Sex and Marriage: What to Do When There Isn’t Any

Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD
December 30, 2018

Love can be many things, but most people’s favorite parts of falling in love involve the butterflies in their stomach, the giddiness they feel when they are around the one they love, and the intense, passionate attraction they experience with one another. We’ve all seen the couples who cannot keep their hands off each other while having dinner at a restaurant, or who block walkways with their long, adoring embraces on the street. This exciting time in a relationship is there for a purpose; it helps a couple to bond and develop the intimacy needed to withstand a long-term relationship. But what happens when that “fire” begins to die out? Does it mean the relationship is less special, less intense, less loving?

no sex

Many couples who are together for long periods of time will notice that the fire and heat that was present at the beginning of their relationship has definitely decreased as the years went on… and for good reason! To sustain that much intensity in a relationship would decrease the ability to really learn about someone, to connect on deep, intimate levels, and to be able to really understand the person you’re with. But what happens when ALL of the passion seems to be gone from a relationship? What happens when sex becomes a thing of the past and you and your partner seem more like roommates than sexual and intimate partners?

Many couples experience dips in their sexual chemistry, and some even experience long periods of no sex at all; this usually doesn’t stem from bad sex or inability to have sex, but rather a lack of emotional connection or underlying issues that have made partner’s steer away from the intimate nature of sex. Here are some tips about how to help improve a relationship where sex has diminished/disappeared:

  1. Uncover the Deeper Meaning. Most couples who experience decreased intimate moments admit to feeling a decreased emotional connection with their partner. This could be because of resentments, feelings of being overlooked or not seen, feeling taken for granted or unappreciated, or many other things. Being able to address those things will be necessary to help rebuild the intimacy needed to regain sexual passion in a relationship. A mental health professional can help partners who struggle with communication to uncover these things and help their partner understand and work through them in a healthy way.
  2. Being Clear About Needs. Everyone’s got them… especially about involving sex. Everyone has a different sexual drive and chemistry and some people do need more sex or physical gratification than others. Sex is a major part of human condition and can help a person to feel less stressed, happier with life, and also more connected to their partner and the world around them. If there have been changes in the sexual drive of a partner, a meaningful conversation about needs is important to make sure that the couple decides how to handle this change. Restricting the emotional or physical needs of a partner can breed resentment and continued conflict and strife if not worked out together. Again, mental health professionals are great to help get this difficult conversation going.
  3. Continue to Prioritize the Positive. Are there any things that you and your partner still enjoy doing together? Do them and prioritize them. Sometimes, in emotional ruts, partners can experience tunnel vision, or the unhelpful mental strategy that only allows them to see one part of the relationship and not the other amazing and enjoyable parts of it. Making sure that you set time for fun adventures, activities, or common interests together is important to decrease the tunnel vision and allow you to feel more connected in the process.

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Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD

Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events