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At some point in every relationship, the sizzle starts to fizzle—that is, the intensity and chemistry fades.
For some, it’s a dip that rectifies itself in no time, often caused by busy schedules. For others, it can last longer, eventually feeling like an endless stretch of a sexlessness.
So, what causes this dip, and how do you get the sex (and intimacy) back?
We’ll be going through some of the reasons why this kind of thing can happen in a marriage, and how to get the sex (and everything that comes with it) back.
Remember that everyone’s relationship is different—what might work for one couple won’t necessarily work for you, and that’s okay.
The big question that needs to be answered is: why have things changed?
Let’s look at some answers along with what you can do to remedy the situation.
One or both of you have busy schedules.
One of the main reasons for any kind of shift in relationships is often busy, misaligned schedules. This impacts the relationship in a number of ways.
For one, being busy can make you more stressed—and we all deal with stress in different ways. For some of us, being overwhelmed leads to us shutting down and avoiding commitments, like dates or spending time with our partners. It can also mean that we push those we love away because we feel too consumed by our negative feelings toward our hectic schedules.
Then, of course, there’s the impact it physically has on us. If you or your partner are busy working late into the evenings or getting up early to get your to-do list sorted out, it means you have less time to spend together. It’s not the nicest feeling for either of you—the busy one probably feels guilty about not seeing the other as much while also juggling work/their friends/their family; the less busy one wants to be a priority and probably feels a bit neglected because their partner is spending time on other things.
When you are together, it may be when you’re both exhausted from your busy schedules. You might not be able to fully engage in quality time or conversations with each other, and you may be too tired to actively participate in the marriage.
You might feel guilty if you’re the one who’s been busier, causing you to struggle to relax with your partner. And if your partner is too busy for you, it will often lead to resentment. Either way, if one or both of you have been more busy than normal lately, it’s highly likely that you can’t fully enjoy spending time together.
As such, you might be feeling less inclined to be intimate together. That might be because you’re too physically tired to have sex, or you could feel emotionally distant from each other.
It’s hard to get cozy and pretend that things are normal when they’re not, and the result is a sexless marriage.
How to approach this:
One of the most important things to remember in every relationship—no matter what the challenge may be—is to communicate. We know it’s simple advice and perhaps even obvious, but communication can help to solve the majority of your issues before they even arise.
The main reason that busyness can affect sex drives is because it results in one or both people feeling neglected and rejected. So, to avoid that happening, communicating early on is essential.
Rather than simply cancelling at the last minute without a full explanation, talk through your schedule together so that you can both expect periods of not seeing each other, and then you can make alternative plans. The only thing worse than having to cancel on someone is cancelling without suggesting an alternative!
Most of the time, partners just want to feel considered. That doesn’t mean making endless compromises or constantly changing things to suit your partner rather than yourself, but it does mean considering how something might impact them and doing your best to minimize any emotional damage.
For example, if you know you’re going to be working late every day for one week, tell your partner and let them know you understand that they’re probably going to be upset or feel a bit abandoned, and then suggest something to make up for your absence, such as suggesting some quality time on the weekend. This is likely to have a much better result than simply “being busy.”
This will mean that the time you do spend together is more enjoyable—it won’t be ruined with an undertone of disappointment or resentment, because you were both able to manage your expectations and head things off before reaching a breaking point. Fewer ill-feelings then means you’re more likely to want to be intimate and have sex with each other.
Low confidence and self-esteem crises.
If one of you is going through a phase of feeling less confident than normal, it might lead to a reduction in sex and, ultimately, a sexless marriage.
This is often the result of both of you being aware of the dip in confidence. If you’re the one feeling a bit less confident, you’re probably going to be avoiding intimacy. Things like weight changes, skin conditions, and health problems can all affect how you feel about being naked in front of someone, even if they’re someone you love and trust.
If you’re the other one in the relationship, you’ve probably noticed a change in how your partner is feeling or behaving. That means you’re less likely to initiate sex because you don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable or pressured when you already know they’re not feeling great about themselves.
