There's no drama, no fighting. You've been together for years, raised kids
and pets. The love is still there, but the spark just isn't. As months drift
into years, you realize: You're in a sexless marriage.
Most married couples don't really know what to expect of a long-term
relationship, says Diane Solee, MSW, a former marriage counselor who is the
founder and director of Smartmarriages.com. She is also director of the
Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education.
By Ty Wenger
Fifteen years ago, I found myself in a romantic pickle: Cheryl, a woman I
had been dating for about three months, was nearing her 25th birthday. The
birthday gift in any three-month-old relationship is a dicey one, and I
deliberated over it for weeks. Too big too soon and it could look like I was
trying too hard. Too little and I might appear indifferent. Too romantic and
I'd run the risk of setting the bar too high.
And so it was with great enthusiasm that I finally unveiled...
"It's so normal to hit the doldrums. In a way, you should be smug
about it," Solee tells WebMD. "You have a partner who is not bringing
drama into your life. You're not going to alcohol or cocaine treatment classes.
You are in a very good place. Realizing all that, your job is to get out of the
doldrums. You may have gotten into a rut."
There's more at stake than simply boredom. Very often, couples are headed
toward a bigger disconnect in the marriage -- and possibly divorce, says Pepper
Schwartz, PhD, professor of sociology, psychiatry, and behavioral medicine at
the University of Washington in Seattle.
Schwartz is on the Health Advisory Board at WebMD, and author of several
books including Prime: Adventures and Advice about Sex, Love, and the
Signs you're in the marital doldrums: "You're leading parallel lives,
and don't see each other anymore," she tells WebMD. "You tell
everything important to your friends but not to each other. Those are really
big problems, and you've got to tend to them."
A sharp tongue is a red flag of growing frustration in a passionless
marriage, Schwartz adds. "If you're bitchy, if you treat each other with
contempt, it's a warning sign. It may not happen all the time, but it happens
often. It's because people start to feel neglected, disappointed. They had
expectations of what marriage should be like, and this is not what they'd hoped
In fact, boredom is very often a cover-up for anger and disappointment,
Schwartz explains. "Those deeper feelings have to be dealt with. I'm not
talking about deep therapy; it can happen in one or two visits. But there has
to be a refocusing on the relationship... a renewal of what this marriage is
supposed to be."
The Anatomy of Love
First step: Be realistic. If you're looking for the swept-off-your feet sex
of those first few years, dream on. And a new partner certainly isn't the
solution. Three years later, you'll have the same sizzle-less marriage you have
"The initial passion of any relationship changes after 18
months," says Sallie Foley, MSW, director of the Center for Sexual Health
at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Modern Love and
Sex and Love for Grownups.