The time to walk away from any relationship is when you've got problems you are unwilling to live with and can't resolve. You've given it your best shot to fix things, but the issues remain, and they aren't ones you're willing to put up with.
Some problems may also be ones you don't wish to solve. If your partner has an extramarital affair, is gaslighting you, or you're experiencing other warning signs or red flags, you can leave then and there.
When it comes to a sexless marriage, chances are you will want to get to the bottom of the issue and try to resolve it. But, if that doesn't work and not having sex is a dealbreaker for you, you have to leave.
Some people prefer to create physical and emotional intimacy in other ways than having sex, especially as they get older. However, for many, a sexless marriage doesn't cut it. So below, we look at common issues in relationships—all of which can lead to reduced intimacy and sex—and how to resolve them. We also look at some reasons for low libido—including menopause and erectile dysfunction—which in and of themselves can lead to a person not wanting to have sex. Finally, we'll also discuss ways to improve libido and sex drive and how to improve your sex life at large.
Common causes for relationship problems
You may encounter many relationship problems as a married couple that lead to a sexless marriage. A lack of sex is often a sign of some underlying relationship issue, be it within the bedroom or another part of the relationship. Some of the most common relationship problems are:
- Problems communicating—ranging from complete lack of communication to feeling misunderstood
- Feeling unloved or not having our needs met
- Verbal, emotional, or physical abuse
- Incompatibility in bed
- Lack of physical desire or sex drive
Below, we will look at all the above issues and possible ways of solving them.
There are many ways communication can break down. Below you'll find different sections for various communication issues, as fitting them into one section would overwhelm anyone.
There’s nothing left to say
When we first meet someone we are attracted to, we're usually excited. So we go on dates where we share our backgrounds and talk about our lives. We do fun things together. And we're overwhelmed by the butterflies doing summersaults in our bellies.
Unfortunately, once we settle into a routine, we realise we don't have anything to talk about anymore. What's there to say? We know everything about each others’ lives. And as routine settles in, the other person suddenly seems a bit boring. There are no more fun experiences and adventures.
How to find invigorating topics to talk about
The trick here is to get curious. We all change. We all have different experiences every day. And we can all go on new adventures together.
Yes, you know your spouse went to work today, but how did they feel about it? What did they do? What made them smile? What do they appreciate the most about their work right now? What do they loathe? What are their work goals moving forward? How could they improve their everyday workday? And how could they improve their relaxation when getting home?
Asking “How was your day?” will likely bring you a one-word answer. Start asking questions that bring about more interesting answers. And ask follow-on questions when they answer those questions!
Likewise, you can ask your spouse about a current political topic or what they think about a new album release—whatever it is they’re interested in.
What's more, you can create new experiences with your partner. For example, you can take courses or attend workshops together. Visit new places. Meet new people (try Meetup groups or volunteering together). Go to new museums. See new shows. Try new sexual experiences.
New experiences give you new things to talk about, and new people bring new energy. So engage your partner to find something you can do together where you experience new things and meet new people.
Bear in mind that it's not all about the talking, either. Listening is hugely important. When your partner speaks, don't psycho-analyse them, try to come up with something to say next, or contemplate what's for dinner—truly listen. Google something called "active listening" for more tips on becoming a better listener.
Why would having great conversations improve your sex life? Because you find your partner interesting again, so you’re more attracted to them. Boring people don’t tend to inspire sexual attraction. And a healthy sex life starts with sexual desire between two people.
An inability to resolve conflict through communication
You say something you dislike about the relationship, and your partner either stonewalls you, yells at you, or blames you for the problem. Instead of resolving conflicts, you're turning them into wars. And when there's a war going on, no one wants to have sex. There will be no makeup sex unless you make up!
How to communicate to resolve conflict
First thing first, stop nagging. If you want your partner to do something, ask them kindly. "I love how sexy you look chopping wood. Remember I also asked you to take out the rubbish? I'd appreciate it if you could do it because I cook dinner and it takes up a lot of my time. I know you easily forget it, so I'm just reminding you now as it's starting to smell. If you can do it tonight, I'd be so grateful. Thank you." Once they take out the damn rubbish that's been standing there for a week, you kiss them, pat them on the bum and tell them they're the most incredible person ever.
