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How to deal with a sexless marriage

How to Fix a Sexless Marriage

What happens when kids, concerns about money and exhaustion cuts into your romance? Relationship columnist Elizabeth Bernstein joined Wall Street Journal to discuss the sex question that readers want answered most: how can we have more sex?

She was joined by Hasani and Danielle Pettiford, a (very brave) couple from Atlanta.

Danielle explained that 'when kids come along, you start to distance yourself from one another. You stop touching each other and you stop communicating with each other, and the next thing you know, there's no sex.'

Bernstein explained that most letters she receives from long-married people are just variations on the 'we're not having sex anymore!' topic. 'Of course a sexless marriage can signal that something else is wrong,' she said, 'but it can be quite normal for busy people with kids, money worries, just the daily grind,' she explained.

So, what does research say about sex and happiness?

'Research says hands down that sex makes a better relationship, that we're happier and more gratified both in the relationship and individually,' Bernstein explains.

After couples have been together for a time, their brains actually start to change. A newlywed's brain looks like a 'brain on drugs,' Bernstein says. The part of the brain that deals with motivation and excitement lit up very brightly when researchers studied people in new relationships.

'That's evolutionary so that we can mate, so we can bond long enough so that we can have a child. If we kept that sort of high level of addiction to another person going, we can't sustain it. Nobody would get anything done, they'd be in bed all the time. So it peters out ... then, a more mature love, an attachment, a connection comes in,' Bernstein says.

So, what can couples who have reached the 'petering out' stage do?

Sometimes, just sitting and having a conversation about the changes in your sex life can be a huge help. Feeling heard in a relationship is the first step, especially if nobody has acknowledge the lack of sex out loud.

Bernstein says tackling the issue can also be as simple as trying something new, especially if it's outside the bedroom.

A change to your normal routine can spark the neurotransmitters (and dopamine) that keep couples bonded, literally reigniting a spark in your brain.

Whether it's a new restaurant, a different place for vacation or a new hobby, all that matters is that the change lets you and your partner bond.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
raleigh,nc February 16 2014 at 1:10 PM

Maybe there was no sex to start with. It was all cut and sry sex.

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storenhg February 16 2014 at 12:12 PM

THIS is the lead story on page 1 ? Seriously?

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1 reply
Jeanie storenhg February 16 2014 at 12:18 PM

LOL ---

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nephurus February 16 2014 at 12:08 PM

There is no magic solution. Men now have pills, and women have special lotions. We are older, so we need to put effort into things. Mental and physical stress play a big part as we have way more responsibilities that we didn't have at 20 or 30. So again, older age, and being with someone that you have been there done that for so many years, does require both parties to bring a breathe of fresh air into the relationship. Just as long as you are considerate and open with each other. Honestly, men, do you do any of the things you use to do just before or shortly after you got married? Women, do you still do those things too? Guys also like a little attention. I know women like getting flowers, rings, lots of attention, but now gauge that to the amount the guy gets in a relationship. It gets tiring of keeping that level of attention on one person constantly, and after a while, the women get tired too, or take it for granted. This is all generally speaking. Any ways, say thanks you to your other for making dinner, for cleaning, for just picking something up and putting it away. When you say thank you to them, they feel noticed, they feel appreciated, like they actually did something for someone, and not just out of obligation or the daily chores. We get comfortable with each other, and through time we take each other for granted. Before you know it, we become resentful to each other. We already have jobs outside the home, why give or feel ourselves having jobs inside the home no one pays us for? Any of this make sense? And yes, I am married, kids, house, cars, business, and so on. So calm your sharp tongues and put away your claws. I'm not attacking or accusing anyone, so no need to get defensive. This is just an observation from someone that enjoys experiencing life, and some may find it all useful, other it will be all useless. Later people!

