Sexless Marriage: Celibacy when your partner doesn’t want to have sex

Sexless Marriage: Celibacy when your partner doesn’t want to have sex

Involuntary celibacy in a relationship is a taboo that people are reluctant to talk about. Unfortunately, a sexless marriage is the lot of far too many. What is it like to live in a sexless relationship? 

Talking about the lack of sex in a marriage would help many to resolve their relationship problem in a more sustainable way than cheating on their partner. 

Let’s discuss these questions:

These insights on involuntary celibacy in a relationship are based on real life as I and my interviewees have experienced it.

I have been moved to tears listening to the numerous true stories about how it feels when your partner does not want to have sex. You can read those stories in my book.

If you are living in a sexless relationship, this article can give you new insights. What exactly is “making” you to stay in a sexless relationship? I hope I can help you find solutions to the dead end that you find yourself in because of the imposed celibacy.

I’m grateful to all the men and women who shared their painful stories with me. To all of you who hang on to but are no longer really alive in your relationship.

Peer support and options are there available to you all.

How does living in a sexless relationship feel when your partner does not want to have sex?

Imagine yourself on a holiday somewhere warm, in a busy tourist street. You see and hear the street vendors. Touts are hollering to passers-by outside restaurants. Street artists are taking their positions to perform the same limited set of phrases, songs, routines, day after day, on repeat. One would think that the monotonous repetition would be hard work and, indeed, few of these workers look inspired.

Imagine a living statue artist. She is clad in a bridal gown and apathetically stares at the ground behind a veil of thick, white makeup. She stands with her hand stretched out, asking for small change. The same sadness can be sensed in the women and men who are paralysed by their relationships. They are hiding behind their masks, begging for handouts from their partner, who tends to just walk on by. 

Another living bronze statue I remember was this funny man portraying a monk holding a baby. But the true story it reminded me of was not funny:

"I live like a monk. We haven’t had a relationship for a long time. We are just here to raise our kids.”

A quote from the book The (R)evolution for Love – A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

The person who related this true story to me for my book did not look happy at all.

A sexless marriage hurts.

Lack of intimacy is painful. Involuntary celibacy hurts deeply.

Involuntary celibacy in a relationship can cause great pain and sadness. And this pain and sadness can deplete all other areas in life from joy. The longer you suffer quietly with the problem, the less energy you have to put things right in the relationship.

The quicker you attack the problem together with your spouse the better your chances are to move towards a happier relationship together. Despite the pain and sadness.

It is also possible that your relationship is beyond saving because multiple and overlapping challenges. Yet the quicker you start untangling the mess, the more energy you will have left afterwards. You will need that energy to start building a happy life that is good for you. Sweeping the problem under the carpet is detrimental to the efforts to improve your relationship. It will also stop you from moving on after the break up.

SEXLESS RELATIONSHIP: How to have sex in a relationship where your partner does not need it?

In a good relationship, both partners know when there is enough of sufficiently good sex for both of you. If you are not sure, it is possible that this is a sign that the sex is not sufficient in terms of quality and/or quantity. Not knowing could be a sign of something that has been left unsaid. Lack of communication in a relationship often leads to too little sex or sex that is unsatisfying.

If you really suffer from the lack of sex in your relationship and your partner seems oblivious to your pain, they are probably only pretending.

I’m sorry if that was a harsh thing to say, but I believe it to be true.

If, however, you really think that your partner does not know that you are suffering, you should tell them. The solution is somewhat simple: ask your partner to talk about the lack of sex in your relationship. Tell them if there is too little of it or if it is not satisfying enough. Tell them that you no longer want to suffer in celibacy. Make it clear that you want you two to find a solution to the dilemma together. Individual and couples counselling is always a helpful option.

If you can’t talk about sex with your partner, then how much of your other normal needs go unnoticed and unaddressed?

Sexless marriage: Does your partner know how much your sexless relationship and involuntary celibacy is hurting you?

If your partner knows you suffer from the lack of sex in your relationship, how do they take it? A shrug of shoulders is not an adequate response to a problem.  Since you are a couple, it is unavoidably your shared problem. Even if your celibacy imposed on you by your partner is a problem to you only, your problems are also your partner’s problems. They can’t leave you alone to deal with the issue, provided they want to keep calling you two a couple and not housemates or business partners.

