When is a bad sex life cause for divorce?

A Reader Participation Post

This question came in from a reader:

My husband and I have been married for 4 years and have not had sex for 3. This is NOT for lack of MY trying. He has given me numerous varied reasons why he doesn’t want to have sex. I wrote them out and came up with 39 different excuses! We have discussed it MANY times & even seen a counselor, but this has still not improved.  I know he realizes that I need sexual attention, but he does nothing but make (unfulfilled) promises.  He is not having an affair, but I am ready to leave him & or have one of my own. I am a sexual being & I CANNOT live like this, but I DO want to save our marriage.  WHAT DO I DO? — Hopelessly Horny

Wow. Readers? Please be kind. I can feel the controversy brewing and I haven’t even posted this yet.

I’m also conflicted about the right answer here. I want to tell Hopelessly Horny that a marriage is about more than just sex. It’s also about an emotional connection. It’s about support. It’s about touch. It’s about a lot of things. And I’ve heard from quite a few readers here who have celibate marriages, mostly for medical reasons. They’ve told me that a happy marriage can indeed be had even if no hanky panky is going on between the sheets.

That said, sex is the one thing you can do with your spouse that you can’t do with someone else (assuming you aren’t in an open marriage or flagrantly cheating).And assuming the husband doesn’t really have erectile dysfunction or some other medical condition that he is keeping secret from his wife, it seems downright selfish of him to hold out on her for three entire years. And for those of you who are about to accuse me of being sexist, read my past posts. I would say the same thing if he were a she.

Back to the other hand, though, I’m thinking again about the married folks who’ve written to me about their happy but celibate marriages. They’ve been able to make it work. If they can do it, then it begs the question: Is something more global  wrong with Hopelessly Horny’s marriage? Maybe the marriage broke first, and then the sex life broke, you know?

Readers, I need your help, okay? These are only two tips I can come up with –and both are hopelessly lame.

* Get a drawer full of sex toys and take pleasure into your own hands. For instance, some sex balls are in order. Read my review about these wonderful devices here.  And I would also recommend a Jumping Jack as it looks as if it just might be better than the real thing.

* Examine your marriage and do everything possible to solve the non-sex related problems. It could be that lack of emotional intimacy is triggering the lack of sexual intimacy.

Readers? Got anything that is not quite as lame? Bring it on!

71 comments… add one

  • Marissa April 30, 2010, 7:03 pm

    @work in progress: “I was looking around at these relationships, realizing that I felt and treated them entirely different than I do the one with my husband. They could make mistakes, even repeated ones, and I did not mark it on a mental calendar for later reference. With others I was encouraging and compassionate—-positive attitude kind of thing–without even trying to be. But my husband had a whole set of different rules applied to him.”

    what an amazing concept. I have never thought that i might treat my husband differently than i treat others, but i’m evaluating it as I sit here – and maybe I do hold him to a different set of rules.

    my initial thought when I read this is that Alisa took an email from my husband and changed pronouns. and that makes me sad… sad for hopelessly horny, and sad that I could relate that to my marriage – and that i am partly at fault.

    I think that in the marriage in question there is possibly something deeper – perhaps that the couple hasn’t identified yet.

    my next question would be whether the husband is on medications, such as SSRIs that can have effects on libido. and if they (he) have talked to a physician about this low/no libido…. as many others have mentioned a low testosterone level can cause this.

    For me, I was struggling through PPD and was angry and lashing out and exhausted and varying degrees of distressed for the 2.5 years it took to seek out help. so for that time span i shunned and neglected my husband… i turned him down frequently. and that took such a toll on his ego (silly fragile male egos!!) that another problem was created. but I also took my personal needs into my own hands, often, and didn’t care about his needs. (I always thought that i could accomplish better results faster on my own)

    now that I have sought out help for PPD, i am much less interested in the self servicing aspect of my ‘old’ life, and still not interested in my sex life.

    for this couple I hope that things can be saved.