The above approach to getting people to do things is more effective than nagging. What's more, it adds positivity instead of negativity to the relationship. Because let's face it, no one wants sex after being told they are such a forgetful so and so, and why can they never learn to take out the rubbish? Likewise, the poor person who has felt ignored for a week and as if the person they love doesn't care about them because they didn't take out the rubbish finally feels seen, loved, and understood.
If it’s not about the rubbish, but instead that your partner messes up in another area, use the same approach. Tell them about what you love and appreciate about them, then discuss the problematic area. If they address it, thank them for it profusely and reward them with hugs, kisses, or a home-baked cake. Whatever does it for them.
When you discuss whatever the issue is, show your sadness or hurt, but don't hurl anger at them. Anger is just a defence mechanism. It will make the other person defend themselves, go away, or go on the offence by attacking you. You resolve nothing this way.
If you are on the receiving end of this, instead of thinking your partner hates you, everything is crap, and they're totally in the wrong, take a deep breath. Consider that the person you love is upset about something you've done. Maybe they’ve misinterpreted it, it doesn't feel fair, or you think they're in the wrong. Still, acknowledge that your partner thinks something is wrong—that doesn’t mean they don't love or appreciate you. It means they want to resolve something they perceive as an issue.
"I appreciate you feeling upset about me doing x. If I understand you correctly, you feel like y because of x, am I right?" They acknowledge you're right, or they correct you. "I'm very sorry to hear that. My intention was never for you to feel that way. I need to do x, but I never thought it'd make you feel that way. I would love for us to work this out." Then go on to suggest a potential solution.
You must remember that a person’s past traumas and your own can make you react illogical in various situations. For example, the person who has been cheated on will think you're cheating on them when you're out with friends. You, in turn, will feel like they don't trust you and get upset about that. Don't let your emotions get in the way—tell them you appreciate their past experiences were traumatic and that you, therefore, understand their concerns. Also, explain you're different. You're the kind of person who feels hurt they won't trust you.
The problem with most relationships is that we weave meaning into other peoples' actions based on our previous experiences. Yet the meaning we create has little to do with what’s currently going on.
If there’s unresolved conflict, emotional and physical intimacy tend to wane, and sexual intercourse soon follows. However, once you resolve the conflict, the two of you will want to get close again.
Putting each other down
"Isn't it funny how bad Jim is with the barbecue? After all these years, he still burns the meat." Yes, as we get to know each other, we get to know each other's quirks and often take the you know what. There's the nagging - "Jim, did you leave the bag behind AGAIN?" - and sarcasm and not-so-funny jokes. For some couples, this goes so far that they also start saying these things about sex. Having your partner crack jokes about how you never want to try new things in bed or how sex-crazed you are will do nothing for your sex life.
Raising each other up
Instead of telling everyone at the barbecue that Jim is bad at grilling the meat, compliment his enthusiasm or how great he is at mixing cocktails. Couples who stop moaning and compliment each other can turn their relationships around.
You’re not going to feel any sexual desire for the man who always leaves the bag behind or messes up the barbecue. But you will desire the man who is always kind to the grandchildren, never misses a birthday, and hugs you after a long day.
The interesting thing is that once you compliment someone, they open up to you. They feel safe around you and start to feel wanted. If you compliment someone's personality, as well as their looks and the deeds they perform in the bedroom, they will begin to feel attractive. That will increase their sexual desire.
Sexual intimacy starts with making someone feel safe because they are wanted. They will open up to you and talk about their desires and sexual interests. They will feel comfortable initiating sex. They will be more willing to try new things in bed as they know you already appreciate them. They won't run away or go on the offensive or defensive when you ask for something new. They will be a lot more willing to see to your sexual needs.
Start complimenting your partner in everyday life. Thank them when they do something you appreciate. Tell them what you like about them. Whenever they look attractive, mention it. Talk about how much you desire them. And when in bed, let them know whenever they do something you like.
A lack of intimacy sometimes stems from the fear of being unwanted. Make your partner feel wanted.
