A dry spell, a sexless marriage, the dreaded sexual slump. No matter what you call it, being in one can feel defeating, hopeless and downright awful! But, what is it exactly?
A sexual slump describes a relationship without sexual contact for a period of time, typically 6 months to a year. Longer than a year and a couple may be in a sexless relationship. While a dry spell is normal and pretty common in long-term partnerships, left unchecked it could lead to increased fighting, a loss of connection and possibly signal the end of your marriage or partnership.
How does the sexual slump happen?
There are probably a lot of reasons the slump could or is happening to you; from life transitions like a career change, the birth of a child, or a death in the family, to interpersonal problems and an increase in your arguments your situation likely has a few unique factors that will land you in a dry spell.
In my work as a couples and sex therapist, I have found that regardless of what landed you in the proverbial hot water, the sexual slump has a predictable trajectory. This is good news for those of you looking to get out of it! If you know where you are on the path, you can make a more concrete plan to address the issue.
Regardless of what you and your partner are facing, I know that understanding the stages of the sexual slump will help you to avoid the common pitfalls and keep you on the path to a long and fulfilling relationship or marriage; one with a strong emotional connection and loads of spectacular sex!
So what are those stages?
Stage I: The Realization
For couples inadvertently on the path towards the sexual slump there is often a period of time where everything between you is awesome. You’re in the honeymoon phase, love is blossoming, you just can’t get enough of each other, it’s like you’re addicted! (And according to the research, you might actually be!)
But like all powerful drugs we eventually build up a tolerance. As the honeymoon phase begins to end, most couples find themselves settling. You settle into old habits, you settle into everyday life and it’s likely that your desire for sex settles too.
- Perhaps one person wants sex more than the other?
- Perhaps attraction seems to be fading?
- Perhaps the fear of sexual incompatibility has surfaced?
However you perceive the shift, you now realize that you and your partner need different things when it comes to sex. Finding your way to one another is becoming harder; one of you is initiating more often, one of you feels guilty for saying no or not wanting sex as often as the other person, maybe we’re starting to blame or feel at fault for the change in our circumstances.
This is The Realization Stage.
You have had the realization that sex is going to be different. Where does it go from here?
Stage II: The Escalation
At this point in your relationship the feel-good hormones of first love have diminished, as has your passion for sex. Maybe annoyance, frustration, even distress at the loss of connection with your person begin replacing the warm fuzzies. You’re still having sex, but sexual frequency has likely dropped considerably. You might be engaging in the dreaded “maintenance sex” rather than the exciting and passionate sex of your early relationship.
The problem is that the more you try to connect, the more it feels the other person isn’t capable of meeting you or your needs. And maybe the more one person tries to connect or voice their objections to the growing distance between you, the more the other feels defensive or hurt in response.
This is The Escalation Stage.
The unresolved arguments and missed opportunities for sex are happening more often. The more one of you initiates sex, the more the other person has to play the gatekeeper and say yes or no. The more one person says no to sex, the more the other intensifies the pursuit. You’re both driven by the need to connect with the other person but you feel hindered and trapped by this dance you’re doing.
Getting out of this begins to feel impossible…
Stage III: The Recession
Just when you think you can’t take it any more, one or both of you make the decision to pull away.
The chronic pattern of initiating and gatekeeping around sex has been going on for so long that you both just don’t seem to bother anymore. There is so much hurt, resentment, guilt and shame built up over months and maybe even years of doing this dance that you just stopped trying. Sex is now either completely off the table or very soon will be. Not to mention neither of you feels very emotionally connected. The spark has all but disappeared, you’re more like roommates or strangers than anything else.
But you’re not; strangers don’t have the history you do. This person is still the love of your life but repeated, missed opportunities to connect (sexually or otherwise) have brought only pain, isolation and a sense of hopelessness.
This is The Recession Stage.
The partner who usually initiates has stopped trying and both partners have seemingly checked out. Sexual cues and affection are avoided or are non-existent in your relationship. The water is calm on the surface, but beneath it there is a riptide of emotions for both of you. The gulf is so wide it would take a huge leap of faith to cross it, and neither of you feels prepared to take that kind of risk.
You are likely now in the sexual slump (or very soon will be).
How do you get out of the slump?
I always tell my clients that “awareness is the first step.” Armed with this information, I know you’re already on the path away from the sexual slump. And whether your journey requires 10 or 10,000 steps to get there, it is possible for you.
If you’re interested in learning more, or you want specific tips to get you out of whatever stage you find yourself in, get my free guide: Safeguarding Against the Sexual Slump. Getting this guide will also sign you up for my email list. That’s where I send out free tips and musings on how to build a stronger relationship and develop greater intimacy and sexual connection!
Remember: The loss of passion in a long-term relationship is not a foregone conclusion! You too can have spectacular sex again and continue to have it for years and years to come.
P.S. Looking for more?
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