Can You Save a Sexless Marriage?
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But the truth is, we aren’t actually entitled to anything—even when we’re committed to monogamy. Sex is sort of like a gift given from one person to the other, and it becomes truly great when both partners are equally giving. As Dan Savage says, “good, giving and game” are the three Gs that are the foundation of a great sex life.
In reality, during 50 years of a life together (some lucky ones get 75 years, imagine that!), we’re not always going to be able to be good, giving and game. Sometimes we are a flat line. Sometimes we have no desire. Sometimes we need a lot of space and don’t want to be touched. That’s life as a human. It’s messy and imperfect and trying to match two humans together is almost never easy.
I think most people recognize that this mismatch will occur at times, but they intellectualize it and don’t quite realize the impact it could have upon their relationship as a whole. And the harm done to a relationship that becomes sexless over time isn’t necessarily from the lack of sex itself, but from a fundamental miscommunication that happens which can turn a good thing toxic…and fast.
In order for me to explain this miscommunication, I’m going to have to do some generalizing. What we all know is that gender expression is an ever-shifting spectrum of masculine and feminine traits, and no one person owns the definition of what is “manly” or “womanly”. But there are some general trends we’re going to cite here in order to facilitate the conversation. Knowing that we’re generalizing, we recognize that anyone who doesn’t feel this way or fall into this pattern is just as authentic and entitled to their own way of being.
Also, while most of this article will presume that either partner can have a loss of libido, there is a unique challenge when a male partner goes through a lack of desire. While we won’t dive into the specifics of that here, please check out a unique and helpful article called “But He’s Supposed to Want it More”: The Damaging Expectation of Higher Male Desire by Hugo Schwyzer.
With those caveats in mind, let me explain how these sexual ups and downs become toxic and snowball into huge divisive issues.
First, there is a fundamental divide between the way most women and men regard sex. As traditional thinking goes, there is a saying: “Women need to have intimacy in order to have sex whereas men need to have sex in order to experience intimacy.” That’s a HUGE generalization, but sometimes there’s a kernel of truth there. My blogging partner, Eli, and I always joke about how foreplay to a man need only be his partner saying, “Wanna have sex?” His partner could look ugly, smell bad, be sick or have just eaten a head of raw garlic and he’d still want to do it. It’s a joke, but the truth is that for many guys it’s easy to get turned on and easy to perform.
For some women, all the factors have to be right. Not only do the sheets have to be clean, but her legs have to be shaved, the kids have to be away at the grandparents’ for the weekend, and Mercury can’t be in retrograde.
Thankfully, this is just a joke, but the truth behind it is important to understand. In a relationship, if one is an “always on” and the other is an “only in certain circumstances” person, the “always on” is going to have his or her feelings hurt by multiple rejections. It feels very personal. When his wife says, “I’m not in the mood, work was so stressful today,” or “I’m bloated,” the husband who is an “always on” can’t help but imagine what it would mean if he begged out of sex. To him, it would mean, “I don’t like you enough to have sex with you.”