    I wonder also if the wife has told the husband exactly what she stated here:
    “I am ready to leave him. I am a sexual being & I CANNOT live like this, but I DO want to save our marriage.”

    and what response there is to that from the husband.

    i believe that if the marriage is at a point where he is not willing to try everything to solve a problem, and save the marriage, that it may be too late.

  • Marissa April 30, 2010, 7:21 pm

    I started my post above this morning, and just went back to read other posts that happened today…

    @OtherPerspective: I am glad to hear your side. Kathy brings up a good point, and I will back it up in my own experiences – individual counseling may be beneficial. I NEEDED counseling. I also needed medication. and after receiving both i realize that many of our issues stemmed from conditions out of our control – but were a direct result of how we handled them.

    I think you may need counseling to sort out your anger and the feelings you have about the situation.

    I think your wife may need counseling to help gain perspective and introspection for her own thoughts and actions.

    I would think that her crying fits and tantrums are from her own sense of feeling out of control, and misunderstood (I can relate there – and i finally have gotten help)

    might i also suggest that you both read the 5 Love Languages book. the concepts presented in there are really helpful for gaining understanding in your relationships.

    3 years is a very long time to go without sex. I am going to repeat myself here though Perhaps you, the husband, should say to her plainly “I don’t feel emotionally safe here and this makes me unable to become vulnerable around you, these things would help me to feel safe and secure… I would like to see us work together to achieve this over the next few months”

    i believe that if the marriage is at a point where SHE is not willing to try everything to solve a problem, and save the marriage, that it may be too late.

    • top March 10, 2014, 3:51 pm

      I will agree that my (ex)- wife does need some counseling but probably not for anything that stands out. Basically what it boils down to is that she was, and is simply a pre-diagnosed person with schizophrenia. Her Mother has it, her Grandmother had it, and she has all but admitted that she has it. I have to confess though that this in and of itself was not specifically the issue, it was the fact that she refused to acknowledge this, and began to blame me for all of her unhappiness. It became SO out of control that I simply shut down on her emotionally. Since the divorce I have been all checked out, I am the picture of health and am involved in a happy, healthy, and sexual relationship.
      Hope this helps. Much love and luck to any and everyone who is trying to find the right way to go. T-O-P

  • Work In Progress May 1, 2010, 10:53 am

    Drummer, Wow! What a question. My response is from my experience, so take that into consideration. When I feel vulnerable with my husband I quit being that strong woman that I am all the time. It gets old walking around all the time being strong. When I can be vulnerable with him, my guard is down, I sink into his arms, I can breath deeply, rest securely and feel safe, protected. It’s cliche, but he is my harbor in the storms of life. Out in the storm, I take care of myself, in the harbor—I give up that powerfulness and relinquish it to him. It takes a huge amount of trust and sometimes it doesn’t happen for months at a time. But when it does, the imprint of it in my heart and soul is like adding cement to the foundation of our marriage. Does that make sense?

  • Cyndi May 1, 2010, 11:37 am

    Vulnerable = being open and honest, exposing and expressing all feelings, even (and especially) those that you are ashamed of or that are difficult to express. It’s allowing your partner to see all sides of you, even those that frighten you or that you think will turn her off. When you are open to your partner in this way you are capable of being wounded or hurt and that is scary but leads to real intimacy.
    .-= Cyndi´s last blog ..Risky Business =-.

  • Marissa May 1, 2010, 11:43 am

    @drummer i love this: “Now even if it isn’t important to me or I don’t understand why she may feel a particular way about whatever it is, if it is important to her it needs to be important to me.” what an amazing take on life and your relationship

    I think the need to be vulnerable lies in the need to take a break from all the roles you have as house keeper, parent, bread winner, dog walker, etc … the need to be just YOU. and the condition to being able to be vulnerable with your mate – is that you need to feel valued, safe, and secure.

