• Tue, Jan 25 2011

Celibacy In Marriage: Pros and Cons

Dr. Robi Ludwig

So many of you have commented on Marye Audet’s post from 2008, The Celibate Marriage: Living Without Sex, that we thought it was high time for a follow-up. So I picked out six of your most intriguing, disturbing, and thought-provoking comments on the subject, and asked renowned psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig (you’ve probably seen her on TV), to weigh in on them. Of course, despite being a relationship expert, Dr. Robi can’t diagnose anyone’s relationship problems (be they physical, emotional, or sexual) via the Web, but in this case, her advice about celibacy in marriage is pretty spot-on. See what you think, and then sound off (anonymously, if you like) in our comments section, below.

Blisstree Reader Comment: By Stuck
, 87 days ago

I have been so lonely for so many years. I have lost count. I use to think i did something wrong and I searched high and low for something, anything to fix that would make it better. I work out five days a week. I’m in better physical condition than I was when we got married 15 years ago. He acts as if he resents my fitness level rather appreciates it. I believe that when it comes to your marriage, you have to put your pride aside. I have begged my husband to do simple things like call me in the middle of the day or return my call. He has a beautiful voice and I love to hear it on the other end of the phone. I use to beg him to hold me and squeeze me. He would give me what would be the equivalent of the dead fish handshake. It was humiliating. I have even begged him to make love to me with no resulting response. It has been so long I can’t remember what it feels like anymore. We’ve gone to counseling at my insistence and he was told to court his wife….what a joke. I’ve explained that I am lonely. I told him that I want to see love in his eyes from across a room and hear it in his voice. I’m afraid that I’m wasting my life waiting for something that is never going to happen. Believe it or not it’s really not the sex that I miss…It’s more the intimacy….the emotional and mental connection that I miss. I feel as if there is no one on the entire earth that I can say loves me. We live a lie and I feel stuck. I want to live as full a life as possible with the time I have left. I don’t want to wake up 10 years from now and I’m still feeling the same emptiness.

Dr. Robi: What you’re describing is more than a husband who is refusing your sexual advances, but a husband who is refusing intimacy, period. My first question is: What keeps you with a man who is so rejecting of you and doesn’t appear to want to work on your relationship? Then, is this comfortable for you on some unconscious level? Sometimes we think we want intimacy, when in reality it’s really uncomfortable for us due to unresolved issues that we have. At this point, it makes sense to state to your husband, with respect, that his rejecting behavior of you and intimacy is not working for you. You’d like to work on this issue in therapy, preferably with him, for at least a year. Give him a time limit to change his ways, while you work on yourself in the meantime. If things don’t change, consider moving on.

Blisstree Reader Comment: By SPQR
, 118 days ago

I want to have sex with my husband, but can’t stomach it anymore! I have a young marriage…our second anniversary is in a few days. We have a toddler, but it’s not the lack of time or energy that makes me not want sex; it’s the fact that my husband is so mean to me, and he makes me feel worthless and unloved. He barely spends time with me and when he does- he yells at me about his sexual needs. I feel like I am a whore when I let him have sex with me, I never am satisfied – even though he is actually quite good. I find the activity overly long, uncomfortable, and dirty, and I feel like I am lying to my husband when he asks if “it was okay” and I say “yes,” but as any man knows, I can’t possibly say no. Doesn’t he care that I’m lonely, doesn’t he notice that I derive NO pleasure from sex? Doesn’t he notice that I stopped dressing nicely, wearing makeup, and doing my hair? We used to have sex 5-6 times a day, and good sex – we practically bought out the Frederick’s catalog! And now I just don’t want to, with him. I’m an attractive, tall, pretty blonde and I know that I could get another man, so why won’t he want to put in the tiny effort to make me feel human to him – so I would want to have sex with him? Please tell me, why would a man rather live in a sexless marriage with an unhappy, unkempt wife; when he could simply be nice and live with a happy, beautiful wife who can’t wait to have the good sex with him?

Dr. Robi: Some men have a hard time seeing their wives sexually after they have children. I wonder if the sex between you and your husband stopped after the birth of your child? Regardless, your husband has no right to be abusive to you. No wonder you don’t want to have sex with him. Why would you? It also sounds like you’re sinking into a depression. If you want to have a chance at having a better relationship, you need to open up the communication lines with your husband about his behavior to gain more insight. Ask him if this is the type of role model he wants to be for your child. Counseling is always a good option to help a couple make sense out of some of the struggles going on in their marriage.

