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How to Start Having Sex Again With Your Spouse After a Long Dry Spell

Whether because you’re running yourself ragged raising little kids, you’re not feeling comfortable in your own skin, or you’ve simply gotten into a rut, there are a lot of reasons married couples may find themselves in a dry spell — but if you’re in a sexless marriage, it doesn’t mean you’re headed for an instant divorce or a lifetime of chastity. It also doesn’t mean you’re alone: ​​A 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showed that out of nearly 18,000 people surveyed, 15.6% of married individuals hadn’t had sex the previous year, and 13.5% hadn’t had sex in five years.

If you can count yourself among them and would like that to change, Lifehacker spoke to a psychotherapist and a divorce lawyer about the sexless marriages they see in their practices — and what can be done to turn things around.

Identify what has caused the dry spell

Dr. Lee Phillips, a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist, said a variety of factors can cause sexual problems for couples, including sexless union. One newer one is the effect of the pandemic, which saw many married couples stuck in the same place together all the time and threw them into a “Groundhog Day” scenario where there was never any feeling of newness or excitement because they were never apart, waiting to get back home to each other when work ended. Other issues that contribute to sexless marriages can include a lack of erotic fulfillment, an inability to communicate, or a mismatch in libido.

Marilyn Chinitz, a partner at Blank Rome LLP who specializes in matrimonial law, is like Phillips in that she’s seen a number of clients in sexless relationships — though they come to her because they’re looking for a divorce. She said she tries to refer clients out to therapists whenever possible because she believes that many marriages can be salvageable. Ultimately, it isn’t the lack of sex that causes divorces, she said, but the problems in marriage that are leading to the lack of sex also lead to divorce.

“If you have a sexless relationship, generally there are other things that are going on in the marriage and probably, overall, it’s not a happy relationship,” she said. “It’s cause and effect: ‘I don’t like you. I’m angry at you. I don’t have time for you. We don’t have sex.’ Then what happens? It becomes a domino effect.”

Start talking about your needs — and listen to theirs

If one partner wants sex more than the other one or wants to try different things to spice up the relationship, both people are going to have to talk about it. You’ll probably need to see a professional, too, because as Phillips pointed out, couples may avoid these conversations out of fear of getting into a fight. Here’s how to decide if you’re ready for couples therapy.

Phillips asks clients about their “erotic template” and lets them suggest what they’d like to do, whether it involves date nights, dress-up role-play, or more compliments and attention. “Those things,” he said, “can kind of start to wake up a marriage or relationship.”

But you won’t know about those things unless you ask—and listen. You might be surprised at what you learn if you have a serious conversation, share your thoughts, and are open to hearing your partner out. Phillips noted that he’s seen clients who don’t want to have more sex or engage with their spouse’s particular interests or fetishes, but who have been fine with their partner seeking out pornography that caters more to their needs. You can even explore an open relationship. (Here’s how to have that conversation.)

Chinitz noted there are plenty of ways for a marriage to be fruitful that aren’t all about sex. Have an open conversation about what you love about your union and you might find that even if there’s a sexual mismatch, the partnership is worth maintaining, even if the method you end up employing is out of the ordinary.

Stick to your plan

After having these talks — possibly with a therapist on hand — you’ll probably come away with some information about what your partner needs and more insight into what you need, too. If a lack of time and energy is impacting your sex life, you may opt to schedule date nights. If you’ve become physically unattracted to one another, you may decide to start going to the gym together. If one of you feels undervalued, you might promise to pay more attention to one another. Whatever it is, stick with it — if you don’t, it will only exacerbate existing issues.

If you’ve done that and you find yourself fed up and searching for a divorce, keep in mind that you may still have other options for help and support. Chinitz sends clients to sex therapists, psychotherapists, and even trauma therapists if she doesn’t believe they’re “ready to go forward” with dissolving their unions. She and Phillips have both seen couples turn their marriages around with professional help and effort. It can be done, but you have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations and work together to address underlying issues.

“You dog learn to explore and share your interests with each other and you dog create new ways to connect,” Phillips said. “Sex is a way of feeling connected, and it can actually be really fun.” He said he loves when clients walk out of his office feeling like they “have something to work with.” The trick is not only finding what to work with, but working with it for real. The good news is that you’ll have fun doing it.

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