified: 02-02-2019

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There are effective solutions to solving the problems in a sexless marriage or relationship. It's time to sort it out before it leads to a complete marital or relationship breakdown.

This article...
... uncovers the causes
... helps you to better communicate about it
... tells you when to see a doctor
... has information on what to do and...  
... what not to do

You may also be interested in How to Increase Your Libido.

I want to be upfront with you - I may earn a commission from Better Help. You pay the same fee, regardless. 

Leo Buscaglia: Learn to give generously first.

How do you communicate about problems your sexual relationship?

Good communication is all important.

Your sexual relationship is one way of communicating your love and desire for each other. It is also a way to just enjoy yourself and eachother's company and as well as starting a family!

However, if talking in general, let alone about sex, is a problem, then do start with my other pages on communication, such as How To Stop Arguing.

I'll be here when you come back.

What is the cause of your sexless marriage?

A sexless relationship or marriage can be due to all kinds of problems - physical and/or emotional.

Here are just a few examples, some of which you might recognise:

  • Low sex drive (libido) - male or female (see my pages on low libido - links further down)
  • Illness
  • Disability
  • General pain
  • Pain or discomfort during sex
  • Impotence
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Guilt
  • Exhaustion
  • Shyness
  • Issues around gender
  • Trauma including abuse
  • Stress
  • Anxiety - generalised and performance anxiety
  • Lack of privacy
  • Affairs
  • Disgust
  • Poor hygiene (yes.. truly!)
  • Bad breath - an absolute passion killer!
  • Lack of loving feelings
  • Cultural messages
  • The two of you just aren't compatible (see my Relationship Compatibility Test)

What came first: lack of sex, or other problems?

I am a qualified and experienced couple counsellor. By the time my clients come to see me, the lack of sex may have led to all kinds of other relationship problems.

Your physical relationship is a way of expressing yourself. You communicate for example your feelings of love, lust and desire... but also potentially anger and disgust.

You can see, then, that if the two of you are having problems communicating with each other in general, this is likely to happen in the bedroom too.

How easy it is to misinterpret each other is evident in the following example from my practice as a couple counsellor. This shows the link between a breakdown in communication and the associated effects on a sexual relationship...

From my practice

Pete and Jane had not been having sex for about 8 months.

They came to see me because they felt they were drifting apart.  Nothing specifically had happened, they just felt bored and were increasingly busy with their own lives.

They found themselves arguing more often about trivial things. Trying to repair things after a nasty row, Pete would frequently make an effort to get close to Jane again by trying to touch and kiss her. Jane couldn't bear the attention whilst she was still angry and it would irritate the hell out of her!

Pete felt rejected and Jane unheard. Both became increasingly disaffected by their sexless marriage.  

The primary problem was not their sexual relationship. When we had addressed the problems they had been avoiding, they had great sex again.

Generally speaking, men more often want to have sex to feel close to their partner and, after an argument, to re-establish closeness... and this may well be misinterpreted!

Regardless of your sexual orientation or gender, a lack of sex could lead to you feeling rejected, sad, hurt, disappointed, frustrated or angry. These feelings in themselves can become a real barrier to building and maintaining a loving, satisfying sexual relationship. In other words - your perception of the problem can become a major contributing factor.

Feeling frustrated and rejected due to not having any kind of sexual relationship?

Things that will not help you to have more sex include...

  • pushing your partner into making love more often
  • forcing your partner (rape!)
  • manipulating the situation in some way
  • getting obsessed by the lack of sex becoming too emotional about it (that stops you discovering the real cause and finding an effective solution)
  • ignoring existing relationship problems
  • blaming and accusing

Infidelity might seem like a solution for your frustration, however trust me when I say it'll just cause no end of trouble further down the line.

Just in case you think your partner might be being unfaithful, though, take a look at the infidelity warning signs on this page to help you figure out if maybe that's what is contributing this problem.

Wish you could talk to a professional, licensed therapist?

Confidential, non-judgemental and anonymous

You can - right now! I have made sure you have instant access to qualified professional therapists.

To learn more, click here to go to my page on online counselling.

Is sexual arousal a problem for one or both of you?

Sexual arousal is a very complex process (like every other function in the body) and involves:

  • your brain
  • your nervous system
  • your hormones
  • your blood vessels
  • your muscles
  • your emotions

Problems with - and imbalances in - any of these are likely to affect your sexual desire. If it's not addressed, a chronic lack of sexual desire (as well as other problems of course) can sadly lead to a virtually or even completely sexless marriage or relationship.

The process of improving your libido, first and foremost, involves ensuring overall physical, mental and emotional well-being. I know - it's disappointing that there isn't a 'quick fix'.  However, stick with me and don't despair...

What's at the root of your sexless relationship?

If sex is the cause of your relationship problems I'd really like you to see a doctor first. We'll want to rule out any medical problems and thereby the possible cause of your trouble.

Getting medical help and advice with any or all of the following can really help to enhance your libido...

