In modern times, the sexless marriage is often portrayed as an inevitability, not just a possibility. This narrative is baked into the plots of TV and film scripts, in addition to the content we come across on social media platforms. Subconsciously, it paints a picture where sex is exciting and liberating BEFORE you are married. There is a thrill in the chase or in hooking up with someone new. Even cheating – think Cassie and Jacob in Euphoria – is portrayed as erotic. But after marriage? It’s a downward spiral. Things might be fun for a time – especially in the honeymoon phase – but it'll eventually flame out. Things get boring and you get tired of your spouse. In another immensely popular TV show - The White Lotus – you see versions of these narratives everywhere. Boring married sex through Harper and Ethan in Season 2 as well as Nicole and Mark in Season 1. The thrill of the chase through Albie and Lucia in Season 2. Perhaps this is what you believe today. Maybe you’ve even arrived at this blog because you searched “sexless marriage” on Google and are worried that this is your fate. You married someone and the flame is gone. You worry if it’ll ever come back or if this will just become a path to cheating or divorce. This is just what happens. The good news is that this is all a lie. While your experience may be real, and you’re currently in a sexual rut with your spouse, this does not mean that you are doomed. There was once a flame, and there can be a flame again. Many of the relationship dynamics we see through TV and film are not healthy or accurate depictions of reality. In fact, there are marriages everywhere across the world that have a healthy, fulfilling and erotic sex life, no matter how long they’ve been married. These stories often aren’t told on-screen, but just because they aren’t highly publicized doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Dr. John Gottman, who is perhaps the world’s top relationship expert, has come across thousands of thriving couples during his 40+ years in the psychology field. His New York Times bestseller, The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work (which obviously includes sex), has sold millions of copies. Dr. Tim Keller, thirty-plus years into his own marriage, proposes a stunning reality through another New York Times bestseller, The Meaning of Marriage: “The best sex makes you want to weep tears of joy." Clearly, we don’t need to look elsewhere for intimacy or worry about the future, because the answer to unlocking our sex lives can be found in the here and now. Healing can happen and the flame can be sparked once again, but first it starts with understanding why we have a sexless marriage to begin with.



Understanding each other sexually is foundational to developing a thriving sex life, but far too many marriages power on without EVER figuring this out. One person wants sex all the time. The other doesn’t. One person gets turned on effortlessly. The other takes a long buildup. Rather than exploring these differences with curiosity, we often just get frustrated and this causes tension. We wrote an entire blog on the sexual love languages and how much of our biology influences our sex drive. When we take time to explore this without judgment, we realize that much of how our spouse is wired sexually is fixed. Getting frustrated about it is relatively pointless. You might want to change them, but you can’t change things that are biological. This might be a core reason why you’re currently in a sexless marriage.  Every marriage is likely to have some sexual differences and our job should be to work together to figure out a scenario that is mutually beneficial. Sex will always be a negotiation. It will always be a compromise and a sense of meeting in the middle. For example, understanding the differences between spontaneous desire and responsive desire will allow you to create a rhythm in your marriage where sometimes maybe you have quickies, while others you create a romantic setting with a long buildup. It is remarkable how many marriages don’t effectively communicate about sex, especially when it comes to our needs, wants, desires and fantasies. For some reason, we just expect to understand each other sexually.  Gottman has studied over 40,000 couples in the last 40 years, and is able to predict divorce with 90% accuracy. In his book, he comments on the problem of communication as it relates to sex: “So often when a husband and wife talk to each other about their sexual needs, their conversations are.. indirect, imprecise, inconclusive. Frequently both partners are in a hurry to end the discussion, hopeful that they will miraculously understand each other’s desires without much talk.” As Gottman explains, part of the reason for this is that we simply don’t know HOW to talk about it without sounding critical or feeling embarrassed. He cites patience, gentleness and avoiding criticism as key principles of effective communication about sex.  Sometimes when we are articulating our needs, or our spouse is articulating theirs, this leads to us taking things personally. But this isn’t necessary, because many times it isn’t really about us at all. It’s about how we are both wired. Sexual difference does not mean your spouse is not attracted to you. Gottman explains: “Don’t take [sex] personally. This sounds contradictory because sex is so intimate, but to an enormous degree, what turns your partner on or off isn’t about you! Sexual proclivities are so deeply entrenched and idiosyncratic.. It isn’t an implied criticism of your attractiveness or [skill in the bedroom].. Try to have the same attitude a professional cook has about preparing food. A chef isn’t insulted if a customer isn’t in the mood for polenta tonight or has an aversion to olives. Instead he or she makes accommodations that will satisfy the customer’s palate.” Poor communication also happens because we don’t even understand ourselves sexually, underscoring the importance of learning the sexual love languages If everything we discussed in this section sounds spot on with what’s unfolding in your relationship, then starting to understand each other and learning to compromise will be foundational towards getting out of a sexless marriage.


