Sexless marriage: is it the end?

Siski Green / 04 October 2016

If you think not having sex means your relationship is over, think again. We look at how to make a sexless marriage work.



The sexless marriage has such a depressing ring to it and yet there are likely thousands of couples living it who would describe themselves as happy and contented, despite not having regular sex. Don’t believe it? There’s even been a term coined for it – the companionate marriage, because there are couples who feel close, loving and yes, even intimate, without the physical act of sex.

“Couples may not have sex because of an injury, an illness or medication,” says sex therapist Dr Ian Kerner. “But there are also many couples where both partners feel sex simply isn’t a priority.” The key here, though, is the word ‘both’ – if you want to enjoy a strong healthy partnership with someone without sex, it must be something you’re both on board with. So, whether you can’t have sex because of medication or an illness, or whether your sexual desire has simply waned and it doesn’t seem as important anymore, there are ways to ensure your relationship remains strong. Here they are:

Value the friendship you have

As we know, friendships often last longer than lovers and this is because of the strong bond that a true friendship creates. No wonder then that when Gallup Organisation’s director Tom Rath researched friendship for his book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, he found that married people state friendship is five times more important than physical intimacy within a marriage.

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Keep that friendship fire burning

Good friends may be fun and make you laugh; others may listen well, but there’s one thing they all have in common: sincerity. 

“One of the main building blocks of a solid friendship is the ability and desire to be sincere with the other person,” says sex therapist and relationship counsellor Dr Ian Kerner. “Once we feel we’re truly honest with someone else and they still feel immense affection for us, it’s a feeling of acceptance and true friendship.” That’s the feeling you need to try and maintain. 

So whether you’re the type who tells funny anecdotes all day long or prefers a serious discussion about the news of the day, show your true self to your partner.

Get physical

Not in that way! Take walks together, play tennis, take dancing lessons – try to add more hobbies or activities that you both enjoy and can do together. And if possible make them physical. “Playing sport or enjoying the outdoors together is an incredibly powerful way to bond,” says Kerner. “Both help release serotonin and other feel-good hormones which you will subconsciously associate with your partner too.” 

Exercise also make you feel healthier, which will boost your overall happiness levels. The end result? A more contented you.

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Don’t forget affection

Okay, so you’re not having sex but if you want your relationship to be special, i.e. different to the friendships you have with people you’re not married to or not in a relationship with, you absolutely need affection. 

Snuggle, cuddle, kiss, give massages, lie close to each other at night. These acts help define your relationship as loving and deeply connected in a way that other friendships aren’t. You may find that sexual interest returns but if it doesn’t, that’s fine too, because your needs for closeness and connectedness will be satisfied via other means.

Be open to change

If you haven’t had sex in years it needn’t mean that the situation remains like that forever. 

“People’s libidos change throughout their lives,” says Kerner. “And if you’ve chosen not to have sex because of ill health or because it didn’t suit your lifestyle at the time for other reasons, you may find that you want sex again.” 

The important thing is to communicate what you’re going through. “If you’ve been in a happy sexless marriage for a long time, then you’ll need to address this new desire for sex together as a couple. Your relationship is a journey and so there may be changes to your path as time goes on, but the important thing is to do it hand in hand with your partner.”

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