What does it mean when couples stop having sex?
Is good sex crucial to a good relationship? If your sex life changes, is it a sign your relationship in trouble? These are some of the most frequently asked questions about intimacy in a close relationship. If you’re wondering if stopping sex means your marriage might be on the brink of a serious breakdown, you’ll want to read this article. In today’s blog, I discuss what happens when couples stop having sex; and I spoke about this on ABC Radio (Melbourne) recently. You can listen here: http://bit.ly/WhatHappensWhenCouplesStopHavingSex. Listening time: 12 minutes.
When couples stop having Sex: Is your marriage in trouble?
Does stopping sex means your marriage is in trouble? If you’re reading this, chances are you are concerned about a change in the relationship in terms of physical intimacy or sexual closeness. Working with Couples In Crisis for over 20 years, I see plenty of couples who seek professional relationship counselling due to changes in their sex lives. However, it’s usually only one partner who calls in a professional when they’re concerned about the lack of sex. Sometimes the other partner doesn’t really want to address what’s really wrong; or knows what’s wrong but can’t find ways to overcome it. Relationship coaching sessions can really help a couple get to the bottom of the issues — without blame and without fighting.
One wants sex, the other doesn’t – a common scenario
If enjoyable sex stops completely in a marriage or primary relationship, usually only one of the partners is okay with the abstinence factor. Sexual abstinence is rarely a mutually-approved change in the relationship. It can also cause ongoing friction in a relationship, and leave people feeling hopeless or physically and emotionally abandoned.
So is ongoing sexual intimacy necessary for the survival of your marriage?
The importance of sex in a marriage can vary from couple to couple, and person to person.
The answer I’ve seen as a marriage counsellor, however, is that ongoing sexual intimacy is most important. A lack of intimacy or a change in intimacy can either indicate, or otherwise lead to, one or both partners seeking affections elsewhere. It doesn’t always mean one person is having an affair – it could mean something else entirely. But it might, and it’s best to get to the real reasons sex has stopped, rather than ignoring the issue over time. With saving a marriage, time is a crucial factor when it comes to getting help. Don’t wait until it’s far too late, when one partner is solidly moving on (e.g., leaving) or totally uninterested in trying to get the underlying issues resolved before frustration, or resentment, build up to dangerous levels of relationship conflict or turmoil.
A lack of sex in a couple’s marriage, that persists for many months, is likely a sign of underlying conflict. Changes in sexual intimacy in a marriage can lead to hostility, resentment, chronic fighting or divorce.
Typically, but not always, it’s a sign that something’s gone wrong with the nature of the connection in the relationship.
Sex is not only about physical intimacy. It’s so much more!
- Sometimes it’s only one of the people in the marriage or primary relationship that’s upset by the change in sexuality.
- This discord, however, only worsens the distance between the couple.
Many people seek marriage counselling and /or sex therapy for concerns about their sex lives. And rightfully so.
- Intimacy difficulties (or sudden changes in the nature of sexual relationships) often spell trouble in the marriage.
- They tend to lead to ongoing resentment; power plays, threats of divorce, actual separation and fighting.
- Fortunately, an expert relationship counsellor can certainly help by assisting the couple to identify, without blame, the reasons for the changes; and find love again.
So what does it mean when couples stop having sex? Is sexual intimacy CRUCIAL to the survival of your marriage or relationship?
Certainly, sex frequency changes over the course of a marriage or other long term relationship. But losing sex altogether — other than during times of immense stress or serious illness — is typically a sign of a failing marriage..
While there are exceptions to the rule, the general answer to ‘is lack of sexual intimacy a sign your marriage is in trouble?’ is YES; from what I’ve seen as a Couples Coach and Psychologist to more than 3,800 couples over close to 3 decades.
I’ll be discussing this very topic – What it Means when Couples Stop Having Sex on the ABC Melbourne radio. When: Sunday, the 30th of June 2019, around 11.00 am. Please tune in to your local ABC radio show on health and wellness, with Libbi Gorr, this Sunday Morning (the show starts at 10.30 am).
Please tune in on Sunday!
Here are some pre-show teasers about intimacy changes in a marriage!
When a couple stops having sex (what it might mean to your marriage)
Firstly, sex is NOT the only form of intimacy a couple can have. In fact, there’s emotional intimacy, non-sexual touch, massages and other forms of sharing.
