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Are You Spouses or Just Roommates?

You've drifted into a sexless marriage. Can this relationship be saved? Yes, experts say.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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.

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"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 Sensual Years.

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 for."

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 right now.

"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.

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