The big trend today is to go “-less”. The grocery stores want us to go “bag-less” and bring our own totes. Companies ask us to go “paperless” and pay our bills online. Of course most of us have gone “wireless” long ago, but there is one area of married life people shouldn’t go “-less” in…and that’s sex. Yet, according to surveys, an estimated 20 million couples have done exactly that.
Sexless marriage is defined as having sex less than ten times a year. Some couples say it’s a lack of time. If that’s you, read my post on Scheduling Sex. Others say they lack desire. For those of you stuck on that one, read the posts The Desire Myth and Sometimes Sex is Just Sex. Sex is very important in a marriage and I’ve written additional articles on the subject that you should check out in the archives of my Marriage Insights Blog.
Men and women give a variety of reasons as to why they are in a sexless marriage, but there is only one real cause: They STOP. Pretty simplistic reasoning, I know. Actually, in reality it’s usually because one person in the marriage says “no” and stops. For the purposes of writing this, I’m going to say that it’s the wife. I do recognize that in some cases, it’s the husband who won’t have sex, so try to flip-flop it and apply the concepts to your marriage.
There could be serious issues such as infidelity, physical or health problems, pornography use and masturbation, past sexual abuse, etc., that lead to a lack of sex. The following advice will, mostly likely, not apply to you if you are dealing with anything of that nature. Those are much more complex issues that need to be addressed with the proper professional support and counseling, and are not the scenarios I’m talking about here. I’m speaking of much simpler and straightforward situations.
As in a recent email I received from a woman who said she cut off sex for a reason she saw as a legitimate issue: his poor hygiene. Who wants to get up close and personal with someone who stinks like last week’s garbage or visits a toothbrush once a month whether they need it or not? Another reoccurring theme I often hear is that the guy doesn’t take his time. He’s the “two-minute wonder”…if he even makes it that long! The woman doesn’t get any pleasure or enjoyment from the act of lovemaking and feels used when he just “hops on and hops off”. So she ends up saying, “No”, when he approaches her for sex.
I get it—there are genuine sources of trouble that lead to issues in the sex department. But just saying no isn’t the answer. Saying no to a guy and shutting him down causes a man to lose his confidence. As little as two or three rejections in a row will make many men back off and not want to try anymore. He’ll simply quit asking. Women fail to realize how very fragile a man’s ego is…especially in the area of his sexual prowess.
It’s not just sex he steps away from. Often, as a move of self-preservation, the guy will begin to back off emotionally, too. He stops paying attention to and stops really engaging with his wife. Most all forms of touching stop because it only leads to sexual frustration. Everything a woman wants from her husband apart from sex now goes out the window. The best example I’ve seen that shows how this plays out in a marriage is in the recent movie Hope Springs, starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. If you are dealing with a sexless marriage or especially if you have just begun to struggle in this area, you must see it. (Still playing in theaters and available on DVD December 4, 2012.)
Trust me, you do not want to become this couple. You really need to watch it to get a good picture of what your life will look like if someone keeps saying “no”. What a husband and wife go through and where they end up is really depicted well. It’s emotionally brutal to watch. All the anger, loneliness, sadness is palpable. Apparently, it was supposed to be a comedy, but there is nothing funny about the situation these two are in. The reason they are so miserable is because they allowed the marriage to die. On the eve of celebrating 31 years of marriage, they are sleeping in separate rooms, he’s angry and bitter, she’s hurt and devastated by his lack of interest in her.
She ends up scheduling a week long counseling intensive for them to attend, in hopes that it will fix the problems so they can have a “real marriage” again and end the five-year drought in their sex life. (Quick disclaimer here: I totally disagree with the lust-based practices the therapist employs to “spice up” and get their love life back on track. In the end, they find that it’s just good-old-fashioned, lust-free sex that works.)
The Streep and Jones characters go through several therapy sessions, and then spend uncomfortable evenings awkwardly trying out exercises assigned by the therapist to improve their ability to touch and reconnect with one another. It isn’t until more than halfway through the movie that the truth finally explodes when the guy says, “You’re the one who stopped.” He then explains how he, in turn, shut down in both sexual and non-sexual ways, and became disconnected and disinterested in his wife.
She admits that, “Yes, I stopped for a while” but can’t understand why he stopped after that and never restarted when she wanted him again. Like in any marriage, there were issues and reasons why she stopped. But during all their years, he didn’t know what those issues were. She never told him what she needed or wanted.
She just said, “No”.
The big problems start when you simply S-T-O-P. You can’t just say, “No”. By doing so, you risk the other person shutting down completely and eventually the whole relationship derails and dies. Your spouse must hear some version of “yes” from you. The solution is to say, “Yes, IF….” and tell the guy what it is you need from him to make this a win for both of you.
Before I get emails from people freaking out saying, “You mean women have to put out matter what!?” Take a deep breath and relax…that’s NOT what I’m saying. Of course, a woman doesn’t have to put up with ridiculous, abusive or immoral behavior from a man and “shut up and put out” as some very misguided people believe and teach.
Like the poor lady who approached me at one of my marriage conferences with tears streaming down her face. She went on to explain that her husband never talked to her.
I questioned, “He never talks to you? That can’t be possible?”
To which she drilled back, “No! He NEVER talks to me!”
I asked her how her love life was. She explained that it was fine.
“So how is it that your love life is fine, if your husband never talks to you? You mean you are still having regular sex with him?” I queried.
She cried, “Well, that’s what they teach us at the women’s conferences. That you shouldn’t turn the man down, and it’s a wife’s duty.”
I told her, “You’ve gotten some bad teaching, Sweetheart! You can still have sex with him but the next time he reaches for you, say, “I’ll knock your socks off and make you a happy boy! But first, we are going to talk for fifteen minutes.”
See, she didn’t have to subject herself to the hurtful behavior, yet, could tell him “yes”. Now, it’s a win/win scenario. I will continue explaining why this is so key to a successful marriage and more of what “some version of yes” looks like in the next post.