I don’t understand why but, recently, the number of sexless marriages reported by the couples that I see is on the rise. Indeed, the lack of physical intimacy between spouses and committed partners has becoming a major source of concern and which sometimes results in break-ups and divorce. National statistics show that , as of 2019, as many as 15 to 20% of marriages surveyed are sexless. (A sexless marriage is one in which the couple reports having sex less than once a month,) This statistic is shocking because , as little as ten years ago, only 2 to 5 % of marriages were classified as sexless. In addition, one wonders if the stressful effects of COVID-19 has made the percentage even higher.
Typically, there are always some couples who don’t have sex from time to time. The most common reasons married people report are obvious. The demands and stress from work, marital conflicts, exhaustion from raising children as well as having impairing medical conditions top the list. Others experience a significantly diminished libido because of depressive disorders or the effects of medication.
In a sexless marriage ( or any long term relationship) , however, the loss of interest is neither transient nor obvious . While it is unclear why this dramatic and long term drop off has occurred , unresolved anger and resentment are always serious factors which can interfere with normal marital relations. Submerged anger can literally block erotic neurological impulses and leave a person without romantic desire. Let me explain.
Part of the loss-of-desire problem lies within our basic brain physiology, viz. both sexual desire and the experience of fear/anger are located on the same circuit in the brain called the limbic ring. Anthropologists tell us that, for survival , brain development gave priority to fight /flight responses over sexual arousal. For example, if cave dwellers were having sex and a wild and dangerous animal intruded, the couple needed to switch from erotic activity to defending themselves. Today, although wild animals rarely interrupt, feelings of anger can interfere with and shut down normal arousal patterns.
While unpleasant, most folks are aware of their anger and are able to deal with it directly and openly with their mate. When anger is acknowledge and discharged , the blockage of arousal is resolved and feelings of desire return . Some , however , for a variety of reasons, need to avoid anger and open conflict . As a result they deal with resentments and frustrations in an indirect way which is called passive aggressive. This submerged resentment can be the culprit which steals passion from a relationship.
Passive aggressive folks are often individuals who have learned to fear direct expressions of anger and have figured out how, sometimes unconsciously, to to dodge open confrontation. Instead of consciously feeling anger and communicating their feelings of frustration and displeasure to their mate, passive aggressive reactions may express their anger in indirect ways which are confusing to their partner. This For example they may verbalize agreement but behaviorally frustrate their mate by not doing what they said they would e.g. when a person, who agreed to taking out the garbage, does not. Anger was indirectly expressed by not doing what the mate wanted or expected to be done. This tendency is common and especially true when it comes to sex. What makes treatment for this situation difficult is the fact that, when asked about their feelings of anger, the one who acts passive aggressively is initially unaware of his/her hostile or resentful sentiments and often denies having any such feelings.
Fortunately, for couples who wish to address this situation, a lot can be done to resolve the problem and restore normal feelings of attraction and excitement. If the lack of sex is an issue in your relationship and you wish to do something about it, here are some questions to think about and discuss with your mate to get you started:
- Do you still have sexual feeling apart from your partner ? Do you masturbate ?
- Have you been checked out by a urologist to make sure that there is nothing wrong medically, hormonally or psychologically?
- Do you have difficulty feeling or expressing anger ? If so, think about how you feel about and learned to express anger .
- Why do you think you stopped having sex with your partner ? If you aren’t sure, think about what was going on in your life when you stopped having sex with your mate.
- Did you experience a death or other kind of major loss around the time that you stopped having sex which has not been professionally addressed ?
- Do you secretly blame your partner or hold a grudge against your mate for something which has been frustrating for you?
If you have lost the urge or are not having sex with your partner but would like to resume sexual relations with him or her, don’t despair. As long as you both still love each other and have not given up, it is not too late. But, don’t wait. Start talking to him/her, now. It is not as difficult as may imagine. And, if necessary, don’t be afraid to call a qualified professional for help.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC
Image acknowledgement and attribution: AtShould You Stay in a Sexless Relationship? (brides.com)