Advice on the Sexless Marriage

Sept. 29, 2003 -- Approximately one of every five married couples is struggling to cope with a low-sex or no-sex marriage, according to some experts. Often, the male is the partner who has lost interest in sex. Therapist Michele Weiner-Davis worked with couples featured in a John Stossel "Family Fix" report on 20/20.

Below, she answers viewers' questions. ABCNEWS.com received an overwhelming response to the 20/20 segment. If your question is not answered here, visit Weiner-Davis' Web site at: www.sexstarvedmarriage.com.

QUESTION: Oh my God, I can't believe what I was reading. It sounds likesomething I could have written. My husband is also too tired for sex, buthe seems to have the energy to go hiking, go to a football game, orvolunteer to help someone move. I now realize that my self doubt, andfeeling bad about myself are normal. My husband also comes home fromwork, eats, and goes upstairs to either play a game or read while I amin the bedroom watching TV. I also feel neglected, unloved and ugly. Ihave been married for 26 years, no kids and feel that for the most part,the sex part of our marriage is over. I just have to learn not to thinkabout it or I just make myself more depressed. I have also given up onany effort figuring "why bother" because it seems the longer without sexmy attitude just gets worse so why bother putting in the effort.

ANSWER: It is difficult to offer advice without knowing how you've been handling your situation and approaching your husband. As I was reading your question, I kept wondering, "Does she ever really tell him how hurt she is about the lack of closeness?" "Does she ever tell him how much she misses him and longs to be close to him physically?" I know you're hurt but from your question it seems that you've just given up and closed the door to honest communication. Good marriages are built on good communication. And so often when one spouse is hurt, instead of really discussing this feeling openly, it seeps out as anger. Sometimes, communication shuts down completely and partners become like two ships passing in the night.

Don't let this happen to you. If you're upset, and its clear that you are, get help. Read The Sex-Starved Marriage and ask your husband to do the same. Seek professional counseling and go even if your husband won't. If he's reticent to seek counseling, suggest that you both attend a marriage education class. There are many in every community. You can learn skills to better communicate your needs.And if your husband's lack of interest in sex is due to sexual problems, you would benefit from seeing a qualified sex therapist in your area.

QUESTION: Oh my, that article fits my marriage to a T!!! 20 years of marriage.We are in a bad place right now, I don't see a way out!! Thanks, Jeff.

ANSWER: It's never too late to bring back the passion. I have seen couples in their later years of marriage turn things around and feel more intimate and connected than they have for a long time. Don't give up on your marriage. Identify the reasons you and your wife are in a bad place and do something to change things. Even if you think you've given up, you really haven't because you're writing for help. It's never too late to have a passion-filled marriage.

QUESTION: I use to be very interested in sex. My wife was insatiable and veryactive sexually prior to our relationship. Our sex life has slowed downfrom when we were dating. I don't find sex as a "need" as often as shedoes. I just don't need it as frequently as she does and this has led toseveral fights between us. Everything else is so beautiful in ourmarriage except our sex life. I think its my fault but I don't know whatto do to rectify it. Can you help us? I don't know if its me physicallyor mentally … I do feel pressure from my wife to have sex. We have hadsome heated arguments about her not being satisfied.O. Hernandez — New Jersey

ANSWER: O, it is wonderful that your marriage has many strengths and that you obviously love your wife. It's not uncommon for couples to disagree on the frequency of lovemaking in marriage. You're not alone. And it's often the case that when the more sexual spouse puts pressure on the less sexual spouse, it makes the less sexual spouse even less interested. But it's important for you to know that your wife's unhappiness isn't just about not having sex. She doesn't feel wanted by you. She doesn't feel loved or sexy. She wonders whether you're still attracted to her. There is a lot you can do to fix this.

Start by agreeing to see a doctor and get a complete physical checkup. She will appreciate your interest in finding a solution. Then, if she expresses interest in being physical you should, whether you're completely in the mood or not, allow yourself to be receptive to her advances, touch, kiss and fondle. See if this turns you on. If so, great. Go for it! Millions of people need to be physically aroused before they get in the mood for sex. So, this might be true for you.

