You are currently viewing Episode 287: Hope For A Sexless Marriage?

Episode 287: Hope For A Sexless Marriage?

When someone is committed to fidelity and their partner absolutely does not want sex—is there any hope?

Technically, sexless is considered less than 10x a year—but for some people, there is no sex. Sometimes each partner still has desire but they don’t know how to talk about it.  They may even masturbate on their own but feel it’s too complicated to share with their partner.  Sometimes the sexual pursuer just gives up and becomes a sexual withdrawer.

The danger of a sexless marriage is that the couple may not feel the love of or for their partner and become subject to the temptation of others. They may long for the sexual connection they shared in the beginning; George and Laurie share some ideas about how taking their clothes off again can be safer.


Laurie Watson 00:02
Can you imagine being married and really, never having sex?

George Faller 00:07
Sounds terrible, Laurie.

Laurie Watson 00:09
It is terrible because we want our romantic relationships to be emotionally secure, but we want them to be sexual to who would want to be in a relationship. That’s not sexual. I guess there are people that do, but I’m talking about people where at least one of them wants sex. That seems terrible. So let’s talk about it and figure this out. Awesome.

Welcome to Foreplay radio, couples & sex therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller 00:37
And I’m George Faller, couples therapist,

Laurie Watson 00:39
And we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other.

George Faller 00:45
Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart and the body. Laurie, I was really shocked to hear the statistics that 20% of couples are considered sexless, having sex less than one or two times a year.

Laurie Watson 01:06
Yeah, I mean, it’s less than 10 times technically.

George Faller 01:10
I like to make up my numbers a little bit. Strange, strengthen my argument. But people, right people are having sex once or twice a year or not at all, not at all. And it’s not, you know, a rare exception, it’s actually quite common. You know, chances are, you know, somebody that’s not having sex, and it’s, it appears like they have, right a good relationship and a partner well, and a parent well, and yet in a bedroom, they’re not doing so well. Right. So how do we help them?

Laurie Watson 01:38
That’s so tough, we do need to kind of rely on the one person who wants sex, because that’s, that’s the beginning of leverage. You know, they, they want the relationship to be romantic and sexual. I mean, if two people are given up, they don’t they both don’t want to have sex. That’s whatever, you know, they can do whatever they want, but it’s the person who wants it that the leverage is present with. So I usually begin to ask, you know, what happened? When did it fall apart? When did it stop? Why did it stop? And what I commonly find out, George is, you know, usually that person comes in by themselves, because they think their partner won’t join them. And I asked about their partner and I hear all kinds of things, you know, they’re frigid. They have low tea, they don’t want it. They’re too self conscious. They’ll never do it. They don’t masturbate, you know, that I bring the partner in. And it’s it’s never as dead as the first partner thinks it is. You know, I have talked to I don’t know how many people who say, you know, my partner never thinks about sex never masturbates nothing. Then I talked to the partner. And they’re like, Yeah, Yeah, I do. I mean, you know, more like tension relief, or because it’s so complicated with my partner, I don’t want to you know, get involved with them sexually anymore, because it’s just too complicated, but they are actually sexual.

George Faller 02:56
I think that’s a great point that there’s actually probably more desire than both people in a sexless marriage recognize. People are thinking about it, they just don’t know how to talk about it. A really predictable pattern I see with a lot of couples is if we’re working with a heterosexual couple, where you know, the female is the emotional pursuer, and the male is the emotional withdraw, and they fall into that negative cycle. And there’s a lot of distance in a relationship. And before you know that, that emotional distance starts to get pulled into the bedroom. Right. And for a lot of men, that is how they can be vulnerable and connect. So they need that sex to kind of start bridging that distance even emotionally. For a lot of women, hey, I don’t really want to have sex with this guy. I don’t feel close, I don’t really feel so safe. I start to feel objectified, it feels like it’s just an act, I don’t feel like I’m present. You can see how you know, their desire, they start to kind of shut down and not want sex. And then when they start to reject their partner and not wanting to have sex, now we’re in trouble. Right? So now this this male who was pursuing sexually is no longer pursuing. Right and now there’s all this pressure on both of them, the female partner doesn’t feel safe. And now before you know that they love each other and not having sex.