Belittling your partner’s pain is not love

At which point in a sexless relationship do you notice that your partner has become too weary of life? Do you notice they when need more than just being asked to rise up to one more challenge? When is the time to notice that your partner is not doing well? Is the right time for a hug or tender smile really sometime in the future and not now? What things take priority over tenderness and affection in a relationship? How long can we allow ourselves to ignore our partners? How long can we withhold affection before our coldness begins to hurt ourselves as well as and forces us to wake up? When do you think is the right time to do something? Talk about the issue openly and with good intentions open to all possible solutions?

A sexless relationship causes great sadness and distress 

Lack of sex in a relationship causes great sadness to many and celibacy can a source of daily distressing. It’s not the lack of sex as such.  It is the rejection. Life becomes difficult if you are consumed by a problem that you feel you can’t raise with your partner. 

How starved do you need to be until your partner sees it and serves you some crumbs? 

Is pure willpower and positive thinking enough to cope with celibacy and sexless relationship without intimacy? 

Concrete problems are seldom solved by positive or wishful thinking. Concrete problems must be resolved through concrete action. And celibacy is not action, is it?

A sexless marriage will not change for the better only by hoping that one day you will get sex. What can bring sex into a sexless relationship is concrete action. Usually the first step is to broach the issue with your partner. Breathe calmly and listen to each other, to what the other person wants to say about the issue.

Something has caused your partner to no longer want to have sex. Sometimes both partners agree that they don’t want sex, at least not with each other. Even then, it should be possible to talk about the matter so that both know the rules: will you stay together and are you free to have sex with other people so that your natural sexual and intimacy needs are satisfied?

A sexless marriage is not a good excuse for cheating. But it can be a valid reason to suggest that you and your partner have an open relationship or break up.

Some may not like to hear this but I will say it anyway: the lack of sex in a relationship does not give anyone the right to cheat. Don’t fool yourself by telling yourself that it’s ok to cheat because your relationship is sexless. However, a sexless relationship is a highly valid reason to suggest to your partner that you have an open relationship or that you break up.

Improving a relationship and boosting your sex life are always possible, even if your situation seems to have hit a dead end. Talking and taking concrete action in agreement with your partner is the correct and honest way to move forward. Celibacy and cheating are not solutions to any marriage problems.

Cheating usually hurts the cheater the most. This is because most cheaters never get caught and the cheated partner remains oblivious to the  reasons why the relationship is in a rut. This means that problems are being swept under the carpet.

Before you shoot yourself in the foot by cheating your partner, read these articles:

A long relationship without sex: What happens if you refuse to have sex?

First of all, the relationship will not get any better, and physical problems will begin to accumulate.

One of my interviewees said they hadn’t had marital sex for 10 years.  Eventually, the couple who had stayed together just because of the kids decided to set each other free. Many married men and women go on dating sites to look for relief to their enforced celibacy.  Apparently they are quite successful on the dating sites. However,  the fact remains that a one night from Tinder cannot make good what their existing relationship has already damaged beyond repair.

Sex is a key way of showing love. Showing love, in turn,  is the most important way of managing stress and feeling good about oneself physically and mentally. And physical and mental wellbeing have an impact on how well we cope at work and looking after the children. Read this article for more on how love and sex are good for our physical and mental health.

How long should you wait for sex to happen in a sexless relationship?

If your partner forces you to live without sex in celibacy, remember that it is you who have chosen your partner. Do you want to choose celibacy also today and tomorrow?

You can always, at any given moment, choose differently. 

Only you can decide what your life is like. So, in a sense, your partner is not forcing you to live in a sexless relationship. 

Only you have the power to decide with whom you have a relationship and what that relationship is like. You can choose to live happily and freely as single instead.

Genuine love is based on freedom. This includes sexual freedom. In and out of a relationship.

How long can your relationship remain sexless before you make new decisions?

How long can you stay celibate? And even if you can, should you?

If you are tempted to cheat, read this article first.

A sexless marriage can end in tears

People are herd animals. We need approval and attention. Holding back sex is unfair and unwise if your reason for it is your experiencing a lack of caring. If you are not getting the affection and tenderness you crave, are you any more likely to get it if you hold back sex in retaliation? Surprisingly many choose this method. A much better way to find a way back to your partner’s arms is by talking and resolving mundane daily problems together.

Blackmailing your partner with sex or agreeing to occasional sex out of pity is not helpful when trying to resolve issues as a couple. Admittedly,  the one with the upper hand may feel like the method works for them but it will not lead to good outcome. 

As a couple, neither of you is supposed to have the upper hand or feel superior.

