If you are living in a sex free marriage, you are not alone. The Huffington Post
recently spoke to a few women (last names have been withheld) to talk about what is really going on behind closed doors.
Heather, 32, says she and her husband have a great marriage. They have been married for 10 years and have a lot of fun together. They just don't have sex.
She says that when they met 15 years ago, they were having sex at every possible moment but 2 years into marriage, the frequency of sex began to fall off. It went from multiple times a week, to once every few months to once a year with Heather being the only one initiating the encounters. Heather is not happy and her husband isn't interested in sex and doesn't want to talk about how to fix the situation.
"I get a variety of answers," Heather said. "He's not in the mood; he's tired; he has a stomachache."
She believes low testosterone may be the culprit but he refuses to see a doctor and gets defensive or shuts down completely. Heather has told him that it all makes her feel unattractive and like they are just roommates. In the end, she's stopped trying. She's tired of being rejected.
Women may not be relying on their husbands to instigate sex but it doesn't mean they are immune to the shame and mortification that comes from being rejected. Stereotypes still abound. It is hard to shake the stereotype of the horny husband and disinterested wife. If husbands aren't looking to have sex at the drop of a hat, than wives may be left wondering "what is wrong with me?"
Penny, 45, met her husband 15 years ago when the were instantly attracted to each other from across the room. Three years into their marriage, she noticed he stopped wanting to have sex. Even on special occasions, like an anniversary or a birthday, her husband was turning her down.
"It was devastating," Penny said. "I never thought that I was the most beautiful person in the room, but I felt attractive and strong in my sense of who I was [before this]."
Penny's husband doesn't want to talk about it or attend counselling. Penny has gone to therapy on her own that has helped her to realize that the problem has nothing to do with her level of attractiveness. She has approached her husband calmly over the years and encouraged him to seek the medical or therapeutic help he needs but he refuses. Unfortunately, this all lead Penny to seek sex outside the marriage. She discussed it with her husband and began having sex with an acquaintance with her husband's full knowledge and acceptance. But that didn't fix the marriage. They are now separated.
Some parents notice a decline in their sex lives until their children are old enough to require less attention. This was certainly the case with Megan, 30, a mother of three. Megan was always the initiator but she found childcare draining and eventually just stopped. She said that her husband is no longer interested in sex or physical affection and doesn't even notice her anymore. She's tried starting conversations with him but it isn't working. She went as far as to suggest getting 'mommy makeover' plastic surgery but found that she felt demoralized so she's stopped forcing the issue.
"It's sort of like having to fish for a compliment," she said. "It doesn't seem sincere if you have to ask for it."
This is, of course, only half the story. Husbands feel a very profound sense of humiliation when they are unable to perform for whatever reason. Some common physiological problems he may be experiencing are erectile dysfunction, medications (like antidepressants), brain chemistry issues and hormone imbalances (like low testosterone). On the psychological end, low interest can be related to depression, stress, anxiety or problems within the relationship itself.
Whether or not men decide to get help, however, is for the most part "partner-driven," according to Dr. Irwin Goldstein, director of the Sexual Medicine Program at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego. He said that many of his patients are apathetic about their decrease in sex drive but they seek treatment for their partner who may be feeling unloved or unwanted.
In many sexless marriages, the isn't only sex -- it is the husband's lack of empathy and inability to work through the issue with his spouse.
"If there's something you really want so badly and your partner won't give you the time of day to even talk about it with you, generally that shows much more dysfunction than just sex," Rachel Sussman, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert, told HuffPost.
Having said that, she also notes that the way the wives approach the issue can make all the difference in the world. Sussman has seen women attack their husbands by saying things like "what kind of man are you?" or "what's wrong with you?" which is, of course, NOT the way to handle it.
"When you have two people who are angry at each other and who have hurt self-esteems, that is not a recipe for getting a sex life back on track," Sussman said.
She suggests that partners bring it up in a relaxed and loving setting. Over a glass of wine or after the kids have gone to bed. If the relationship is healthy, the partners will engage.
Many of the women spoken to by HuffPost reported that although they were unhappy with their sex lives, they were not willing to end their marriages.
Sussman says there is no hard and fast timeline but if after 4-6 months your partner is still throwing up walls and refusing to discuss the issue, you may have to ask yourself: am I willing to end my relationship over this?
If you want to make progress, you have to start with a calm and open dialogue.
"Where there's a will, theres a way," Sussman said. "It's just a matter of getting someone willing."
Have you had to have this difficult sort of conversation? What worked for you, what didn't? Share your advice in a comment.