Laurie Watson 04:16
Many times when I hear about the breakdown. So I ask couples when did it first start becoming a problem and oftentimes, there’s a there’s a misinterpretation of his sexual push. She may be from her history, or trauma or, or whatever, sees him only wanting sex versus wanting her wanting to be attached to her and connected to her sexually. And I think for a lot of the men that come in to see me, they don’t just want to get off, right, you know, they really do connect in their bodies their body has a language has a fluency that their words don’t and so they reach out in love to connecting their body. And when they’re turned down, or their partner, usually female who says, You know, I need word kind of connection first, you know, hey, you don’t have words. And so he’s using his body to get there and and many times after sex, he feels more comfortable to talk and to be more vulnerable. So, you know, some of it, I think, is they don’t have enough language to talk about what they feel and men. I mean, if they’re if he’s an emotional withdraw, and a sexual pursuer, you know, words are not a strength, so he can’t articulate it. And she, you know, she’s deaf to maybe the language of the body, maybe because of testosterone, she just doesn’t have as much natural drive or whatever, she can’t hear it. So it gets really polarized. You know, he only wants sex. And, you know, he thinks she doesn’t want sex. She doesn’t want me.

George Faller 05:55
Well, as an assumption. I think for most therapists, especially EFT therapists, right, we’re coming from our perspective of if you can help create safety in emotional conversations, if he can talk about his hurt in rejection, if she can talk about her feeling of you no pressure of not feeling wanted, you know, emotionally, like when couples can connect around their vulnerabilities, it really launches them into a safer place to then focus on their sexual bond. So that tends to be the order. Right, that and a lot of time in my experience has exactly what works, but it doesn’t always work right in and I think what we’re trying to open up space for in this conversation, especially around sexless couples, is, you know, the importance of addressing the sex a little bit earlier, while you also address in the emotional conversation.

Laurie Watson 06:47
A little bit earlier. I don’t understand how you can de-esalate a couple if you’re not talking about sex. Because generally speaking, one of them is the sexual pursuer and the other is the sexual withdraw just the same in the emotional cycle. There’s a sexual cycle that has a push and pull too. So if you if you don’t talk about it early, you know, I’m a sex therapist. So right people come to me for sexual problems. But I’m also a couples therapist, and people who don’t even know I’m a sex therapist come to me. And the same thing holds it’s I mean, sex is so foundational to the romantic relationship. There’s, there’s actually three cycles, you know, the emotional cycle, the emotional attachment cycle, the sexual attachment cycle, and the caretaking cycle. And those three are really important in terms of their interlocking dynamics, how they influence each other and how they are influenced by each other. So I, I hear Yes, it’d be wonderful. If we could get people emotionally connected, then certainly they would feel more sexually connected. The only problem with it is they don’t always emotional connection doesn’t always lead to sexual security. I don’t think you can be emotionally secure unless we know and understand the dynamics of the sexual relationship.

George Faller 08:08
Well, especially with a sexless couple. The presenting problem is not having sex, besides whatever is happening emotionally in a relationship. So how would you address that? right from the get go that yes, you’re simultaneously addressing their emotions and how they process their fears. That hurts. I mean, that’s, that’s definitely part of it. But how do you make more explicit, this, this lack of conversation around something that’s so important.

Laurie Watson 08:36
Right, so I would ask, especially the sexual pursuer, because that’s where the energy is. You know, in the beginning, like, tell me about what has happened what you feel what does it feel like to not have your bodies sharing? You know, what is that like?

George Faller 08:54
It sucks. I’ll be that pursuer. Okay, it does not feel good. I mean, I’ve tried and I’m sick of trying and it’s just, you know, I read books, I tried different things and and nothing works and you know, you can’t clap with one hand, Laurie?

Laurie Watson 09:08
That’s right. You can’t, that’s painful. Do you say it hurts? And have you told her about you know, how you feel about being so lonely?

George Faller 09:18
I’ve tried everything I’ve talked I haven’t talked I’ve laughed I’ve shown movies books. I’ve tried it all and it’s you know, it’s there’s only so many times you’re going to get rejected before you say it’s not worth it.