10 Ways to help improve your libido with medical advice

  1. Review your antidepressants (if prescribed)
  2. Review your medication for high blood pressure (if prescribed)
  3. Deal with any pain
  4. Find the cause of erectile dysfunction and treating it (we will be looking at asking a psychosexual therapist for help later)
  5. Deal with ejaculation problems
  6. Treat any illness. Stop procrastinating! ;-)
  7. Deal with fatigue - though there are very likely things you can do yourself
  8. Overcome fear of pregnancy: contraception
  9. Deal with any traumatic experience
  10. Deal with depression and stress

For any problems with your mental and emotional well-being, do continue to explore this site as it's packed with advice to help you out with all kinds of issues.

If you can rule out any medical causes for your lack of interest in sex, I'd really encourage you to have a look at my pages on Increasing Male Libido and Boosting Female Libido.

But, before you do so (or read on), do watch this video for the best advice from a colleague couple therapist (btw, you might want to share it with your partner!)...

How good is your ‘physical’ relationship?

Your physical relationship involves much more than ‘full’ sex. It is part of the 'dance' of communication between two people.

Your 'physical' relationship as part of a loving, committed couple includes enjoying:

  • any kind of fleeting loving touch
  • stroking and massaging
  • kissing - just a kiss of a few seconds when you leave and when you're back home can make all the difference
  • cuddling
  • holding, embracing

All this can and should be part of your relationship without the expectation that it will lead to sex. This kind of physical communication should ideally be part and parcel of your everyday life.

I'd really encourage you to invest in being 'physical' in this way and become skilful at it, particularly if it's not part of your experience now. And when you're ready to start healing your sexless marriage or relationship, you'll find foreplay so much more enjoyable.

If for any reason you can't have penetrative sex, being able to lovingly pleasure each other will help to calm the waters.

Can you have a conversation about this with your partner or spouse without it turning into an argument? Or would you rather avoid the subject completely?

Stop arguing, start talking about sex

It may be that you find talking about sex really difficult, so having a 'proper conversation' about it within the context of a loving relationship may seem ever so daunting. Particularly so if you want to challenge your partner about your sexless marriage.

If so - I hope I can help you along a bit. Below is a list of questions that'll help you give your conversation about sex a focus.

Once you get the hang of it and you've got to know what makes your partner ticks a bit better, you may feel more confident talking about whatever sexual problem is troubling you. So, here goes...

10 Questions to help you get comfortable with talking about sex

  1. How did you learn about sex?
  2. Who exactly told you what, where and when?
  3. What were your parents'’ attitudes to sex?
  4. Did you play any games with your siblings or friends as a child that had a sexual element?
  5. What was your first sexual experience like?
  6. Were you in love? Was it just for sex?
  7. Were you, as a teenager, able to confide in anyone about sex?
  8. What's your attitude towards your own body, hygiene, health, menstruation, pregnancy, contraception, fantasies, etc.?
  9. How does your religion prescribe what is and isn't 'acceptable'?
  10. How bothered are you about your partner's sexual past?

What to do about your sexless marriage?

Sex is a problem, but your relationship seems fine?

Think about contacting a licensed therapist who can really help you deal with your sexless marriage or relationship. Learn more on my page: Online Relationship Advice

Your relationship is in trouble?

Consider contacting a REGAIN licensed couple therapist. Scroll down to the blue box to learn more.

If counselling isn't an option for you, have a look at my review of this really effective Relationship/Marriage Repair Blueprint. Imagine the relief you'’ll feel when you get that problem sorted!

Is your medication at the root of the lack of sex?

Check the side effects of any medication you're taking. Your drug may be your problem. Learn more on my page: How to Increase Low Libido

Unsure about your relationship?

Stop pretending! Have a look at my Relationship Quiz to help you make the right decision.

Too shy to feel comfortable with sex

There's a super self-hypnosis download for dealing with feeling shy when you're naked. Don't let your shyness and discomfort lead to a sexless marriage, whereby making love is the last thing on your mind.

Other sexual problems?

Don't despair - I recommend self hypnosis for a huge range of emotional and sexual problems. Have a look at my review of very likely has just the right download to help you - no matter what issues you're facing. It's a straightforward and cost-effective way of helping yourself - in the comfort of your own home!

What about gender?

Let's not forget the gay/lesbian, bisexual - heterosexual - transgender 'issue'.  

  • How do you define gender?
  • Do you suspect that your partner is bisexual, gay/lesbian or transexual?
  • Where are you on the scale?  
  • How does your religion deal with the 'issue'?
  • What about your family?

I can't do any better than let artist iO Tillett Wright do the talking here...

I do hope you've found this page helpful. And that you're on your way to figuring out the underlying cause of - and solution to - your sexless marriage/relationship.

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Related articles

How to Survive Infidelity
Breaking Up Tips and Advice
Symptoms of PTSD
Constant arguing in a Relationship
Management Counselling
Relationship Communication
When He or She Has Fallen out of Love with You

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Images courtesy of: Symphony of Love