Resolution, Not Conflict

The guide to problem-solving.

Sexless Marriage Causes and Cures

A sexless marriage is a vulnerable marriage. Here's some ideas to think about if yours looks in jeopardy. Read More

Our marriage is sexless and

Our marriage is sexless and has been for a long time.

There are no fixes or "spicing up" or any other simplistic ideas that will work --- its done.

I can't afford divorce. I'm in my 50's and no one is going to want me anyway.

My next best option appears to be hanging myself in the garage which I plan to do.

Marriage is a horrible existence --- it should be outlawed.



Take care of yourself, get on the internet and have an affair. If you are not getting sex, and your spouse isn't making an effort, that is abuse.

Not a divorce, but an affair. You might actually find someone with a compatible sex drive.

life isn't over

In your fifties is not too old! Look around, and you'll see lots of people your age who are attractive and enjoying life.

Instead of letting your evil spouse win by killing yourself, why not take some risks and try something different? Don't let that asshole or bitch ruin your life any longer. Think about the things you've always wanted to do, but couldn't because of your spouse. Start doing them, and if he/she doesn't like it, tough. Even if you feel that you can't get divorced, for whatever reason, your withholding spouse should not get to control your life (including your sex life, and I'm sure there is someone out there who would want you).

I agree

You sound just like me! I wish there was a support group for this sort of thing! All the people with vices in the world get support groups even though they inflict the damage upon themselves. We victims of involuntary celibacy need a support group too!

It's not abuse for a person

It's not abuse for a person to refuse sex. Sex is not a human right. Bodily autonomy is a human right. It's an abuse to violate that right and coerce, demand or force someone into having sex with you when they don't want to. If you find yourself in this situation and it can't be mutually resolved then the solution is divorce or separation.

Age 50 is still young. There are many much older people starting again, looking for relationships and intimacy. Try online dating or join a social or dating group for people in your age group. I'm sure there is someone out there who will want to be with you. Please get help and reach out to someone if you're feeling suicidal. Your life is precious and difficult times ALWAYS pass.

oh, yes it is

It IS abuse for a spouse to withhold sex over an extended period of time. It's manipulative, cruel and abusive.

I would like to add a caveat

I would like to add a caveat to this. If your partner shows no interest in your feelings or pleasure, refusing sex with them is not cruelty but self protection. I experienced this with my last partner, who turned out to be clueless and horrible in the bedroom and then cried abuse when I avoided. I broke up with them quickly. Sometimes an abusive person will manipulate by crying abuse. Don't fall for it. I can't imagine being stuck in a marriage with someone like that. I agree that denying sex to a loving partner is cruel.

turned out to be horrible?

Just curious how you could have a relationship with someone who is clueless and horrible in the bedroom? Did you wait to try sex for the first time well into the relationship? Or did he turn clueless and horrible in the bedroom over time? Just kinda curious because it doesn't make sense that one could be clueless after having a clue! :)

We were only together for

We were only together for about four months. For a short while, I did expect it to improve. It's not unusual to take a while to work together to form a healthy sex life. The cluelessness and horribleness became worse outside the bedroom as well. I think they were capable of a "honeymoon" period outside of the bedroom but not in.

Or open marriage

"If... it can't be mutually resolved then the solution is divorce or separation"

Or open marriage. Unless you mean to include that in something that could be "mutually resolved".

Maybre not abuse, but certainly neglect

Within the context of marriage there are reasonable RESPONSIBILITIES you have to your PARTNER. You take on marriage you take on responsibilities. A right is something people derive as anonymous disconnected entities. A responsibility is something you accept when you commit to something. Responsibility is more important than a right.
We all have the right to free expression. We have a responsibility to communicate civilly.
So yes everyone has the right to their own sexuality. By that measure one has the right to sleep around as well. In the context of a committed relationship having a right is not enough. DOING right is what matters.

Leave your spouse. At 50 if

Leave your spouse. At 50 if you are a man there are heaps of younger women to choose from. As a woman remember that the competition in your age group is not high as it looks first glance. Most single women your age don't like sex or men much anymore. Just be feminine, cheerful, nice and leave the house and you will meet someone who wants to love you physically.

"At 50 if you are a man there

"At 50 if you are a man there are heaps of younger women to choose from."

If you are great looking and relatively wealthy this is true. Some of us had problems even at our prime getting women. Now in midlife forget about it., We just suffer from neglect, while our wives probably wish that we cheat so they can take everything from us.
My wife said she would lie about our sex life and say we had it regularly if I tried to divorce her. How do you prove not having sex?

No fault divorce

If you live in a state with no-fault divorce (which most states have now) you don't need a reason or a waiting period to divorce...and you most likely won't get any more or less money if adultery is involved.

But is oxytocin specific only to one's spouse?

From the article: "Sex promotes the flow of oxytocin, the chemical that promotes feelings of bonding."