Laurie Watson 09:29
I love what this guy is saying. Because he’s he is now putting a few words to how it feels to not be connected to her physically. So you look at her you find her attractive you long for her. Tell me about that.

George Faller 09:44
Yeah, rather you talk to her because this is you know, I don’t want to talk about what I want and what I long for when it’s not gonna happen. You know, there’s something wrong with her. She just doesn’t want to have sex. You know, I met her she wants to have sex but this person I’m with now does not want to have sex. I’m sick of bagging. I’m sick of bagging. So I’m not not going to do that anymore.

Laurie Watson 10:05
Yeah. And if we didn’t ask this guy right in the beginning, George why he was feeling all that resentment, that anger that rejection. I mean, that’s just without Lansing it early. I mean, we could ask her all day long. And she would say, you know, he doesn’t talk to me. He doesn’t share with me. I can be her. You know, I just, you know, he’s just preoccupied with his work. He doesn’t ever really come home and join me. It’s, it’s so lonely being with him. And yeah, then sometimes he just wants it and it’s like, I don’t want to be that kind of receptacle. Just to for him to get off.

George Faller 10:40
Let’s like, forget about it. I mean, she’d be angry too. But I’m actually probably put in words to more of a pursuer, right, because I still have access to the resentment and the anger. You know, fast forward another couple years. I don’t want to feel the pain of the hurt or the anger or the annoyance at a resentment. That’s why the resignation so often is what kicks in, but he’s sexless. It’s like it’s just not worth it. You’re the burned out sexual gets hurt out, right? It’s, it’s like, I don’t want to hurt your feelings. I don’t want to get myself hurt.

Laurie Watson 11:14
I don’t want to leave the marriage. And that’s the problem. Right? If I mean, people have other solutions, and they do leave marriages, and they do do all kinds of stuff, poly, whatever. But I think our problem at Foreplay radio is, how do we help the couple who’s committed to fidelity, but stuck in this really entrenched place where they don’t want to leave the marriage? They do need sex and they’re sexless.

George Faller 11:39
Yes, that’s a great description of the bind the dilemma, they’re getting stuck and they want their partner. They just don’t know how to talk about it in a way that’s going to lead to success. And that’s where we come in.

Laurie Watson 11:53
Hey, I just want to take a minute to thank our Patreon supporters. I am very grateful for what you’ve done and we’d love to invite the rest of you in on our mission.

George Faller 12:01
Your support means more than you realize and it keeps this project moving forward. And we’re really hoping to reach greater heights

Laurie Watson 12:10
Find a link on We are so thankful for your support.

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George Faller 13:34
So Laurie, wow, you get into a relationship you get into a committed relationship, thinking you’re gonna have great sex. And before you know it, that distance creeps in to pressure on both people mounts. And you just don’t want to feel that pain of it not working, it gets easier to not take the risk to prevent the negative, you’ll lose the chance for the positive. And for way too many couples that becomes their story. Right? So I think the first thing we’re trying to do is just normalize that that happens, right? It’s what our body does, when we don’t feel like we have a way out if it’s like, you know, if I’m going to bang my head against the wall, it’s going to hurt I don’t want to bang my head against the wall. Right in sex, there’s been too many negative encounters of rejection and pressure and and not working and failure and chain. So they’re just trying to survive the negativity of that. So I think the first thing that we’re talking about here is the importance of at least addressing a problem. You got to talk about it. You got to start saying, you know, listen, we and both people usually do want to have sex. They just don’t know how to talk about wanting it in a way that’s going to be successful. So how do we really get intentional? I think that’s the big word for me to confront this issue because if you don’t talk about it, it’s gonna be another two years it can be another four years before you know it. And I’m always surprised and I shouldn’t be I guess at this point when both partners are saying how long has it been? Has it been that long? Yeah, two years. No one’s has two years. It’s not It’s been five years. And they’re like Really?

Laurie Watson 15:06
We have sex on vacation that no, never, you have a headache, you’re on your period. Ahh I’ve heard that too. Yeah, it is rough.

George Faller 15:14
And it just shows their brains not thinking about it, if time could just stretch out that long that they got to avoid, they thinking about the topic. So that’s what we’re trying to foster these conversations.