Feeling unloved and unsatisfied—you’ve “grown apart”
For some couples, growing apart means that their lives have taken different directions, or one of them has evolved as a person while the other has remained more or less the same. For other couples, growing apart means waking up to the fact that what they felt at the beginning of the relationship was only based on one aspect. What do I mean by that? Let's look at an example.
When Anna and Pierre meet, they fall head over heels in love. He has an exciting career as an international architect, and she's impressed by his many adventures. He loves that she's more "homely" and has a celebrated cooking blog. They both enjoy a strong physical attraction. Both love creating "Instagrammable” moments for their social media feeds and attending award ceremonies for their work together. In bed, they seem incredibly well paired, too.
Anna and Pierre share a physical attraction, enjoy the same kind of sexual activity, and love achieving their goals and getting recognition for doing so. They are top achievers with a significant social media following and an intense physical passion for one another.
A year or two down the line, when the physical attraction has faded, Anna wants to stay at home in Paris to cook, and Pierre wants to travel the globe for his projects, issues arise.
While they initially did extraordinary things together, they now have nothing to talk about, even if they do the same things. In retrospect, they never had deep discussions; they were just having fun.
Anna likes to have a boyfriend that’s there when life happens, hugging her and supporting her. Pierre likes to roam free and isn’t that interested in “emotional stuff.” When he comes home, he just needs to "be" to shake off the day and recharge. He likes a woman who shows she cares by preparing meals and helping him plan his adventures, but Anna is often out at night as she attends events and cooks for other people.
What was once a whirlwind romance has turned into something that seems filled with disappointment.
Instant attraction on one level doesn't mean we lead compatible lives or know how to satisfy the other person's needs. For example, I've met people I've fallen in love with because they were so intelligent and creative I wanted to be near them just to hear them speak. I'm sure most people can relate. Sometimes that attraction is elevated because there's also a physical attraction. However, that doesn't mean there's sexual, emotional, or spiritual compatibility. Nor does it mean that we lead lives that complement one another or that they understand all our various needs, including how we need to be loved. Sadly, most people don’t even know what they need themselves!
Often when we meet someone and fall in love, we only fall in love with a part of them as we’re only compatible on a couple of different levels.
At other times, you can meet someone where everything clicks and later that changes as one of you change, or your lives go in different directions.
Growing back together and meeting each other’s needs
Let's look at the different things you can do to grow back together or simply start meeting each other's needs.
Creating a life you both love
This is perhaps both the easiest and the hardest thing to do. It's easy to figure out what your ideal day, week, month, year, and life look like. It's equally easy for your partner to figure that out. Difficulties arise if your ideas of the ideal life significantly differ. However, once you both know what you want, you can determine if you can make your lives and lifestyles compatible.
Life becomes more fun after creating a shared vision for what you wish to create together. You share the goal of creating an incredible life together. Yes, there will be hurdles, but you know where you're going and will create unforgettable experiences together.
Don't forget the everyday magic either—stop and ask yourselves what you want to create from moment to moment. It's not just about creating a routine you both enjoy or big goals (like buying a new home in two years or moving to Morocco). It's about turning an everyday dinner into an awesome dinner. It's about bringing an epic picnic next time you go hiking. Every day, we choose how we want to live and what we want to experience.
When you look at this, you can also look at what you wish to create sexually. What does your ideal sex life look like? What are your sexual needs, and how can they be met? What will get you back in the game if there is a dry spell? However, it is best to broach this topic after you've started addressing each other's emotional needs. If your partner feels unwanted or unloved, they'll likely feel criticised or unmotivated when the topic of sex comes up.
Understanding each other’s love languages
Gary Chapman famously coined the idea that there are five love languages:
- Physical touch
- Words of affirmation (compliments, I love yous, etc.)
- Gifts (ranging from a takeaway coffee or flowers picked by the roadside to more significant gestures)
- Acts of service (cleaning the house, cooking a meal, offering to repair the car, running an errand)
- Quality time (time spent together where you are focused on one another and the experience, not time spent grocery shopping or eating breakfast while reading the paper)
Your partner can give you all the gifts in the world, and you still feel unloved if they don't offer physical touch if that's your love language. Chances are also that if you feel unloved, you withdraw sexually, or it causes a lack of intimacy.
