The Making of a Sexless Relationship (Installment #2)

Making of a Sexless Relationship

This is the second blog post in a series that follows Becca and Hugo, a couple struggling to recapture the sexual and emotional intimacy that once existed in their marriage. You can read the first installment by clicking sexless relationship.

Misunderstandings and conflict, and the emotional wounding that ensues, are a normal part of any intimate relationship—in short, all marriages and relationships have their ups and downs. For the couples who come to see me, however, the downs have started to outweigh the ups; connecting moments have given way to spiraling negativity; and the lingering residue of past emotional wounding seems to color present-day attempts to rebuild and move ahead.

This was certainly the case for Becca and Hugo.

The Making of a Sexless Relationship: Derailment # 1

There was a time when Becca and Hugo couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Sexual passion and frequent sex and deep conversations were the norm. Any time they touched each other—no matter how innocent or fleeting—sexual desire awakened. They even joked that they’d better keep their hands off each other because their sex life was starting to interfere with other responsibilities, especially work-related duties. It was as if their sexual orbit kept expanding, absorbing larger and larger portions of their relationship.

If you were to depict Becca and Hugo’s sexual lives in a graph, the line representing frequency of sex would ascend dramatically upwards for the first two years or so of their relationship. At that point it would level off (probably because there wasn’t enough time in the day for more sex). And then at about the three-year mark the sexual frequency line would steeply drop, indicating a dramatic change in their sex lives. For many couples, this line would gradually decline as the passion and excitement of the relationship started to level off. Let’s see how such a hot and fiery sex life could get turned upside-down so quickly.

The Challenge of Saying “No” When You Don’t Want To Have Sex and Your Partner Does

Saying “no” to your partner when s/he attempts to initiate sex is a very sensitive issue all couples face at some point in time. This delicate issue is heightened during the early years of a marriage or relationship where constant sexual availability may have been the ongoing norm for a period of time.

Emotional and sexual availability feeds an important part of a couple’s relationship: you each feel deeply desired and wanted by the other. Feeling that your partner wants/needs you sexually has a dramatic impact on the relationship that extends well beyond the bedroom. Feeling desired deepens a couple’s sense of connection and makes us feel unique and special in ways that aren’t experienced in any other type of relationship.

As the sexual frequency starts to trail off in a relationship, when “no” becomes the benchmark that replaces “yes” whenever sexual advances are made, then the potential for rejection and emotional wounding is heightened.

It isn’t that couples should only say “yes” when sex is broached; rather, it’s the way “no” is introduced that establishes the difference between creating healthy boundaries versus making each other feel unwanted and undesired.

One of Hugo’s “no’s” hit Becca like an emotional wrecking ball, causing her to feel ashamed about her sexual desires and strong libido. For some couples, sex is scheduled based on convenience; it gets placed somewhere on the couples to-do list so it doesn’t disrupt family or work life. Becca, however, decided this need to schedule romantic time was “awkward and superficial,” so she set out to change it.

One weekday evening about three years into their marriage, Becca went to bed a little earlier than usual and put on sexy lingerie she had just purchased. She called out to Hugo (who’d been watching TV in the family room) to come into the bedroom to “see something.” When he saw what his wife was wearing, according to Becca, he sighed and said something like, “You don’t want sex again, do you? I’m exhausted and need to wind down from my long day.” He then went back to the TV. Becca was crestfallen. As she described, “I felt like such a fool, like there was something wrong with me for wanting sex. I realized he was tired, but he wasn’t even open to the possibility of being seduced. I’ve never forgotten that moment or how it made me feel.”

Soon after, Becca stopped initiating sex and stopped taking the emotional risks needed for meaningful emotional and sexual intimacy. It’s as if her shame and resentments covered up her yearning for sexual expression and fulfillment. And a pattern then formed in their marriage where Hugo would periodically ask, “Hey, you want to have sex?” and Becca would matter-of-factly reply, “No thanks.” (In our counseling session Hugo said he didn’t even remember this event occurring, which goes to show you that it doesn’t take two people’s awareness of an emotional wounding to make it feel real for one partner.) This pattern led to the second sexual derailment in their relationship, one that pulled the couple further apart. We’ll examine this derailment in the next blog post.

As you can see, early emotional wounding (sometimes dramatic wounding; sometimes the cumulation of smaller ones) often sets the stage for the level of intimacy that occurs later in a marriage or relationship. While all couples are going to upset each other, it’s how these relationship derailments are handled that can make all the difference.

To be continued…

How To Spice Up Your Marriage Reflection

  • What do you think about the way Hugo handled his wife’s sexual advances?
  • How do you imagine you would have said “no” after a really tiring day at work?
  • When you don’t feel in the mood for sex, are you ever open to being seduced (open to having your “no” turn into a “maybe”)?

(Featured [top] image  “Woman Lying Disappointed” by Photostock/