  • Joanne & Ray May 1, 2010, 1:19 pm

    From Joanne- Drummer Guy, as a 51 year old woman who, through therapy, has had to realize that by always only having had herself to depend on or count on I can tell you vulnerabilty is a scary thing. But so is always being strong and never allowing anyone to take care of you. Ray and I have been working on this and he too wants to be my safe harbor and allow me to explore feeling safe and cared for so if you have given this gift to your wife than she is a lucky woman to have found you. My mother has stage four liver disease so I may know some of the problems you must be going through day by day.
    We all need to have a safe place to feel weak and know that someone is on guard watching our back. Ray has become my biggest champion, especially with the grown kids, he is a hero to me.

  • Hopeless??? May 12, 2010, 11:36 pm

    It seems I made the same mistake drummer guy does & forgot to click for follow-ups. As you’ve probably guessed, theotherperspective is my hubby. I know it’s been a while, but after I first read his response that made me sound like some sort of worthless flake who quits jobs left & right I was FAR too angry to respond. I would like to thank you all for the advise, though sex toys are not a viable alternative to making love with your husband.

    To answer the missing info, he doesn’t have a physical problem, And yes several things changed (I/we gained weight, we took care of my mother, we live in the house where my father committed suicide, I had health issues, and we’ve both battled depression & stress/anxiety). We’ve been in counseling off & on since before the sex went dry. Admittedly the first counselor we went to (3 yrs ago) did not treat him fairly & gave me bad advise that made our situation worse. She actually told me to divorce him or have an affair when I saw her alone, but I stopped seeing her instead & did everything I could to save our marriage. Simply put, I basically kicked him out for a time, but then I wanted to make things work & I did everything I could to try to make things right.

    I don’t think he’s forgiven me for any of the events back then. He felt betrayed and hurt. I often feel that he is getting revenge for that in the cruelest possible way. My life’s dream has been to have a child, but now I honestly think I’m too old & the past 3 yrs of forced celibacy have stolen any chance we would have had to bear a child of our own. Even if I hadn’t gotten pregnant in the past years, at least I’d know it had been possible. (yes…I know adding a baby to a bad marriage doesn’t make it better, but never experiencing bringing a life into the world is a hell of a sacrifice too). I’m working through accepting that I won’t experience that in this lifetime, but knowing that at least part of the reason I’ll miss out on that is because my husband didn’t feel emotionally close enough to me to have sex makes it VERY difficult.

    We definitely have a lot of issues & the lack of sex is just one, but for me it is both the chicken and the egg, so to speak. Admittedly, I do equate sex with love. I am much more the “male” in the relationship when it comes to sex… not “being in the mood” is simply not in my repertoire, but how much rejection can one person take?

    On a positive note, the counselor we are seeing now has given us some very good communication strategies and we are fighting a bit less. Although he doesn’t like many of my close friends & I must visit them elsewhere alone, he’s making an effort to socialize with people together and do things as a couple. There is progress… He’s even slept in the same bed with me for several nights.

    I’m hoping that once I get my life back on track (find a job, get out of my depression, lose weight) and I am a happier, healthier person he will desire me again. The bottom line is, I’m still horney but not hopeless. I have to take care of myself (in more ways than one). So I’m working on achieving my goals and hopefully in the process my husband will start to respect me again & we can have a fulfilling marriage. We’ll see…

