Living In a Sexless Marriage?
I was once the Other Woman in someone else’s sexless marriage. After I got dumped and had my heart badly, badly broken, I spent over six years researching affairs.
You can’t research affairs without encountering The Sexless Marriage. There’s even a certain breed of defiant cheater who decides that, since the spouse has elected to withhold sex, it is now okay to begin a brazen career of serial cheating, as a sort of secret desperado who gets off on the thrill of roaring sexual affair after roaring sexual affair.
(You stumble across a whole lot of revelatory stuff when you endeavor to really understand the affair-prone marriage.)
So, people miserable in sexless marriages:
Here is what this former Other Woman has come to understand after seven years of research.
A.) Sex Isn’t The Point. It Really Isn’t.
I know, this is extremely difficult for someone dying for touch, passion, sex, orgasms to get their mind around.
To try to help you out, I would like to direct you to Exhibit A.
Notice how the train of each person’s entire thought here sounds like this:
“Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex.”
But … if you look a little closer …
You will notice the phrases like:
“Also, my husband and I have a very functional relationship and I now know that I must look to my friends to meet me (sic) other needs — to be listened to, to empathise (sic) with me, to make me laugh, frankly! Spending an extended period of time just in his company would be extremely difficult for me and would put a big strain on our already fairly fragile relationship.”
“I get far more out of my other friendships”
“He is genuinely a nice guy — fairly kind, reasonably supportive etc, and we never ever do anything so emotional as have an argument. Heaven forbid he could show me some emotion. It is just rather like living with an empty box…..”
And elsewhere in the same forum …
“Although he cares for me and says he finds me attractive and is in love with me, he never shows me the affection I crave such a holding me (sic), kissing me or saying anything that would make me feel desired.”
“Whenever I ask him questions about our sex life etc he’ll just say ‘I don’t know’. It is really hard to find a way forward if that is the response I get.”
To the sex-starved person, the issue looks like that pink box above. That tiny, tiny print you can't read? Way down in the corner?
… when really that perspective on it is completely bass-ackwards, because the inability to do all that other connecting-kinda stuff is what’s blocking the passion and the sex.
Before my unfortunate foray into someone else’s sexless marriage, I lost my husband to brain cancer. Prior to that, I had a hysterectomy and both my ovaries removed, and experienced one nasty year where my hormones went all wonky and I had bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection practically every other week.
Nonetheless, my husband got something at least once a week, even during the weeks I couldn’t have sex, and we had sex right up until two months before he died.
How did we do that?
Well, my husband and I were each other’s best friends. We met in a creative group devoted to something both he and I wanted to succeed at, and we helped each other and cheered each other on. In addition, we had both been in long and ugly relationships with people with borderline personality disorder — his late first wife and my mother — and we both wanted better relationships so much we talked about relationships a lot.
We were honest with each other. We didn’t hold anything back.
We may not have always been happy that the other person didn’t want to do chores or took too long to orgasm, for example, but we knew what the issues were, and we talked about them.
Even when it was hard. Even when we were scared. Even when we were afraid that something the other person was doing might mean they really didn’t love us the way we hoped they would.
A hundred and eighty degrees from that, therapist Laurie Watson, author of Wanting Sex Again, tells this long, convoluted, and distressing story of a newly married couple, fresh off of hot, frequent unmarried sex, who experienced a lot of mutual hurt and misunderstanding that started on their honeymoon and ended up in a dead bedroom because they just couldn’t, just couldn’t, just couldn’t find the courage to tell one another the truth and risk hearing something they were scared they might hear.
(Notice that word courage. We’ll come back to that.)
Watson writes, “Young couples can be afraid of arguments and thus avoid the important airing of differences, which might lead to greater understanding. Part of the bubble of new love is the misconception that the two are soul mates, emotional twins. The sudden bursting of this illusion often causes the husband or the wife — or both — to begin fearing that they chose the wrong mate. Deep down, whether they’re aware of it or not, they long for a symbiotic ideal where their spouse can read their mind.”
Let’s let therapist Jacob Brown tell it. Brown says that you can’t heal a lack of sex in a marriage with a few date nights, or try to spice up your sex life with something new like BDSM toys.
“What usually kills your sex life is not a loss of desire, instead, it’s a loss of intimacy, trust, and emotional connection. That loving intimacy is eroded by unresolved issues in the marriage; including resentments, unspoken feelings, shame, and disappointment.”
(Brown writes on here. Go look his articles up … they’re good ones.)
Brown tells us that, at the beginning of a relationship, sexual desire comes from hormones and brain chemicals and the dream we have about a wonderful life together and how our partner is going to make us happy. But once we’re together for a while and real life sets in, sexual desire comes from our emotional intimacy with our partner. We know our partner as well as we know our own hearts, and we know we love that dear one we know.
That’s why we want to have sex with them! It sure was why my husband and I wanted to through all that crap.
People who can’t connect in the bedroom can’t connect emotionally with one another, either. And the reason they can’t connect in the bedroom is because they can’t connect emotionally with one another!