You can go to the five love languages website to take the quiz to find out what love language you both have. The cool thing about this is that you will no longer feel like you need to nag your partner to do something. While before, they may not have understood your need to receive gifts, or hold hands, now they do. It will help re-establish your emotional connection without nagging.
Understanding each other’s needs
According to Sandy Gerber, people have four different “emotional magnets.” Some people strive to feel safe, some to achieve, some to experience, and some to get value.
People who want to feel safe crave routine, organisation, and knowing upfront what the results of something will be. They also care about physical safety and health.
Those who crave achievement like to be praised for their wins and need emotional support to feel valued.
People who love to experience think of everything in terms of what an experience will bring them. So, for example, if they go to a restaurant, they either want it to be a novel experience or have a pleasant atmosphere.
People who appreciate value need to know that they get what they pay for—whether they're investing their time or money. For example, if they invest in a friendship, they want to know that the person is worth it.
Someone who craves safety will buy a house in a friendly and safe area, where everything is conveniently close. A person craving achievement will buy a home in an "it" area—be it the "it" area for computer geeks or the "it" area for millionaires. A person craving experience will live somewhere that will make them feel good—be their preference to wake up to twittering birds or the taste of ambition in the city. Lastly, the person craving value will buy the cheapest house, the house that's the best investment, or the one that brings the best quality for money, depending on their preferences.
For the value-driven person, the idea of buying a particular house just to experience "what it's like to live in bohemia" is crazy. But if the person who wants to experience bohemia is your wife, you might need to consider that she's a person driven by experience, not value.
What is it that drives your partner? Are you belittling them for it? Or can you appreciate that it’s their need?
Of course, there's a fine line between need and ego at times. Some needs are superficial. If you need safety because your mother ran away, or you want to gain achievement, not for the fulfilment of your goals but because you were bullied as a kid, that's not exactly healthy. Try to discern between your heart's desire and your ego's.
The above things also apply to your love life, by the way. Consider what kind of date nights your spouse prefers? Do they want to stick to the same old restaurant where they know what they're getting, or do they want new experiences? Consider their needs when next planning a date.
Likewise, the above applies to your sex life. Do they want to "play it safe" and make love at 7 pm every Wednesday? Or do they want to try new things constantly?
Appreciate that your partner has one set of needs, you another. Find bridges. Talk about how to accommodate one another. Don’t demand things or blame them for who they are. Instead, look for commonalities, bridges, and experiences you can both enjoy in the bedroom and beyond. Consider that marriages end if needs aren’t met.
Start thinking about what your needs our. You can do the emotional magnet test on Sandy Gerber’s site, but think outside of that. What are your needs at work and home? What makes you feel appreciated? What makes you feel stressed? What makes you feel relaxed? What makes you happy?
Sometimes all of the above is pretty good. Both you and your partner feel loved and appreciated, and you lead lives that are, so to speak, fine. Yet you feel unfulfilled because things have stagnated either within the relationship or in your own life.
If your own life has gone into autopilot, you might notice that you lack the confidence you used to have. The zest is gone. You feel restless, frustrated, or bored. Maybe you feel invisible. This, in turn, will lead to low libido.
The same goes for your relationship. If you feel you've stopped growing together as a couple, the once romantic relationship might now feel flat. No spark. And that's not just about the sex. Usually, that is felt everywhere, but it can be more apparent in the lack of physical attraction.
Ask yourself what you’d like to experience in your life. What are your goals? Socially? Fitness-wise? Work-wise? Hobbies wise? Self? When it comes to self—when was the last time you pampered yourself? Got dressed up? Took time out to meditate? Had a makeover?
If you're stuck in a rut, how can you create new experiences and grow as a person? Break it down to daily achievable goals that are enjoyable to work on. And remember to stop and ask yourself what you wish to create that day, too. It's not just about goals that make you grow, but doing random things you enjoy—be it a picnic in the park or a quiet moment to read a book.
Sometimes this takes a bit of a push. You may feel some things are out of your comfort zone and therefore “uncomfortable” to do. Again, break it down. Take baby steps. Once you do so, you feel empowered.