You should be in a partnership of two equal people and both should be allowed to be weak and needy at times.

Setting your needs and longing aside does not protect either of you. In fact, it is a huge disservice to your relationship. 

In a long, unhappy marriage, the lack of communication and intimacy can easily lead to one partner withholding sex as a pawn, if they feel that it is the only currency they can barter with.

If you live in a sexless marriage and you still want sex from your partner, have you resorted to bartering or blackmailing with it? Could you consider moving to a different currency?

Maybe start by discussing any other aspect of your relationship apart from sex or the lack of it?

It may be helpful to find a connection on some other level first, which could help your partner open up sexually as well.

Can a marriage without sex work? Good sex is based on trust, so if there is no sex in the relationship there is probably a severe lack of mutual trust.

Just like any other relationship – such as business relationships – a good sexual relationship is based on mutual trust and win-win solutions. If you want to measure the success of your relationship in the quality and amount of sex, shouldn’t the first step in solving your problems be to build trust?

Sometimes the problem is not the lack of mutual trust rather than one partner’s lack of trust in themselves. 

If you think you are unattractive or undesirable, there is no point in trying to build your confidence by begging for compliments from a partner you have first deprived of sex and then enjoying the sense of power you gain through blackmailing with sex. Continuing to live in an unhappy, sexless marriage is not a solution to your own inner problems.

A partner should not have to constantly convince the other person of how lovely and wanted they are and to keep swearing that they will never cheat on them.

A good self-esteem is key to a good relationship and satisfying sex life.

Your low self-esteem or feelings of jealousy are up to you to mend . You have no right to torture your partner mentally or physically no matter how bad you feel about yourself. 

If your partner tries to hide behind a negative body image or low self-esteem, don’t fall for that cheap trick. Encourage them to work on their self-image and join, for example, a self-development course. Hopefully they will either learn to value themselves more, including sexually.  Alternatively the shift will help you both find freedom to look for happiness separately. 

Think what you can do differently to build mutual trust. Since you can’t change how your partner feels about sex (it really is their business), how could you change your attitude towards your partner and the non-sexual intimacy between you two?

What would be the first sign of your sex life beginning to pick up and you being able to leave celibacy behind? 

What needs to happen first? 

Which one of you could make the first move, however small, towards a better relationship and sex life for you both?

Sexless marriage & involuntary celibacy: Is holding back sex just attention seeking attention? Are you hanging on to a sexless relationship as a dopamine fix?

Some seek attention by creating chaos in their lives or using their illnesses and problems as a bait (like the lack of sex and difficulties in a long marriage). 

Some become hooked on their illnesses and continuous relationship problems like they get hooked on a lover.  Perhaps they have used these illnesses successfully to receive at least some affection from the partner, possibly out of pity. Is holding back sex attention seeking and “giving” sex one way of abusing power?

Did you know that a surge of dopamine is a bigger reward and gives us a better high if we have first anticipated the reward? That’s what makes slot machines so addictive. The earning logic of casinos is to prolong the titillating just long enough. The reward is optimised for the gaming addict, so that the dopamine injection in the brain feeding the addiction comes just at the right time. How long will you continue the vicious cycle of procrastination and “reward”?

Can a relationship that resembles gaming addiction work without sex? 

Better the devil we know than the one that we don’t.

Pity and fear are very effective tools in keeping even the strongest person in their place.

"My spouse has no safety net to depend on apart from me and my family. I simply can’t leave."

A quote from the book The (R)evolution for Love – A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

It may be that both partners in a sexless marriage have over time settled for their roles and hold on to their mutual martyr narratives. It is easier to carry on as before than to mend your relationship and rebuild your life.

"The emotional frigidity of my ex that stemmed from their childhood marred our relationship. If I ever told a friend that I was suffering, they would just encourage me to try and understand my ex – because of my ex’s difficult childhood, inability to do better, because of this, that and the other. At the same time, my ex had no difficulty building a career and excelling professionally, so why could I not have a partner that was more than the sum of their childhood experiences? Because I was lucky enough not to be mistreated as a child? I got tired of taking the responsibility for my ex’s childhood, which was for them to process with a professional therapist, not for me."

A quote from the book The (R)evolution for Love – A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

I wish all the strength to you who live in a sexless relationship and in celibacy that you don’t want.

Some people who are unhappy in their marriage justify their lack of sexual desire with the age-old loop “children-career-housework-stress”. Many of us talk ourselves into more stress than we actually experience with a harmful internal mantra. Self-suggestion can be very harmful.