An interesting question I've never seen addressed is, does this support the statement that an affair can be helpful to a marriage in some cases? After having sex with their extramarital partner, the increased oxytocin could also benefit the marital relationship. Or is the oxytocin chemical smart enough to realize it should only be active when a person is interacting with a particular person but not another?

That's a funny but

That's a funny but interesting question... I would imagine the rush of hormone would mostly occur during sex, and result in a bonding with your partner. But maybe it would stick around and everyone around you would benefit, including the person you're cheating on?

It concerns me that the first look is toward psychological causes

Dr. Heitler, your points are well-taken, but it concerns me that your first look is toward psychological causes and "communications" issue. The first look should be biopsychosocial.

The two largest causes of diminished sex drive and sexless marriages are chronic illnesses like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, CFS, Fibro, etc., which largely affect women. The next largest is all the drugs that people (again, majority women) take, not just for physical ailments, but also for birth control and depression. Birth control pills and SSRI antidepressants slaughter libido. Together, they must work a special kind of sex-squashing magic.

Again, the data indicates this is also largely a women's issue.

Just as psychologists tend to avoid talking about sex in couples therapy, it concerns me that you would not look to the elephants in the room of sexless marriage. Of course, these elephants are notoriously tough to budge. The only alternative to the SSRIs is Wellbutrin, which works not so well for many. Many would rather be undepressed than have sex a couple of times a week. As for the illness thing, chronic illness and sex are often incompatible, leading the well-spouse to simply feel deprived. No male well spouse would complain about lack of sex to sick spouse. That would be unmanly. Even a discussion can feel like emotional piling on.

Excellent point!

While the articles to which I suggest people look to get further information do discuss biological causes of sexual reluctance, I agree with you that it could be helpful for me to add this perspective to my article. Please note that I have done so. Thank you for this suggestion.


I was in a marriage that bordered on sexless. Eventually the pennies dropped and I discovered my wife was having an affair and had been for a long time. In counseling she said that it was the guilt that stopped her from being sexual with me.

Anyway, it was something I couldn't get past, so this week I'm moving out and we will ultimately get a divorce.

good advice .. but ...

I generally agree with your advice -- although the privacy issue seems a little sketchy to me since having sex in a committed relationship discretely (as opposed to on the dining table during the Thanksgiving feast) is good modeling, even though the kids might be a little embarrassed now.

But I did not find enlightening your "sotto voco" treatment of control and the psychological issues that may underpin it. I suspect you had a reason for not referring to these issues more clearly (perhaps the purpose of the article is to start a discussion and so was written to be sure that both partners are validated)?

What I wonder is what percentage of sexless marriages are caused by these causes as opposed to the more "difficult", sotto voco" referenced problems?

"You're the doctor", so I would appreciate your thoughts. (smile)

My advice - GET OUT

Having endured a painfully sexless marriage for 32 years I can only tell people younger than me one thing: If you've stopped having sex you need a divorce, and do it while you're still young enough to make a new life for yourself.

Sexless marriages never get better. Even if you start having sex you will simply feel "serviced," and it won't last anyway. And, the next thing you know, you're old enough that health issues kick in and your low-libido partner won't be able to have sex no matter what. Then you're so resentful of all the lost years...

Seriously. Just get out now. Find someone to love you like the sexual adult that you are.

good advice if it's a new marriage and you have no kids

Good advice if it's a new marriage and you have no kids. But if you do, and the relationship is otherwise on good terms, it's worth considering an open marriage first.

Open marriage

You know what's wrong with an open marriage? People fall out of love with their spouse...AND sometimes they fall in love with their sexual partners...and life goes on...

You know what's wrong with monogamous marriage?

You know what's wrong with an monogamous marriage? People fall out of love with their spouse...AND sometimes they fall in love with their work partners...and life goes on... In fact, by year 15, MOST marriages have ended, often because they have fallen out of love and sometimes because of affairs. So if you want to bring up all the things that usually go wrong, then there's something WRONG with monogamous marriage too and you shouldn't do it!! Just live life in a padded closet and you'll be safe.

But you're also incorrectly applying the logic of monogamy to a non-monogamous setting. Just because you fall in love with someone else does not mean you necessarily fall out of love with your spouse. That is the whole point of polyamory for example. It's like when you have a second child -- it doesn't mean you have to stop loving your first child. Likewise, there is no fundamental biological or psychological reason why some people couldn't fall in love with two people at the same time and have it work out for everyone. It's more complicated than most people could handle, and it requires more maturity than most people are capable of, but it can happen, and it does. And for a few people, it works out very well on a long-term basis, and I've seen that first hand.


I appreciate the thoughtful tone of this dialogue.

I myself am totally old-fashioned with regard to monogamy.

At the same time, when there is a sexually incapacitated partner, I see it as important to find some kind of win-win option that keeps the marriage alive and at the same time is responsive to the concerns of the spouse who still desires sexuality.

"I myself am totally

"I myself am totally old-fashioned with regard to monogamy". As a current manner of speaking, I can guess what you mean by that statement. But considering that polygamous types of arrangements are as old as history itself, the statement is actually completely ambiguous.

