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First Comes Love, Then Comes…CELIBACY?! Reigniting a Sexless Marriage.

Tyler and Sam describe themselves as best friends. They value personal freedom, honest communication, happy hours and an occasional home-spun puppet show. After six years together, they feel closer than ever.

There’s just one problem: They don’t have sex.

Okay, they do have sex, but it is an awkward, drunken event that may occur three times a year. In a good year. Like many other long-term couples, Tyler and Sam have found themselves in a sexless marriage.

Round and round they have gone about this. Are there problems lurking under the surface? What are the early traumatic precipitators? Who’s to blame? Is it even a problem?

Each feels very satisfied in every aspect of their lives, except the bedroom. Despite reading self-help books, conducting extensive internet research and having conversations with friends, they still cannot come to a resolution about, well, coming.

And they aren’t alone. Recent Research found that 12% of married folks, ages 18-60, hadn’t had sex in the three months prior to participating in the survey. Given that there are a whole lot of us who choose not to marry (or were not allowed to marry until very recently), this survey leaves out large swaths of the population of long-term couples, so we can imagine the numbers are higher. Even the most casual conversations with friends can reveal a depressing trend: The steamy passion of early relationships often fizzles into a once a month (or once a year) occurrence once commitment and security settles in.

We have been told two things:

  1. Sex is an essential part of healthy relationships.

According to SF-based EMDR therapist, Virgine De Paepe, “Great sex can be a window to each other’s soul and an opportunity to grow as a couple; it can lead to more bonding, connection, intimacy and relationship satisfaction.”

  1. Lack of sex in your relationship may signal the end.

According to professor, Denise A. Donnelly, “People in sexless marriages report that they are more likely to have considered divorce, and that they are less happy in their marriages.”

But those of us in low-sex relationships don’t need to see the research to know that this is true.  We feel the agony, frustration, and despair each and every time the topic of sex comes up.

Despite having exemplary communication in every other aspect of their lives, when the topic of sex arises, Tyler and Sam’s ability to communicate devolves into name-calling, blaming and stereotyping. Their ability to hold an open point of view evaporates as each throws the other into a rigid category.

“I don’t even want to try anymore because you always reject me,” cries Sam, desperately.

“I’d hardly call asking for a (censored)job when I’m almost asleep trying!” Tyler retorts with frustration.

When this conversation comes up (though they do their best to avoid it), they cease being a team and quickly become opponents, fighting to protect their point of view – namely that the other one is the problem.

Though blaming doesn’t get us anywhere, this is often where sexless couples go when they attempt to talk about it. Why? Because initiating sex after a long dry spell is terrifying!

According to Donnelly, “Once a marriage has been sexless for a long time, it’s very hard. One or both may be extremely afraid of hurt or rejection, or just entirely apathetic to their partner.”

As much as you wish your partner would (wo)man up and solve this problem, the truth is, if you want to save your (sexual) relationship, you have to step up to the plate. As Hal Elrod says in his book The Miracle Morning, “While blame determines who is at fault for something, responsibility determines who is committed to improving things.”

Though it is extremely difficult to hold in mind, especially in the face of a personal attack, when your partner begins to blame, chances are, he’s scared. Many of us feel intense shame about losing our desire. Where we once considered ourselves to be sexual virtuosos, we now feel like fumbling hacks in the bedroom, hardly able to differentiate our partner’s head from her hoo-ha.

Though it doesn’t feel sexy in the way you once conceived of sexy (read: panties flung round the chandelier, broken glass littering the floor), taking the lead to rekindle your sex life can make the difference between staying together or drifting apart. As adults in committed, monogamous relationships, we are sometimes called upon to put aside notions of sexy or fun or impulsive and do the hard thing simply because we must.

Here are some tips for getting started on Mission: Sexpossible!

1. Keep this a secret mission.

Don’t tell your partner. Chances are, if you tell your partner, it is a test to see if (s)he will take the reigns and share in the responsibility. This will lead to the same disappointment/blame/shame cycle that you’re used to. Choose to make it yours – a clandestine mission that you will fulfill despite the obstacles that will certainly arise. Ooh, that sounds kind of sexy!

2. Do your research.

As much as I love to scoff at self-help books, if you are at a loss about where to start, I encourage you to check some out. The fact is, other people have felt just the way you feel and managed solved the problem. Don’t re-invent the wheel. This topic has been written about in many ways by many different people, so there is bound to be at least one who has an idea that will work for you.

3. Invest in an expert.

If you still can’t get yourself to budge even after undertaking a sex mission and finding your literary guide, then it’s time to invest (that is, put your money where your mouth is) and hire an expert.

Choose three therapists and set up a phone consultation. Tell them about your mission and see if talking to them inspires hope that change – your change, as opposed to changing your partner – is possible. Then set up an appointment.

(*No Excuse Policy: You happen to be reading a blog right now that has tons of therapists writing about their work, so “I don’t know how to find a therapist” doesn’t fly this time.)

The easiest thing to do at this point is to check your Facebook feed, eat a bag of Kettle Chips and then call your friend to complain that Biff doesn’t do it for you the way Hugh Jackman as Wolverine does it for you. 95% of you will do just that.

But for the 5% of you who are willing to grit your teeth, swallow your pride/fear/deathly anxiety, and commit to boning your partner, the facts are in. You can expect:

  1. Increased energy and a new zest for life.
  2. A glowing complexion – yep, fewer zits!
  3. A fabulous physique
  4. And, of course, a thriving relationship.

As always, we’re all here to help! Leave a comment below or send a message and we can be the M to your Bond in your mission of Success… or shall I say “Succex”?

Tiffany McLain

Tiffany McLain

Tiffany McLain has a psychotherapy practice in San Francisco where she specializes in working with young professionals who straddle multiple identities, be this professionally, ethnically or economically.

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