When you’re in a lifelong, monogamous relationship, a few dry spells in the bedroom are to be expected. But since intimacy is such a key part of a romantic partnership between spouses, it is important to know at what point does lack of sex become a harbinger of doom. When to stay and try to make it work and when to walk away from a sexless marriage become crucial decisions.
To be able to make that decision you need clarity on what is considered a sexless marriage, the circumstances that separate a healthy sexless union from a toxic one. As with any aspect of human relationships, it is hard to categorically paint a sexless marriage as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, functional or dysfunctional.
But there are always broad guidelines that you can apply to your unique circumstances to know when to walk away from a sexless marriage. We delve into some causes of sexless marriages, along with signs you need to walk away, with a little help from counselor and certified life coach Dr Neelu Khanna.
7 Reasons For A Sexless Marriage
Before delving into sexless marriage advice about whether to stay or move on, let’s first understand why couples go from being sexual partners to roommates living under the same roof. First and foremost, you need to understand what is considered a sexless marriage.
If you and your spouse have been going through a bit of a dry spell due to certain life changes, does that make your marriage sexless? Or does a lack of sex have to be a more permanent feature for a marriage to fit that category? Well, the U.S. National Health and Social Life Survey describes a sexless marriage as one where a couple doesn’t engage in sexual encounters or the frequency of sexual activity is minimal.
However, this definition in itself is generic at best. Couples can go without sexual activity for months owing to certain pressing circumstances. Besides, it is difficult to quantify ‘minimal sexual activity’. That’s why experts have come up with a different, more relatable yardstick: a marriage can be considered sexless if a couple has had no or fewer than 10 sexual encounters in a year.
The absence of sex in marriages is more common than most people would expect. As per a survey carried out in 2018, one in four couples in the US is in a sexless relationship. According to a New York Times report, 15% of all marriages in the US are sexless.
So why does sexual intimacy go out the window in so many relationships once the couple has settled in the rhythm of life? And when is it time to walk away from a sexless marriage? Here are the top 5 reasons for a sexless marriage
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1. Childbirth or menopause
Physically grueling and mentally taxing life changes remain one of the top reasons behind sexless marriages. Childbirth and menopause are undoubtedly two such events that fit the bill perfectly. After childbirth, a woman’s body needs time to recuperate.
Add to the mix a hormonal flux and the challenges of caring for a newborn baby, and sex definitely slips down the priority list. For a man too, getting a hang of parenting, pitching in with caring for the baby and juggling work and home life on a sleep-deprived body can take its toll. This can lead to a host of relationship problems after having a baby, sexlessness being one of them.
Menopause and sexless marriage bear a close co-relation. Menopause too affects a woman’s hormonal levels, resulting in a low desire for sex. In the case of childbirth, however, the pause on the couple’s sexless is usually temporary. Most bounce back 6 months or a year later and have a good sex life after becoming parents.
However, with menopause and sexless marriage, the situation can linger on for four to five years, and may even become permanent. Finding non-sexual ways to express your love and affection for your spouse becomes essential for coping with a sexless marriage in such cases.
2. Performance anxiety
Fear of being unable to perform sexually or to satisfy your partner could lead to a serious dip in physical intimacy, explains Neelu. It could be worries over body image and weight gain/loss, inability to achieve orgasm etc. “For men, this could become an issue since the male ego is conditioned to initiate and lead sexual activity,” Neelu says.
When these concerns take over, your body could release stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol that affect sexual arousal. In other words, you’re so concerned over your performance, you’re unable to enjoy the act of sex at all.
3. Low sex drive
It’s a fact that your libido decreases as you age. This universal truth applies to both men and women. That’s why it’s not unusual for couples in their 50s and beyond to co-exist in a sexless marriage or engage in sexual activity very rarely, if at all.
However, low sex drive isn’t always age-specific. Underlying health issues, past traumas such as sexual assault or rape, mental health issues can all become triggers for low sex drive in young people too. Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer in silence, if that be the case.
With the right professional help and treatment, you can begin to enjoy a healthy sex life again.
4. Health issues
A lack of sex in the marriage is to be expected if one or both partners suffer from major health issues. For instance, if a partner has been incapacitated due to an accident or a degenerative medical condition, sex naturally gets withdrawn from the equation. Besides, chronic problems such as bad joints, back pain, erectile dysfunction in men, endometriosis or PCOS in women can all negatively impact a couple’s sex life.
If one of the partners – or perhaps both – suffer from addiction, it’s nearly impossible for them to have a flourishing sex life. Drugs and alcohol can impact libidos and the ability to perform sexual acts in the long run. Besides, addiction brings a host of other issues in its wake, which can drive a wedge between spouses, leaving little room for intimacy or romance.
6. Relationship issues
Cheating, extramarital affairs, gaslighting, controlling behavior, manipulation, unhealthy fights, trust issues – such toxic relationship issues take a toll on your relationship. Owing to such underlying issues, spouses often begin to resent each other. This, in turn, negatively impacts their sexual bond too.