Blisstree Reader Comment: By Lyonesse
, 172 days ago

It’s distressing but comforting to hear so many people in the same boat as me. My husband had a similar (if a little lower) sex drive than me at first, but during the first couple of years his slowly declined. We struggle on, which leaves him feeling pressured and me feeling unattractive and unwanted. The 2 or 3 times a year when we do have sex it’s very late at night when I just want to sleep, but don’t feel I can say no and almost always purely cater to his fetishes, so I’m left feeling unsatisfied, tired and miserable. I’ve thought about leaving, but he keeps lying and promising that things will change. They never do. We have a one-year-old (thank God I got pregnant relatively quickly, so didn’t have to nag for too long) but now we’re now talking about having another. I don’t think I can go through the stress of getting him to have sex again, but I can’t leave, as he’s a wonderful father to my son. What’s more, I nearly died last year (I had a stroke when 6 months pregnant), and was left with a duff arm and a limp, and he stuck by me the whole time. So I feel like I owe it to him to stick around – and who else would want a disabled woman anyway? I love him, but I’m not sure that things can go on like this anymore – I’m 34 and feel like I’m throwing my life away on a man who doesn’t want me.

Dr. Robi: Again, it’s not uncommon for men to have difficulty seeing their wives as sexual beings after they have kids. What’s not clear is if you’ve ever talked to your husband about how he treats you sexually and how that makes you feel. Perhaps he doesn’t know. It does sound like he’s trying to be supportive to you in other ways. Let him know how you feel, and see what he does with that information.

Blisstree Reader Comment: By isthereanyhope, 
189 days ago

My husband has unilaterally decided that he’s not interested in sex. Initially, he cited reasons that I was too aggressive a wife and that he doesn’t feel an emotional connection to me. But after years of probing, it came out that he does not get the urge. He won’t seek medical help, saying this is not one of his top priorities. If I push him too hard, he says he’s an old man at heart, and he’s ready to die. But he’s such a loving father to our daughter, and also a great friend to me in many ways, and he has stood with me through thick and thin. At times I feel sorry for him, and vow never to broach this subject again. But when I at least want a hug, and he avoids that by watching movies on TV until I go to sleep, I become furious. I’d like to reduce my drive to match his if I could, but I just cannot make him believe it’s important or something that can be fixed. I am only 36 and so is my husband, and we’ve been like this for years now. I cannot help thinking that if only he could see a doctor, there may be no big issue at all, but there’s no way that’s going to happen.

Dr. Robi: Sometimes men lose their sex drive and feel uncomfortable talking about it, because it’s so linked to their masculinity. Sometimes this loss of sex drive is psychological, due to the stress stemming from his new role of having to provide for a family and/or the stress of being an adult.  Sometimes it’s due to feeling depressed, or sometimes it’s due to an undiagnosed medical condition. Before taking your husband’s behavior personally, try to help him get a medical checkup – and perhaps you can go with him to speak with the doctor as well. You always want to rule out medical conditions before analyzing a behavior. Tell your husband that a sexless marriage is not working for you, but that you want to support him and try to understand the situation so you can help him and help your relationship.

Blisstree Reader Comment: By CRM
, 199 days ago

It isn’t as hard as you might think — to deal with a lack of sex, that is. I’m a guy, and I guess I have a standard sex drive for someone my age (late 20s). My wife does not, and when we have had sex — it’s out of pity for me, which I find out afterward. And since she’s simply not into it, she’s not “ready” physically — and it hurts her. Because of these factors, I just deal with it. I used to ask for it, now I don’t — what’s the point? If she gives in because she feels guilty, it hurts her — and I do NOT want to hurt her — not for something as insignificant (aside from procreation purposes) as having sex (in the long run). If she has sex with me, I want it to be because she wants to. It’s selfish of me to only think of myself, and I feel like an animal about it. Loving someone is about putting them and their needs first. On another note, because we do not ever want kids — no harm, no foul. I love my wife, and in some ways, I feel closer to her without sex. (I haven’t told her this.) I feel I can express myself in other ways, and these ways have continually become apparent to me – sort of like someone losing their sight, but becoming heightened in other senses. Sex is something you learn to live without. As with all things in life, the strong adapt and get stronger when facing adversity, and the weak get weaker. I have tended to focus on other goals in my life — my music career, my art and writing, and my bodybuilding goals. So for those going through this, know that there’s more to life AND your relationship than sex (assuming that the celibacy isn’t due to marital problems). I’m young, considered attractive, and in my sexual prime, but it is what it is. Hang in there!

Dr. Robi: Well, it sounds like you’re a very mature husband and partner. Having a good marriage is not only about having regular sex, but about being a supportive partner to your spouse and having your partner be supportive of you. Sometimes sex gets experienced as dirty and animalistic, even after marriage. When this happens, it’s hard for a couple to enjoy their sexuality with each other. Not sure if this is the case with the two of you, but it’s possible. If you find that you can enjoy your relationship under these sexless conditions, then so be it. Every couple has their own personal idea about works, both emotionally and sexually.