Laurie Watson 15:25
He said something that I think is important and arguable. He said, you know, both people actually want to have sex. And I think that both people long for the sexual connection, perhaps that they shared early on in their life, like, if they could have that back, they would want that, but they’ve lost their way so to speak. And then I think that’s what we got to help them with is it’s not necessarily just going back to that, because it can probably be better than that. Yeah. But it’s finding a way through to each other again, so that the sex can be both good, you know, and feel good, be intimate, and the vulnerability of starting over, we can help them process that because I think couples, you know, taking their clothes off again, is so vulnerable. Exactly. And so how do they talk about how that feels, and the difficulty that they go through? I think in therapy, certainly, that’s some of what we process and talk through and help people with.

George Faller 16:28
I love that being really scheduling, low expectations. building capacity, if you haven’t had sex in a couple years and throw yourself in bed is probably set you up for failure. Right? But maybe the first time you have a conversation at dinner around sex, and then the next time maybe we do some sense a focus where you just kind of snuggle in bed, that’s all it is you get reacquainted with each other’s body and leave your clothes on. And then maybe the next time Alright, let’s take our clothes off. But none general touch right. This is just a nice way of just kind of massage or whatever else like and it just slowly and each time is follow up by conversations. But now there’s couple who hasn’t been avoiding the topic is starting to slowly encounter and have success in a topic.

Laurie Watson 17:13
Yeah, I had a couple who’s pretty sexless. And, and sex has just never gotten off the ground for many reasons in their relationship. They’ve been married too long. And we did that I had them do an exercise like that, where they were just to touch, no genital stimulation at all just to enjoy both how they were touching their partner and then their partner to feel it. And then afterwards, when we were processing it, you know, I, I don’t think that sex therapy is just about what happened or what could happen or dysfunction. It’s really about exploring people’s minds, and their sexual minds. So I asked her, could you tell me she said, you know, while I touched his legs, I’m like, okay, where did you touch him on his leg? She’s like, and she started giggling and laughing I’m like, No, no, seriously, and I kind of did the whole George thing of, you know, it’s great that it’s laughter It’s, this is an escape valve and, you know, address the block, and then brought her back to what she felt and it was really difficult, but she eventually started sticking with it. And she’s like, you know, I, I really like, like, the outside of his legs are hard and the inside of his legs are soft. And I like both touches. And I said, you know, what about the hair on his legs? And he’s like, I don’t know. Like, okay, okay. You know, and then I said, What would you have wanted to do? And then she goes, and she talks about, you know, what I really would have wanted to do is to get the oil and I would have wanted to heat it and you know, how pursuers are we go on and on and details. And so she goes on and on in details about the oil and then you know, then she’s gonna put it on his legs and touch him. And I asked her what she felt as she was imagining this, you know, and she starts crying. And she’s like, you know, it’s, I’m, I’m turned on, and he’s like, I’m totally turned off, you know, and these people are sexless. Right, but they start talking about this really simple exercise in erotic ways, starting to take down the wall of their eroticism. I think that’s what makes sex sexy for a lifetime- it’s not just what you do in bed. It’s how you think about what you do in bed and how you talk about it, because that’s ageless.

George Faller 19:28
It’s great. If we can get people back into their erotic mind, they’re going to be okay. Right. And I think what is also helpful is to not set them up for failure to have a problem, to have a plan for the dysfunction. That’s probably likely to happen after all these years, right? Because there’s so much pressure so how do you just kind of normalize tha,t those low expectations in the beginning, it’s okay not to have an orgasm. The goal is just to connect the goal is to reacquaint right and if the pressure puts on a break, and it stops the pressure- that you can actually talk about that afterwards is a great success for that story, you know, for that couple have not be so alone with those things. And I think so many couples don’t, they just hope there’s going to be no dysfunction. And then when the when it happens, he can’t get aroused, they can’t maintain whatever the problem is, all of a sudden, they’re like, this is exactly why we don’t have sex, and they go right back to kind of turn it off. So I think we need a real a real plan for the likelihood of that. That’s normal after all these years to have pressure and have and like being able to talk about it is the missing ingredient. To get back to what you’re saying so beautifully the importance of that erotic mind to kind of turn the anxiety into pleasure.