If you're still not up for lovemaking, you should do something to please her. Ask her what she'd like for you to do and do it. Good marriages are built on mutual caretaking.

And keep in mind, a sexy marriage isn't just about having intercourse. In order to keep passion alive, you need to compliment her, be physically affectionate whether it leads to sex or not, flirt with her — send her a sexy e-mail or flowers — grab her in the hall and say sexy things, and so on. Treat her like you did earlier in marriage. She'll be happier and that will be good for both of you!

QUESTION: My husband and I are only 27 and we already have a lack of interestin sex. At first it was my husband who wasn't interested, but afteryears of sexual rejection I feel my sex drive dropping as well. I stillfeel that sex is important to our marriage, though. I'm afraid thatsince we're still young and your sex drive decreases with age, we areheaded for disaster. Do you recommend anything in particular foryounger couples or couples without children?Andi — Texas

ANSWER: First of all, it's important for you to know that older couples do not have a corner on the low libido market. Many, many young couples, who are busy in their lives, with and without young children, experience a drop in desire too. You see, low sexual desire isn't just a medical problem. It can also be caused by many factors in your lives including underlying issues in your marriage. Relationship problems can happen anytime in marriage. In fact, of the marriages that will end in divorce, 50 percent will end within the first four years!

The fact that you feel you are headed for disaster worries me as I'm sure it does you. I strongly suggest that you openly address the issues dividing you now. I sense that your drop in sexual desire has more to do with your fear of rejection than a disinterest in sex or your husband. You need to be courageous and confront the distance between you now so that you can reconnect to your husband and take advantage of the youth and vitality you both enjoy. Make sure your husband knows how you feel and if he won't seek help, do so yourself.

QUESTION: My husband was diagnosed over 2 years ago with a testosteronedeficiency and was prescribed a shot every 2 weeks. However, he doesnot get his shot when he should and now has not gotten it in over 4months and does not care to. He says it does not help him any. In themeantime, sex with him is a 1 minute thing in which I do all the work ashe is too tired. I do not get affection from him either. Over thesummer we had an experience with another couple in which my husbandinteracted with another woman and showed her affection and foreplay.This completely confused me as he does not act like that with me. Myquestion is: how do I motivate him to get his shot and take care ofhimself so we can have a loving relationship?

ANSWER: Start by asking him to read The Sex-Starved Marriage. So often, people with low sexual desire do not realize the hurt their spouses because of their disinterest in being sexual. The book will help him understand the impact of his low sexual desire on you and your feelings.

You mention that your husband seemed interested in another woman. Oftentimes people with low levels of testosterone feel turned on by the newness of someone other than a spouse. Unfortunately, extra-marital relationships and sound marriages generally do not go hand in hand. However, there might be something to be learned from that experience. Is it possible that sex with your husband had become very routine and unexciting for him? Are there ways you both could liven things up so he feels newness and novelty with you? Have you talked openly about what might be missing for him and what is missing for you?

Above and beyond this, it appears that your husband may be experiencing a sexual dysfunction where he ejaculates too quickly. Perhaps he is embarrassed by this and avoids sex because of his sense of failure. The good news though, is that there is much that you both can do to learn techniques for overcoming this problem. A good sex therapist can help him to gain control and last longer during lovemaking. You will learn what you can do differently to help him. If he's too ashamed to go to a sex therapist, there are many good books on the subject.

But even if he can't maintain an erection, there are many things he can do to help you feel sexy again. You should coach him as to what feels good to you, how he should touch you, what he should say to you. And let him know that you will appreciate any and all effort to connect with you physically even if you don't end up having sex. That will take the pressure off him and he might relax and show more interest in you.

