No-Sex Marriage? A Lack of Trust May Be the Cause

no-sex marriage

Whenever we speak of sex in marriage or long-term relationships (and the reasons for a no-sex marriage or relationship), emotional security becomes highly relevant. Experiencing emotional safety with your spouse/partner is the bedrock on which sexual intimacy rests, yet too frequently couples looking to enhance their sex lives fail to place this important issue under the communication spotlight.

Emotional security and trust go hand-in-hand. When we come to trust that our partner loves us deeply and has our best interests in mind, the footing of security starts to take hold. This “felt” security allows us to settle into our relationship, opening up more and revealing the parts of ourselves that most others don’t get to see. But trust outside the bedroom (trust in your partner’s faithfulness, his/her commitment to you, for example) doesn’t necessarily spill over into the bedroom, at least not completely.

Trust around sexual expression and fulfillment requires additional attention—attention beyond the general trust that may exist in a relationship.

No-Sex Marriage: How Much Can You Really Trust Your Partner?

“I was about 24 at the time and I was dating this guy I was really into. One night I told him I wanted to try anal sex. One of my girlfriends was really into it and she got me curious. So I finally got up the courage to ask Antonio, but his face fell and it felt like he turned to ice in that moment. When I questioned him, he said everything was fine. But within a week he stopped calling. At first I felt ashamed for wanting this…” ~ Zoe, 29 years of age

When Zoe shared her desire to try something new sexually with her boyfriend, she realized she was taking a risk (“I finally got up the courage to ask…”). While she felt she could trust him, she wasn’t completely certain how he would respond to her request. She trusted Antonio enough to risk asking, a trust that gave her the courage to venture into uncertain sexual waters.

Trust rests squarely on knowing the other, on your ability to recognize your partner in ways that offer comfort and emotional grounding. As the relationship unfolds you get to know your partner so well that you come to expect and anticipate certain behaviors and reactions from him/her. Knowing the other deeply has a stabilizing effect on us. For secure relationships this level of knowing must be mutual (knowing the other as well as being known by him/her).

But can a relationship exist squarely in the known and predictable at all times?

What happens when one partner’s erotic yearnings shift the balance from the familiar to the unfamiliar (as in, “I want to try something new sexually, are you game?”)?

When Zoe shared her fantasy with Antonio, he was taken aback. In that moment he didn’t recognize the woman he was falling in love with; the version of Zoe that Antonio needed her to be didn’t square up with her sexual desires. Rather than even consider her request as a possibility (and talk about it with Zoe), he pulled away from her. She trusted him enough to put herself out there more fully, only to have him recoil and ultimately reject her.

We all fear rejection (whether consciously or unconsciously), some of us to such a degree that we never risk showing all of ourselves to another. But trust has the tendency to scratch the itch of self-expression—it gently invites us to open up despite our fears.

The Role of Trust in Sexual Exploration and Intimacy

When trust is settling over us, two relationships are impacted:

  • The relationship to our partner (the trusted other);
  • The relationship to ourselves (we may feel safer to explore our own yearnings and desires).

Trusting another deeply allows us the opportunity to connect more fully with ourselves—it’s as if the recesses of our being are awakened and brought into the living spaces of our consciousness. The acceptance of another gives us permission to experience ourselves more fully. Sexually, this might take the form of connecting to erotic yearnings that weren’t allowed full expression before.

But we all know at some level that trust (no matter how convincing) doesn’t offer guarantees against rejection.

As a result, you can experience your partner or spouse as completely trustworthy and yet still hold back, a lingering cautiousness that never dissipates. A trusting other doesn’t automatically erase our underlying fears of criticism or rejection, even when the overall security of our union feels rock solid. To get around this dilemma, we often “test” what is allowable in our relationship by putting out feelers and seeing how our spouse/partner reacts.

Zoe might have done this by asking Antonio if he considers himself “kinky” or if he ever “thought about kinky sexual acts.” This invitation to discuss kink would have given her a bit more information about Antonio’s sexuality (his sexual predilections, what turns him on, what shuts him down sexually, what exists in the realm of sexual possibility, etc).

This informational reconnaissance may be intentional (“How do you feel about…”; “I have a friend who is into______, what do you think about that?”) or unintentional, but in either case the goal is the same:

  • We are collecting data to determine where the emotional and sexual safe zones lie;
  • We are discovering the edges of these zones and if it’s OK to push against them;
  • And finally, where the non-negotiable, “no way!” zone exists.

It’s important to note that without a foundation of trust, without the expectation of acceptance from your partner, there would be no testing, no reconnaissance, and ultimately, no self- and relationship-expansion. A trusting and accepting relationship helps to create an atmosphere that reduces self-consciousness, one of the important prerequisites for a rewarding sex life.

Here’s to deepening trust in your marriage!

Dr. Rich Nicastro

(Featured image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)