Laurie Watson 20:43
I think you’re right, there’s going to be problems, what you said to just, you know, erections, actually, it turns out that we would think that women turn off more concretely and create sexless marriages. But the statistics say that when a man has ED, that’s often the end of sex. Yeah. And it’s, it’s a harder and no pun intended. You know, to, you know,

George Faller 21:08
It’s harder when it gets hard.

Laurie Watson 21:10
Haha. But I think the beautiful thing about starting over is the body does also have a life of its own. So it has a memory, about how good it feels to be touched. Especially if we’re allowing touch to happen without pressure, you know, just naked to naked. That’s such a great feeling.

George Faller 21:31
So it’s going to happen so many times, you’re right, the man is the one that wants to not feel like a failure. So the best way to do it, I was just don’t have sex. Yeah, right in and what a tragic loss it is, for the couple, to just be able to have that conversation that says, I still want to have sex with you, I’m just afraid, I’m afraid is not going to work, you’re going to be disappointed in me, and then I’m going to really get disappointed in myself. And it’s those feelings that I’m trying to avoid not trying to avoid you. I know when a couple is having that conversation with each other, they’re on the road towards sex.

Laurie Watson 22:05
You know, you think about like, what has happened, this is the intersection of the emotional connection is what has happened so that when something doesn’t work sexually, she’s not able to reach orgasm, or he’s not able to reach orgasm, or, you know, he can’t reach orgasm inside her anymore. That’s that happens about, you know, he can maybe with like hard masturbation or hard stimulation, but not, you know, individually. And they don’t know how to accommodate that. Because they’re they don’t have enough flexibility, talking about these really intimate body sensations and experiences. It’s like, it’s so taboo. Even if they are good friends, they don’t necessarily have a way to talk about sex. And so they don’t, and then it just shuts it down.

George Faller 22:54
So important. Again, I just want to highlight it, and 10% of sexual encounters are going to end with some kind of miss. Right? And yet, there’s not a plan for those misses. We all have these high expectations is always going to work well. Right. So they just prepare couples beforehand, like No, it’s okay. If it don’t work, how do you see the opportunity and not to have a conversation you normally don’t have? Right? It’s really a doorway into the most vulnerable parts of who we are, when things are not working. And I think when couples feel empowered to have those conversations, depression, the fear of it not working really reduces.

Laurie Watson 23:31
Yeah, I agree. The normalization of sexual problems. People think everybody else is having hot sex. And the truth is, is everybody is having difficulties at some point in their sex life. And yeah, 10% only 10% I don’t know if I can make that. You know, but it’s, it’s always good. You know, just connecting in your body is always good. In my mind. Yeah. So I want to convey to people that senselessness can be helped, you know, and I know you’ve tried everything. But sometimes they haven’t. Sometimes they really haven’t told their partner Look at this, for me is essential. I have to have this I had one guy. And, you know, it was difficult to his wife had had trauma. There were a lot of problems. And he was the sweetest man emotionally connected, emotionally connected inside. And he said, Honey, I get it. I am heartbroken over what’s happened to you and I will support you. Totally. You got one year. Right? You know, I mean, he’s like, this is essential for us to have sex. And I mean, some people out there maybe say, Oh, that’s unfair to put a timeline on it, but I thought it was so authentic. He knew he needed sex to be connected to her and he was fighting for the relationship to say, look it It can’t be like this forever.

George Faller 24:57
He was standing up for himself, while holding the relationship which is beautiful.

Laurie Watson 25:02
And loving her, and caring about what had happened to her.

George Faller 25:06
And knowing how important it is. And I think that’s our main message here, that there’s so much love in sexless marriage, that you’re willing to kind of lose parts of yourself and hide parts of yourself to keep the peace and keep it going. If we could channel that love in more explicit direct ways you can unleash that into a better sex life and you both deserve that. So if you’re listening and you’re in one of these marriages, just have a conversation. That’s this first step. And if you take that first step, and you kind of set yourself up you know the build your capacity over time with a plan and you have a plan for it not working. You’re gonna be good to go.

Laurie Watson 25:46
Thanks for listening.

George Faller 25:47
Keep it hot y’all.

Announcer 25:50
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