  • Mike June 2, 2010, 3:01 pm

    I think it’s funny how quickly women jump to the “he’s gay” or low-T thing. That serves well to illustrate how little women know about men or how simplistic their view really is. I’m a guy, married, and I am neither gay or low-T, but you couldn’t pay me to have sex with my wife. We have been married for 16 years and haven’t had sex in 15. Our child was conceived almost immediately and something in my wife changed. I thought it was hormonal and it would pass but nope. Total raging witch to not only me, but anyone who happens to pass through her day. This includes wait staff, store clerks, etc. The ‘B’ word doesn’t begin to describe her. Add to that, the 150 pounds she gained and maintains, making her just as unattractive on the outside as the inside. Nope, no way is it going to happen. That first year, she “shut me off” because she said that being pregnant made her disinterested. She never regained the interest and quite honestly, I lost interest in her anyway. A few months after our child was born, she discovered me masturbating in the bathroom. She gave me SUCH a ration of crap over that. I decided then and there that I would NEVER do that again. I would NOT give her the satisfaction of believing I was in some way “weak.” So, I abruptly stopped ALL sexual activity. I avoided (still do) any sexual situations going so far as to leave a theater to buy popcorn during romantic scenes. I’ve come to view sex as only a means for procreation and we have our one child and that’s it. I know I will never have sex as long as I remain married to her or likely ever again in my lifetime. So here we remain in this decade and a half stand-off, a “marriage” that remains intact for our child but once he goes off to college, I’ll have choices to make. The economic situation isn’t conducive to any sort of an exit strategy so I fear I am doomed to this hell until I die. If I leave, it won’t be for the lack of sex, that’s just more fodder for the resentment I harbor towards her. No, it is her incessant rage and the bait-n-switch personality thing she pulled when I married her. If ever I find myself free, I will NEVER date again. Nor am I interested in “exploring those feelings of resentment” with a councelor. No, a lifetime of solitude sounds like heaven at this point. I like who I have become. Colder. Stronger. Lacking capacity/need for desire or intimacy.

  • Anonymous June 5, 2010, 9:21 am

    You have been to counseling. I would suggest you see a certified AASECT sex therapist, too. It can’t hurt, and it’s just an investment of a couple thousand dollars for a course of ten sessions or so.

    However, it probably won’t work. Reconciling desire issues is one of the toughest issues that psychotherapists can face. The likely end result would be a compromise where neither of you is happy.

    Sometimes situations end in bad choices. Here are your four bad choices.

    a. Divorce
    b. Acceptance of the status quo without doing anything, and continued misery
    c. Coming up with some way to accept the status quo via some sort of action short of an affair: more porn, more masturbation, intimacy with another short of an affair. BTW, this rarely works. You don’t want porn. You want life-affirming sex
    d. An affair

    That’s it. That’s totally it. Good luck.

  • Him June 5, 2010, 5:25 pm

    Okay everybody, there has been a lot of advise coming in, well, at least other life experiences.
    Thanks to everybody who cared enough to post something, the good and the bad, and a special thanks to the people who saw through the situation.
    I am happy to reply here and say that she, (the other half) has been working hard to meet my emotional needs, I do see it, and I feel it.
    We have plenty to work on from here, but I think we are at a spot where we aren’t planning each others funerals.
    We have figured out that I have as much of a need to be heard as she does for physical intimacy, and sometimes I actually know what I’m talking about.
    I realize that mostly this feels to her like she has to just shut up, but what man doesn’t wish his wife would just shut up.
    (That was an attempt at a joke)
    We have reached a place, at least on my end, where I will begin to have sex with her again.
    It really is that simple.
    She has been working on meeting my emotional needs, and I will do the same for her.
    Now if I could just remember how. <—–(yes, another joke)……(Sort of)

  • Drummer Guy June 6, 2010, 7:26 am

    @ Him. That is GREAT to hear. It is very true that as men we need or emotional needs to be met to be intimate. It seems like there is this myth out there that says that men should just be able to do it regardless of the circumstances. But in my personal life I know if my wife wasn’t meeting my emotional needs, nagging me etc I would have a tough time being intimate. Not saying that is what either is doing just an example. & yes who hasn’t wished out spouse would just shut up….ha! Thanks funny stuff. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a mute button in marriage? :-)

  • Drummer Guy June 6, 2010, 7:27 am

    Opps THAT’S funny stuff. I am still the typo king lol

  • OneHotTamale25 June 29, 2010, 1:11 am

    I can’t imagine Hopelessly Horny’s husband is holding out for no reason. Maybe he is concerned about his performance. Maybe he doesn’t like her performance. Maybe he is angry about something and has been stewing all this time. Maybe he has some sex trauma he hasn’t worked through. Maybe he feels disconnected or unhappy, or maybe he thinks she feels that and isn’t sure how to cope. I could speculate for hours, but my post is not timely so I’m sure enough of that has been done.

