Sexless Marriage / Relationship

Before You Walk Away from a Sexless Marriage

A couple sitting on a bed side-by-side, wondering when it's time to walk away from their sexless marriage.

April 27, 2023

I'm Alana
I'm a Couples and Sex Therapist. For over a decade I have been working with partners and individuals, just like you, on their journey to a stronger relationship, a more fulfilling sex life, and finding their true sexual selves.
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Safeguarding Your Relationship Against the Sexual Slump
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Are you and your partner in a sexless relationship?

A sexless relationship or marriage is the end of a long road that I like to call intimate breakdown. It starts with the realization that you and your partner have different libidos and a mismatched desire for sex. It escalates to fighting and the loss of your initial emotional and physical connection and ends with a complete recession of both sex and affection: the sexual slump, which after 6 months to a year can be considered sexlessness.

A sexless partnership can be incredibly frustrating to be in and difficult to navigate, but it can be salvaged and passion and intimacy can be restored. I have worked with many couples in just such a position and there are a lot of things you can try before throwing in the towel on your relationship. Here, I’ll discuss when it’s time to walk away from an unfulfilling, sexless marriage and what I think can be done to regain the spark of passion you once had.

Identify What’s Missing 

If you’re about to walk away from a sexless marriage, it’s important to first identify exactly what is missing in the relationship. Ask yourself: is it just sex I’m missing? Or does emotional connection, general physical contact, or something else, play a part? If you’re having a difficult time coming up with an answer yourself, reach out to a trusted friend or a professional to talk it through.

It could be that you’re longing for a kind of intimacy, or to have certain needs met that aren’t being fulfilled in your marriage or relationship right now. It is often the case that sex is a stand in for emotional connection, vulnerability and feeling accepted by our partner or spouse. While it’s easy to pour all of our hopes and dreams into our sex life, that puts a lot of pressure on sex, and a lot of pressure on our relationship if sex isn’t going well.

Having an understanding of what’s missing can provide you with clarity and help you make informed decisions about what needs to change for your relationship to thrive.

Determine If You Can Bring the Spark Back  

If, after asking yourself the hard questions and understanding exactly what’s missing, you decide to stay in your marriage and make things work, then it’s time to start getting creative.

Open up communication between both of you and get to the root of what’s causing the rift and lack of intimacy between you. Use communication and conflict resolution skills to work through the issue with as little defensiveness and blame as possible. Remember, this is about getting both of you what you want, not criticizing or attributing fault to anyone.

If having a conversation about the breakdown in your intimacy isn’t happening without negative feelings coming up, try couples counseling or sex therapy or experiment with different types of physical connection that can help bring some spark back into the relationship.

Explore Alternative Forms of Intimacy

Speaking of experimenting with physical touch, although it may be difficult, exploring ways to find intimacy outside of sex isn’t just beneficial, it’s necessary. Remember, there are lots of ways to build emotional and physical connection and sex plays just a part in maintaining that intimacy. 

First, acknowledge that you both need connection in your relationship and then commit to discussing these needs and desires openly with your partner. This open communication is an important step towards building the intimate connection you crave.

If you need more emotional intimacy in your partnership, that can be maintained through gestures like exchanging gifts, spending quality time together, expressing interest in your partner’s pursuits and concerns, and affirming your love through words.

If we’re craving more physical intimacy, consider incorporating touch that is affectionate, sensual and even playful or erotic. There are a lot of ways to engage with your partner’s body that don’t involve “sex” and penetrative intercourse, that can be just as (if not more) fulfilling than penetrative sex. Build on the physical affection you already share and incorporate other intimate activities as you feel comfortable.

Trying to uncover and nurture other forms of intimacy can be a daunting task but one worth exploring as a means of bringing you two closer together.

Evaluate the Long-Term Prospects

There are ways to make a sexless marriage work and there are ways to come back from sexlessness. But the reality is, there’s only so much you can do to bring back intimacy if both parties aren’t willing to put in the effort.

When couples find themselves in a sexual slump, or in complete intimate breakdown, it can feel daunting to come back from that. There might be feelings of sadness, loss or hopelessness on board.

Before calling it quits, ask yourself how long you’re willing to wait until you can feel fully connected to your partner again. If that timeline feels too far away, and there are no foreseeable solutions in sight, then choosing to walk away from a sexless marriage may be your best solution. Everyone deserves to feel wanted, desired and loved. If you are not feeling that way in your relationship, and your partner isn’t looking to help you in that department, leaving a sexless relationship could be the right path for you.

Seek Professional Help

If you feel like you are unable to cope with the lack of physical and emotional intimacy in your marriage, and neither of you is ready to give up, don’t hesitate to seek professional help! A marriage counselor and/or sex therapist can help you work through any underlying issues that may be causing the disconnect. If you decide separation is your best option, counseling can also provide support and guidance through the process.

Marriage without intimacy is a difficult situation to be in. But finding yourself in a sexless marriage is not a death sentence! Your relationship can regain the passion and intimacy that characterized its early stages. Instead of deciding to walk away from a sexless marriage, you might find that you can leave the sexual slump far behind you.

If you’re interested in learning more about what you can do to fix a sexless marriage or relationship, consider getting my free guide: Safeguarding Against the Sexual Slump. And be on the lookout for more guides, tips and posts from yours truly.

Alana Ogilvie, LMFT, CST Portland Sex Therapy

Looking for a quick win?

Losing the passion and excitement in a long-term relationship is NOT a foregone conclusion! If you know the roadmap to sexual disconnection, you can come back from (or steer clear of) intimate breakdown altogether!

Download my guide today to learn about the stages that lead relationships to less sexual and emotional connection and what you can do when it starts happening to you.

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