What makes a marriage sexless?
At face value this seems like a simple question.
According to the literature, a sexless marriage is one where sex happens less than once a month.
But wait … there’s still sex happening you say?
Yep, there is. But imagine how much stress and pressure there is in this relationship.
Think about it … you’re in a marriage where sex hasn’t occurred for months (or years) and you’re approaching a moment where it looks like it may happen.
How much pressure do both people feel in this moment?
The sex almost has to be good or who knows how long it will be before it happens again. How easy is it to relax and enjoy the moment? To calmly let things unfold and follow the connection together?
What if something doesn’t work? What if it is over too fast?
How much time is spent in foreplay? Talking? Looking in to each other’s eyes? And how much eroticism is in this moment? Passion?
These types of moments are pressure cookers for relationships.
A sexless marriage includes a great deal of pain, heartache, loneliness and frustration. But … it is still a relationship. And therein lies the path to growth and intimacy again.

Marriage is designed for our growth

Growing up (differentiation) always involves balancing two basic life forces: the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness. It is your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others —especially as they become increasingly important to you.
For many people, growing up in the close confines of marriage becomes virtually impossible. It is not possible to view one’s own needs as valid if those needs appear to contradict the needs of a spouse and/or other close family members (e.g. children). It comes across as selfish or controlling.
What happens is people create a reflected sense of self, which involves needing continual contact, validation, and consensus from others in order to feel good about ourselves.
Fact is, this is how many of us view ourselves – through the prism of how others see us.
This is the elegance (and frustration) inherent in marriage relationships. And this sets up quite the quandary – how can someone think about leaving the main relationship that defines them?
This is the anxiety that creates a sense of being stuck.
To speak bluntly … the less grown up person will be so hamstrung by their anxiety that they will feel powerless to change things and will consequently stay in the relationship, even with the pain and frustration.
But, it is not only the less grown up person who may choose to stay – growing up (i.e., differentiation) is not selfishness. It is not about always putting yourself ahead of everyone else. You can choose to be guided by your spouse’s (and others) best interest, even at the price of your individual agenda.
The significant difference here is that the choice is a genuine choice – not one mandated by anxiety. And, this choice doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re being ruled by the needs of others.
For most of us, growing up does not lead to accepting more of the same because we come to realize the truth of marriage is not about soothing each other. It’s about learning to stand on your own two feet.
In a sexless marriage, the essential element missing is intimacy – and growing up involves recognizing how to achieve it.
More on this coming in part 2.

*Adapted from David Schnarch’s book Passionate Marriage