I completely understand that many genuinely believe in the “stress mantra” and are also able to make their partners believe in it. However, I have come to realise through personal experience that we should not always believe our own thoughts. 

Our thoughts are not necessarily true. Especially if you are under stress and feeling anxious. 

When in panic (like in a painful sexless marriage!), our monkey brain feeds us a narrative that emphasises how useless we and our partners are. You should not listen to that voice for one second. It’s only when our stress has subsided and the cortex has some air to breathe that we should tune in to our inner commentary.

If our own thoughts do not add to the wellbeing of ourselves or those around us, we should spend a moment looking into those thoughts and adjust our perspective. If the lack of sex is really down to nothing more than your clashing schedules, this is a time management issue that can be solved. Time and stress management skills are basic skills for everyone living in the modern world. Skills can be learnt and practiced on live and online courses. You and your partner can choose any time to work on developing these skills instead of reluctantly continuing on the journey of celibacy.

Sexless marriage against your will: In a couple, neither can walk away from a relationship problem even if only one of you is unhappy

A sexless relationship is not the problem of the partner who suffers from the lack of sex. Even if only one of you is suffering from the lack of sex or the quality of that sex it is a problem for you to solve together. Neither of you can walk away from a problem even if only one of you is suffering from it.

If you desert your partner even once at the wrong time or the wrong place, it may be the beginning of the end of your relationship.

Many consider breaking up for years before it happens without being able to come to a decision. Instead, they choose cheating or celibacy. Neither of these options is a solution to the real problem in the sexless marriage. Both are just escapism, or band aids covering up the problem.

Breaking up can be scary, although there seldom are real reasons for that fear, if you think about things rationally. Fear is an emotion and emotions are real. However, there is no need to exhaust or torture yourself to death because of emotions. 

How to survive a sexless marriage? Can you end celibacy with willpower? Can you improve a sexless relationship with positive thinking?

The power of the mind is immense. Our minds are so strong that we can make ourselves ill or well with our minds alone – you have probably heard of the placebo and nocebo effects. The real problem will not, however, disappear if you just don’t talk about it or think positive. Willpower and positive thinking can be counterproductive, too.

Positive thinking does not make the pain of a sexless relationship disappear. It is pointless to try and hide that pain and sadness. You must be able to talk about that pain and sadness at least inside your own head, but preferably also to a friend or a life coach. The best option would be to talk about it to the person with whom you still would love to have sex with.

Some people can be naturally asexual. But asexuality is an extremely rare cause for the lack of sex in a long relationship. In all likelihood, there is some other reasons for a sexless marriage.

So if your partner wanted to have sex when you were dating and before you had children – before getting too busy and stressed – the lack of sex in your relationship is not due to the sudden asexuality that your partner has developed. Usually the root cause is in the fundamental structures of the relationship and the partners’ mental and emotional management skills. Practicing our mental skills can also help improve our sex lives both in quality and quantity  – it is after all about the ability to throw yourself into the moment and relax.

Peer support for tolerating celibacy, improving your marriage or leaving a sexless relationship

Those of you who live in a sexless relationship or want to leave one can find peer support from this blog and The (R)evolution for Love book, which has (too) many real life stories to share on this topic. My aim with my book is to help you reach a clear decision: to improve your relationship in practical and concrete terms or to move on to a happy and successful break up for sake of the wellbeing of you both.  My goal is also help you secure a balanced and happy childhood for your children.

Pull your partner closer to you and deal with your shared challenge together. You are in the relationship together. Therefore, you should deal with everything that concerns the relationship or either one of you as individuals together. You should not need to feel alone in your relationship, and if you need to make some changes, you will always have peer support. From me, if not from anyone else. Be in touch if you are worried about your sexless relationship or anything else. I’m here for you.

Thanks for reading this article on what must be one of the most difficult themes to talk about.

If you feel anxious about your sexless marriage and are looking for ways to improve your relationship permanently and profoundly, or for the courage to leave a relationship, read the following blogs and grab the book The (R)evolution for Love, which offers 374 pages of thorough, solution-centred discussion on relationships – without forgetting sex 🙂

Thanks for reading this article! Don’t forget to share these postings with your friends on social media, spread happiness and help others in their relationships! 

Author, Blogger, Hypnotherapist, NLP Coach Kati Niemi

With Love,
your coach Kati
Clinical hypnotherapist, NLP Trainer
[email protected]

P.S. You may also be interested in the free e-book and the following articles: