Tell me about it: I’m struggling in a sexless marriage

Kate Holmquist answers your sex, life and relationship problems


Please help me out here, I’m struggling with married life not turning out at all as I expected.

We had a very healthy sex life when just living together, and three years into marriage in all other respects our relationship has improved.

However, my wife seems to have totally misunderstood the meaning of legally enforced monogamy. It’s not just a prohibition on having sex with other people. One is also under some kind of implied obligation to actually have sex, at least occasionally, with one’s spouse, no? At least that was my understanding. Otherwise it would be called celibacy, am I right?

Despite things being relatively good in that way before we got to the altar, it went downhill very rapidly afterwards, before dwindling away to nothing for the past year or so. I haven’t given up trying to initiate, but she just goes cold each time. Every time I try to bring it up with her, she retorts: “You’re just mad because you didn’t get what you wanted this morning/last night/at the weekend/whenever” and then tries to pick a fight with me over some unrelated domestic trivia. Yes, of course I’m mad that my wife is turned off by the thought of making love with me. She makes me feel like a dirty old man (and I’m only in my mid-30s).

Even worse, she seems to have adopted the persona of a woman of her grandmother’s generation. Gone is the changing into her swimming cossie at the beach without a care in the world as to who saw a flash of flesh; now she turns off the light in our bedroom and gets changed in the dark. Before we used to enjoy slightly racy French movies; now she tut-tuts when anything in the least way suggestive comes on the telly. It’s as if she was auditioning before. Now that she’s secured the role, she feels she doesn’t have to try (or pretend?) anymore.

My male friends are absolutely useless when I try to talk to them about this. The unmarried ones just laugh: “Hate to say I told you so mate, that’s why I’ll never get married” is a typical response. The married ones just bow their heads and sadly admit to something similar, if less extreme, and then shuffle off to the bar for another round and never mention it again.

At least they have some beautiful kids to show for their sacrifice. My wife was always adamantly against having children, and asked me to have a vasectomy shortly after we were wed.

I agreed because the alternative was to use condoms, and I’ve always had trouble keeping an erection with a condom on (since my teens) so I didn’t want to go down that route. But I really regret it now that I’m beginning to realise that this may not be for the long haul.

Am I the only one who wasn’t clued into the great unspoken secret of Irish marriage? Please help me understand the psychology of what might be going on with her, as I’m going up the walls and won’t last at this rate. Sorry if I’ve gone on a bit, but I really needed to get this off my chest fully.

I can sense your frustration, confusion and even anger, as you put it, at having married one woman and ended up with another. You’re also looking for insight into what is going on with your wife.

Sometimes, when we marry, we can feel, often subconsciously, that we need to be the version of husband or wife that we have in our heads from childhood.

We can also expect that our spouse will behave a certain way, without verbalising it. When they don’t fulfil our expectations, we can experience anger, tension and communication problems, though you say that your relationship has improved in every other way.

Still, I wonder whether you are picking up the clues she is giving you as to why she is unhappy. Is her anger at what you call “domestic trivia” a clue? Maybe it’s not trivial to her. Maybe she is looking for some sort of unconditional love and fears that without sex, you will reject the real her.

Marriage vows
You mention “legally enforced” monogamy. Marriage vows are not a sexual contract, though you would assume that a sexual relationship would be an integral part. If sex were to be “legally enforced” when one partner didn’t want it, that would be rape, as I’m sure you are aware.

I think the fact that you are reduced to a putative legal argument shows how lacking in resources you are for dealing with this.

I find it hard to believe that your wife would trick you into a sexless marriage by masquerading in a sexual relationship for a long time, then cutting you off. There is something so fundamental going on here that you are right to feel at crisis point.

“When the frequency of sexual activity diminishes, it becomes more difficult to resume and can become shrouded in anxiety, awkwardness and shame.

“If there are rows and arguments around the issue and this goes on long term, it can be very difficult to get back on track without professional help,” advises Teresa Bergin, sex and relationships therapist.

“Set aside a quiet time and explain your frustration and sadness about the state of your sexual relationship and your fears for the future of the marriage. Take responsibility for your own feelings and steer away from blaming. Invite her to start being intimate with you again but not in a sexual way as this might be too much to start with.

“Taking the focus off sex and resuming gentle, sensual touch with a massage, for example, would be a good starting point,” she advises.

Couples counselling
If your wife cannot work with you to get things back on track, you really need to seek out couples counselling. You are young and deserve a relationship which includes a healthy sex life, so don’t give up before you have exhausted every avenue.

I am concerned that you had a vasectomy in exchange for condom-free sex – could she not have gone on the pill or had a sterilisation procedure herself? She really has established control over you, so I would say that if she won’t see a couples therapist, you should see someone on your own.

Email your questions to or contact Kate on Twitter @kateholmquist. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into.

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