7. Either partner considers sex repulsive
“An abusive childhood, a repressed adolescence or past relationships where sex was unsatisfactory or violent could lead to your partner being utterly averse to sex,” Neelu says. If past sexual activity or desire has brought about feelings of shame or pain, physical intimacy represents the opposite of pleasure to your partner. Sex becomes a chore at best, and an unwanted violation of your space and body at worst.
11 Signs That Tell You When To Walk Away From A Sexless Marriage
As you can see, the absence of sex in marriages is not only common but also can be brought on by a host of factors. Which begs the question – when to stay and when to walk away from a sexless marriage?
Well, broadly put, if the lack of intimacy is the result of factors beyond the control of either spouse and you continue to be very much in love, you can survive in a sexless marriage without cheating. However, if you are toxic as a couple, then sexlessness may be a symptom rather than an issue unto itself. In such circumstances, it is best to walk away from marriage and rebuild your life.
Related Reading: 5 couples from literature who have endured sexless marriages
Here are 11 signs that tell you when to walk away from a sexless marriage that is triggered by unhealthy relationship dynamics:
1. Your partner is not ready to seek help
The first sexless marriage advice that any expert would offer a couple would be to seek counseling or go into couple’s therapy. However, if your spouse is reluctant to take that initiative, there is little hope that you will be able to remedy the situation as a couple.
If the lack of sex is taking a toll on your relationship and one partner is just not ready to seek the necessary help, you have no choice but to walk away from marriage.
Robert and Molly had been married a few years and their sex life had become abysmal. Worse, Robert refused to discuss it or go to therapy. “Getting no intimacy in marriage from my husband is hard enough,” Molly said. “But he wouldn’t even acknowledge it, let alone talk to a professional, which only made it worse. There was times when I felt my sexless marriage is killing me.” Molly eventually filed for divorce.
One sexless marriage effect on a husband could be a feeling of inadequacy, explains Neelu. “Again, the male ego could take a hit in a sexless marriage, feeling that he is unable to please his partner. This same ego prevents him from discussing it or seeking help.”
2. Therapy hasn’t helped
Perhaps, you and your spouse gave therapy a chance but haven’t had a breakthrough in your sex life. You desire sexual intimacy but your needs remain unmet. It’s an indication that your issues may be beyond resolution. Staying on in such a marriage will only bring you unhappiness and turn you into a bitter person. The risk of sexless relationship depression can also not be ruled out. These are some of the dangers of a sexless marriage.
To protect your mental health, it’s advisable to move on. There is no shame in seeking divorce due to sexless marriage.
3. A deadlock over different sexual interests
Shannon Chavez, a US-based psychologist and sex therapist, believes that couples have to be able to talk about their sex life and changing or evolving sexualities for a thriving sexual relationship. This becomes even more important if you and your spouse have different sexual interests. Or your sexual inclinations have diversified over the years.
However, in case you and your partner have reached an impasse over individual sexual interests, the possibility that you will be able to resolve your differences and rebuild your sex life are slim. To deal with a sexless marriage as a woman/man is tough; to be in an unhappy agreement that your sexual interests will never align could be a sign you need to move on.
4. You have mismatched sex drives
It is not abnormal for partners to go through various spells of mismatched libidos during the course of their marriage. Sometimes, this situation can become permanent. Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective Jesse Khan says that couples have to be able to address and manage this issue to be able to stay together and be happy even in the absence of fulfilling sex life.
If you and your spouse haven’t been able to address this issue, rest assured an undercurrent of tensions will take hold in the relationship.
The partner who has a high sex drive may feel rejected and hurt at their advances being turned down. The one who has a low sex drive may start to feel pressured to oblige their partner. They may even grapple with feelings of inadequacy. Eventually, this drift begins to strike at the core of your relationship, driving you both apart.
5. Sexless marriage is the result of infidelity
There is a close connection between sexless marriage and affairs. If your spouse has been unfaithful, you may find it hard to be intimate with them again. You may have chosen to stay on in the marriage in the wake of infidelity for the sake of children or certain other compulsions. But you know that something in your bond has fundamentally changed.
For Bill, his sexless marriage came as a result of his affair with a co-worker. His wife Annie was unable to forgive him and their sex life went into a downward spiral, culminating in a separation.
Sexless marriage effects on a wife or a husband can be manifold. If it’s a result of infidelity, it leads to trust issues. You haven’t been able to forgive your spouse for their transgression. So, your marriage is on shaky ground as it is. If you’re looking for an answer to when to walk away from a sexless marriage, this is a classic example of when you should take that leap.
6. Lack of sex has led to unfaithfulness
The link between sexless marriage and affairs is a two-way street. Not only can an act of cheating drive life partners apart sexually but a lack of sex can also push one or both spouses to seek gratification outside their marriage. This can happen for a host of reasons such as mismatched libidos, underlying relationship issues and a lack of attraction.
