The Making of a Sexless Relationship (First Installment)

Sexless Relationship

“The Making of a Sexless Relationship” is the first blog post in an ongoing series that follows one couple through the ups and downs of their relationship as they try to make sense of their struggles with emotional and sexual intimacy. While you may not identify with every aspect of their story, there will likely be details of their struggles that may remind you of your own relationship struggles and triumphs. (All identifying information has been altered to protect the couple’s anonymity.)

“I don’t know how we got to this place. I guess if I look back hard enough, I can trace when and why things slowed sexually between me and Hugo. I knew that it was normal for passionate sex to dwindle over time, but I didn’t think I’d ever end up in a sexless marriage where we hardly even touch each other. What happened?!” ~ Becca, married to Hugo for eleven years

The story of Hugo and Becca is a familiar one to couples who have been together for any significant length of time—couples who started out strong, surrounded by a future filled hopes and dreams, only to one day find themselves emotionally lost, estranged from the very same person who once earned the title of “soulmate.”

Couples frequently try to make sense of the unraveling of their relationship, but all too often these conversations morph into finger-pointing and re-wounding rather than the understanding and mutual discovery they seek. This was the case for Hugo and Becca by the time they contacted me for marital counseling. But their emotional pain over the lack of intimacy in their marriage didn’t stop them from committing to working on their relationship. So together the three of us set sail on a journey to examine the derailments that undermined their emotional and sexual life.

The Making of a Sexless Relationship: The Pain of Disconnection (and the Pain of Failed Attempts to Reconnect)

Couples who enter couples counseling complain of different things (conflicts over parenting; money; jealousy and frustration over too much time spent with friends rather than each other; a lack of sex; poor communication, to name a few), but at the epicenter of their relationship complaints exists a common denominator in the form of a deep yearning for connection that has not been realized. These couples are lonely even though they are in a relationship with one another. There is a painful paradox that exists for couples who struggle with loneliness despite being in a relationship. As a wife once shared, “Seeing my husband daily now just gives me constant reminders of what should be [emotional and sexual intimacy] but isn’t [a lack of connection that feeds loneliness].”

Becca and Hugo didn’t describe their issues as being one of disconnection and loneliness, but most couples don’t readily see this as central to their marital or relationship problems. Out of the gate, Becca’s and Hugo’s initial complaints involved focusing almost exclusively on what the other person was doing wrong rather than what they were both needing from each other. One of their interactions went something like this:

Becca: I’m just so tired of this bullshit. He comes home from work and I ask him how his day went, and on a good day he’ll respond, ‘OK, same old, same old.’ That’s what I get on a good day when he feels like talking! On most other days he just ignores me. It would be nice to be able to talk to my husband. About anything!

Hugo: And when I do talk, it’s never enough or I’m not doing it right somehow. You know what our problem is, Doc? [turning to me] She’s never happy. I’ve tried to make her happy, but it’s impossible, so I’ve stopped trying.

Becca: [turning to her husband] How have you tried? [After he didn’t respond she continued.] And do I ask for a lot? All I want is for us to spend quality time together. I don’t want gifts or vacations or… I just want quality time. Let’s sit on the patio after work and talk. Maybe have a glass of wine. And then after he says about two words to me all day, he expects sex later that evening. Can you believe that?

Hugo: And that’s another thing, she hates sex. We used to have a great sex life, now she doesn’t even want to be touched. How do you think that makes me feel?! [Turning to Becca] You’re always asking me how I feel. Well, I feel like shit because I can’t even touch my wife without her huffing and puffing.

Becca: I don’t hate sex, I love sex! How do you think it makes me feel when you don’t even interact with me? [Turning to me] It’s like he doesn’t even like me but just wants me for sex. I’m just a warm body he’s willing to screw.

Hugo: [Shaking his head and rolling his eyes] You’re right, I don’t like you because you’re always criticizing me. Who would like that?

My office was thick with tension and hostility. If I didn’t stop them at some point, Hugo and Becca would have spent the next forty-five minutes tearing into each other. Like many couples who are trapped in a web of negativity with no GPS to guide them out, Becca and Hugo end up inadvertently maintaining the very painful status quo they both seek to break free from.

Click Sexless Relationship to read the second installment of The Making of a Sexless Relationship.

[To be continued….]

(Featured [top] image  “Couple Lying in Bed After Argument” by Ambro/