Vail relationships: Sustaining a marriage without sex |

Vail relationships: Sustaining a marriage without sex

Neil Rosenthal
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado “-Dear Neil: My marriage has suffered for years from a lack of physical intimacy. It has finally overcome us and we are getting a divorce. Sex just wasn’t that important to my husband ” ever. Even in our 20s, he fell asleep during foreplay, or he became aroused and would then say he was tired and just wanted to go to sleep. We both ultimately agreed that it would be easier to be intimate with a stranger than it would be with each other. It’s very sad.

So a few questions for you: If a couple quits having sex, barring a physical ailment, is it always indicative of other problems in the marriage? Once a couple quits having sex for a prolonged period ” for example, if you haven’t had sex in five years ” is it possible to rekindle? Can a couple sustain their marriage without physical intimacy? Can you offer any insights as to why men will stay in a marriage that is dead or broken beyond repair ” beyond them feeling a sense of obligation in caring for their wives and/or their families, and of the fear of being alone and starting over?

Had Enough in Dallas

Dear Dallas: A fair number of couples quit having sex, or have sex very infrequently. Among the reasons: anger, punishment, loss of connection, loss of desire to please the other, lack of reciprocal stimulation (and therefore a lack of pleasure for both people), childhood abuse (and especially childhood sexual abuse), a religious upbringing that taught that sex was bad/dirty/wrong, poor circulation (which results in a lack of arousal), anxiety, growing older, feeling unappealing or unattractive, lack of confidence in being able to sustain arousal or in being able to please your partner, fear of surrendering or of allowing yourself to feel vulnerable, depression, low libido, low testosterone levels, poor romance (or a poor romantic atmosphere), not feeling chemistry or physical attraction for your partner, and allowing the relationship to grow distant, to name some of the most common reasons.

It’s entirely possible that your husband had a fear of closeness that wasn’t related to you. If you combine that with any of the above, you can see that there are potentially tons of reasons why people may quit having sex, or why their lovemaking becomes less and less frequent. So yes, it is possible for a couple to sustain their relationship with love, warmth and connection without sex, although fewer couples would say that ceasing physical intimacy is a great long-term solution.

It is indeed possible to rekindle a sexual relationship after a prolonged absence (some people that have spent years in jail or as prisoners of war have acknowledged that the hope of having sex again is one of the reasons that kept them going and allowed them to endure). But if the absence of sex was voluntary and intentional, as you described in your marriage, the general rule of thumb is that the longer it’s been, the harder it will be to reignite.

Men stay in unhappy or broken marriages for the same reasons that women do, generally speaking. There can be any number of reasons: if you feel that divorce is wrong or that it means you are a failure, because you fear it would hurt the children, to keep up appearances, for financial reasons, because you’re afraid of hurting the other, because you’re afraid of conflict, because you get stuck and cannot break free from your own inertia, and so on.

For you personally, I might recommend that you examine why you stayed in the marriage when it became apparent to you that he wasn’t interested in making love with you. Why didn’t you more strongly confront the issue and demand that he address his sexual discomfort or lack of interest? Why didn’t you insist that he take care of your needs even if he weren’t interested in taking care of his own? Figure out what happened to your voice, your needs, your power, and your feelings. What compelled you to stay once you could read the writing on the wall?

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Denver/Boulder area, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303-758-8777, or e-mail him from his Web site,

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