“It’s difficult to deal with a sexless marriage as a woman/man,” Neelu says, “It’s also tough to explain to the outside world why you’re walking out and why physical intimacy is important to you. Many couples settle to a mutual sexless option for societal reasons. And mostly, the need for physical intimacy is met outside the marriage.”
Whatever be the cause, if either of you is crossing that scared line of fidelity in search of carnal pleasure, your marriage is done for. Now is when to walk away from a sexless marriage.
Related Reading: I’m stuck in a sexless marriage for the sake of society
7. Sex is being withheld to exercise control
One of the dangers of sexless marriage is that it can be used to exert control or pressure on one of the partners. In toxic relationships, sex is often used as a weapon to exercise control over one’s partner. If your spouse or you use sex to manipulate the other, withholding intimacy as a form of punishment and rewarding desired behavior with occasional sexual engagements, your relationship is infested with deep and serious issues.
It takes a lot of consistent and committed effort from both spouses to turn around from such a rabbit hole. Unless you’re both committed to making that effort, stop coping with a sexless marriage and walk away.
8. You resent each other for your sexless marriage
When desire or inclination to engage in sexual activities has diminished on only one side or both partners want sexual intimacy in their own ways, it can lead to deep-seated resentment in the marriage. For instance, say your spouse has been making overtures but you have been turning them down consistently.
Or you want to try BDSM techniques but your spouse just isn’t up for it. Over time, you will give up trying to get the other person on board. Perhaps, even make peace with a sexless existence. However, when that desire is fired up within, you will feel nothing but resentment for your spouse.
If that’s where you’re at or headed to, it may be time to consider seeking divorce due to sexless marriage.
9. Sexlessness is the symptom of other issues
Have you stopped engaging in sex with your spouse because your marriage is riddled with issues? Perhaps, there is some form of emotional abuse at play. Or you’re been subjected to domestic violence. Naturally, the act of lovemaking wouldn’t be a distant possibility in your marriage. After all, how can you engage sexually with a spouse who is decimating you mentally and physically?
In such a situation, sexlessness isn’t the only – or even the top – reason to walk away from marriage. You must do it for the sake of your dignity and well-being. Don’t wait until you’re left thinking, ‘my sexless marriage is killing me.’ It truly isn’t worth it.
Related Reading: Stuck in a sexless marriage and found solace with a coworker
10. You’ve fallen out of love
Sometimes, as life goes by, partners grow apart and fall out of love. They lose touch and become very different people than they used to be. It’s hard to pinpoint when the marriage took a turn down this slippery slope. But one day you realize that you don’t feel the same way about your life partner anymore. They don’t make your heart skip a beat. You don’t feel that familiar fuzziness when they touch you. Your body doesn’t respond to their overtures the same way.
Your chemistry has flat-lined and enjoying gratifying sex isn’t a possibility in such a scenario. If you thrive on healthy sex life, it may be time to consider moving on to greener pastures.
11. You desire sex, just not with your spouse
Do you look at a co-worker and suddenly feel all your blood rush to your loins? Do you fantasize about people other than your spouse when self-gratifying? Are you gripped with an unshakable thought of if only you could experience one night of mind-blowing, passionate sex with someone you desire?
Then, the writing is on the wall – it’s not your ability to have sex that’s taken a hit but your perception of your spouse. You are no longer turned on by them. As desire continues to build up inside of you and you can’t find a healthy outlet for it on account of being confined by the norms of monogamy, you will begin to see your marriage as a burden. It’s better to set yourself and your spouse free now than to continue flogging a dead horse.
Women may feel constantly guilty for walking out of a sexless marriage, since sexual fulfilment is often still seen as a privilege for them. But, that’s all the more reason to stand up and voice your needs. And it’s okay to leave a relationship that’s not fulfilling you in every sense.
“I don’t think it needs to be time dependent,” Neelu says. “If sex is a priority for either partner in a marriage, and it is not being fulfilled at all, the option to walk out is there at any time.”
So, when is it time to walk away from a sexless marriage? If you can relate to more than a couple of these signs and feel that your platonic relationship dynamics are beginning to hamper your quality of life, it’s best to snap the chord and find a way to heal.
If there is a mutual understanding between a couple and both are comfortable with an asexual co-existence, sexless marriages can last for decades.
Yes, a marriage can survive if both spouses still love each other and are in sync about lack of sexual intimacy.
Expressing love and affection through non-sexual touches and gestures, finding means and ways to connect on a deeper level and inculcating other forms of intimacy are some ways in which you can survive a sexless marriage without cheating.
If sexlessness is the outcome of unhealthy relationship dynamics and you feel that it is beginning to hamper your quality of life, seeking divorce over a sexless marriage is justified.