Sex & Relationships
The Most Common Reason Couples Stop Having Sex
When sex starts to feel like another item on the to-do list, it's time for a check-in.
When you first got together, you and your partner couldn’t keep your hands off each other. You’d spend all weekend in bed, reluctantly leaving to arrive late to a social commitment you couldn’t come up with an excuse for skipping. Flash forward a year or two, and now the only action you seem to get is from the colorful collection of vibrating friends sitting in your bedside drawer. The reality is, relationships typically change once the honeymoon period is over. As you become more comfortable with each other, you may not feel the need to prioritize your relationship in the same way you did in the beginning, and the amount of I-need-you-right-now sex you two have may decrease a bit. But what do you do if you suddenly find yourself in a totally sexless relationship?
According to Dr. Dana McNeil, licensed marriage and family therapist, a sexless relationship is a situation in which the lack of sex is a problem for at least one partner. It may cause emotional distress, insecurity, or an overall dissatisfaction with the relationship as a whole.
For most people, sexual satisfaction is important to the health of a long-term relationship, but often, the biggest issue isn’t the lack of sex itself, it’s the fact that it isn’t being acknowledged. “Many partners, innocently enough, try to minimize the problem or dismiss the issue because they don’t know how to handle it or are embarrassed,” McNeil says. “This will backfire every time.” If you’re feeling some discontent in this area, here are a few tips for how to move forward, and hopefully, get back to having spicy sex on the regular.
What Are The Causes Of A Sexless Relationship?
There are a number of reasons why couples stop having regular sex, and every situation is different. According to McNeil, the most common reason for a sexless marriage or relationship is simply exhaustion from your daily routine. You get up at five, go for a run, head to work, call your mom, make dinner, and next thing you know, bam, it’s 10 p.m., and you’re knocked out on the couch. The next day, it’s the same old story.
“What typically happens is that couples get into the business of ‘being in a relationship’ versus cultivating a connection,” McNeil says. “For some, sex can begin to feel like another box to check on their to-do list. The thought of having to get their mojo on and ‘perform’ sexually loses its shine when they just worked a 10-hour shift.”
Major betrayals, resentment, or unresolved conflict can also contribute to a lack of sex and intimacy. Even little things like leaving the dishes undone or letting clean laundry stay unfolded — if left unaddressed — can fester to the point where one partner just loses interest altogether.
“Withdrawing from being intimate can start to feel like a physical shield that protects the wounded partner from experiencing too much vulnerability,” McNeil says. “Sometimes taking sex off the table can feel like a way to take back control in the relationship.”
It’s also important to note that physical injuries, certain medications, or health conditions can negatively affect your sex life. For instance, if your partner is dealing with depression (or taking medication to treat said depression), that may be causing a decrease in their libido.
How To Talk To Your Partner About The Lack Of Sex In Your Relationship
The good news is that sexless relationships aren’t doomed to stay sexless forever. But in order to bring this issue up to your partner and change the pattern, it’s important to first understand your own feelings around the matter.
According to licensed marriage and family therapist, Lesli Doares, you need to be able to identify your beliefs and expectations around sex, and the role you want it to play in the relationship. Start by doing some self-reflection. Ask yourself questions like: “Why haven’t we been having sex? Are we just too busy, or is there an underlying cause? How am I feeling about my partner right now? How important is sex to me? Is a lack of sex something I can really live with?”
Once you’re able to do that, you can have an open and honest conversation with your partner about why the lack of sex is a problem for you. It’s crucial, however, to do so in a way that doesn’t place the blame on them, so try starting the conversation with “I” statements. For example, “I’ve noticed that we haven’t been having sex lately, and it’s making me feel distant from you.” This framing will help you keep the focus on your feelings so you can minimize the possibility of starting an argument.
Most importantly, be open to the possibility that your behaviors have contributed to the issue, too, and try to be empathetic to your partner’s point of view. “Remember that a conversation is a two-way street,” Doares says. “You also must be willing to listen to their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and expectations around it. That’s where the seeds of a solution are.” If you’ve tried to bring this up before and just ended up getting into a fight, it may be time to consider meeting with a mediator or therapist, who can help facilitate a more productive conversation.
For couples who have become very distant, McNeil suggests trying “sensate touch” to reacquaint yourselves physically. All you have to do is be present (so leave your phone in the other room) and focus on the sensation of touching your partner and being touched by them back. It’s more about intimacy and less about sex. This can help distant couples feel emotionally safe with one another again.
“The fact is that when couples haven’t been intimate in some time, there is a tendency to want to make sure they have sex that ends in a win for both,” McNeil says. “This is often unrealistic, so re-igniting a sense of familiarity, desire, connection, and intimate awareness of each other’s body again while taking sex off the table can ignite desire to return to an intimate relationship.”
When To Leave A Sexless Relationship
If you’ve had honest conversations with your partner and you’re seeing no signs of change, this could be a red flag for your relationship. According to McNeil, “A person who doesn’t show empathy, concern, compassion, or interest in taking their partner’s needs into consideration has deeper intimacy issues than just not having sex.” If your partner lashes out, gets mean or defensive, or refuses to see a therapist with you, these are signs this person might not be the right partner for you long-term.
Sometimes couples realize they’re sexually incompatible. Maybe your libidos are mismatched or your sexual needs don’t align. In that case, the most important question to ask yourself is how important is sex to you in a relationship. Is it a dealbreaker for your partner to not want sex as often as you do?
If so, then staying in a sexless relationship will only leave you feeling unfulfilled more and more as time goes on, which will inevitably create other problems down the line. Don’t be afraid to call it quits if your needs aren’t being met. Chances are, you’ll find a partner who is a much better fit for you.
Dr. Dana McNeil, licensed marriage and family therapist
Megan Harrison, licensed marriage and family therapist