However, sex is one key way that most couples share their emotional warmth, as well as physical selves.
While there are exceptions, no sex at all for a long time (or sudden changes in a couple’s sex life) often spell trouble for the relationship or marriage. These situations also don’t tend to self-resolve. They tend to benefit most when a neutral 3rd party, caring and trained to help, and particularly someone who doesn’t ‘take sides’ — assists the couple to gain confidence to actually address the issues at the root of the changes in their sex life.
Procrastination doesn’t help. If the dynamics that lead to a lack of sex become ingrained or the object of relationship turmoil, they simply are unlikely to resolve without assistance. But typically the person not interested in sex is the one who avoids the difficult discussions. As a marriage counsellor and relationship coach, I help couples open up their dialogue. I help them become authentic about what’s really going on; with a focus on healing — and authentic communication. Sometimes, they’ll make a decision to leave. But with the right coaching, I believe over 90% of marriages can be saved and revived to a relationship that thrives..
Why is sex so important in a relationship?
Often these issues have little to do with sex. But sexual intimacy is the area where relationships suffer.
Once sex is gone in a relationship, the marriage is often in real trouble. Either distance builds, or one or both partners are upset at the lack of physical intimacy and becomes resentful, angry or increasingly distant. Not just in bed, but in the overall relationship. It gets really uncomfortable for both parties. And yet if they address it early enough, they can often heal the rift or make a well-thought out decision. Here’s an overview of why sexual intimacy is so important.
Sexual intimacy is often an indicator of closeness, comfort and connection in a relationship or marriage.
When couples stop having sex, affection is definitely reduced or may become non-existent in the marriage.
- Lack of sex might mean many things. Busyness, distraction, unhealed conflicts, and so forth.
- But the end result of a lack of sexual intimacy in most relationships is a lack of affection.
Affection can be given in other ways. In fact, everyone is said to have a particularly favourite ‘love language.’ For some, its being told you’re loved and appreciated; for others, it might be actions — bringing home your favourite takeaway meal, changing diapers or taking out the garbage without being asked.
However, sex is — for most individuals in relationships — a primary indicator of closeness, comfort and connection. If there’s no sex in your marriage, your sense of closeness and connection, your very comfort, seems taken away.
- That noted, sexual intimacy is one of several key factors in a relationship.
- Not all close bonds require sexual intimacy,
But if good sex was once a key part of your relationship, and your sense of connection to your partner; and it’s now ended — this often spells trouble lurking far beneath the surface. Or perhaps one or both partners has had an affair, and the betrayed partner has difficulty trusting again.
One or both partner’s isn’t happy about the lack of physical intimacy or a changing sex life — because they miss the comfort and the closeness, even more than the physical pleasures.
No sex = no loving pleasure = no emotional warmth = a relationship starved of affection
Simply put, sexual changes and a lack of sex in a relationship = a relationship starved of nourishment.
There are exceptions. But overall, unless both partners are happy with the changes in sexual frequency in a relationship; especially with a total lack of sex in the marriage — then the relationship’s either IN trouble, or headed for trouble. Or much more vulnerable to an affair, divorce or other drama no one really wants to have to confront.
When couples stop having sex, are they heading for divorce?
Outcomes in a marriage where the sex has ended, or significantly reduced in frequency, can vary. Sadly, many couples live in sexless marriages and are unhappy, but fail to seek help to sort out the underlying distance issues or confront the reality that things have changed.
Some people stay together for convenience, assets or the sake of the kids or grandkids (or because their culture prohibits a divorce). But this can be a miserable existence.
Others have affairs. And some just live with what feels like a major gap in their relationship; which eats away at their self-esteem and confidence.
The solution is to get some help, as a couple, to see what can be healed, resolved and repaired. Sure, finding a good divorce lawyer is easy than finding a good marriage counsellor, but why wouldn’t you give it a chance to heal if you could? — and the way I help couples has proven very effective to bring couples back to love, close comfort and harmony in their relationships.
Importance of Physical Intimacy in a Marriage: Sexual intimacy can change throughout a marriage.
It doesn’t always mean your marriage is in trouble. But long term absences of sex in a marriage — when one partner wants sex and the other partner doesn’t — are often signs of trouble in your relationship.
My suggestions are these:
Couples who stop having sex need to pay attention to the underlying changes in the relationship.
