Sexless Marriage: Stay or Go?

After reading the posts on your message board, I know that there are many women who are also living in sexless marriages. Can you be sexless and have a happy marriage? I don't think so. From the start, getting married after getting pregnant, it was a problem for me and my husband. I tried everything I could think of -- lingerie, dieting (I'm not heavy), romance, dressing and acting ''sexy'' for him. Finally, after seven years of therapy, we discovered that my husband cannot put love and sex together. He can love me but not have sex with me, or he can have sex with me but not love me (or any other woman). I want to be loved like a woman should be, so I am moving on. I believe I am doing the right thing. --iVillager ''D''


Dear D:

Your story is poignant and touches my heart. I am sure your words will reach out to comfort and enlighten others. I want to call you Braveheart and call him a taxi. Actually, your husband is intimacy-phobic. Some folks who are wired this way never find their way out of the maze of their inability to link sexuality and intimacy. They may even use sex as a means to avoid intimacy, by thinking of it as performance-based or mechanical, involving only the part of them below the belt. To love someone intimately requires the bravery to risk being vulnerable, and for some people -- men in particular -- loving a partner and also connecting in the sexual domain is just too much for them to bear; there's too much closeness, too much risking of self. For some people, the idea of real intimacy means losing their own identity and personal boundaries, and they literally fear for their lives. When adding sexual intimacy to the mix, they often either shut down or run away. Your husband stayed for the final scene in your play, and you had to take the initiative to put this ailing marriage out of its misery.

Some couples can sustain a level of intimacy without sex over the long haul. For others, sexual touching and intimacy on all possible levels are essential or their bond will break. Yours did just that. I have worked with couples in which one of them has sought out an extramarital affair or full-blown relationship to sustain his or her sexual self and yet maintained the marital foundation. That is sometimes the only way to keep going when all else has failed. There is an interesting book by Dalma Hehn called The Erotic Silence of the American Wife that tells stories of women who cheat, some of whom are driven to that behavior from a life of sexless living at home. You may find this book soothing to read.

I hope that through therapy you realized that your marriage kept you in a prison of sexlessness and also self-contempt. It appears that you have learned to forgive, forget and move on with new understanding about your role and your husband's role in this shared drama. I also sense your compassion -- for yourself and for him. I salute you for doing the work and moving on. You will find the love and pleasure you deserve if you stay open to it.