We’ve all been through ups and downs in marriage, and periods of time without sex can be normal. Especially in times of stress and sickness, sex just isn’t a priority, nor should it be. Think of when you have a new baby, or have an extended illness. Not only is sex not a priority during times like those, it sometimes isn’t even on the radar. Hopefully in those situations, as soon as the stress leaves, sex returns and all is back to normal.
But there is a different up and down in marriage, where it’s not really anything other than drifting apart. Typically it’s not even intentional. We are working too much, or other things get in the way. Instead of focusing on the marriage, it sort of gravitates toward the back burner, forgotten for a while. In the process, sex becomes a thing of the past. We become strangers, sometimes feeling more like roommates and married couples.
Sometimes couples can go weeks, months, or even years without having sex. Whatever a “long time” is will differ from couple to couple. While some couples seem to function okay without that component in their marriage, others definitely notice that lost side of marriage, and negative feelings start to follow.
What sorts of negative feelings can a lack of sex cause?
It lowers your feelings of self-worth
When a husband and wife are no longer intimate, one or both may start to think that it must be their own fault. Thoughts such as, “I must be too ugly or too fat,” or some other negative thought about oneself. The longer this type of thinking is left to go on, the deeper these feelings can go. After a while one or both may feel very alienated from the marriage.
It can make everyone more sensitive and more apt to fight
When sex leaves the marriage, the husband and wife tend to feel more vulnerable and sensitive. They may take every little slight very personally. Little things feel like big things. Fights may erupt. Responses may become more dramatic. Then everyone is just on edge all the time, wondering how the other will react to every little thing. It could lead to further separation from each other just to keep fights from happening.
It can zap everyone’s happiness
Of course you can be happy without sex. It’s just harder to be happy without it. Sex by itself is fun and releases some amazing hormones that increase our euphoria and relieves stress. Then if you add emotional intimacy to the equation, when two people who really love and give to each other have sex, it’s even more than just physically fulfilling—it’s emotionally fulfilling. Couples tend to get along better and be more loving towards each other when sex is fairly regular and good. When it’s not happening at all for long stretches, it can really zap everyone’s happiness.
It might lead one or both to look for love in other places
When sex is out of the picture, we start to feel unloved and ungratified. While it doesn’t justify it, sometimes a lack of sex can be the start of one or both of the members of the couple look for love in other places. “Love” can actually mean “lust” in this case. It could be infidelity, or a platonic relationship of some form with another person, or it could be diving head first into starting a new business, a club, or something else that otherwise gives the fulfillment that is lost in the marriage. In some marriages, that could also mean the beginnings of addiction to pornography.
It could be what ultimately leads to separation or divorce
Unfortunately, so many marriages end in divorce, and one big cause is sexual incompatibility. There could be all sorts of reasons for sexual issues in a marriage, but the end result is that sex has left the marriage, and the couple now feels like a failure in some way; therefore it seems as if the only logical conclusion is to divorce.
If sex has left your marriage, it’s important to not let feelings of resentment fester. Have an open discussion as soon as possible. Unfortunately, talking about the elephant in the room (lack of sex) can be embarrassing and hard to talk about. It’s important to approach the subject carefully and not point fingers. Tell the other person how much you miss them, and that you hope you can come together emotionally and physically.
If things are a little bit more complicated, it’s a good idea to talk to a marriage therapist. If your spouse won’t go with you, then go alone for now. Issues like these don’t just go away or resolve themselves. Try to work things out, but know that it can take time for wounds to heal first, and then the rebuilding process can begin.