Understanding what happens to a marriage without intimacy begins by putting everything in the context of your marriage and understanding the different forms of intimacy.
It’s normal for intimacy to ebb and flow but without intimacy in the long run a marriage will fall apart. Often starting with hampered communication it can eventually lead to emotional disconnection, resentment and divorce.
Marriage is a shared intimacy between a man and woman who chose and continue to choose to share their lives with each other. This special bond goes beyond just what is easily perceivable. It is a kind of closeness that encompasses various facets of the relationship.
Emotional vs Physical Intimacy
There is Physical Intimacy or the outward display of affection such as kissing and hugging and other forms of touches that are simply expressions and not necessarily with sexual overtones. Giving your spouse a smack or smooch before leaving for work is an example.
There is also the emotional connection or being attuned with your spouse in terms of how you feel which includes vulnerability, trust, and deep-seated feelings you don’t normally share with other people.
It is also important to share a spiritual connection with your spouse, or how you both hold on to a shared faith in God that enables you to navigate your married life and tackle problems as a team.
Being Intellectually Intimate also matters. Or being able to freely share ideas, thoughts, skills and being connected to each other on a cerebral level. Not necessarily thinking alike all the time but understanding, valuing, and respecting each other’s perspective on matters.
There are also other forms of intimacy that strengthen marriage such as an Experiential connection or sharing and collecting experiences together that enrich your journey as a couple. Another is conflict Intimacy or being able to work out your differences, and Creative Intimacy or your ability as a couple to find novel ways to nourish your relationship.
Then there’s sexual intimacy or the shared act of sexual union and passion and the pleasures derived from it. It is this aspect that is commonly discussed and while I agree that sex life is not all there is to an intimate marriage, sex in marriages is nonetheless very important.
It is a bond that binds a marriage and puts it in another relationship category that’s deeper than any other human relationship a person could have.
While many think that a connection is generally about sex, it is actually about shared truths. When you can bare your all – body, mind, and soul, to your spouse without filter or fear of judgment and you get a sense of safety and acceptance from your partner, that is a communion of the closest kind.
It’s what differentiates it from any other relationship. Marriage, at least an ideal one, is supposed to be a deep, all-encompassing union. Anything less could tilt the balance in a relationship
Having said that, many couples do experience a lack of one or more of these forms of intimacy which affects their marriage. One such issue is having a sexless marriage.
And it goes beyond just an unmet physical need. There, on the marriage bed happens the most profound expression of closeness, affection, and a sharing of each other’s depth and soul. A kind of union that binds a couple in a way that’s all theirs to enjoy and cherish.
But what happens when such an experience no longer exists or becomes rare? When a sexless marriage or the lack of a sex life also begins to break all the other bonds that hold the tapestry of your marriage?
If this is the picture of your marriage, then read on.
According to Professor Denise A. Donnelly’s studies on sexless marriages, 15% of married couples have not had sex with their partner in the last six months to one year. Needless to say, the problem does exist.
When Coldness Creeps In
It doesn’t take a genius to know that a sexless marriage can wreak havoc on both parties on an emotional, psychological, and physical level. And if one seems to lack interest in having sex with his or her partner, the other one suffers more. Often in silence.
For purposes of clarity, let’s delineate what is considered as a marriage that is sexless. Experts define a sexless marriage as a relationship wherein the couple has sex no more than 10 times in any given year, or have sex less than once per month.
Yet, according to Professor Donnelly in an interview with The New York Times, there is no ideal level of sex within a relationship — the ideal level is what both partners are happy with — and when one (or both) are unhappy, then you can have marital problems.
Sex is like the fuel to the fire of marriage and if there’s no sex life or very little of it, then the fire may eventually fizzle and the relationship may begin to disintegrate if left unchecked for long. Confusion, pain and despair could start creeping in especially as the emotional connection weakens. Imagine a candle flame that’s put out. The candle remains but its warmth and glow are gone.
While the causes of a sexless marriage can range from biological, to relational or even environmental, the effects of lack of sex are pretty much similar across various contexts.
What Happens To A Marriage Without Intimacy?
If a couple is still connected deeply in other ways except through sex, the marriage could sustain its bond. Otherwise, it may begin to weaken.
One may simply downplay a sexless marriage situation as ‘just a rough patch’, but the effects can spell the difference between gloom and doom. While married life is not all a bed of roses, it would be good to not have too many thorns in it. Because thorns like for example, an unrequited desire to have sex with your spouse, can prick the heart again and again until it bleeds dry. When a spouse’s sexual needs are unmet, the marriage gets thrown off balance and cracks start to appear. The cracks get bigger over time, until finally, the relationship is just too cracked to mend.
According to gathered research and studies, a sexless marriage or a marriage with very little sex is predisposed to the following:
Sex plays a key role in a couple’s sense of openness and security as a couple. A lack of sex can create an emotional gap. Worse, a spouse or both may feel a sense of distrust, apathy, estrangement, insecurity, sadness and despair that if left unchecked, could further draw a couple apart.
When sex takes a backseat, an invisible wall is created and what used to be an unfiltered and easy flow of sharing and exchanging becomes strained. Suddenly, there’s dead air, unaddressed concerns, awkward silences, unspoken words and unexpressed emotions.
Sexual satisfaction produces the ‘happy hormone’ called oxytocin. When this declines, your happiness meter goes down and you become easily annoyed with your partner. Couples in a sexless marriage may find themselves arguing even over petty things.
Continued rejection and neglect lead to resentment and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness which if not addressed in time can lead to anger issues that make the relationship more toxic.
Mental Health Issues
Lack of sex can also affect a spouse or a couple psychologically. They develop feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem, guilt, shame, failure, and isolation.
While sexless marriages really exist, married couples must understand that both of them should put in enough effort to work it out. Here, intellectual intimacy and conflict intimacy plays a big role.
A marriage without sex and the intimacy it brings may not only have an impact on the couple but extend to their children and work as well. And so it is best to nip the problem in the bud early on before it grows into something too overwhelming to resolve. Before one strays and looks for satisfaction outside the marriage bed. By then it may already be too late. According to a study, people in sexless marriages report that they are more likely to have considered divorce and that they are less happy in their marriages. Not surprising then that is is a major reason for estrangement among couples.
In matters of sexual intimacy or rather the lack of it, both spouses must be willing to acknowledge the problem, truthfully recognize that it poses a threat to the relationship, and tackle the problem together as a team. They might also need to seek the help of a marriage counselor or a sex therapist.
Conflicts are part and parcel of married life. However, even in the worst of marital issues, there is nothing that love, the true kind, cannot overcome. I’m not saying it won’t be hard. In fact most of the time it’s going to be crazy hard. But a strong desire to keep a marriage alive can overcome challenges, intimacy issues included. At the end of the day, you need to remember that both of you are on the same team.
What happens to marriage without intimacy? Eventually, divorce.
If this becomes a sustained part of your relationship together and you reach that stage when you’re more roommates than lovers you either do something about it, or it’s going to lead to the beginning of the end.
Recovering the Intimacy
Rebuilding and maintaining intimacy is an ongoing process, like any part of keeping a relationship healthy. It’s certainly something you can do even in the later stages but just understand it’s unlikely to be an overnight change.
I’ve covered a more complete guide on how to bring more affection to your marriage to start with, or if you’d rather take a deeper look at your marriage: