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Sex is a way for us to connect with our partner, so when the nature of that intimacy changes it can have a huge impact on our relationship. This is the case for this week’s reader, Kaylee.
Kaylee wrote in to explain that she and her husband started sleeping apart five years ago to get a better night’s rest. While they may be getting more sleep, their sex life has “virtually stopped”, despite attempts to reignite it.
“We’ve been married for 11 years. Last time we tried making love my husband was unable to maintain his erection, he hasn’t been able to orgasm with me either. There’s no physical health issues and he just tells me he doesn’t know why,” she said.
“He has real difficulties with communication, which doesn’t help. He says it’s not me, but obviously something is wrong. We don’t have much in common and we don’t talk much because he just shuts down. I’m feeling trapped and frustrated.”
This is a difficult situation to navigate, which is why we’ve asked Counselling Directory member and therapist Nicoleta Porojanu for some advice.
“Five years of sleeping apart have most likely created cracks into the foundation of your marriage. This is because romantic relationships need physical closeness and intimacy to survive,” Porojanu says.
“It is this human connection that keeps the desire alive and fuels the erotic energy of life. In your case the lack of closeness and the poor communication stopped the desire and eroticism to manifest.”
Why might a man struggle to orgasm or maintain an erection?
Before you look at relationship problems, it’s good to rule out any health issues behind erectile dysfunction and associated problems reaching orgasm.
Most men occasionally fail to get or keep an erection, according to the NHS, and it’s most common in men over the age of 40.
“This is usually caused by stress, tiredness, anxiety or drinking too much alcohol, and it’s nothing to worry about,” the health service says. “If it happens more often, it may be caused by physical health or emotional problems.”
What can couples do if they’re in a sexless relationship?
If sex has “virtually stopped” like in Kaylee’s case, Porojanu believes both partners need to proactively engage in order to “repair the rupture” in the relationship. If needed, external support such as a therapist may help.
“Partners need to be honest with themselves and the other and speak openly about how they experience being in that relationship. Often stress, a busy schedule, children, etc. put a lot of pressure on the couple and their love and intimacy take a secondary place,” she says.
“In that space we see thriving frigidity and impotency, infidelity, pornography, etc. which can damage and even destroy the relationship.”
Ongoing communication is absolutely essential for healthy relationship, Porojanu adds. This isn’t one quick-fix conversation.
“Couples need to talk about their thoughts, feelings and emotions and they need to prioritise to spend time together in two,” she says. “Be tactile and keep the physical touch alive. Give presents, write a letter or send a romantic message. Keep the fire burning within the couple, and definitely sleep in the same bed.”
How can this couple communicate their sexual needs?
Porojanu explains that it’s important to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner.
“From what you describe he is somehow reserved and withdrawn, so use extra care. Tell him you would like to talk and invite him out for a walk,” she advises Kaylee.
“Share in simple words what you think and feel (based on your self-reflection). Explain your frustration in a positive language (‘I miss you’) to avoid triggering defences and criticism, then invite your partner to be vulnerable.”
She also recommends asking if her husband has any sexual desire at all.
“Ask directly if he has a sexual life outside of your marriage. Establish if he still wants to be intimate with you,” she says. “Talk about your fantasies and desires, about what used to turn you both on when you first met.”
Reading Gary Chapman’s ‘The 5 Love Languages’ together may help “clarify what would be the most convenient sexual relationship for you at this stage in your life”, she adds.
“Make a relationship agreement and negotiate a mutually satisfying future arrangement that can involve activities together, sexual closeness, and most importantly ongoing healthy communication,” says Porojanu.
“Start implementing the actions straight away. Allow space for playfulness and creativity, create anticipation and permit yourself to be happy and enjoy life.”
Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.