Going through a self-esteem dip is totally normal and can be due to a huge number of reasons.
Your body may have changed recently due to weight loss or weight gain, and you might be struggling to feel comfortable with the changes. You may have recently experienced health concerns and feel at odds with your physical body as a result, whether that’s due to new injuries or scars, skin conditions, or a change in your appearance in some way.
These are all totally valid and normal reactions to your body changing and can mean that you’re no longer confident in how you feel or look. That might mean you are more self-conscious in front of your partner, and you may be worried that they’ll no longer find you attractive because of the changes.
Equally, if your partner is feeling confident and good about themselves, you might feel more self-conscious. For example, if your partner has suddenly become more focused on their health, you might feel uncomfortable being naked in front of them. A common example is when both spouses have been out of shape for years and then one person suddenly becomes more fit. This can cause the other to feel self-conscious and less sexy.
Again, this is normal—you might suddenly feel like you’re not good enough for your partner now that they look more “conventionally attractive.” Of course, health isn’t about weight, and being attractive isn’t about a set body ideal, but it’s hard to remember that when you’re having a dip in confidence.
How to approach this:
When it comes to confidence, there’s not always that much that you can do to help your partner beyond the obvious—make it clear that you’re still interested without putting pressure on them, and reassure them while being patient.
You might want to try some bonding exercises to help them feel more at ease around you. Remember that their feelings about themselves aren’t necessarily a reflection of how they feel about you. Try spending quality time together without any pressure or implications to have sex at any point. It’s important to spend time together just enjoying each other’s company. The more that you both feel valued and appreciated, the more confident you’ll both be. This will greatly improve the likelihood of physical intimacy as well.
A sexless marriage can make sex feel like a huge deal. As a result, the pressure can lead to a dip in confidence. It’s similar to when you have a job evaluation and you immediately forget everything when you’re put on the spot. You feel a bit flustered or less confident than normal. Your partner may feel the same way when it comes to having sex with you because they’re struggling with their own self-esteem issues.
Take it slow, acknowledge that things may take a while, avoid placing any blame, and accept the role you have played in this situation. For example, you may have made an off-hand comment as a joke that’s stuck with your partner and made them feel insecure. While you may want to dismiss it, you need to remember that it’s impacted them, regardless of your intention. It can be hard to take responsibility for this kind of thing, which is why communicating and staying open is crucial.
Be as supportive as you can be, but remember that how your partner feels about themselves is beyond your control. You can only do so much to make them feel better—that doesn’t mean you should make no effort to help, of course. Remind them of how much you love them and how attractive you find them, being sure to balance physical compliments with ones about their personality, intelligence, caring nature, sense of humor, and so on.
Equally, it’s okay to suggest that they seek additional support, such as therapy or confidence counselling. Be careful how you navigate this and try to avoid placing blame on them—they may take it badly at first and feel like you’re trying to offload them or like they’re causing too many issues and being a burden to you. Reassure them that you care about their wellbeing and that you want them to enjoy life in general, as well as their relationship with you.
If you’re the one who’s struggling with your confidence and it’s affecting the sex in your marriage, there are a number of things you can do to try to overcome this. That might mean working with someone impartial, like a therapist or counsellor. It could be actively taking steps to feel better about yourself, like exercising to enjoy the endorphins and consequential health benefits. Or it might mean taking better care of yourself and finding time for things that make you feel good.
Try to remember that having low confidence isn’t your fault—unfortunately, it’s something that happens to a lot of us, sometimes for a long time, and sometimes in response to external circumstances.
You might not feel great about yourself right now, but that doesn’t mean it will last forever! Your partner should be willing to wait this period out with you and offer to support you with anything that will make you feel better about yourself.
That might include couples therapy to help you feel more “heard” in the relationship, it could be confidence coaching at work so that you feel more capable in your career, and it may be helping you achieve certain goals (such as losing or gaining weight, or trying out new hairstyles).