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2 replies
astjersey nephurus February 16 2014 at 12:44 PM

WHEN I WAS YOUNGER I WORKED HARD TO SUPPORT MY FAMILY ,BUT WE STILL HAD GOOD SEX .NOW I AM RETIRED AND WOULD LIKE TO TRY DIFFERENT POSITIONS AND HAVE A GOOD TIME WITH MY WIFE WHO I HAVE BEEN MARRIED TO FOR 44 YRS AND I HAVE NEVER STRAYED AT ALL BUT ALL OF A SUDDEN SEX IS THE FARTHEST THING FROM HER MIND.I DONT UNDER STAND THIS I DONT WANT TO CHEAT ,BUT I AM NOT GOING WITH OUT SEX AND I HATE DOING ALL THE WORK I TRY SATISIFING HER SO SHE GOES OFF AND SHE DOES .SHE HAS A HABBIT OF TAKING HER LAP TOP TO BED AND PLAYS ON IT FOR HRS AND I FINALLY GO TO SLEEP AND WAKE UP AND WOULD LIKE TO MAKE LOVE I GET TOLD YOU CAN WAIT UNTIL TONITE.I NEVER NEW YOU HAD TO DO IT JUST AT NIGHT.I LOVE MY WIFE VERY MUCH AND HAVE TOLD HER TO TAKE CARE OF ME IN THE BED ROOM AND I WILL GIVE HER THE WOURLD,I DONT SEE WHAT IS HARD ABOUT THAT,UNLESS I JUST DONT TURN HER ON ANY MORE.ITS TO THE POINT WHEN SHE ASK ME TO GO SOME WHERE I FIND AN EXCUSE NOT TO GO BECAUSE ITS A DEAD END WHEN WE GET HOME,OR SHE WILL SAY JUST DO IT AND GET IT OFF YOUR MIND.HOPE I CAN STAY TRUE BUT ITS TAKING ITS TOLL.ANY SUGGESTIONS?

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Debbie (Mom) nephurus February 16 2014 at 12:44 PM

nephurus, you have obviously been married long enough to know that (often) and after years of being married that it's some of the easiest, simplest, and little things that can go a long way! Your so right when you said that us women enjoy getting flowers and jewelry and such, but for me personally after being married 30 years, I SO appreciate walking in my home and seeing where my husband has straightened up and done some of the simpler things for me. I can't thank him enough for those types of gestures, and he in return feels SO good when I thank him for something so small, yet so thoughtful.
Gosh, your words were 'spot-on' .... enjoyed reading your post.
-Deb-

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Rick February 16 2014 at 11:59 AM

I worship the ground she walks on....I love my woman so bad.........and she loves me....Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Since 1965 too,,MY HIGH SCHOOL SWEETIE!

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2 replies
johns123123 Rick February 16 2014 at 12:01 PM

THAT is the key...

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Debbie (Mom) Rick February 16 2014 at 12:55 PM

Rick, love how much you "LOVE eachother" ... Sounds very familar as my husband & I have been married for 30 years now and we were young sweethearts ourselves (since age 14 & 17 believe it or not). We're now 48 & 51. The only worry I have is that when you love someone SO much and for SO long, and you start getting older you often find yourself worrying about 'not' having the other half around.
Honest to God, I don't know how I'd ever live without my 'sweetheart', and he says the same. I just had to leave a small comment about that. Without a doubt, hubby & I have self-titled ourselves as being very Co-dependent on each other.

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Steve February 16 2014 at 11:57 AM

After being divorced for almost 9 years. I'm working on that relationship with myself.

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Bodacious Beauty February 16 2014 at 11:50 AM

In my opinion, many married couples don't realize that marriage requires work to maintain that just married spark. You cannot take one another for granted. It is man and wife working together as one that cements the marriage.

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jim willeford February 16 2014 at 9:37 AM

I suspect that this story, simple as it is, is biologically spot on. A couple who put this issue on the table, I would think, has a better chance at experimenting, with options to trick the brains neuro -transmitters into once again firing, and leading to renewed sexual activity.

I am no expert, but it does make sense. Willingness and courage to broach the subject is probably the most threatening part, I would think.

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johns123123 February 16 2014 at 11:46 AM

It's about mutual goals. If a couple sets out to be in a long-term relationship, they should discuss what each needs for the long-term; then you decide if you can realistically make it work. Just like on any other path, you also have to "check in" on the progress. Communication is an integral part of that journey. Ultimately, mutual respect for what each needs is essentail. In any relationship, especially marriage, it is important to remember that there are two of you. The belief that you become one is an ignorant one. 1+1 has always equaled 2.

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jfoster13 February 16 2014 at 11:43 AM

It would be nice if the woman would sometimes initiate the sex and not always wait for the man. I'm not talking about suddenly coming on in an aggressive, whip-it-out-let's-get-it-on type of way, but building up a slow momentum to intimacy.

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anna lenson February 16 2014 at 11:43 AM

what happen when one partner want to have sex but the other one don't what can u do

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