Likewise, you might feel that your relationship is “holding you back.” That the relationship is the root cause of the rut you’re stuck in. That it’s a toxic relationship because your partner wants a specific routine or refuses to see you in a different light. Try not to dwell on that. Instead, keep pushing to do what you want and be who you want to be—even if your partner puts you down in the process—possibly quite unconsciously. "Ah, Marta, always so shy. Why would you attempt to attend a networking event by yourself?"
Once you're achieving your goals and creating pleasant experiences for yourself, you will feel empowered. You're growing and feel fulfilled again. This can lead to a boost in libido.
All the above is also true for someone who might have slipped into depression and feel like they've "let themselves go." If you feel like your blue days are more plentiful than your sunny days, consider getting professional help. Your mental health is vital for a relationship to work. And depression can signify anything ranging from past trauma to a lack of sunshine in winter or a vitamin B deficiency. So speak with a professional to get to the bottom of it and test your vitamin and mineral levels.
Note that both depression and anti-depressants can cause low libido. What’s more, untreated depression can lead to substance misuse. This, in turn, can cause you to lose track of both your relationship and your life. If you misuse substances, you need to seek professional help immediately. Whether you realise it or not, substance misuse will negatively impact your life and relationships. Even if you think "it's just a bit too much weed or alcohol," it will cause issues. If you can't stop doing "a bit too much," then the drug, not you, is in charge.
If it's not you but your relationship that's grown stagnant, consider new experiences. The two of you need to start growing together again. Set goals together. Try new things or visit new places together. Meet new people together. Try new sexual experiences together. Have a read of this article I wrote on how to reinvigorate your love life.
Abuse takes many forms. The most commonly talked about is perhaps physical abuse because it's clear-cut. Sure, some couples wrestle or throw grapefruits at each another when they get upset. No one gets hurt; they just release their frustration in a way that works for them. But, usually, physical abuse is clean-cut abuse—one party gets angry and hits the other. There is a lack of control of temper that leads to violence. Sometimes both parties are violent, but usually, one person is the abuser, and the other is the victim.
Sometimes this kind of abuse is followed by wonderful apologies and incredible demonstrations of love—only to be repeated next time temper flies.
Emotional abuse is less clean-cut. For example, stonewalling someone is a form of emotional abuse. So is constantly pooh-poohing them for one thing or another. Asserting control over another person is also a form of emotional abuse. And, as it often starts with something small, most people overlook emotional abuse at first. And, at times, it breaks them down so much they lose their will to leave by the time they realise something is wrong—they think they're worthless. They believe they deserve to be treated how they are or will never find anyone who will treat them better.
Any kind of sexual relationship you have with an abuser is likely to peter out as abusers aren’t attractive.
There is no excuse for abuse, though there is usually a reason in the abuser’s personality. If a person is willing to get help—professional help—and is dedicated to changing, it's possible to make the relationship work. However, if it's severe abuse, you will have to take a break while the person is getting that help. You cannot put yourself in harm's way—neither emotionally nor physically. You also have to be clear that some abusers, even with help, cannot change. If that's the case, you have to be prepared to leave.
Incompatibility in bed
After that first high, when all sex was terrific and felt new and fresh and exciting, you turned into one of those married couples where everything fizzled out. This is because one of you wants to attend sex clubs and watch porn, and the other wants to have romantic picnics and sex behind drawn curtains. So you try surprising each other with sexual and romantic experiences that get a lukewarm reception. Or worse: you start rejecting one another. This might lead to one of you suggesting a sex therapist and the other getting offended and refusing.
What to do?
If you are completely incompatible, you likely won't ever become compatible. Still, there are many ways to build bridges by taking baby steps.
For example, let's say you want to try S&M. Your partner thinks of S&M as something painful and downright crazy. But tying someone up and tickling (not spanking) them with a whip might be doable, don't you think? Possibly watching a 50 Shades movie or reading one of the books?
Sometimes our perceived idea of something has little to do with reality, and by taking baby steps, we can expand our minds.
Likewise, your partner (or you) might baulk at the idea of having sex in public. But how about in a hot tub on the balcony at a rented room in a hotel?