Having an outward shift in terms of your appearance can make a huge difference to how you feel about yourself! Try to make these changes for your own self-esteem rather than for someone else—this is hard, especially when we want other people to approve of us or validate us, but it’s so important to focus on what makes you feel good.
If you try to change for someone else in ways that aren’t aligned with your own preferences, you won’t end up feeling better. You might actually end up resenting the person that you changed for, making the whole thing counter-productive and potentially more damaging to your confidence levels.
Hormone changes and getting older.
It’s important to note that a large aspect of our libidos is outside of our control. Our sex drives are affected by so many things—stress, diet, lifestyle, hormones, and birth control. If you or your partner aren’t as interested in sex as you used to be and you’re not sure why, it could be due to any of the above factors.
Of course, getting older does affect our sex lives, for women especially. A lot of women experience early menopause or have premenopausal symptoms that can affect their sex drives. Hormones do so much more than we realize; so, as they start to adjust as we age, it’s no wonder things like our sex drive are affected as a result.
We may not intentionally choose to lead a sexless marriage, but if our libidos become almost non-existent due to physical changes beyond our control, it can easily turn out that way.
How to approach this:
One of the main ways to deal with this is by talking about it! The more open you are, the more understanding your partner will be.
For some partners, it will be a relief to know that your sex drive has lowered because of hormones, and not because you’re losing interest in them or are no longer attracted to them.
You can also speak to your healthcare provider about hormone therapy (HRT) and ways to boost your libido, either naturally or through medication. For some people, this is just a natural part of getting older and, once you’ve established this with your partner, you can find other ways to enjoy being intimate with each other instead.
It is a good idea to seek professional help from one of the experts at Relationship Hero as counseling can be highly effective in helping couples to improve their relationship and sex life.
You’re a bit bored of sex.
The truth is, a sexless marriage can be the result of the novelty of sex wearing off for at least one person over time.
If you’re finding that, after years of living together and seeing each at your worst, arguing over who does the school run, and dealing with in-laws, you’re no longer desperate to jump on your partner every five minutes, you’re not alone!
It’s totally normal for that physical, impulsive desire to have sex to fade over time. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you, or with your marriage, it just means you’re in a different stage of the relationship.
The honeymoon period has to end at some point and, after seeing each other with food poisoning and first thing in the morning every day for years on end, it’s no surprise that the fairytale of christening every room and never showering alone has worn off a bit!
Our sex drives fluctuate all the time anyway, and this can also be impacted by our desire. Let’s think of it in a supply and demand sense. You know your partner isn’t going anywhere, so the excitement of making the most of time alone is going to fade.
At some point, couples can “plateau” sexually—maybe you’ve gotten used to just going through the motions and having the same kind of sex all the time; maybe it’s not great for one or both of you that often, so the desire has kind of fizzled out on its own.
Either way, it’s totally normal for things to die down a bit. If you ate the same meal every day, no matter how tasty it was, at some point your excitement about eating would decrease!
How to approach this:
We could spout the classic “mix it up” advice, but the truth is, role playing won’t fix things in the long run. Of course, spicing things up can help some couples, but it often just masks what’s going on underneath. If you’re already not having sex, putting on a maid’s outfit won’t suddenly change everything.
That being said, there’s no harm in giving new things a try—just remember that if your partner isn’t suddenly sexually revived by your role-playing suggestions, it’s not because they’re not attracted to you!
In this kind of situation, it’s easy to feel rejected. You’ve made a big effort and they’re still not interested—so it must be because they don’t find you attractive, right? Wrong! It’s probably nothing to do with you—they might even feel guilty for not wanting to, or not being able to, get in the mood, even though they love you and find you really attractive.
This is why taking the “spicing things up” approach can actually backfire and make things worse.
Instead, we’d suggest communicating. Less exciting than sexy nurse outfits, sure, but more likely to leave you both feeling a lot better, in the short and long term! Talking through the fact that one, or both, of you have started losing a bit of interest in sex can be really awkward—but it’s a conversation that’s really worth having. However, it can be difficult to address this without creating a level of guilt.
