Living in a Nearly Sexless Marriage


The thing I was withholding out of my own hurt was the very thing that healed us.

Throughout most of 2009 and 2010, we were in a nearly sexless marriage. A sexless marriage is a marriage in which sex occurs ten or fewer times per year. Our frequency wasn’t quite that low, but we were close during this time due to health problems and a series of very stressful events in our lives.

We were spiraling away from each other with each passing week. Our unhealthy communication patterns had gone from bad to worse, we spent almost no time with each other, and we had lost some of the energy to even argue with each other.

The other day Big Guy and I had one of those conversations that reminded me just how much our marriage has transformed from the way it was then.

In A Moment of Hard Truth, I invited you in to the moment I realized how much I’d hurt my husband with my sexual resistance and refusal.

There was a time before that, though, when I didn’t realize the impact of what I was doing.

I’d like to open a window into this time—when our marriage was difficult and I felt emotionally disconnected from Big Guy.

What was going through my mind and heart then? How can I use these memories as I continue to grow now?

Excuses, Excuses

After I would have sex with my husband, I could always count on having a few days “off”—days when I knew he wouldn’t bug me for sex, presumably because he wasn’t horny given his recent orgasm.

But several days in, I would start to feel the tension again. He would be more obvious about looking at me or trying to grope me. He would say things like, “We could go to bed early if you want” or “Wanna get lucky?”

Yeah, those are phrases that make me want to jump your bones. Not.

“No, not tonight, honey.”

He would ask me, “Why not?” and I would try to explain.

At first, I told the basic truth: I don’t feel like it.

And it never really made sense. I didn’t fully understand myself, and even when I did, my words never seemed adequate. He wanted to know how to make me feel like it. Even if I’d wanted to feel like it, I wouldn’t have known what would work.

So I began to use excuses.

There I would be a few days after our last sexual encounter, starting to pay attention to things I could use as excuses so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard. There was always some truth in the excuses, but excuses is what they were. I knew it then, even though I didn’t realize how wrong I was and even though I was carrying deep hurts that I thought justified my “no.”

I had so many reasons I couldn’t have sex.

  • I was tired.
  • I had cramps.
  • I had my period.
  • My husband asked me in a way that was about him and not me.
  • My husband wasn’t attending to my needs.
  • I needed to get up early the next morning and needed sleep.
  • I didn’t feel loved.
  • I wanted to be more important to him than sex as.
  • And so on and so on.

Unfortunately, I didn’t fully understand what the problem was. I thought that these things really were the problem—sometimes.

Other times, I knew that our relationship wasn’t right, and I just couldn’t bear to speak what I’d begun to think: I don’t love you. I’m not attracted to you. I deserve better than this. Why can’t you just leave me alone?

Not knowing how to say something that would devastate my husband, my excuses were my attempt to spare him a little pain and spare me a heap of guilt. Besides, it was easier to go through the same arguments we’d had before than to go through new ones that I feared would lead to big decisions that I just didn’t have the energy to carry out.

Please, Love Me for Me

I didn’t understand that I wanted my heart to be fed or that I wanted to know that he loved me. I would sometimes say that I felt like I was nothing more than genitals and boobs to him and that I needed him to pay attention to me. He would try, although he didn’t really understand what I was asking for and he didn’t want to ask for fear I would think he was stupid.

Although I realize now that his efforts to do what I’d asked didn’t succeed because I hadn’t been honest enough with myself to even know what to truly ask for, at the time his attempts seemed half-hearted to me—and my hurt would feel fresh. How can my own husband not love me enough to want to connect with my heart?

I would feel myself pull away from him emotionally, which translated to pulling away from him physically as well. How can he not see how desperate I am to be loved? How can he pay me all this attention when he wants something and then ignore me the rest of the time? Am I really that unlovable?

I would ask him to help me with the kids or with the household chores—not so much because I needed the help but because I needed to see that he was invested in our shared life. I needed to know that he valued what it was we were trying to do together.

Trying to do what I’d said I needed, he would get the kids to bed, or unload the dishwasher, or take the garbage out to the curb after I asked him, thinking that he had found the things that would earn him some sex. It rarely worked—because what I’d asked for wasn’t what I truly needed.

He would get tenser as he experienced an increase in the physical need for a sexual release, and I would get tenser, knowing that he was going to ask for sex soon and hoping, so desperately hoping, that he would approach me the right way this time. He almost never did.

There were times I was ready to collapse into his arms if only I knew he really loved me. Then I would hear “I’m horny” or some other variation of his request for sex, and I would be reminded that my heart didn’t matter to him.

