Relationship counsellor, clinical sexologist, and author of Seasons of Sex, Leandie Buys weighs in on the role of sex and intimacy in a relationship, and whether or not a sexless marriage spells the end of the romance…
Because sex is one of the ways that we communicate with each other, it is often mistaken for love…
Although it is AN expression of love, it is not the only one. Too often people assume that sex means love and no sex means no love. Teenage boys use this theory to get their girlfriends into bed, and adults often think the same way.
When it comes to relationships, a lack of physical intimacy is merely a symptom of other issues in the relationship, not THE problem.
A lack of sex in a relationship doesn’t automatically lead to infidelity either. This is a very complex issue that needs to be unpacked with each couple to figure out exactly what is going on. However, there are some general ideas to consider.
Infidelity & intimacy
Firstly, in my opinion, an affair does not necessarily mean the end of a relationship. In my experience, affairs often happen because people become discontent and disconnected from their relationship, and instead of seeking ways to solve the problem internally, they look outside of the relationship for the things they are missing.
In many cases, individuals who are discontent with themselves seek affirmation from someone other than their partner. They fall in love with the feeling that they get when they are affirmed by the other person. Instead of confronting their own insecurities, and why they are discontent with themselves, they pursue a relationship with someone who makes them “feel good”.
The lack of intimacy in their own relationship may be demonstrated by a lack of sex, but the couple’s sex life is not the problem – it’s just the symptom.
Once again, the main issue here is COMMUNICATION
I believe that sex is another way that we communicate with each other, and when a couple stops communicating effectively in their relationship, their sexual intimacy will also suffer. The decision to seek comfort outside of a relationship can never be blamed solely on lack of sex in their own relationship.
The person who has the affair makes a choice to be unfaithful or not, and taking responsibility for this choice is the first step in the healing process of a relationship that has suffered an affair.
Rebuilding the relationship from the ground up requires both partners to be fully committed to the process, and willing to be open, honest, and vulnerable with each other.
A ‘bad sex life’ is a symptom of a deeper problem, not the problem itself
The breakdown of a relationship can very rarely be blamed fully on a “bad sex life’. However, because sex is such an intimate act, this could be one of the signs of a deteriorating relationship.
Remember, that there is no ‘normal’ amount of times a couple should be having sex every month. This is based on their own preferences. But when there is a change in the relationship’s norms, that is when the cause needs to be investigated.
If a couple lacks good communication skills, problem solving skills and relationship skills, their relationship will certainly suffer, and so will their sex life.
When a couple’s sexual relationship begins to deteriorate, one of the first things to look at is:
- When did the deterioration begin?
- Did arguments and misunderstandings lead to a breakdown in communication?
- Did the couple neglect each other to a point where they felt like they were strangers living in the same house?
- Or did it really start with the sex – one partner desiring sex more than the other, and feeling hurt when they were turned away? This is called Desire Discrepancy, and is common in many relationships. Through counselling, it can be remedied.
- Did they seek to communicate about the problem, or did they just ‘hide it under the rug’ and let it get worse and worse?
Intimacy is more than just a physical relationship
I always tell my patients that even if a couple can’t have sex due to medical reasons, they can still have an intimate, loving relationship.
Intimacy is more than just being physical with each other.
It’s listening to each other, supporting each other, encouraging each other, and in general, being a good team. Your partner should be the first one you turn to when you have a bad day, or when you need to make a big life decision, and they should feel the same about you.
Your partner should be your safety net and your biggest fan. You should be the same thing for them. This builds intimacy and security in a relationship. Sex is not a bandage, it can’t hide or fix the problems in a relationship, it is the ‘reward’ or privilege of a successful relationship.
Couples who have lost the intimacy, trust, and security of their relationship CAN rebuild it, as long as both individuals are committed to the process. The relationship can be redefined and rebuilt into something that is much stronger and resilient than before.
Leandie Buys is offering online relationship counselling or tele-therapy. Find out more HERE.