If you’re the one who’s lost interest in sex, it can be easy to get defensive or start to feel guilty that you’re not fulfilling that need for your partner. We often feel like we “owe” our partners sex, especially if we used to have it a lot. You might feel guilty for no longer being interested, which can cause a lot of tension in your relationship.
If your partner seems to be bored of having sex with you, you might feel a level of resentment or frustration toward them. It’s unsettling when things change, so you might be feeling confused by why you’re no longer having sex. You could feel guilty about wanting to have sex, and the more you try to bury this feeling or dismiss it, the more likely you are to resent your partner for “making” you feel guilty, which, again, will lead to more tension.
Regardless of which side of this you’re on, it’s so important to talk to each other. We’re not saying that your feelings will immediately subside, but getting them out in the open will remove the layer of guilt that may have built up over time.
The less guilt and negativity we can attach to our feelings, the better. Rather than feeling “bad” about having a reaction to something, you both need to address your emotions and work out how to move forward together.
If you’ve both lost interest in sex, it’s worth considering how you actually feel about that. Sometimes, once it’s out in the open, you can both come to accept it—and you might even realize that a marriage without intimacy isn’t a big deal.
Every relationship is different, and we need to remember that it’s up to us to set expectations and make the rules for our own marriages! We often feel so pressured by societal norms or what other people are doing, that we forget to slow down and evaluate how we actually feel, and what we actually want!
If your relationship shifts toward a different place, embrace it—you might realize that you can show your love for each other in different ways. You may find that you’re both quite relieved to feel less pressured to have sex.
Essentially, communicating helps you both realize what you want, and what you can both do, together, to support that need.
At some point, sex can just be a bit awkward!
As time stretches on and it becomes longer and longer since you last had sex, the thought of physical intimacy can start to feel a bit weird. While it may have once been regular, the fact that it’s been a while can make it seem unrealistic or even inappropriate to suggest having sex.
And the longer it’s been, the harder it can feel to bring up the conversation or initiate having sex with your partner. And, like all vicious cycles, the longer you leave it, the more difficult it can feel to make a change. And, thus, the sexless marriage is born.
How to approach this:
Again, communication is key. You both might be trying to do the right thing by avoiding the elephant in the room. Even if you don’t want to upset the other person or you fear being rejected, it’s important to be as open as possible.
By bringing it up in conversation, you’ll be able to work out what the root cause of the dry spell has been. It might bring up uncomfortable truths but, if you can’t talk about it now, it will only last longer and could lead to deeper unresolved issues.
This is likely to bring you closer together, even if it doesn’t immediately do anything to your sex life, as it creates a safe space to bring up important issues and be vulnerable with each other.
Having this space to air things out and resolve any issues that may have been festering and passively contributing to the lack of sex in your marriage is likely to make you feel closer. These conversations will strengthen your relationship and recreate a comfortable space where you can both feel confident in being honest.
This breaking down of boundaries is likely to reactivate your sex life as a result, as you’ll both be relieved the air’s been cleared of any long-standing unspoken conversations!
Guilt, pressure, and resentment.
If you haven’t wanted to have sex recently, you might feel a bit guilty—you shouldn’t, but you might. You might feel like you “owe” your partner or like it’s expected of you to always be in the mood—again, this isn’t true at all, but it’s something that a lot of people, women in particular, tend to feel in relationships.
The more guilty you feel, the more pressure you put on yourself and the harder it feels to actually be intimate with your partner. Whether they’ve mentioned it or not, you might feel like your partner is almost “waiting” for you to want to have sex again, and that can make it really hard to actually get in the mood and feel like you want to have sex!
On the other side of things, some people may want to be having more sex than their partner does. They might start to feel resentful that their partner isn’t “fulfilling their needs” (again, not true!), and may start to put pressure on their partner, either consciously or subconsciously. This will often make the partner feel even less like having sex, as they may be resentful in return!