If we’re not careful, the challenges that we go through in life can easily break the “oneness” of our relationship and produce a sexless marriage. This doesn’t even necessarily have to mean circumstances that are negative or tragic.  They could be good things that ultimately drive us apart. In his book, another one of Gottman’s principles is the importance of “turning toward each other” and responding to “little bids of connection” throughout the day.  As he explains: “in marriage, couples are always making what I call “bids” for each other’s attention, affection, humor or support. Bids can be as minor as asking for a backrub or as significant as seeking help in carrying the burden when an aging parent is ill. The partner responds to each bid either by turning toward the spouse or turning away. A tendency to turn toward your partner is the basis of trust, emotional connection, passion and a satisfying sex life.” In other words, as we process both the big events and the daily challenges of life, we can do this either together or apart. And sometimes, we don’t even realize when we are doing the latter. For example, if you have a full schedule, one option to turn towards your spouse would be processing the highs and lows with them on a daily or weekly basis. Whatever stress you feel from work or even raising children, you can use that as an opportunity to build trust and intimacy through mutual disclosure. But you can also isolate when you have a full schedule and turn away from your spouse, opting to shut down at night when there is opportunity for conversation. Worse, you can opt not to share with them AND also reject their bids for connection or affection on top of that. It’s quite easy to see how all of this would create a widening gap between two people. Similarly, if we experience a tragic death in the family or are even in the process of getting a degree, we can use these moments as cues to turn towards our spouse or away from them. We can become so consumed with our own lives that we start living it separately or we can invite our spouse into that process.  In the digital world, there’s also the added complexity of distraction through all the different devices and vices that are at our disposal. As Gottman puts it, “couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice.” Perhaps the worst outcome is when we turn against our spouse. This isn’t a simple matter of ignoring or isolating, rather it means deliberately taking out our frustrations on our spouse through whatever events or challenges we’re facing. This could mean getting irritable or angry with them when they try to make a bid for connection in the midst of your full schedule. Or if you’re grieving, sad or depressed, it could mean reacting to them negatively when they try to make a sexual advance.

As you process all of this information – turning towards, away or against – you likely can immediately identify where your marriage stands across this spectrum. You can reflect back on recent events and challenges, and acknowledge if you used them to create more intimacy or distance with your spouse.

Ultimately, in these cases, a sexless marriage might be the result of a thousand little micro moments of drifting away. Sometimes people use this as an excuse to get a divorce, especially in celebrity marriages, as “we drifted apart” is the main narrative put forth to media outlets.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. Our options aren’t simply choosing between a sexless (or passionless) marriage and getting a divorce. There was once a flame, and there can be a flame again.  There was once connection, love and intimacy, and there can be again.


The second reason for a sexless marriage bleeds into the third reason, which is that we’ve simply stopped trying. Or at least, tried to the level we once did. Most people put in a significant amount of effort in the early stages of a relationship or what some refer to as the honeymoon stage. If they didn’t, then the relationship would fail almost immediately. At this stage, most of us would have done anything for our spouse.  The problem is that this stage is the most shallow form of a relationship and is usually driven by “the romantic high” we feel for the other person. Which means that when this feeling of euphoria wears off, so does our effort. We discover that we didn’t truly love our spouse in the ways that are needed to sustain a sexually and emotionally fulfilling marriage. Rather, we loved how they could make us feel and what they could do for us.  Gottman lists trust, self-sacrifice, attunement, commitment and loyalty amongst the biggest components of the later stages of the most successful relationships. None of these things are built simply off riding a euphoric high. This doesn’t mean that feelings aren’t important or that they aren’t a component of relationships, it simply means that they shouldn’t be the primary driver of effort. True love is much more of an action, than a feeling.

