Tuesday 16 July 2019

Ask Allison: 'being in a sexless marriage for the rest of my life fills me with great sadness'

Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships

'Sexless marriages are unfortunately common'
'Sexless marriages are unfortunately common'

Allison Keating

Q My wife and I have been married for seven years, and I could count on one hand the number of times we have had sex in the last two years. She has never been particularly interested in the physical side of things, and I was aware of this when we got married. It didn't bother me but at the same time I didn't anticipate that our sex life would become practically non-existent. I have tried to have conversations with her about this but she doesn't seem to think it's a big issue, and I feel awkward and embarrassed about bringing it up, or trying to initiate anything sexual when I know she won't want to. We are both in our mid-thirties and the idea of being in a sexless marriage for the rest of my life fills me with great sadness. What can I do about this situation?

Allison replies: Sexless marriages are unfortunately common although it's hard to believe in a world that sends the message that everyone is at it, morning, noon and night. It adds painful fuel to feelings of isolation that you and your marriage are different to everyone else's. It silences and shames people away from talking openly together about their sex lives or lack thereof.

The paradox of being saturated with this overtly over-sexualised message is that there is a distinct lack of real talk about sex and intimacy within relationships. The uncomfortable bits, the hard bits, and the parts no one really wants to bring out into the open.

So many adults are well versed in the act of sex and yet can feel immensely uncomfortable and awkward having a conversation about it, never mind knowing how to bring it up.

Usually I'd favour quality over quantity in all aspects of life, however, when you say that you have had sex less than four to five times in two years, it is worth pursuing the question as to why this is.

Sexual rejection is tough; it can be very difficult to not take it personally. That sense of connection, enjoyment of each other and oxytocin, the love hormone are wonderful marriage and relationship protectors.

Getting married doesn't magic away pre-existing issues but knowing this doesn't currently help you. This issue is most likely a much older problem with many possible origins. I know you have tried to have conversations about this before. I gently ask you, to risk having some more again. This is what intimacy is really about as you share private feelings that leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. This is the only way to connection.

The goal is to understand and be understood, from a compassionate place which can be tough when feelings of frustration and resentment inevitably find themselves uninvited into the chat.

Here are some starting questions from my book The Secret Lives of Adults that I suggest you do on your own first and then have a conversation about it with your wife:

1. Do you share similar sex drives, desires etc?

2. What type of sex life do you want?

3. What hasn't worked for you?

4. Make a list of all of the good sexual experiences you have had and why

5. What were the best and worst experiences and why?

6. Can you differentiate between casual sex and connected sex?

7. What turns you on and off?

8. What is intimacy to you and why?

9. What would you like to change about the sexual aspect of your relationship and why?

10. Does your body image interfere with how you feel about sex?

11. Are there any sexual blockers eg tiredness, physical sexual concerns, past negative or traumatic sexual experiences?

12. Do you feel confident or comfortable talking about your sexual needs?

You could give these questions to your wife, letting her know that you miss her and the connection you feel while being intimate. Ask her if she would take some time to consider answering the questions so you could start talking about this.

Compassionately say you know this seems to not be a big deal for her but this is something you would like to work on together in a safe way.

This is not an ultimatum, it is an invitation to explore and become curious about each other, each other's desires, fears and concerns surrounding yourselves as sexual beings and how that fits together for you as a couple.

You can start this conversation together; it may also be helpful for it to be facilitated through couple and/or individual therapy. I wish you both the best of luck as you begin this process.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie

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