Yes, it can happen to you.
People like to joke that couples stop having sex once they get married. Speaking as a married person, I can tell you that’s not always the case — though I can see where the cliché comes from.
When you’re single, there’s an urgency to sex. You desperately want your partner to know that you love them/you like them/they’re hot. Whatever the message, the sex is about constantly reaffirming that you’re really, really into them. And you are. You desire them every single second, like your skin is on fire for them.
When everything is new, you can’t imagine that this steamy relationship will ever turn into a sexless marriage, but it might.
That’s because the crazy-hot sex in new relationships, as opposed to the tired, routine married sex too many couples settle into, is fueled by a common but rarely named emotion known as “limerence”.
What is limerence?
According to the basic definition, “Limerence, which is not exclusively sexual, has been defined in terms of its potentially inspirational effects and in relation to attachment theory. It has been described as being ‘an involuntary potentially inspiring state of adoration and attachment to a limerent object (LO) involving intrusive and obsessive thoughts, feelings and behaviors from euphoria to despair, contingent on perceived emotional reciprocation …
“It has been suggested that ‘the state of limerence is the conscious experience of sexual incentive motivation’ during attachment formation, ‘a kind of subjective experience of sexual incentive motivation’ during the ‘intensive … pair-forming stage’ of human affectionate bonding.”
In other words, you’re super into them and want them really badly, and that desire is part of the bonding process when you’re falling in love. It’s natural, but it can also be misleading. You think it’ll last forever.
But when you’re married, that urgency lessens.
The other person knows you’re into them, so that reaffirmation doesn’t feel as vital or time-sensitive. Naturally, that feeling of limerence will fade.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this is that the confidence you know feel in the stability of your relationship can all too easily turn into complacency.
The fact that you’re not always trying to get into your spouse’s pants gradually evolves into you never trying to get into your partner’s pants. Time passes and, suddenly, you realize that you’re in a sexless relationship. Yikes.
But it’s not just complacency that leads to a relationship with little to no married sex. As marriage and family therapist Janis Roszler explains, health issues can contribute, too.
“A variety of issues can cause people to have a lower libido — hormone changes, blood sugar swings, depression, weight gain, stress, fatigue, performance anxiety [and] erection problems,” Roszler says.
So definitely check in with your doctor if you’re dealing with any of these issues, too. A simple health fix just might fix your marriage!
Fixing your sexless marriage is definitely worth the work. You would be shocked at how easily a once-healthy couple finds themselves building up resentment, longing for the “good old days” when limerence made them feel lusty, and wondering if that sexless relationship will ever become sexy again.
However, there are warning signs that can help married couples avoid the death of intimacy in their relationship. Sexual complacency doesn’t happen overnight, so there’s always time to course-correct.
If you feel like you’re not connecting with your spouse on a sexual level anymore, or are dealing with a low libido, here are five big warning signs that it’s time to do the hard work to save your marriage.
1. You’re never in the bedroom at the same time.
It’s fine if a couple has different sleep patterns, but if you and your spouse never seem to spend any time in the bedroom together — or whenever you traditionally have sex — that’s a big problem. That means that you’re limiting your situational opportunities to actually initiate sex.
Proximity is a big factor in our decision to have sex. You need to be close to each other. So, if you find yourself never going to bed at the same time because you want to stay up and watch Netflix, you might need to start forcing yourself to follow them up to the bedroom (even if you’re not tired), just to increase your chances of getting it on.
2. You’re both constantly “tired.”
I get it. Being an adult is exhausting and being a married adult is even more exhausting. (Being a married adult with kids is downright traumatic.) Feeling “tired” when your partner wants to have sex is a pretty normal reaction. It happens. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Unless … that’s your answer every single time. Or if your partner feels the exact same way.
You should feel comfortable enough with your spouse to crash out on the couch together, but if those feelings of exhaustion always seem to extend to your sexual life, that’s not exhaustion. That’s avoidance. And you and your partner need to take a serious look at why sex with each other isn’t something either of you are interested in.
3. Sex is about the finish line, not the journey.
Orgasms are amazing, but they’re not the only thing that sex is about. 99% of sex is about what leads up to the orgasm — the touching, the kissing, the playing. However, when a married couple feels tired or rushed or simply bored with each other, their sex life tends to become focused on achieving that orgasm in the fastest way possible.
Foreplay goes out the window. The couple knows exactly what to expect from each other (or they’re trying to squeeze in a quickie before the kids wake up), so they rush down the shortest path possible. Intimacy is ignored, the exploration never happens. They just get off and go back to what they were doing.
This is a problem because, when your sex life is all about quick orgasms, it won’t take either of you long to realize that you don’t actually need each other to achieve them. You’ll find yourself thinking, “Well, I can get to that exact same place faster if I just take things into my own hands” and, pretty soon, you have even fewer reasons to start initiating sex with your partner.
4. You don’t care about your appearance.
One of the best parts about being married is that, in theory, you have a partner who loves you unconditionally enough to forgive some of your minor flaws. Like farting in bed or wearing the same ratty t-shirt almost every day. However, that sense of complacency can start taking a toll on a couple’s sex life.
I’m not saying that you have to be perfectly waxed and spray-tanned to get your partner interested, but, you know, the occasional shower would be nice. Maybe don’t burp in their faces every day. Maybe change out of the sweats every now and again, particularly if you’ve noticed that you’re not having sex that often.
A healthy sex life takes work and, yes, part of that work involves your appearance. If you want more sex, you have to be willing to stop being stinky all the time. And, if you’re unwilling to do that, there’s a problem.
5. There’s too much unsaid between you.
This is a hard one. As people who’ve been in long-term marriages can tell you, sometimes, you go through a period where you and your partner aren’t on the same page. You feel like you can’t talk to them. You have things going on in your life that you don’t discuss with them and you’re pretty sure they’re doing the exact same thing.
Or you have things you want to say to your partner — resentments, unspoken pleas, needs — but you just can’t bring yourself to say them, either out of anger, apathy, or something else.
When there is so much buried beneath the surface of a marriage, it can have a definite impact on your sex life. Because sex is about intimacy and vulnerability. And you don’t feel particularly sexy or vulnerable when you’re constantly seething at your spouse.
If suppressed conversations are a defining characteristic of your marriage, you need to prepare yourself for the sex to end too. Because if you and your spouse are learning to live without each other emotionally, you’ll soon find yourself living apart sexually as well. Cue a depressing, lonely sexless marriage.
So what can you do?
Reach out for help! You can save your sexless marriage by reaching out to a couples therapist, sex therapist, or even a medical doctor, if one of you is dealing with a health issue.
But first, talk about it! Be honest about your feelings, but practice what you’d like to say without blaming. Just state your feelings and try to remember that you love that person you married.
Your relationship is about more than sex, so it’s worth the work. Connect deeply outside the bedroom and be patient. The work will pay off.
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