What to Do If Your Partner Has Lost Interest in Sex

When a Dry Spell Turns Into Something Serious

Unhappy young couple getting up from bed

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Every relationship can go through dry spells when your partner is suddenly less interested in sex than you. It may a short-term problem related to stress at work or other issues that have driven your partner to distraction.

Even more commonly, a sudden, hectic schedule—ranging from end-of-year exams to a do-or-die work deadline—can leave your partner exhausted and little interested in anything more than sleep or a night in front of the TV.

While dry spells like these are common and usually resolve on their own once things stabilize, a prolonged and unexplained disinterest in sex can be harmful to a relationship and the general well-being of both partners. Not only can this stir feelings of frustration and self-doubt, it may leave you wondering whether this may be your first step toward a sexless marriage.

It is not an entirely unfounded concern. According to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, as many as six percents of marriages will go an entire year without sex.

Challenges

There is no rule as to when a dry spell has "too long." Much of it depends on the couple's age, how long they have been together, and what their usual pattern of sex has been. Ultimately, if a dry spell is causing palpable tension in the relationship or is undermining the confidence of one or both partners, action needs to be taken.

And that can be tricky. Unless both partners are willing to engage in honest and open communication, any discussion about the lack of sex may trigger feelings of guilt, anger, blame, or embarrassment, setting back rather than advancing a solution.

To this end, there are steps you can take to address the problem cooperatively. It would require, first and foremost, that you not make any assumptions about your partner's lack of sexual interest, no matter how much it may be causing you distress.

Causes

The causes for the loss of sexual interest can be many, including stress, depression, erectile dysfunction, hormone imbalances (spurred by menopause and hypogonadism), genital pain (such as vaginismus or balanitis), chronic illness, medications, low self-esteem, and relationship problems. The list could go on and one.

So while you may assume that your partner is having an affair or has simply lost interest in you, you need to be open to all possibilities.

Moreover, it is important to distinguish between low libido (the loss of sexual desire), hypoactive sexual desire (the absence of sexual fantasies), and sexual dysfunction (the inability to have sex, usually accompanied by extreme feelings of guilt). Each can have physical and psychological causes but are completely different in how they are treated.

By understanding the difference, you can approach the problem more objectively and avoid many of the emotional repercussions.

What to Do

When approaching your spouse about sexual problems in the relationship, the worst place to do so in the bedroom where you both exposed and vulnerable. Instead, find some neutral territory where you can be alone, private, and undisturbed.

Make every effort to express yourself sensitivity and without any suggestion of blame. While it is important to share your worries, do so within the context of the relationship rather than asserting how "you" are causing "me" to worry. That is where worry turns to blame.

If your partner is able to pinpoint a problem (such as stress at work or feeling tired all the time), work together to find a solution. Focus on incremental change, and seek medical help if needed. And don't be shy to suggest therapy. Therapy can be great for teaching stress management skills and may help identify undercurrents of depression or anxiety. Moreover, take the time to reiterate the importance of intimacy and physical closeness as you endeavor to find a lasting solution.

If your partner doesn't know what is causing the problem but acknowledges its existence, suggest a physical exam with the family doctor. Low libido is often the result of an undiagnosed medical condition (such as low testosterone, high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, or diabetes) or a chronic drug (such as antidepressants, birth control pills, and certain prostate medications) that may altogether kill your sex drive.

If your partner shuts down or is reluctant to discuss the issue, you need to take charge and not take things personally. In the end, this is not about you failing your partner or your partner failing you. It is simply that you both need to take ownership of the problem as a couple. By taking the lead—and suggesting couples counseling, if needed—you can bring the issue into the light and use the process to strengthen, rather than hurt, the relationship.

It is important to remember that solving any relationship problem—whether it be sexual, financial, or emotional—is a process and not an event. Take your time, be patient, and, if needed, seek counseling to ensure your self-esteem and confidence remain intact.

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