QUESTION: My husband and I have an 8 year difference, he is older and now 46.We have been married for 14 years. We are viewed as the perfect couple weare attractive, successful, 2 kids....you get the picture, what a falsepicture it is. Actually everything is great...except for our sex life.When we were younger this age thing worked in his favor and I thoughtmine … till now. I thought what was going on was reflecting our agedifference, I see now it could be a number of things. After forcing himto get blood tests, I got the results yesterday. Testosterone level isFINE. Today I see your article and my eyes have been opened. Stress isvery high at this point as far as career and all other aspects of ourmarriage are pretty solid, but as you stated this one aspect is startingto creep in and sour our solid structure. Could the age thing, (my sexdrive is high) stress and his lack of desire give us a triple threat? Hehas been blaming his lack of desire on work stress for the past fiveyears. I'm feeling pretty self conscious and feel like I should bewearing a sack on my head, because no one would ever think of sleepingwith me, well, not no one, just my husband. We also have 2 girlshitting early teen years which adds more stress! Whether this e-mail goeslive or not, I am thankful to have found your article! THANK YOU!

ANSWER: I'm glad you found the article too and I hope you've made it to my Web site, divorcebusting.com. It sounds like you have so much going for you, it would be a shame to let it get ruined!! Your family sounds like a typical American family these days. You both have stressful schedules and throw into the mix your kids — testy teenagers, at that — and you've got a situation that isn't exactly an aphrodisiac. There could be many reasons your husband isn't feeling amorous.

For starters, just because his testosterone level is normal doesn't mean that there isn't some other underlying medical condition. A thorough check up is a good place to start. If no other medical issues are of concern, the problem may be due to personal issues- he might be depressed or feeling anxious — or relationship issues such as unresolved resentment, anger or hurt. Since men aren't always great at expressing their feelings, he might be harboring feelings of resentment and keeping them to himself.

But rather than get stuck diagnosing the problem, I say find a solution. And in order to find a solution, you have to quit doing what hasn't been working and do something different instead. Since I don't know you or how you've approached this situation so far, it's hard for me to give you direct advice. Have you been nagging or criticizing? If so, you have to start being more loving and considerate, even if you don't feel like it. Have you been silently storming around the house or keeping to yourself for fear of rejection? If so, time to come out of the closet. You need to talk to him about your unhappiness and suggest reading a book, taking a marriage class or getting some professional help. Have you been working overtime trying to fix this problem between you? If so, you need to take a sabbatical from fixing things and focus on yourself instead. Give him a chance to notice you've stopped working so hard on your marriage and let him step up to the plate himself! Identify what you've been doing that hasn't been working and get creative!

QUESTION: Twelve years of doing everything I can to try to fix the problem of asexless/near-sexless marriage. (10-15x per year, nothing "exotic" likeoral or lights on or alternative positions) She refuses to seekcounseling, or even to talk about the subject with me. I love the heckout of her, and have used daily masturbation to stay sane and married,even as I slide into a near-constant fury at her and the inequity oflife. Average American has sex almost 120 times per year?! Withsomeone else??!!! Not as good a husband or father as I should be as aresult of this constant corrosive anger.Now contemplating adultery as a fix. If the rest of the relationship isgood, and I can get the sex/physical intimacy part from another(discreet/sane/disease-free) woman, is that a psychologically valid fix?I haven't found much research on the efficacy of adultery to fix sexlessmarriages (seriously), or on the psychological impact on the "cheating"spouse. Any thoughts?Alex - Texas

ANSWER:If you haven't done it all these years and you're writing to a complete stranger for my advice, I'd say there's probably a good reason you haven't strayed. Although it might satisfy your sexual urges temporarily or even more than that, you sound like the kind of man whose morals won't allow you to feel at peace with your decision. You will pay a high price for seeking sexual satisfaction outside your marriage. And then, let me predict, although you say you love her to heck, you will begin to justify your actions by trying to convince yourself that you don't really love your wife after all. Because if you did, how could you stray? Then, you will be headed for divorce court. In short, if you have to ask the question, you already know the answer.

