The Sexless Marriage: When Spouses Become Best Friends
Many couples come to my office with the complaint of having a sexless marriage. Both parties are discouraged and frustrated (pun intended). What started out as a sexually fulfilling relationship, over time, dwindles into a legalized friendship.
Couples will state that they had sex four times per day when they first met. They felt that they couldn’t get enough of each other physically. They both cite careers, kids and domestic chores as the obstacles to feeling sexy. After a few years, many women are going to bed at 10pm in flannel pajamas while their husbands are retiring to the master suite at 11pm after watching TV downstairs.
If you met one of these couples at a cocktail party, however, you would never guess that they hadn’t had sex in years. They are friendly, they hold hands, they laugh at each others’ jokes. They appear to be very close.
Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity (Harper Collins, 2006), argues that one reason marriages lose their vitality is because of the contemporary social pressure to have your spouse be your best friend and confidante. A best friend is warm, cozy, safe, and supportive. In many ways, a best friend becomes a surrogate for a parent. Someone who kisses your tears away, someone who encourages you when you feel defeated. Sexuality, on the other hand, is about passion, aggression, and the selfish pursuit of release. It is very difficult to transition from discussing your eleven year old’s need for a reading tutor to earth-scorching sex in the bedroom.
Ms. Perel suggests that one way to reignite sexuality in a ‘best friend’ couple is to look at your spouse with ‘fresh eyes.’ There is a need, she argues, to view your spouse as a separate and mysterious person. She uses the example of going to a cocktail party and deliberately watching your spouse interact with the opposite sex. Rather than viewing this person as safe, secure, and permanent in your life, it is sexier to view this person as separate from you. To wonder if he/she feels attracted to other individuals. To experience moments of insecurity, Ms. Perel argues, reignites the urge to connect with your spouse.
In our twenties, we would have felt lucky to marry our best friend. In our later years, however, we learn that it is difficult to sexually crave someone who has become so familiar and so predictable.
Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D.