You Can't Always Get What You Want.I sporadically follow this topic not because I live in a sexless marriage but because it's pretty much the only topic I've found on EP that at least sounds like real people, some of whom are literate, talking sincerely about a serious subject they know something about.
I'm struck by the number of stories that say, essentially, "I'm hurt, I'm outraged, I'm fed up, but I can't make up my mind to leave." Predictably, there is a torrent of "you're completely justified, you need to get out, just hold your breath and take the big step" advice. I have yet to see anybody seriously argue: maybe you should just make the best of a bad bargain.
Why not? Tradeoffs are the stuff of life. Probably all of us have stayed in jobs we didn't like because we needed the income. We've all submitted to medical treatments that were less than fun. We may have avoided certain old acquaintances, but we still treat them like friends when we see them because we don't want to make them enemies. Some have stuck with religions we doubted, or whose teachings we adhered to only selectively, because they had become part of our lives that we just didn't feel good about letting go of. These are all things we chose to do. Nobody forced us to. We accepted that more of some things means less of others.
I see no reason the Law of Tradeoffs doesn't apply to marriages and other intimate relationships. In fact, historically it clearly has. Before the 19th century, marriage was overwhelmingly a practical social institution, intended to ensure mutual assistance and support, pass on religious faith, and channel the flow of wealth from one generation to the next. Sex and children were very much part of it; "love," in our modern romantic sense of the word, was peripheral at best.
But, you say, that was then, this is now. Indeed; but while I agree that expectations have risen, I see no evidence that human nature has changed. Intimate relationships are always difficult to negotiate. Sex is the first casualty when two people are trying, with minimal success, to accommodate and dodge each other at the same time. Each sees his/her own case so clearly, and feels his/her contributions are not being sufficiently recognized by the other. I know the feeling. My own experience of marriage has had two extended periods of sexlessness. One was after her (very early) hysterectomy. She said she felt "neutered," and might never want to make love again. I was required to be patient and understanding. I was, and it proved a good investment. The other was when, some years later, we only just avoided a marital breakup over issues other than sex. I was not so patient or understanding then. We didn't even share the same bed in those months. I've never been too clear about why it ended. I know we didn't negotiate anything. We just both got tired of the quarrel and started dropping hints. When we finally ended up naked together, it was one of the most exciting nights of our lives.
Most of the stories told here are much more hair-raising than mine. But, when someone says, "S/he's a good wo/man and I still love him/her, in spite of my sexual disappointment," it's a clue that the relationship isn't necessarily defunct. "Just leave" or "have an affair" is poor advice to such a person. It is humanly possible to live with little or no sex (sex with a partner, that is). Many people, actually, do it. We have an excellent friend whose husband died when we were all in our early thirties. She refused to consider remarriage while raising their daughters. She wouldn't even date anybody, turned down all offers to fix her up with Mr. Wonderful. As the second daughter approached high school graduation, Susie fell madly in love with a very nice guy and they married and rode off into the sunset (i.e., the Lower 48) together. She is a warm, lively person; I'm quite sure her sex life for fifteen years, the prime of her life, was by herself. Sad, maybe. But not the end of the world, or even the end of the story.
It can, sometimes, be the same with a sexless marriage. In spite of what our shallow, instant-gratification culture incessantly preaches, it's perfectly valid to reason, "OK, s/he doesn't like it as much as I do. But I'm still getting something out of this partnership, even if it's for my kids. The sex thing I'll handle as best I can." Like Gregory Peck told his bomber pilots, "Think of yourselves as already dead--it won't be so hard that way." Assume you'll never have sex again, and get on with your life. About 10% of people have the inner resources to do something like that and do it well. You may be one. And about 10% of those will find out, to their delight, that they were wrong. You may be the one.