So I would say “no,” or postpone, or cave in—and he would get short with me and frustrated to the point where his initiation came out all “I’m horny” and none of the  “I love you and need to feel part of you” that I craved.

When I would give in to sex, it always took me a looooong time to get into it. For my body to engage, my mind needed to be engaged first. So we’d go to bed and I’d make us talk—for a long time, hoping to feel relaxed enough that I could get past the idea of having sex with a man who didn’t truly love me. I’d done that with other men before I got married, and I didn’t expect to have loveless sex after I got married.

He would humor me for a while, and sometimes it would work. We would have talked past my emotional barrier so I could relax and be sexual with him. More often than not, though, he got frustrated by how long the conversation was taking. When I sensed his frustration, my emotional wall went right back up and we would have to start over.

Sometimes, he would just give up and go back downstairs to have some whiskey since in his view I was stalling and trying to avoid sex. I would lie there feeling rejected, wondering why my husband didn’t love me enough to talk with me even though he knew he would get sex afterwards. Am I that bad a companion that he couldn’t even tolerate me to get sex? Why does he ever want sex with me, anyway, if that’s how he feels about me?

I would cry myself to sleep, feeling sexually frustrated myself (since my relaxing mind usually led to the beginning of arousal) and completely unloved and rejected. As I cried myself to sleep, I would begin to steel myself for the same experience the next night.

Caving In

Eventually I would cave in, skipping my need for emotional connection just to get sex over with so I could have a few days free of pestering and the reminder that my husband didn’t really love me.

I was stingy about it, though. I figured that if my husband was the one who wanted to have sex, he was going to have to do all the work. No touching or oral from me. I would insist on having sex in the dark. He would insist on having light. I often caved in to that as well and just kept my eyes closed the whole time.

My resistance to sex was because I had to keep myself emotionally safe. Having sex is a vulnerable thing for me. Participating and being sexually giving require my heart to be open—and when my heart is open, it hurts more easily. Thinking that my husband didn’t really love me or care about my heart, this risk was just too big. I couldn’t do it. I had to protect myself.

I would lie there while my husband went through the motions of trying to arouse me. And physically, I would get aroused. As we were in the middle of intercourse, I would usually feel my heart start to settle just a little, remembering that I didn’t hate sex as much as I always thought I did and thinking that I might be able to actually get into it and maybe my husband at least liked me a little. I would begin to join in—and the fact that I had responded at all managed to push my husband over the edge. It was over as soon as I finally showed up.

My husband would tell me he loved me and then would roll over and go to sleep. I would lie awake, sexually frustrated and wondering what was wrong with me that my husband didn’t even think I was worth the time of relaxing and connecting with me before making his moves.

This added another negative sexual experience to my collection, with each negative experience altering my view of sex, one negative experience at a time.

The next day, the cycle would start all over again, with a reprieve of a few days before the tension began to build again.

On and on we went, spiraling away from each other, repeating the same cycle, with each turn pulling us further apart.

Totally Transformed

Looking back at my own words here, I can recognize how different my perspective was then. I know my husband was hurting, too. I see now that the thing I was withholding out of my own hurt was the very thing that healed us–sort of a twisted Gift of the Magi.

I understand so much more about what my husband was experiencing during that time that I no longer see those experiences through my eyes alone.

There was so much I wanted my husband to do differently then. I wanted him to emotionally connect with me away from the bedroom and not just when he wanted sex. I wanted him to ask me questions and really listen to the answers. I wanted him to slow down with sex and take the time I needed to get involved.

I was desperate for these things during our bad years, and every instance of him not doing them just strengthened my views that he wanted me only for sex and that he didn’t love me for who I was—only for what I could do for him.

During the past year, we’ve faced serious health problems and events that are even more stressful than those we experienced during the time we were in a nearly sexless marriage. Yet I now see all those things I craved before—emotional connection, Big Guy’s time and listening heart, slow hands, and a gentle voice. I yearned for these things for years. Now they are mine.

It is strange to hold these memories that are so different from the thoughts and feelings I have today. I barely recognize the memories as my own.

Looking back from the marriage we are in now, better than I ever imagined it could be, I see the memories of our nearly sexless marriage as a reminder of the scope of the transformation we have experienced. My gratitude for the state of our marriage now deepens when I remember where our marriage once was.

What do you remember about saying “no” to your husband? What are the changes you have seen in your marriage? 

The thing I was withholding out of my own hurt was the very thing that healed us.