Control issues

@John B, I'm uncertain what you mean by "control and the psychological issues that may underpin it." The phrase for me however raises a key point: When withholding sex in order to get back at the partner or gain some other favor, and equally when demanding sex, occur in a marriage, these indicate that one partner is attempting to control the other instead of sharing in an equals partnership.

Much of the time the problem in a sexless marriage has to do with deeper psychological issues such as a childhood trauma. At the same time, sometimes sex is used as a bargaining tool. If either spouse is using sex to establish control over the other, both spouses would benefit from learning how to talk over issues collaboratively.

I've written a number of blogposts on cooperative talking, listening and decision-making skills. Also, my book The Power of Two or my website teach how to get what you want in a way that enables your partner's concerns to be heeded as well.

Controlling one another over having or not having sexual times together is a huge mistake, and can indicate a broader partnership problem of coercion and/or passive-aggression instead of cooperative power-sharing.

Depression then affair

My marriage bordered on sexless due to my husband's long term use of multiple anti depressants. He said he lacked desire and full sensation due to the disease and medications. I was always ready and waiting and desired him. Then almost one year ago I saw he underwent a drastic personality change, doing all the classic signs, losing weight, tanning, dying hair (age 50) new underwear, list goes on and on. I questioned his sudden desire to remake himself? I didn't think of an affair as he was always a very straight arrow and I had never caught him in a lie even once in almost 20 years.
After about 5 months, he is absent from the home more and more and claiming he is so "depressed" he has to get out and stay with a male friend to work on cars to feel better. I start smelling a rat (should have sooner) and find the evidence of a year long affair with thousands of dollars down the drain. Of course he went off all the meds I find out so he can "experience" all the feelings he needs.

This gerbil was running with scissors for his new mate. When confronted he denied and denied till I found the "burner" cell phone. After much pleading to forgive him, he begs me to stay. Catch him again with her. The drugs are a powerful attraction to the depressed mind here. He throws away almost everything. When confronted the second time I ask him to leave.

Now a year later we are attempting to reconcile, after months of individual and marital counseling to get at the root of the problems. I was not a nagging wife, but we were not a couple that aired our feelings the way we needed to. Resentments were buried. I felt rejected with his lack of desire, I was the one who should have had the affair they said! He also had issues with understanding mature love and was looking for that "loving" feeling that you get like when you connect with that new gerbil.
Immature or what?

Now we are back to sex maybe only every 10 days or so, due to his limited libido and sensation due to the meds. How do have a healthy marriage with a chronically depressed person? I feel he should just keep moving from gerbil to gerbil to keep himself happy now. I love him and want to heal the marriage but feel we are a hopeless case with these issues. He has been on multiple meds for depression and anxiety which they feel is a life long sentence for him. I feel sad for him and for me. Is this as good as it gets?

Why we need alternatives to medication for depression

Some antidepressants lower libido as a side effect. That is, the cure for one difficulty can become the cause of another.

Fortunately, new treatment methods such as some of the new "energy therapies" and other strategies show promise. Acupuncture, acupoint tapping (emotional freedom technique), Emotion Code, Body Talk and other new methods can restore positive energies as well or better than medications, without the libido-lowering side effects that some people experience from meds.

I'd suggest that people for whom the side effects of medication are lowered sexual interest and arousal take this side effect very seriously. If a person gains a reduction in depression at the cost of a positive marriage relationship, that's a very high price to pay, a price paid by the person with the depression, by the spouse, and also by the children. Very expensive.

Trying it all

I have felt very hopeless and disillusioned by this all. How can two people reconnect with little or no interest in bonding in the most intimate way? Hard to rekindle with a person who keeps telling you his mind is willing but his body is not. He sure was very ready and willing when he was having his affair. Even took ED meds and drug holidays to make it all happen I discovered. I suggested that now and he says he will consider it but he is too depressed now from the shame and from the fallout. He cannot believe he did this. Afraid there were more, just got caught this time. Worked very long hours many years while I cared for the family and ailing parents.

I believe he is also missing the "fix" he was getting from the affair. I have read the chemicals are intoxicating in a sense.

He is already enrolled in a clinical trial for TNS and looking at TMS if the insurance will cover it for his depression. Also doing intensive CBT. Appreciate the ideas about Emotion Code and Body Talk had not heard about those yet. I am falling into a deep depression myself now sifting through the ashes of our lives. Past couple years were on big lie and now there is a pile of debt to top it off. He continually says he could not help himself, the high was too good. He confessed his deep love (lust)for her in multiple texts I found between them. He was so depressed it became the new drug of choice. How can a man like this stay faithful going forward? Now that he has tasted the nectar of the gods? Is he withholding sex because he is no longer interested? Yes this was very expensive and painful. He was looking for that "feeling of love" which we well know is a verb as the relationship evolves, not just a feeling. Thank you so much for your input.

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Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. She is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University.


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