Don’t dismiss your partner’s sexual desires. It will make them feel horrible—the person closest to them is rejecting who they are, rejecting their sexual needs.
What can help broaden your horizons is reading books about sex. You can also connect with a sex therapist. You should never do something you don't want to do. Just contemplate what you are willing to do—the small steps for things you want to try. And read the books to get clear on things you want to try, too!
Consider starting where you're at. When you have sex, try complimenting your partner for anything and everything they do that turns you on. Also, compliment them whenever they look or do something attractive. Start communicating. Talk about the things you've done in the past together that you enjoyed. Message each other when you feel turned on. Once you feel comfortable with where you're at, start talking about where you want to go. Once your partner feels safe that they are wanted, they will be more interested in trying new things as they won’t think you don’t appreciate them.
For general tips, have a look at this article about how to reinvigorate your sex life and this article about what older men like in bed (some of the tips certainly apply to women, too!).
No sexual desire
Do you suffer from a low sex drive? Low libido? Feeling asexual? Or does your partner? Is that why your marriage is sexless? If that’s the case, and the reason your sex drive has disappeared has nothing to do with any of the relationship issues above, then there might be some other underlying issue, including:
- Depression (briefly mentioned above)
- Medical condition or deficiency
- Unhealthy diet
- Poor sleep
- High-stress levels
- Low to no exercising
- Hormone imbalance, including those caused by menopause
- Smoking, drinking, or using drugs
- Lack of confidence or a feeling of being unattractive (usually caused by thinking our partner does not find us attractive or a poor self-image, or depression—as we age, we sometimes start to feel unattractive)
- Erectile dysfunction (often caused by any or all of the above and, in turn, often causes anxiety or a feeling of being unattractive)
- Being reminded of an underlying sexual trauma
How to increase your sex drive
In any long-term relationship, there will be times when one of you is up for it less often than usual due to stress, fatigue, or some temporary hormone disruption. However, it needs addressing if this does not naturally correct itself.
Improving your sex drive starts with improving your lifestyle—eating well, sleeping well, exercising, spending time outdoors, destressing, and setting time aside for sex and romance. You should also get some labs done at the doctor’s to check for deficiencies and imbalances.
Once you feel better, your sex drive tends to return. The above changes can also help cure erectile dysfunction caused by an unhealthy lifestyle—and you’ll find even more tips in this article about foods that make you hard. If the underlying cause is medical, you need to speak with a doctor. If it's due to anxiety or depression, you need to talk to a psychologist or sex therapist, depending on the issue.
Once your body is starting to feel more alive, read up about sex to figure out what turns you on these days and what you’d like to experience in the bedroom. Also, try masturbating to reawaken your sex drive further.
If the remembrance of trauma has triggered your sudden lack of sex drive, you should get therapy. Many people suppress memories of abuse, only to have them pop up later in life. Once you deal with the trauma, you’ll likely be able to start enjoying sex again.
Another reason to get therapy is if you feel inadequate in the bedroom—a sex therapist should be able to help you with that. The previously discussed ways of building confidence with your partner will also help. Still, you need to find your inner confidence, too.
If your feelings of inadequacy are down to erectile dysfunction, consider everything you can do that doesn't involve penile intercourse. You can do so many other things to give each other orgasms, like caressing or massaging each other, oral sex, tickling, and using sex toys. And remember, not getting hard doesn't mean you can't have an orgasm.
If you think your sex drive has reduced because you feel less attractive, consider doing things the ways mentioned above to improve your life and, with it, your confidence. Also, consider getting a therapist or coach to help you along the way. We all lose track sometimes, and having someone help us find our feet again can be marvellous.
Unfortunately, some people who lose confidence or feel unattractive in their partner's eyes turn to extramarital affairs for a confidence boost. It's better to work on your self-confidence and your relationship. If you do this and then feel your partner isn't right for you, end your marriage and find another partner.
One of you is over sex, and the other isn't
If you conclude your lack of sex life is because one of you is just over sex - they want other forms of intimacy - and the other isn't, you have to decide whether to part ways or discuss an open relationship.