Unfortunately, levels of physical intimacy can reduce over time, leading to a sexless relationship.
Are you missing the intimate connection you once had with your partner? Or wondering why or when it faded? I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Kristine Fellizar of Bustle for an article on the ins and outs of relationship intimacy, specifically the lack of it and how a relationship gets to that point. I want you to know first and foremost that you are not alone.
Are you in a sexless relationship?
There are any number of reasons that couples get to the point where they are not engaging in regular sexual encounters. I’d say most common is the couple who is exhausted from raising a family, both working full-time jobs and trying to balance all the duties of running a household in a 24-hour day. Sound like you and your partner?
“If the partners don’t have the tools to talk to each other in a way that reduces that stress, then physical intimacy can easily be overlooked.”
We all have different reasons. For many females, sex can begin to feel like another box to check on their to-do list, especially when that to-do list starts over every day like clockwork. Women often have to make sure that laundry is done, children are fed, house is clean, and they have just worked a 10-hour shift. Men, on the other hand, feel too preoccupied with stress at times for sex to even feel physically possible. If the partners don’t have the tools to talk to each other in a way that reduces that stress, then physical intimacy can easily be overlooked.
For other couples where there has been a major betrayal in the relationship that hasn’t been resolved, sex could easily be the last thing on their mind. If the issue isn’t getting discussed, the emotional divide can grow to the point where a couple is not feeling emotionally safe enough. They could be so resentful of each other that sex is off the table.
Withdrawing from being intimate can start to feel like physical shield that protects the wounded partner from experiencing too much vulnerability. Sometimes taking sex off the table can feel like a way to take back control in the relationship especially in times where power can feel out of balance. If one partner wants to regain some power, the most effective way to do so is to control what happens with their body, which can mean removing sex as an option.
“Aging can also affect the sexual relationship.”
Additionally, some partners have physical injuries, health conditions, or mental health issues such as depression that can impair a person’s desire to initiate or participate in sex. Aging can also affect the sexual relationship. Some couples will experience challenges with desire for sex due to the symptoms of menopause, erectile dysfunction, or lowered testosterone levels in both males and females. Love growing up, don’t you?
When libido or desire is low for a person in a relationship, some couples find themselves in a pattern where only one partner is doing most of the initiating. If this happens, the initiating partner can start to feel emotionally unsatisfied feeling as if all the responsibility of keeping a sex life going falls onto their shoulders. It also hurts to feel the lack of desire even when they may cognitively understand why it’s happening.
“The ego can only handle so much dismissal…”
It doesn’t feel good to always be the pursuer because we all want to have our desires and passion reciprocated. The ego can only handle so much dismissal, and the rejected pursuer may start to shut down emotionally and stop initiating attempts, which can lead to a lack of sex.
Also, some medication side effects or physical health conditions can also inhibit a person’s libido or contribute to their difficulties in remaining lubricated, keeping an erection, or completing an orgasm. When this happens, it is can become very embarrassing for the person who is experiencing the symptoms. They may start to withdraw from having sex in an attempt to avoid feeling embarrassed or disappointing their partner.
“…if one of the team members is in emotional distress or pain, the partners need to address it openly with compassion and empathy.”
If it gets to a point that one partner in the relationship views the lack of sex as a problem, then both partners have a problem. A couple is a team, and if one of the team members is in emotional distress or pain, the partners need to address it openly with compassion and empathy. It can be innocently minimized by both partners because they’re intimidated by it or don’t know where to start to resolve the issue. Many times its not even the fact that the sex isn’t happening in the relationship but more so the lack of acknowledgement, feelings not being validated, or facing the issues that lack of intimacy can further lead to.
Now, what we’re all wondering… can this be resolved? Absolutely! If the sexual connection in a relationship needs to change because of physical limitations or loss of libido due to age, medication side effects, or chronic illness, there are still alternative ways that couples can come together to connect, generate intimacy, and create sexual fantasy and orgasms.
“Sensate touch is…introduction back into being intimate…”
If the lack of sex has happened as result of the couple not making their sex life a priority, a betrayal of trust that makes intimacy feel emotionally unsafe, or because they have grown apart, then they may want to start using a technique called sensate touch. Sensate touch is typically a four-stage introduction back into being intimate versus rushing to the finish line of achieving an orgasm right away. The fact is that when couples haven’t been intimate in some time, there is a tendency to want to make sure they have sex that ends in a win for both. This is often unrealistic if the sexual drought has been long enough because the couple no longer feels the chemistry they once did. Re-igniting a sense of familiarity, desire, connection, and intimate awareness of each other’s bodies again while taking sex off the table can ignite desire to return to a relationship.
Don’t forget to be checking in with psychiatrists, physicians, or even pelvic floor physical therapy to rule out underlying potentially correctible health issues. After ruling out physical issues, couples may want to seek support from a really informed couples’ therapist, like myself, to see if the reason for the sexual hibernation is because of emotional issues happening in the relationship.
“If one partner is willing to allow the other to be in pain…it’s often a sign that this person will not respond…”
Now, if you’ve gotten this far and are thinking to yourself, “What if my partner isn’t concerned about it?” then it could be a red flag about their willingness to identify solutions and come up with a compromise. If one partner is willing to allow the other to be in pain, feel emotional disconnection, or shows no interest in working out the issues (much less addressing them), it’s often a sign that this person will not respond or deal with any issues happening in the relationship.
A person who doesn’t show empathy, concern, compassion, or an interest in taking their partner’s needs into consideration has deeper intimacy issues than just not having sex. It’s then up to you to decide how much of a deal breaker the lack of sex is. Ask yourself if it’s a power move or if having regular sex is a healthy boundary.
“If you have decided that you want to leave the relationship, then be clear that you are taking this course of action…as a move you need to make for yourself.”
If you do in fact decide its time to end the relationship or leave, its important for you to ask for your needs in a clear and kind way. This means you don’t belittle the other person, attack their character, or provide ultimatums. If you have decided that you want to leave the relationship, then be clear that you are taking this course of action, not to punish, but as a move that you need to make for yourself. Maintain an empathetic nature with them and remember that you once deeply loved this person (and possibly still do). Short, simple sentences that reflect the reasons you are leaving the relationship and what you intend to do moving forward are often the kindest way to approach the conversations.
For many couples, having these conversations with a trained couples therapist is often the best environment so they can receive guidance on how to stay on track and end things with grace and love.
You can read the Bustle article here.