When we start to put in effort again, and turn towards our spouse, we might not always “get the feels” from it. That’s okay. Feelings come and go. Often when we put the effort in first, the feelings of love will return over time.

It’s also important to highlight that sometimes when we stop trying it’s not just with the relationship, but also with ourselves. We start getting complacent, and in some cases stop caring about our bodies at all.  You might have googled “sexless marriage” partially because you’re not attracted to your spouse at the moment. Maybe you don’t feel they even resemble who you once married. Or perhaps you think your spouse feels that way about you. This topic can be incredibly sensitive, because aging and a change in appearance are a natural result of growing old together. Sometimes a change in appearance can happen due to the result of an accident or an illness. That's not what we're referencing here. We are primarily talking about the intersection of the investment into the relationship and the upkeep of our bodies. Why is it that when some people divorce or end a relationship, they all of a sudden start putting maximum effort in upkeeping their appearance? In some cases, people become consumed with developing a “revenge body”, which is “when you break up with someone.. you work your ass off to look the best you can just to piss him/her off and make them regret their poor choices,” UrbanDictionary explains. If we care what someone thinks when we’re dating them, why don’t we also carry the same principle into our marriage? It is healthy to care about the sexual intimacy of our marriage and by extension, care about looking good for our spouse. This is NOT about fitting into some sort of standard, or starting to artificially change your appearance to please them. Rather, it is about maintaining the effort and care that you once put in. But again, aging is a natural process. Regardless of how we look, it is possible to maintain attraction and intimacy through every season of life.  Remember Dr. Keller’s words above, “the best sex makes you want to weep tears of joy.” Keep in mind that when he wrote this, he had been married for 30+ years. Keller and his wife were in their 50s and 60s, meaning that clearly they did not look like they once did. While many people are able to put on fronts to the friends or family around them, only you and your spouse truly know in your hearts if you’ve stopped trying. And regardless of how you feel in the current moment, a path exists to start trying again and to get your connection and intimacy back.



Another reason for a sexless marriage is that trust was broken at some point in the past. Compared to the fluidity of the previous two reasons, infidelity is a moment in your relationship history where you can pinpoint things going completely off the rails. For some, this ends that marriage completely. But for others, they decide to power on and this often requires untangling a mess. It can be complicated rebuilding a sex life with your spouse when you had sex with another person. After traveling the globe for ten years to speak with couples on the topic, psychotherapist Esther Perel examines infidelity in-depth in The State of Affairs. Towards the end of her book, she outlines the three possible outcomes to an affair for those that decide to stick together.  She labels the first group of people “sufferers”, explaining that “in some marriages, the affair is not a transitional crisis, but a black hole ensnaring both parties in an endless round of bitterness, revenge and self-pity. Even five or ten years after the events, the affair is still at the epicenter of the relationship.”

Of course, no one wants this to be their existence. Perel likens this type of relationship to wearing a “permanent cast”. 

The second group essentially stays in the relationship out of complacency. She calls these people “the builders”. Although they don’t experience the same level of hostility as the people above, they simply want to “keep the peace” and don’t want to lose everything because of infidelity. However, they never end up experiencing the emotional or physical intimacy that could be possible for them. The last group, “the explorers”, are the ones who let infidelity transform their relationship in a positive way. Perel explains, “these [people] come to see the infidelity as an event that, though insanely painful, contained the seeds of something positive.” They go through therapy, they walk side-by-side alongside a trusted group of people and they do the work of discovering why the affair happened in the first place. Through the pain and triggers, they grow closer. There’s no going back to the way things were, but in doing this work you can build something new. Wherever you stand across the spectrum, you do have a choice between these three options. Many people have decided to stay together, but find themselves muddling between the first and second groups of people. If you’ve made the decision to stay, why settle into either of these groups? This is easier said than done, but it is a valid question nonetheless.