So, when you go harping at your partner about sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, you’re putting the cart before the horse. As you can see in the examples above, those folks who are worrying their heads off about sex have marriages that are emotionally dead as well.
They’d have to be — for these disconnected spouses, having sex would be uncomfortable. It’s just too close for comfort, for spouses who aren’t comfortable being close.
B.) So Then, What Do Y’all Do?
You do everything you can to make sure you will remain emotionally distant!
Ai, ai, ai. Look at these people on the forum.
Now we get the discussion of what to do. Inevitably, it comes down to three options: 1.) Stay and accept the status quo, 2.) Divorce, or 3.) Outsource the sex part of the relationship to someone else, either above board, as in, “I am going to take a lover and have sex with someone else,” or … um … not so above board.
And there was where I came in. (Thank fuck I had the sense not to sleep with the guy!)
Here Come The Excuses
“Ohhhh, woe, but I can’t leave!! What about …”
- The house. “I will lose my house. And it’s a beautiful home!”
- The kids. “Ohhhh, but I can’t hurt the children!” (My ex-affair partner’s “children” are in their thirties.)
- Retirement. “Ohhhh, I will lose all my money!”
- And, of course, the time-honored: What Will People Think?
Basically, what you are really saying here is that, although you are telling us you are so lonely and in so much pain and so horny you are about to die …
- A house is more important than your happiness.
- Your children believing they live in a healthy family centered around a healthy marriage is more important than … um, having them actually live in a healthy family centered around a healthy marriage.
- Money is more important to you than your happiness.
- What other people think is more important to you than your happiness.
This is when you start going around complaining about your marriage to other people and the affair partner gets drafted in.
(It’s how I got drafted in.)
Folks, Come On. Don’t Do This To The “Other” Person.
Because here is how it will go:
We come in, all sympathetic and full of love and ready to give to you. We lay out the red carpet, eager to show you all the ways we are ready to treat you better and differently than your dead-bedroom spouse.
Most of us will sleep with you and give you the best sex of your life!
And then … and then …
And then …
You don’t want it anymore!!
Here They Come Again … The “Just Can’ts.”
“Ohhhh, but I just can’t lose my beautiful house. My home is more important!”
“Ohhhh, but I just can’t bring myself to hurt the kids. The kids are more important!”
“Ohhhh, but I am afraid of being poor. I just can’t do it, money and security are more important.”
“Ohhhh, but my parents. Ohhhh, but our friends. Ohhhh, but the people at church … the people at work … our relatives … People will talk! I just can’t stand having people look at me funny.”
And you shatter our hearts into a million pieces and go right back into the same shitty marriage with the same emotionally constipated person to be “unbearably” miserable once again.
Now, how many people do we have here who really don’t want to be emotionally intimate? One? Or two?
(Actually, it’s three, but who’s counting?)
News Flash! Life Requires Courage
If you really want sex, then you really have to be emotionally intimate.
That means you put your foot down, and you come forward with courage to tell those around you who you really are.
Your kids may not be happy that the home they knew changed … but they will know the real you, not the pretend you who clawed at the four walls while they were at school out of sheer misery. And maybe they will make bold, courageous, honest choices in their relationship lives, too.
Isn’t that what we want our kids to be? Honest?
Your spouse may not be happy to hear the words, “It’s marriage counseling or it’s the highway, babe. I’m sorry, but I’m not spending my life this way, and this is just how it has to be.” But they will like it a whole lot better than finding out you were sleeping with someone else … or five or six someone elses … for ten plus years.
Trust me, no spouse wants to be lied to. If you don’t believe me, do a search on the Medium publication I run and read the stories from those who were cheated on. Nothing hurts worse than the spouse who lied about sex with someone else.
Everyone else may be hateful, spiteful, and disapproving. But, you know what? Secretly, they will envy you when you leave that shit marriage and strike out honestly and courageously to be happy.
And boy, I’ll tell you what … I was a whole lot happier myself before I heard things like, “I love you, but I just can’t do this,” and “I made my bed, so now I have to lie in it.”
If You Know That In The Beginning, Don’t Fucking Do It. Period.
But, you’re going to do it anyway. Because you know, in your secret heart, how deeply, deeply unhappy you are. And you can’t stand it.
Well, the only way out of it is to make courageous choices in your life.
NO, you cannot half-ass it by pretending to be in a marriage while pretending to be in a relationship with someone else. That is not a courageous choice. That is a choice that keeps you safe from true intimacy with anyone … while it cloaks the pain of loneliness with the fleeting excitement of sex and orgasm. (And uses the living shit out of someone else who might fall in love with you.)
A courageous choice would be to get your ass into therapy and explore what the fuck it was in your childhood that made you terrified to know your truth, to tell your truth, and to live your truth.
A courageous choice would be to put your foot down to your spouse with a timeline for either change, or divorce.
A courageous choice would be to accept less in material goods in exchange for a chance at true happiness.
A courageous choice would be to stop acting, masquerading, and pretending with other people and come out as Who You Really Are. Because when you do, you give others the courage to be Who They Really Are.
And there really is no other way to be happy on this earth.
You have to be who you really are.
It’s just the way it is.