How Silence Led to a Sexless Marriage (Installment #3)

sexless marriage

Welcome to the 3rd installment of the Making of a Sexless Relationship series where we witness one couple’s sex life change from a rich landscape of possibility to a place devoid of sensual/erotic pleasure. And, in the process, where we can learn more about our own sex lives and learn how to avoid the pitfalls this couple has encountered.

Unfortunately, what happened to Becca and Hugo isn’t unique to them. Couples from all walks of life have similar issues in the bedroom. And let’s be clear about this: the problem isn’t that they are no longer having passionate sex. Rather, the issue is that they rarely have any sex at all (passionate, mild, or otherwise). When the passion in a long-term relationship wanes, a couple can still have meaningful sex: sex that is pleasurable; sex that helps to build emotional closeness; sex that is an expression of the love a couple feels.

Over an eleven-year span, Becca and Hugo went from being a couple who openly discussed their sexual needs and desires to a couple who stopped communicating about sex altogether. And, just as troubling, at some point in their relationship they stopped seeing one another as sexual and sensual beings. Like many couples, Hugo and Becca unwittingly sanitized the relationship and stripped it of its sexual potential.

Sex went from a deeply intimate experience they both cherished to a taboo issue they didn’t know how to approach, and ultimately, landed in its final resting place as a non-topic.

How a Passionate Relationship Turned into a Sexless Marriage: Derailment # 2

In the previous relationship advice article we discussed the emotional wounding Becca felt when Hugo rejected her sexual advance. It was the way he said “no” to her sexual invitation that caused Becca to emotionally retreat. She felt humiliated. She felt stupid. Feelings so all-consuming that they smothered her libido, choking its erotic energies.

Becca began withholding parts of herself from Hugo. Not out of spite, not out of resentment. She went into self-protective mode, and at some point this took on a life of its own. This is evident in the following exchange between the couple:

Becca: Why would I talk about it? What good would it do?

Hugo: Geez, I’d like to think I’d be sensitive to what you were feeling.

Becca: You made it very clear long ago that you don’t find me attractive and that I’m too much for you sexually. So why would I put myself out there like that again? Why would I give you the opportunity to hurt me again? I’m no longer mad about it, Hugo. I just feel better this way. It’s better for me.

This relationship derailment has two parts to it.

First involves the obvious avoidance of issues and feelings that should be addressed. Shutting down our emotional self in this way has a dramatic impact on a couple’s sexual life. Sexual intimacy is imbued with feelings, and the ability to be emotionally open during sex elevates the experience to new heights for couples. Because Becca turned off certain feelings, she could not be fully present when they did have sex. As a result, sex took on a mechanical quality—love-making turned into discrete sexual acts that felt good physically but did little in the way of fostering intimacy.

The second part of this derailment is the distortion created in Becca’s mind about what motivated Hugo to say “no” to her sexual advance. She interpreted his harsh “no” as an indication that he was not attracted to her. Once this became her psychic reality, the wall that separated their libidos became impenetrable.

Here is Hugo’s response to her statement that he doesn’t find her attractive:

Hugo: Oh my God, that is so not true! How long have you felt that way? I don’t remember much about that evening, but I was probably just tired and stressed about work. That was about me not being in the mood, it had nothing to do with you or how I feel about you!

What is evident here is that when we do not communicate about the impact our partner is having on us—especially when this impact is negative—distortions about our partner’s motives can run rampant. Becca placed a gag-order on herself because she was certain about her conclusions. But if we take Hugo’s statement above to be his truth (and that he is not just trying to make Becca feel better), then her distortion of his motivation was never given the opportunity for correction.

Over the years, I’ve seen similar patterns play out for many couples. Buried feelings and mounting emotional wounds that are never talked about (or are talked about in ways that just lead to further wounding) have a dramatic impact on a sex life. Intimacy in marriage doesn’t just occur in the bedroom. In fact, it often lives and dies outside the bedroom.

This is why when couples ask for help on how to spice up the bedroom, I always ask about how they communicate and relate to one another outside the bedroom. For Becca and Hugo to improve their sexual relationship they need to focus on improving their communication skills. Many couples find this answer unsatisfying since they want a direct, tangible solution that they can immediately implement in the bedroom. But if fulfilling sex centers around giving all of yourself to your partner and being emotionally open enough to receive all of him/her in return, how can it be otherwise?

Stay tuned for the next installment of how Becca and Hugo work toward re-establishing sexual intimacy.

(Featured image courtesy of Nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)