This is just another example of how the way a couple feels and thinks about sex can create self-reinforcing sexual problems in a marriage where a lack of sex leads to other issues that then mean intimacy is less likely, and so on and so forth.
How to approach this:
Being honest about what’s led to your decreased sex drive might feel incredibly difficult, but it’s important to express in order to continue in a healthy relationship. Explain to your partner how you’re feeling, being careful to avoid pointing the finger at them too soon. Give them a chance to respond and explain things from their point of view, and then have a conversation at your own pace.
Part of being in a relationship with someone is accepting them and accepting that things will change over time. They should be able to hold the space for you to talk about how you’re feeling without getting overly defensive. They might be upset or frustrated, but it’s important that you feel heard and understood.
By having this conversation, you’re likely to ease off the pressure you’re feeling—they may not have realized the full reasoning behind your lack of interest in sex, so they’ll likely be relieved to be able to address it and discuss it with you. They’ll also be able to support you more with anything that’s going on, which, again, will create a stronger bond between the two of you.
Then you can start to take things at a pace that suits you, keeping communication as open as possible. It can be hard at first, but you can establish some boundaries with your partner and start to slowly discuss how you are both feeling.
If you’re the partner that’s still interested in sex, you might feel uncomfortable bringing this conversation up, but it’s important for you to understand what’s going on. You need to avoid placing any blame or guilt on your partner—it can be frustrating, but sex isn’t something you’re “owed”—and you must make that clear to your partner. This will help them with any feelings of guilt they’re experiencing and will strengthen your communication and emotional connection.
One or both of you has trust issues.
If you’ve had any reason to lack trust in your partner, it can hugely affect how you feel about them sexually. The idea of being intimate with someone who has betrayed your trust or given you reason to question them can feel impossible at times.
Again, this can lead to feelings of resentment from both sides, from “How can they believe I’d want to sleep with them when they cheated on me?” through to “It’s in the past, why can’t they get over it so we can have sex?”
Having sex when you’re in a relationship with someone is often so much more complex than casual sex or one-night stands. That means there are feelings and consequences, and it’s often harder to “just have sex” when there is a huge emotional gulf between you.
Trust issues can physically, tangibly impact your sex drive, too, so it’s worth remembering that “getting over something” is never as easy as it sounds.
How to approach this:
In this situation, couples therapy is a great option to consider. There’s often a lot of emotion on both sides, and it can help to have an external mediator to guide conversations and offer support.
Trying to navigate this kind of thing on your own will frequently lead to the same old arguments, which isn’t helpful for either of you. If you both want to find a way to move on, getting professional help is likely to be the best option if it’s available to you.
By working with someone else, you create a neutral, safe space to explore your feelings. You can both be honest and have someone help you explain your emotions if it’s difficult. Rather than arguing in your home and things quickly turning to anger, you can use couples therapy to explore the feelings underneath everything that’s been going on.
You’ll also be given some guidance around rebuilding trust. Having your trust betrayed isn’t something that’s easy to get over, and most of us have no idea how to truly move on from that. Having a professional guide you through trust-building activities and allowing you both to be vulnerable will be invaluable.
Fertility issues and miscarriages.
If you and your partner have decided you want to try having a baby together, sex becomes a much bigger deal than normal. There can be so much added pressure when you both want to “get it right” and “succeed.”
This can be especially difficult for women—there’s so much unspoken pressure on women to “be real women” and be able to get pregnant (not true, but a lot of us feel it!). If a couple is struggling to get pregnant naturally, the woman will often feel like she’s “failing” at being a woman, and she will put a lot of pressure on herself, which can take much of the enjoyment out of sex for both of you.
Sex with the intention of having a baby can take the romance out of things—you might start to feel like you’re going through the motions or ticking the boxes of what positions are most “effective” at getting pregnant. As such, your natural sex drive may be impacted, and any disappointing negative pregnancy tests can really affect how confident you feel having sex again. If things don’t feel like they’re working, you might start to resent each other or feel guilty for not “being able” to get pregnant together.
