My Relationship Is Great—Except for the (Non-Existent) Sex

Dear Sarah,

I am struggling in a nearly sexless marriage—my husband and I make love only 2-3 times a year. We dated for 8 years before we tied the knot. Early on, we did have sex fairly often and it was great. That ended abruptly a couple of years before we got married. While I entered this marriage eyes wide open, I’m now feeling hopeless and empty. He doesn’t seem to want sex or any kind of physical intimacy.

Nevertheless, I still love him, we have amazing times together—and no one can make me laugh like he can. I believe he truly is the love of my life. My girlfriends and family are always saying how perfect he is and how perfect our relationship seems. I usually agree with them and feel so lucky—until I get the urge to be intimate with him. When I do make a move, it results in a fight, or me crying and him comforting me. More often, I just hold back and suffer silently.

Over the years I’ve thought about leaving him. I once asked a marriage counselor point blank if I should, and he pointed out that my sex drive seemed relatively low and that we appeared to be a pretty good match. He also described our issue as me putting too much pressure on my husband. Counseling didn’t solve the sex issue, but it was helpful to talk about it.

Am I asking for too much? I’m 32 years old, maybe sex is just not as important for a happy relationship as movies and TV and the media make it out to be?

Then why do I end up feeling so hurt and abandoned. . .?

—Rejected in Maryland

Dear Rejected,

If sex and physical intimacy are important to YOU, then they are important. While your husband might have complicated issues that are shutting him off (i.e., he’s not specifically trying to hurt you), of course his rejection feels painful. It’s normal to crave physical expressions of love, no matter how rich and wonderful other aspects of your relationship may be.

Your counselor’s assessment of the issue feels somewhat one-sided and superficial (probably more was said, but I can only evaluate based on what you are sharing). Did he also validate your experiences or just determine you were “pressuring your husband too much”? Your feelings are perfectly legitimate and shouldn’t be glossed over.

I suggest you work with your husband and a physician and therapist to get to the bottom of what’s going on—physically and/or emotionally. Could it be low-grade depression? An underlying medical condition? Some past trauma?  If you are such a great match in other ways, it’s worth working for. Unless you fully understand the root of the issue (even if it turns out he just is who he is), I don’t think you can make a fully informed decision about the future of your marriage.

The vast majority of humans thrive on physical contact. From birth, we are biochemically attuned to the loving touch of others. Perhaps you’re at the point where you aren’t even cuddling because that feels too loaded or is being perceived as an unwanted advance. This isolation can be profoundly lonely. As a first step, it’s not too much to ask him to make an effort to bring some kind of physical warmth back into your lives in a way that feels safe for both of you.

Love, Sarah

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