The Slow, Cyclical Death of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage and How it Causes Divorce

One of the tell-tale signs of divorce is the end of sexual intimacy. This isn’t an overnight or immediate occurrence. It’s slow and gradual, but it does usually result in the death of the marriage. If you catch the early warning signs, you can deal with this terrible problem, but the longer you wait, the harder and more painful it can be to solve.

Newlyweds Don’t Ever Suspect the End of Sex

It can seem hard to imagine for a couple, early in their courtship, to think there could be a time in the future when they won’t want to have sex with each other. Early on there’s a passionate drive towards each other that almost seems defined by physical attraction. But in time, as the hormones cool off, and the relationship settles into a normal companionship, couples have to be more mindful of their physical relationship.

Different Levels of Sex Drive is Normal

In any marriage, there’s always going to be one person with a stronger sex drive than the other. Connected couples usually find a way to be sensitive to each other about this difference, showing respect and love whenever sexual intimacy is initiated by one or the other.

There is a general tendency to think of the husband as the one who initiates sex in most relationships. It is statistically proven that men usually need sexual receptivity to feel romantic and women need romance to feel sexually receptive. But a low sex drive can come from either the man or the woman for many reasons.

Marriages end after a period of time without sexual intimacy
Colleen McNamee shares her expertise as a divorce mediator on the common causes of divorce and how to avoid it.

The Interaction Between the Relationship and Sexuality

There are many ways that conflict can manifest itself in a marriage—conflicts in goals, a loss of identity, financial infidelity, or any of the other common challenges within marriage. These can act as lighter fluid to this underlying difference of sexual desire.

Or the difference in sex drive can also become the inciting source of conflict. The disparity is always looming, ready to either be a problem or make other problems worse. So it’s not surprising that it would become a difficulty whenever divorce is on the horizon.

It Starts With a Small Change in Mood

There will usually be a subtle shift in the sexual intimacy department, where one partner doesn’t feel like engaging in sex and rejects the advances of the other. The partner who is less inclined to physical interaction will claim to be tired or not in the mood. Over time, the refusals continue. These denials start a chain reaction that is devastating to the marriage. Inevitably, the rejected partner stops seeking affection, and intimacy crawls to a stop.

Deep Loneliness for the One Who is Rejected

The spouse with the stronger drive for physical intimacy is desperately longing for more sexual attention. When the issue comes up, it often leads to an argument. The partner who initiated the subtle shift away from intimacy knows it is causing issues, but they can’t understand the seriousness of the situation. They think, “It’s just sex!”

To the spouse who wants more sexual intimacy it’s heartbreaking. Sex represents love to them. It defines whether they feel attractive. They feel unwanted by their spouse, both sexually, and personally. To have a spouse that doesn’t want to have sex as regularly as they do can be quite traumatic.

When Sex Ends, All Intimacy Ends

Intimacy on all levels stops. Those common acts of love and closeness stop happening. The casual hugs. The gentle touches. The laughter. They stop talking to each other about personal topics. At the root of this disconnect is a deep pain—a heartfelt denunciation as serious as if one of the spouses had said that they hated the other.

Discussion on the subtle end to sexual intimacy, which often happens before divorce in many marriages.

Rejecting Sex Is About Control

Saying “no” to sex may start simply as genuine tiredness or thoughtlessness. But in time, if the trend continues, it becomes an issue of control. It may not be conscious, intentional, or mean-spirited, but this becomes the subtle reality. The person with the lower sex drive controls the sexual relationship. They decide when they have physical interaction. They control the bedroom.

Responses Escalate to Greater Levels of Anger

Initially, the spouse wanting more sexual interaction may respond to the subtle change in a casual and kind way.

Imagine approaching your spouse in this situation, how exposed you would feel trying to bring up this difficult subject. Then imagine being met with coldness. Then imagine this interaction getting repeated several times.

That original vulnerability shifts to defensiveness and anger. This creates a cycle, where the rejected spouse is not likely to treat his or her partner in a way that will lead to romantic feelings or arousal. Then contempt starts to creep in. This only increases the problem, creating a cycle of anger and mutual rejection.

The partner wanting more sexual intimacy becomes so hurt that he or she stops all attempts to engage with their spouse. Intimacy has become too painful. You can imagine how vulnerable individuals in this situation would be to infidelity.

Solving the Death Cycle of Sex Comes from Forgiveness and Empathy

To end this cycle, there must be a de-escalation of the problem. The spouse who has felt rejected must forgive their partner. This can be very challenging, but it’s absolutely necessary if divorce is to be prevented. They need to start treating their spouse with kindness and openness again, in spite of the hurt they’ve felt.

And the spouse that started the subtle change in sexual intimacy needs to understand and empathize with their partner. He or she needs to understand how withholding sex has put them into an unfair position of power within the relationship. On one hand, they are withholding sex from their spouse; on the other hand, they are also requiring that their partner remains faithful.

The Doctor Prescribes More Sex, Even if You Don’t Feel Like It

At the end of the day, the solution for couples with different levels of sexual interest is to have sex, even when one of the partners may not feel like it. Sex is actually good for you. Studies have shown that when people with lower libidos engage in sexual activity, they do get aroused, and are able to have an orgasm. The couple grows closer to each other on all levels. Intimacy is restored. The communicating, the laughing, and the closeness can return.

Withholding sex from your partner is not a solution to marital problems. Sexual intimacy heals couples that have been hurt by each other and allows them to be reconciled.

The only alternative is divorce. That’s the choice facing couples in this situation.

These Solutions Are Not Easy

Sexuality can be a very gratifying part of life, but forcing oneself into such a personal experience with someone who has hurt us deeply can be a very challenging process. Many couples have waited so long to deal with the problems in their marriage, the cyclical death of the relationship has become entrenched—The only option they can visualize is divorce. Other couples want to try to make things better.

If you’re in this situation, whichever option you choose, call McNamee Mediations today to find the tools that you will need to deal with this very difficult and painful problem. We have family mediation services as well as marriage and family therapists that we work with that we can recommend to you.

Whichever choice you make, the road forward is going to be very difficult, and it’s our job to help you make the first steps. Call us today to see what those steps are and get the help that you need.