1 July 2013 by Charlotte Friedman

Divorce dilemma 5: ‘We never have sex’

Jonathan can’t bear the thought of ending his marriage, even though the spark has gone. Divorce specialist Charlotte Friedman gives advice. Plus: tell Charlotte your own dilemma
Divorce_couple not talking-620 Corbis

When sex is the only problem in the marriage, should you split? Photo by Corbis

Jonathan writes:

I’ve been married for 20 years. My wife is my best friend, we still have plenty to say to each other, and we have a daughter. We both lead busy and interesting lives: she is an architect and I am a creative for an American agency, which necessitates a fair deal of travel. We make each other laugh, and we love each other deeply.

But. Oh, but… The spark has gone from our sex life and we don’t think it will ever come back. We’ve done all the couples counselling/sex therapy in the world, and it is still tragically absent.

I say tragically because we’ve tried to accept that our relationship has changed, and that our deep love for one another must be enough. But the fact is that it is not, for either of us. We are attractive, sexual beings and we can’t accept that sex will no longer be a part of our lives.

I think we have outgrown the marriage. We were together for 11 years before we wed, so have spent most of our adult lives as a couple.

We are sexual beings and we can’t accept that sex will no longer be a part of our lives

Within our therapy we discussed an open marriage, but it’s not the solution. Jealousy would inevitably rear its head and neither of us want our relationship to turn ugly.

Now we are trapped by fear. I don’t think we were prepared for the counselling not to work. Call us naive, but we thought if we were willing to confront the problem, we could solve it.

We’re both dragging our heels about the next step, but the truth is, I can see that our lives and our relationship will shrivel and decay if we’re not brave enough to make the break.

How do we cope with dismantling the life we built together and moving on? I feel guilty and a failure, and even though I know we’ve got to take the plunge, I don’t want to lose the person I love most in the world.

Charlotte replies:

Well, this is an interesting conundrum. I can’t help but think there is something you aren’t telling me. You love each other, you’re best friends and you interest and stimulate each other. And if either of you had sex with someone else you would be destructively jealous.

I am left with a question. Where did the sex go? You had sex therapy but that didn’t do it. Hmm. That is strange. With all those positives, it would be easy to think that sex may not be the heady exotic erotic mix it used to be, but it might just be companionable friendly expressive sex with the person that you did find sexually attractive.

So let’s park that mystery and take your problem at face value. Neither of you wants to stay in a sexless marriage, presumably because what you have together isn’t enough. Both of you want to separate because you want sex elsewhere, but you don’t want it elsewhere while you are together in order to stay together. That is one tough decision, but here’s what I think.

Sit down with each other and really talk this through. Is having sex important enough to both of you to split up this idyll? If the true answer from you both is yes, then you need to work out together what separation will look like.

Will it mean different houses, different cities, limited contact, staying friends, not staying friends, still seeing each other’s families?

The choices are endless but the decision has to be made jointly to make it work. If it’s over, it’s over. You seem to be able to communicate well enough to navigate and negotiate a separation. If you are sure then you need to feel the fear and do it anyway.

I think you are looking for something painless and seamless. It’s not like that. It will be painful. But if it’s what you both want, it may be worth the pain to get to the other side.

Separating is never easy. Usually it’s done by a person who has stopped loving the other, stopped finding him or her interesting, and stopped having any life together. With you it’s different. You have to find a way to make your separation worthwhile and live with the decision.

You will get there if the reason for it outweighs the reasons to stay together.

Ask Charlotte Friedman your own question on divorce

Charlotte Friedman runs the Divorce Support Group

Charlotte Friedman is a former barrister, a specialist divorce and separation therapist and the founder of Divorce Support Group. Divorce Support Group is a nationwide support service run by counsellors to help make separation more manageable. It provides individual face-to-face support and runs small support groups.
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