They need to learn to openly communicate and work through their relationship stresses, with the aim of rebonding, repairing and healing.
An expert marriage counsellor or coach can assist in bringing about honest communication between two partners while minimising the anger, blaming and resentment that gets in the way of relationship resolutions and genuine healing between a couple. If one partner is set on leaving, then a relationship counsellor can at least help the couple understand what would otherwise leave them in a less resolved state of mind; but even when a person feels they’re ‘done,’ it’s amazing what honest, professionally-facilitated communication can accomplish for a marriage.
Sexual intimacy in a marriage or primary relationship – understanding the impacts of changes
- Sexual intimacy may ebb and flow throughout a marriage.
- Short term changes are to be expected and may be influenced by what’s going on in life. Kids come along, people get busy with work, a parent dies or some other trauma takes away libido (temporarily).
Life changes impact the normal ebbs and flows of sexual intimacy in a marriage and are of a temporary nature where sex stops for a short period of time, or slightly tapers off but still occurs at least monthly.
What I’m talking about here is when couples stop having sex altogether, or have sex very minimally, perhaps every 3 or 4 months, over an extended period of time.
Here’s what can happen when intimacy becomes absent in a relationship. I’m sure, if you’re reading this, you can probably relate! (But call me, using the links below, to see if your scenario might benefit from my advanced form of couples master coaching.)
Sexual intimacy frequency and relationship impacts: Marriages in Trouble
Relationship dynamics at the mild impact stage of changes in sexual intimacy (sex frequency) in a relationship or marriage:
- partners disconnect
- they become either tolerant or quasi-resentful housemates and co-parents
- they feel that ‘something’s missing’ and wonder if ‘that’s all there is’
- Signs: one or both partners feel unappreciated, even unseen or unnoticed, as a sexual being
Relationship dynamics at the medium impact stage of when sex stops in a marriage (sudden or long-term abstinence):
- partners become irritable, intolerant, highly resentful, miserable cohabiting co-parents
- there tends to be a lot of anger or hostility (‘cold-shouldering’) in the relationship
- daily tension between marital partners tends to create a bad example for their kids
- the tension can escalate and there may be frequent fights about it
- one or both partners feels neglected and shut-out
- Signs: conversation is very laconic (terse), involves only logistics OR leads to more intensive, shut-off arguments
Relationship dynamics – at the high impact end of what it means when a couple stops having sex (e.g., after 1 year or more of no sex at all):
- marriages or relationships are in a state of either:
- high conflict, fiery attacking or defensive distance
- high levels of resentment, cold, self protection
- downright misery, cold distance, no heart connection anymore (feeling miserable in the marriage and confused about what to do; or making plans to exit the relationship; or soothing oneself with an affair or workaholism or being away a lot)
- One partner is frequently bringing up the topic of divorce or threatening to leave
- Partners are complaining to others about the lack of sex
- some make crude jokes at work or in public about never getting sex
- others feel too embarrassed to discuss it or want to ignore the concerns
- Signs: one partner, but likely both partners, feels terribly miserable OR the couple acts in ways that are noticeably cold and distant
At the high impact stage or marital state, couples can barely stand to be around each other.
Others notice and often feel uncomfortable around them. One or both partners may start flirting with others in the social circle and avoid their partner. They may feel miserable, but are staying together — temporarily in their minds, typically — for the sake of the kids, the business, family cultural pressures, the lifestyle or fear of losing assets in a divorce.
So what can be done for couples who have stopped having sex?
After helping over 3,800 coupes I am unapologetically one of Australia’s most experienced Relationship Psychologists and Couples Coaches, meaning I’ve worked for over 15 years, exclusively with Couples on the brink of break up due to high conflict, infidelity, disconnected, or who have broken up and want to rescue, repair and recover. I’ve worked with over 3,800 couples to overcome their conflicts, including intimacy changes, with 90% of my Couples reporting a positive outcome after my guidance. To be clear this is where both partners wanted to repair, where both partners were still living in the same home. I followed up after 2 years.
I trust you found this article about sexual intimacy changes helpful.
I look forward to guiding the repair of your relationship (but don’t delay, the longer you wait, the less likely it will be that you can repair the relationship damage or overcome the difficulties in your relationship).
Dee Tozer, Couples Coach & Psychologist
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