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10 Comments on “Living in a Nearly Sexless Marriage”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I felt all of those on your list of excuses, and more. I would and still do focus on all the fleshly selfish actions on my husband during the day. When he came home from work it was hard to get me mind right. I still do keep praying for my pride.
    Some months ago this year, I’ve reached the convictions of my selfish withdrawing. I prayed for The Lord to change my selfish ways about saying no. Something has changed, and its been happening slowly. He’s been not in the mood and reacting very different than I thought he would. I’ve been expressing an interest in him, and he’s been using some exuses. I’m sick, tired, or I’m ok. We’ve talked about how satan attacks us through our infrequency, and how I like being more close with him. It’s like he’s shut down or doesn’t know if I’m being controlling now? Anyway, just wanted someone out there to know that only God can bring conviction. I read God’s word and I trust His ways, and know that He will supply my needs. It is hurtful to see how much I rebel against God. I know He placed this husband to conform me, to show me my selfishness. So help me God.
    To see the transformation in Chris, it’s encouraging and helps press on.

    1. I am so glad you are encouraged here. It takes time for a husband who has been refused in the past to adjust to a new normal. Sometimes, it’s like the pendulum has to swing the other way for a bit before a couple can find new balance.

      Men’s bodies change over time, too. Low testosterone, ED, and a body that doesn’t respond in quite the same way as it used to can have an impact on a husband’s interest and his ability to respond to his wife’s advances.

      Stay persistent, and remember that even slow change is still change.

  2. I remember saying no to him didn’t seem like I was doing anything wrong because he was just wanting to use me for his release. I “knew” that he was lying to me and to himself that he wanted to show that he loved me. It never occurred to me that he might experience love in any way different than me. I “knew” all this because I had experience to back me up. I had expected sex within marriage to be different than sex outside of marriage. What I had learned at way too young an age is that boys/men pressure you to have sex and if you don’t let them have what they want they have no use for you. I was angry and hurt that I had to let him take what he wanted just as the others had taken what they wanted or he was angry and distant. He was stuck with me and that’s why he didn’t walk away physically, but he walked away emotionally. I really thought that proved I was right. What was really destructive is that when I finally gave in every couple of weeks, I would sometimes lay there like a corpse and wouldn’t let myself become aroused because he would have thought that justified his use of my body. So then afterwards he’d be angry which I assumed meant he was angry at me. Many years later he told me he was angry at himself for giving in to his desire when he knew I wouldn’t participate. That makes me so incredibly sad now. How could I have done that to the man that I loved and what must he have thought about my claim to love him if I would do that to him. It’s a wonder he didn’t grow to hate me. But my husband is filled with the love of Christ and I’m so grateful for his and God’s forgiveness.

    Sorry this got pretty long.

  3. Heavy Heart: As a man that has gone through sexual refusal, I can tell you (shamefully) that I reacted the same way when my wife would show sexual interest. I think it is pure anger due to the level of hurt emotions, but please don’t give up. I needed to heal, and I’m still healing. Your husband needs to heal too.

  4. It’s amazing how easy it is to slip back in to the raw emotions of numbness and anger, even after a long while of much better sexual responses from my wife. Last week my wife told me she was too tired to make love, and I immediately rolled over in bed and pulled away from her both physically and emotionally. My heart said, “See! Nothing changed! She doesn’t care about me!” I reacted like a little child, because the pain is still there. I realized this quickly, and I thought about how far our sex life has progressed. I re-engaged my heart and realized that my wife really was exhausted and that this wasn’t an excuse like in the past. Even if it was, I can’t control her actions, but I can control my response. I snuggled closer to her and told her I loved her.

  5. I found this very difficult to read. After 3 years of struggling our love life continues to get worse. She says she loves me and desires me, and teases me, but she keeps rejecting me. 2014 saw a 90% rejection rate. We had sex once every three weeks on average. I say sex, not making love, because half the time was quickies…very rushed. She tells me she knows I’m being neglected but she can’t help it and there’s nothing she can do about it. I find myself withdrawing now. It’s getting harder show affection. I’m tired of getting my hopes up, and only having sex when she wants it. I feel I’m acting petty at times but I’m in a self preservation mode. I’m at a loss.

    1. I am so sorry you’re hurting. What are you doing to get some support for yourself as you figure out how to address this problem in your marriage?

      I’d like to encourage you to visit the discussion forum at The Marriage Bed. You are not alone in this experience. There are others who will help you. You will benefit from the guidance of other men who have walked this same road.

      Also, you might want to read What do you do when your spouse refuses to give “The Gift of Sex?” at Journey to Surrender. Scott offers good advice. It isn’t necessarily easy, but it parallels what I’ve seen from others about how to fight the good fight for your marriage.

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