This is not to say that I don't completely understand how you feel. In fact, I believe that in millions of homes across America, there is an unspoken agreement that goes like this- "I am not into sex. You are. But I don't have to care about your sexual needs. Furthermore, I expect you to be monogamous." Frankly, I believe that this is an unfair and unworkable agreement. It leads to infidelity and divorce. The remedy? People with low sexual desire simply do not fully understand the impact their decisions have on marriage. Because sex isn't "all that" to them, they can't fathom what the big deal is all about. When they try to make sense of their spouse's interest in sex they tell themselves, "It must be a biological urge, it's like scratching an itch."

I know, because I've been a therapist for two decades, that having sex with your loved one is anything but scratching an itch. It's about feeling wanted, loved, appreciated, sexy, manly or womanly. It's about feeling connected. And when this major disconnect happens, intimacy on all levels disappears. The friendships evaporates. Anger bubbles just below the surface. And anger turns off the less sexual spouse even more.

You know the routine. You've been there, done that many times. Please ask your wife to, if she does nothing else, read the first chapter of The Sex-Starved Marriage online at sexstarvedmarriage.com. It will help her understand your point of view. Don't wait. Infidelity is a problem, not a solution.

QUESTIONS: My husband doesn't have the sexual drive I have. I have triedtalking to him about it and all he says is marriage shouldn't be basedon sex. That we should be able to have a relationship based oncompanionship. I feel that if you love someone then the sex will comenatural. So we do fight a lot about our relationship, to the point thatI have thought of leaving him. Is this a common problem with men?

My question is when a woman gains weight (I have due to 4 failedspinal operations and I've always lost weight after I gained it aftereach operation in the past, but the last time, I gained over 100 poundsand have taken off 35 pounds so far but still have 100 pounds to go andso I don't blame my husband (common law, just got engaged though) fornot being attracted to me (even though he has a small pot himself, I'mstill attracted to him) but otherwise his body is in great shape for a53-year-old.

ANSWER: Many men have told me that their lack of interest in sex has to do with their lack of attraction to their wives due to weight gain or apathy about staying fit and healthy. Sexual attraction is a very important part of a vibrant sex life. It's great that you are so honest about looking at yourself addressing this situation openly. Make sure your husband knows about the efforts you're making to get back into shape. This should help him feel better about you and your marriage. It will also help you to feel sexier and more sensual and that will go a long way to boosting his desire.

QUESTION: I'm 43 and due to the medications I'm on and the fact that I cannotexercise (and I'm considered disabled) I still do the grocery shoppingand laundry, so I still can function to a limit, but the weight can'tcome off fast enough this time and we used to have sex every day, butI'm at my sexual peak now and I know that if I was still smaller (like Iwas when I met him 5 years ago,) we'd still be sexually active, so I'mnot sure how I can possibly change how he feels about making love to abig fat woman, yet I also have needs, even though I don't like my bodyeither. ANY ADVICE would be so helpful as I would love to have gastricbypass but he always says "NO' to that, yet our sex life sucks!! Canyou give me any suggestions?

I hope to hear from you as suffering from chronic pain for the last 17years is bad enough so I need help to get our sex life back on track!

Thanks for listening and hopefully I'll get an answer.

ANSWER: It seems to me that you need to talk with your doctor about what you can do to boost your physical activity level. Perhaps you can do more than you think you can! Your doctor will be able to advise you. Exercise can stimulate your metabolism and boost your morale as well. Additionally, you should consider eating healthfully if you aren't already. You might also ask your doctor whether the medications you're taking are making it difficult for you to lose weight and if so, whether they're any substitutes without that side effect.

You say you were more sexually active five years ago. Besides being smaller, I couldn't help but wonder what else was different five years ago. Ask yourself, "How was my life different five years ago,?" "What was I doing that I've stopped doing now?" And once you've gotten your answer, begin to do what once worked. Go back to your past solution.

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