In many ways, the last reason is the most important. As we talked about in our blog on the sexual love languages, the foundational principle of every marriage must be self-sacrificial love.  This applies to sex – prioritizing their pleasure over your own – but also every other aspect of the relationship. And it really only works when it is a two-way street, putting the interest of the other over your own.  Otherwise, it becomes exploitation when one person continually sacrifices and the other person selfishly looks out only for their own interests. Dr. Gottman explains that “the building of trust is about having your partner’s best interests in mind and at heart.” There is no person who exemplifies this better in human history than Jesus. He was the ultimate model of self-sacrificial love. The way of Jesus first calls men to lead in this department, as we read in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting.” When this pattern is established in marriage, servanthood becomes your natural posture. When both partners come together and are constantly trying to one up each other – not just with pleasure, but everything – the results can be incredible. Self-sacrificial love naturally produces the kind of intimacy that leads to sex. This doesn’t mean that every single time you perform a self-sacrificial act it will lead to sex, rather each of these little moments pile up over time that create the type of relationship that you long for. Of course, this is hard work. It requires prioritizing your spouse. And if we were to take a hard look at our lives, some of us would realize we have gotten our order of priorities wrong. We have prioritized our work and careers over our spouse. Our kids over our spouse. Maybe even fame, success and influence over our spouse. If we continually make the decision to prioritize other things over our spouse, is it any surprise that we would find ourselves in a distant and sexless marriage?  However, we would propose that your number one priority should not be your spouse, but your spiritual life and your relationship with God. Your spouse comes second, followed by everything else in life. This order of priorities is essential to becoming a person of self-sacrificial love.  The reason for this is that our ability to love another person self-sacrificially is directly tied to our own sense of being loved. The problem is that every single human being is flawed and can only give us an imperfect love. We are bound to get hurt, in some way, by our spouse. They’re going to disappoint us. They’re going to fail us. But they are human and that is to be expected. As author Paul Tripp puts it, “you are a sinner married to a sinner and you are together living in a broken world.” Without God as your first priority and source of love, this is going to sting pretty bad. It’s going to feel personal. But with God, it stings less. With God, you gain the perspective that both you and your spouse are flawed. This doesn’t mean it won’t hurt at all, but when our cup is first filled by him, and we receive his perfect unconditional love with open hands, we can then love our spouse from overflow. When we acknowledge this and start reorienting our lives around Jesus, we find that the goal of self-sacrificial love becomes reality.  We stop becoming prideful and we start becoming more humble. We stop being selfish and learn to be selfless. We live for others and not ourselves. We acknowledge our brokenness. We stop searching for approval. We have a healthy sense of identity and do not NEED another person to live a full life. This is by no means a perfect process. But if both of you believe this and are both actively trying to become more like Jesus, it’s even more powerful. One of Dr. Gottman’s seven principles of a successful marriage is creating “shared meaning”. He writes, “the more you can agree about the fundamentals in life, the richer, more profound, and in a sense, easier your marriage is likely to be.”  Of course, not everyone reading this believes in God – and your spouse might not either – but it is a consideration to make as you contemplate the path forward. Could God be the very catalyst towards reviving your sexless marriage?


Often, when we find ourselves in a sexless marriage, we start believing the lies of the surrounding culture. This is just what happens. We become more tempted to believe that this wouldn’t be happening with someone else or worse, that the state of your relationship is evidence that marriage itself doesn’t work.  And for some, this is when they start to stray. First emotionally, then physically into affairs with other people. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Wind back the clock and go back to the beginning. Why did you get married in the first place? As we mentioned above, if there was once a spark, there can be a spark again. Love, connection and intimacy can be revived. Great sex is still possible, but it requires doing the work. It is an illusion to think that this wouldn’t happen with someone else or to think that marriage itself as an institution doesn’t work. We can’t run from our biology, and what science has proven through attachment theory. We are hardwired to love and to be loved. Some bumps in the road don’t change that.


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