Blisstree Reader Comment: By Michael
, 217 days ago

It took me many years to realize that most women draw power and control from their sexuality. When I became mature enough to stop acting like an overgrown puppy and begging for it all the time, I gained back a tremendous amount of my own self-respect. Women know that to be desirable gives them power, and power gets them what they want. Ergo: No longer desirable, no longer powerful. That’s why women report feeling depressed etc. Their sexual power has been taken away. Frankly, it was quite easy. I realized that I was acting like a fool, and most times getting turned down with excuses. The power being that “maybe you’ll get some later if you’re a good boy.” I gave up and realized what she was really doing. I’ve not had sex with my wife in more than 2 years. I don’t have affairs, nor do I masturbate. She’s tried numerous times to get me “in the mood.” She serves wine; I drink one glass then have a large glass of water. She puts on a sexy nightgown for bed; I stay up and watch an old movie. For the first time, I am in charge and I love it. I only wish I’d known this secret years ago when I was making a fool of myself at singles’ bars and in the dating scene.

Dr. Robi: Sex is being used in this relationship as a retaliatory tool – a way to handle anger and prevent intimacy. It’s very immature and a little cruel. Sounds like this husband also has some anger issues toward women that he’s playing out in his relationship.

Dr. Robi Ludwig is a nationally known psychotherapist and award-winning reporter. She hosted two seasons of TLC’s reality show, “One Week to Save Your Marriage,” as well as GSN’s reality game show, “Without Prejudice?” Dr. Ludwig is a regular contributor to The Today Show, CNN, Headline News, The Fox News Channel, and TruTV, where she talks about psychological/lifestyle issues, as well as the criminal mind. She also appears on: E!, Regis and Kelly, Oprah, The View, Bill O’Reilly, and Hannity and Colmes, helping audiences and guests alike to understand the complexities of the human condition. Her book, ’Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse, written with Matt Birkbeck, is published with Atria books. In the late 1990’s, Dr. Ludwig worked as a psychology reporter for WETM-TV, the NBC affiliate in Elmira, New York. She wrote, produced, and hosted Real Talk, a live weekly call-in show covering psychological and self-help topics. Her practical experience as a psychotherapist began in 1988 when she worked as a counselor for patients with severe psychiatric disorders. In both clinical settings and in her private practice, she has treated all forms of mental illness, substance abuse, grieving, sexual identity issues, job stress, emotional and sexual abuse problems, as well as the more common social and parenting issues. Dr. Ludwig’s academic credentials include a doctorate in psychology (Psy.D) from the Southern California University for Professional Studies. She also holds a post-Master’s certificate in advanced clinical work from Hunter College, a Master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in mass communications from Cedar Crest College.

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  • Lainey

    I appreciate that in certain circumstances there are physical and emotional reasons why a person does not desire or cannot have sex. But aren’t we fooling ourselves if we don’t just admit that most of the time it’s because the person just doesn’t feel attraction to the other person? It’s kind of like saying most overweight people are that way because of a reason other than the fact that they eat too much. It’s a hard thing to admit to your husband or wife, that you are not physically attracted to them but let’s face it that is likely the root of most of these problems.

  • Dr. Robi Ludwig

    Hi Lainey….I appreciate your thoughts and think you make some valuable observations. Many people loose feelings of attraction to their partner, and that’s one of the reasons why they don’t want to have sex with them. But there’s usually more to this situation than meets the eye. For example, it’s really hard to have loving and sexy feelings towards your partner when you’re enraged with them. For some people they can only have sparks fly when they are in a fantasy relationship or view their partner in an idealized way, as opposed to in a real way. They confuse intensity and fantasy with love and good sex. It’s hard to have loving and sexual feelings when times are tough in a relaitonship too. There are also very real medical and psychological factors that can influence how attracted one is to their partner sexually and how sexual they feel in general. Not to mention what familiarity can do to a long term relationship….Ugh! All of these factors influence sexual attraction and the desire to have or not want to have sex with one’s partner. Sexual attraction or even “having that loving feeling” is not a constant either. It’s something that can feel stronger at sometimes than at others. Having a loving and healthy relationship is in part due to choosing the right person, having the right enough feelings, but it’s also about making a choice to be loving. It’s about making a commitment to each other and the relationship.

  • MWAM

    Celibacy within marriage is by definition impossible. The literal definition of the word celibacy is “not married.” The word you’re looking for is “chastity.”