    I wonder if the counseling was together and separate, or just together. That could have made a difference in his disclosure. But… that is neither here nor there.

    Ultimately it is my opinion a 3 year hiatus from sex is something more than just that. Were I in Hopelessly Horny’s shoes I would definitely spend some time evaluating the reasons I am still in this marriage and ask my husband the reasons why he is. From there I would really push the issue. My version of pushing is communicating how VERY important sex is to me filling loved and desired by my husband, returning to counseling, and making an effort to discover what if anything specific led us down the path to a sexless marriage. I would also remember my husband cannot control my happiness and if my choices continually boil down to sex or infidelity for additional years I would probably choose to end the marriage so I could connect with someone who would want to make love to me.

  • Low T October 20, 2010, 11:35 pm

    Put him on T therapy. You’ll be beating him off with a stick!

  • tim c November 7, 2010, 8:49 pm

    It is easy to speculate why, but the bottom line is sex is a very large part of a marriage. I once read that sex in a good marriage is invisible, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when it is bad it shakes the whole marriage. I know how you feel, I am there, I have never cheated, but honestly at this point I would if the opportunity occurred. People always talk of counseling, good luck there, I have never seen it help a marriage just to delay it longer. The hard true facts are, things will probably never change, so you need to make your decisions accordingly. I am sure you have talked with him until you are blue in the face, maybe even told him about the possibilities. Often counseling will get you temporary dutiful sex and thats it. It is always easy for the person who wants nothing because the only bother they have are you pleading for change, and in time they just don’t want to hear it. You need to sit down and evaluate your marriage and your life. Are you willing to live this way the rest of you life? I will tell you I have waited for over 20 years and nothing has changed for me. If I had it to do over I would never have stayed. Each marriage is different and if you believe you love him enough to stay, good luck. Will he be all right with you having sex some place else, only you will know. You have a choices, stay in a miserable marriage, leave or find someone who is in the same situation you are in, who doesn’t want a divorce either and indulge. All I can say is don’t be fooled by false hope, I am sure you have had your fill of it. If you think you can drag him into counseling and your life will be all better, I wish you luck. When people have no sex drive the best you usually get is pity sex.

  • ex November 7, 2010, 10:58 pm

    You guys can stop with all the advise, they are divorced, thanks for playing.
    PS His sex drive is/was fine, just not for her, to spare anyones feelings I won’t go into it.
    Advise for women. You can only push a guy so far before he totally shuts down on you.
    Enjoy your lives.

  • Heather November 7, 2010, 11:06 pm

    I was wondering what happened to this couple. A marriage ending is always sad to me.

    I hope for healing and peace for you two.

  • Amy August 23, 2013, 3:52 pm

    I’m sure my situation would a divorce issue ! We have been married 45+ years and we have had sex only once in our entire life. After the one time he told me that sex was disgusting, messy, smelly not worth all the effort, plus he couldn’t understand why two humans could do something so disgusting to one another. He wanted to throw up!!!
    So he fixed the problem his way by moving to our basement and telling me never bother him again and he wasn’t going to talk to me again. WOW was I stunned and I screamed and cried for days but it didn’t do any good. He traded his day job to a midnight job And he will every day just so he doesn’t have to be in the same house with me. I really couldn’t support myself so I stayed I had a roof over my head food in the frig plus good benefits. I know I should have left but I didn’t and I’m sorry I didn’t! In my mid 60s and I may as well stay, my life is winding down now and really don’t have any thing to live for. I will never forgive myself but I hope things will be better in the next life.

  • Cornell Richards July 31, 2015, 3:43 am

    I strongly suggest reading the book CREATING A HOUSEWIFE. Its the hottest book of the summer and available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.


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