“Most people are slow to champion love because they fear the transformation it brings into their lives. And make no mistake about it: love does take over and transform the schemes and operations of our egos in a very mighty way.” -Aberjhani
One of the most common ways that we leave each other while staying together is to remove sex from our relationship. This is not a new topic. In recent years the concept of the sexless marriage has made the cover of Newsweek and other major publications, which reported that as many as 15- 20 percent of married couples have had no sex in the last 6-12 months. While some may argue the definitions of a sexless relationship, no one is arguing the fact that our ability to show up sexually is an essential foundation for the health and well-being of relationships.
Indeed, research consistently shows clear correlations between couples’ happiness and having sex. Happy couples have more sex, and the more sex a couple has, the happier they report being. Couples who don’t have sex contemplate divorce and get divorced more than their counterparts. It is unfortunate that in our culture, we require research to prove this point. What is even more perplexing is that we don’t recognize the sexless relationship for what it is. We refuse to call it by its true nature – a shell of a promise, and an exit without the guts to actually leave.
The real issue about static sex lives is that it is almost never about that. I have long said to thousands of people who have mourned their dying sex life that our capacity for physical intimacy is almost never the cause of our sexual demise. The truth is that we leave each other in so many other ways before the axe comes down on our sex life. Many, if not most, couples first leave emotionally. They live side by side with someone without ever feeling safe enough to truly disclose who they are.
Our insufficient communication skills and our inattention to listening to the people we love leaves little room for laying the ground work of deep intimacy. Instead, we live with our conflicts, increasing space between us, but never having the courage to argue. We stand by silently and watch our career aspirations and work commitments swallow up the time that intimate connection demands. Many couples move into a rote physical intimacy during this phase of declining connection. They try to have sex, but neither one feels safe enough to be vulnerable, to experiment, to expose their curiosity and shame that makes us all uniquely sexual. Usually the initiation argument of who wants who more or less is all that is left to talk about before the declaration of no more sex is made.
We also leave each other physically while staying in a relationship; our relationships whither when we don’t show up for the person we promised to love. At best, our intimacy is confused with increasing distance, when we are distracted by easier or more accessible relationships. Whether it is our extensive work hours, addictions to computer sex of a million varieties, or full-on extramarital affairs, we often slip into cohabitating without really being present. Our sex lives get held hostage.
I remember when my husband’s business partner’s ex-wife told me she moved out of her bedroom. She was going through menopause and nursing her anger at the emotional disconnect she felt between her and her husband. She felt no obligation to his sexual needs, she told me. I don’t know exactly when in the cycle his affair started. Did her refusal cause him to wander or did his wandering cause her to pull away? Maybe it doesn’t really matter, because when couples choose a sexless relationship, both share the responsibility and the consequences of the most significant leaving we can do.
Our sexual selves offer the most adhesive glue that two hearts can manifest in the messy and demanding business of loving over time. Agreeing to a sexless relationship is the low road for the many ways that you are not willing to acknowledge leaving each other. The cure is not actually agreeing to more sex. The cure is choosing to stay for love’s sake.