Intimacy and the Sexless Marriage

Sex and Intimacy

sexlessA sexless marriage is a pressure cooker.
So is every marriage for that matter – a committed relationship designed to produce our growth.
Marriage is a people growing machine.
And growing up does not lead to accepting more of the same in married life because we come to realize the truth of marriage is not about soothing each other. It’s about learning to stand on your own two feet.
As we ended in our last post … in a sexless marriage, the essential element missing is intimacy. Growing up involves recognizing how to achieve it.
Intimacy develops best through conflict, self-validation and unilateral disclosure.
It is a process of both confronting yourself and self-disclosure to your spouse.
Not just self-disclosure as we often believe.
This two pronged approach to intimacy will require self-validation.
Which will sound something like this… “I don’t expect you to agree with me; you weren’t put on the face of the earth to validate and reinforce me. But I want you to love me – and you can’t really do that if you don’t know me. I don’t want your rejection – but I must face that possibility if I’m ever to feel accepted or secure with you. It’s time to show myself to you and confront my own separateness.”
Self–validated intimacy involves providing support for yourself all while letting yourself be truly known. A scary proposition.
As you achieve a higher level of growing up, revealing yourself is less dependent on your spouse’s moods or life’s minor ups and downs. You learn that you are more capable of expressing who you are in the face of neutral or even negative responses from those around you.
You also can begin to unilaterally push the boundaries of your relationship, because you feel less threatened when you spouse refuses (or even starts) to grow.
On the flip side, the lower the level of your growth, the more prone you are to engage in highly dependent relationships. Where you wind up trying to control your spouse in order to maintain “control” of yourself.
In a sexless marriage, spouses are stuck in this system until one of them realizes the dynamics at play between them (these same dynamics are at play in every marriage by the way).

  1. There will be a high desire and a low desire for sex – and the person with the least desire for sex will control the sex. But having that person control your sense of adequacy is optional.
  2. Reviving sexual desire is not as simple as “resolving past hurts.” Bringing sex back to the relationship involves a two-choice dilemma – a situation necessitating a choice between two or more anxiety provoking alternatives. “I don’t want to have sex with you and I want you to be okay with that and not leave me.”

A key fact to remember with two-choice dilemmas, the choice is NOT between being anxious or not – it is between one anxiety and another.
When relationships hit gridlock, we want two choices. Problem is we only get one at a time.
You make a choice and then your spouse gets to make his or hers (or vice-versa).
It is times like this when couples get creative and think they can avoid the two-choice dilemmas of life. This is when you encourage your spouse to “be reasonable” — so you don’t really have to choose. But you must realize, you and your spouse are not in the same boat, so you can’t steer your boat and your spouse’s at the same time.
This is how both spouses collude to create a sexless marriage that remains in this state for long periods of time.
The low desire spouse has made it known they are not interested in sex, and the high desire spouse colludes in this by failing to act because they don’t want to have to choose.
On the other hand, expecting your low desire spouse to sacrifice for you in the name of love will also kill the marriage, sex, intimacy, and love.
So both spouses remain in a “no man’s land” – not happy with what they have AND not willing to risk the anxiety that making a choice will create.
Anxiety in marriage (and life for that matter) is inevitable.
Here’s how you can determine if anxiety is crippling you:

  • You can’t remain calm in the face of your spouse’s agenda/needs/wants.
  • You are reactive and have a poor self-image so you can’t change your position even when it’s in your best interest.
  • You refuse to see your spouse as a separate person (the two shall become one idea).
  • You are unwilling to tolerate the anxiety of personal growth.

Growing up involves choosing. So does the act of having sex.
Choosing is the path to growing up in married life.
Because growing up is the process of:

  1. Maintaining a clear sense of who you are as you become increasingly intimate with a spouse who is increasingly more important to you; knowing what you value and believe as well as not defending a false or inaccurate self-picture.
  2. Maintaining the proper perspective about your anxieties, limitations, and shortcomings so that they neither drive nor immobilize you.
  3. The willingness to engage in self-confrontation necessary for your growth.
  4. Acknowledging your projections and distortions and admitting when you are wrong – whether or not your spouse reciprocates or even cares.
  5. Tolerating the pain involved with growth. It is mobilizing yourself toward the growth you value and aspire to while soothing your own hurts when necessary, without excessive self-indulgence. This is supporting rather than berating yourself.

The dilemmas of married life can’t be avoided, but they can be grown through.
They require a willingness to risk and humility to learn new ways and paths through life.
It takes tremendous personal courage to grow through gridlock. But the outcome is so worth it. Not only might it produce a great marriage, more importantly, it will produce a relationship with your own authentic self – someone you may not have been introduced to previously.

*Adapted from David Schnarch’s book Passionate Marriage
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