While there are certainly some couples who are able to maintain a rock-solid sex life, getting down at least a few days a week every week, most long-term relationships and marriages experience periods where couples have less sex. Life is busy, and dips are natural. There is, however, one important caveat: While quantity of sex will likely drop, the quality should increase. So what do you do if you find yourself in a sexless marriage or sexless relationship? Such a scenario is more common than many think and is often a sign of deeper relationship issues. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it definitely needs attention. Here, several sex therapists walk us through how often folks fall into sexless marriages, and how to help your relationship get back on track.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Sex After Kids
Break Down the Problem
“There are numerous causes for a sexless marriage to develop. Many times it doesn’t have anything to do with sex,” says Sarah E. Clark, a licensed therapist and relationship expert. “When couples start to drift apart, lose their connection, take each other for granted, or build up resentment toward each other, their sex life is drastically impacted. You can think of sex as the barometer of the relationship.” According to Clark, open communication is key to working your way out of a sexless situation. “To fix a sexless marriage you need to treat whatever the root cause is for that couple. If the reason they stopped having sex is strictly about them not enjoying sex with each other, then the fix is about breaking down what isn’t working in the bedroom and finding some new strategies that they will both enjoy.”
Talk About the Good Old Days
“There are so, so, so many things that have an impact on our level of desire, and it’s not always as easy to pinpoint as some may think,” says mental health counselor Erin C. Parisi. “Many relationships have people who do not have the same level of sexual desire.” She suggests individuals ask themselves what side of the spectrum they fall on. It’s also a question you should eventually pose to your partner. Try talking about what sex was like before, when things changed and what was going on around that time. “Ask your partner if they’re happy with how things are. If they could change something, what would it be? Make time to connect with each other, have fun, bond, flirt, try new things, tease, complement, and set new goals,” she says.
Figure Out the Real Issue
“The common stereotype of the husband who wants more sex and the wife who is holding out is approaching myth status,” says Michael Moore, licensed professional counselor and relationship expert at Marriage Mojo. “More and more couples are describing the reverse. Research indicates that testosterone has been falling steadily in men for decades so that could at least partially explain this trend. The first step in diagnosing and treating a sexless marriage is to explore the reason for the problem and how long it’s been going on.”
Nurture the Emotional Connection
“A first step would be working through any areas of resentment in the relationship and fostering emotional closeness through increased time together, intimate conversation, and affection,” says Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor. Fisher says feeling relaxed during sexual encounters is key to sexual responsiveness. Anxiety, he explains, tends to kill the mood. From there, he suggests setting up a sex schedule to help get things back on track. “Most couples have a discrepancy in sex drives, which can often lead to a lack of regular sex. Creating a ‘sex schedule’ of one to three times per week can be a perfect solution.”
Don’t Try to Relive the Glory Days
When I start working with parents who find themselves in a sexless marriage, I don’t tell them to go off and “just do it.” The first step is to simply help them have a better conversation about sex. “Sexual problems are so common among new parents, but discussing them in a loving, creative, and productive way is not,” explains Dana B. Myers, sex coach and author of The Mommy Mojo Makeover. “There is often an expectation that couples should just return to the same frequency and the quality of sex. But with kids in the picture, things truly have changed. But things can get better once again, and with open communication, a sex life after kids can become even more expansive and pleasurable than it was pre-kids.” According to Myers, people waste too much time talking about how little sex they’re having. She suggests getting proactive. Get to talking. If that’s too much of a challenge, think about seeking some professional help.
Avoid Acting Passive-Aggressively
“I work with sexless marriages all the time,” says Elisabeth Mandel Goldberg, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “My assumption — unless fully convinced otherwise — is that one of them has had an affair, or still is.” According to Goldberg, bedroom death is usually a good indicator that someone will be stepping outside of the marriage sometime soon. “Sexless marriage is one opportunity away from infidelity. That’s how serious it is. Couples must practice talking openly about their needs so they don’t act out passive-aggressively and cause a ton of damage to many people.”
Stop Comparing It to the Movies
“People often compare their sex lives to what they see on TV, movies, porn, or to what their friends claim to have,” says Eliza Boquin, a relationship and sexuality expert. “Way too often, people are misled into believing that everyone except them is having great sex.” If you are worried about the state of your sex life, Boquin suggests entertaining some open and honest conversation. “If you’re unable to communicate about sensitive topics like sex then it’s time to learn some new communication skills. Avoiding a topic because it’s uncomfortable is the best way to feed the problem.”