If you’re going through IVF, having sex naturally may start to feel redundant or “pointless”—you might feel like one or both of you have failed and that there is no purpose to having sex if it doesn’t result in what you both really want.
Going through a miscarriage is not only emotionally traumatizing for many women and couples, but it can also have a huge impact on how our bodies physically feel, too. Miscarriages can cause physical changes, with conditions like vaginismus causing the vagina to become impenetrable, essentially, due to fear or trauma. This can have a huge impact on how confident and comfortable women feel having sex.
On top of that, it can be incredibly hard to be intimate with someone after going through something traumatic like losing a child. Again, this can cause unfair resentment from partners who are frustrated as they don’t feel “trusted” by their partners.
How to approach this:
Again, one of our first suggestions here would be therapy, either together or independently. Going through any kind of trauma can create long-standing behaviors that can impact every area of your life.
It’s important to acknowledge how you both feel. It’s likely played a role in your relationship, even if you hadn’t realized it until it presented as a lack of interest in, or avoidance of, sex. Rather than placing blame on yourself or the other person, talk compassionately and honor how you’re both feeling.
The trauma of infidelity or miscarriage can cause a person to withdraw as a coping mechanism—this can lead to the other partner feeling shut out, which is especially hard when they’re also dealing with that trauma.
Therapy offers a way to both feel listened to and trusted, rather than isolated and alone. Communication is key, as is patience—we’re often unaware of just how much certain events have affected us until later down the line when it presents in more obvious ways. Moving through this together will take a lot of compassion and understanding.
Similarly, difficult childbirths, or any kind of pregnancy complication, can often lead to a disconnection between women and their bodies. It may feel too hard for women to associate the trauma with their physical bodies, which can present as a lack of interest in sex, discomfort with physical affection, or an identity crisis.
Essentially, they are trying to distance themselves from the body that “betrayed” them (this is never the case, but it can still be how many women feel) or caused the trauma and distress, as well as any feelings of guilt or shame.
This is where individual therapy can be incredibly helpful—coming back to yourself and learning that you are a whole person will make a huge difference to how you feel about your partner. Reconnecting with your body can take time after something traumatic, but communication and patience from your partner will make it so much easier, along with professional support.
The bottom line.
At some point, you might have to accept that it’s okay if things don’t change. Some marriages don’t involve sex—and that works for some people. Many marriages become more focused on companionship than chemistry over time, and, as long as both people are happy with that, it can lead to long, happy relationships.
Equally, it’s okay to realize that your marriage is no longer working for you, or for both you and your partner. It can be incredibly sad, but some couples do grow apart over time for many different reasons, and not everyone is comfortable staying in a relationship like that.
Some things are too hard to overcome or become too detrimental to either one or both of you, and it can become unhealthy to try to work through it.
It’s important to remember that a marriage not working out the way you wanted it to is not a failure. It’s often due to circumstances outside of our control, and it doesn’t mean either one of you has necessarily done anything wrong. Unfortunately, certain challenges are simply too big to overcome. For some people, fixing their marriage actually means acknowledging that it needs to end.
Other relationships go through dry spells, for any number, or combination, of reasons. It can be challenging, but it’s possible to make it through these bumps in the road with some patience, compassion, and, where necessary, some external support from a professional.
Communication is key, and, while it can be very difficult, honesty is crucial to making it out of the rough patches. It’s healthy and normal to have challenges; disputes or disagreements show that you’re honest about how you feel, and the fact you’re still together while weathering a storm says a lot about your commitment to each other.
Still not sure how to approach the lack of sex in your marriage? It’s not an easy situation to be in, and it might be all the more difficult if you struggle to talk about it with your partner. Talking things through is often the first and most important step to resolving issues.
Speak to an experienced relationship counselor to guide you through this issue because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can listen to you both and offer tailored advice to help you work through the underlying causes for the lack of physical intimacy.
Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.
While you can try to work through this situation yourself or as a couple, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people – both couples and individuals – try to muddle through and do their best to solve problems that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to an expert. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.
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