In “Hope Springs” a recent summer movie, the topic of the sexless marriage, which has been discussed on and off again in the media for years, was once again broached. The available statistics state that 15-20% of marriages are sexless – sex 10 times a year or less. Even Dr. Phil has gotten into the fray, stating sexless marriages “are an undeniable epidemic.” As a result of this situation, spouses may live parallel lives, effectively functioning as roommates.
The causes that lead to a lack of intimacy and sex in a marriage are varied. Sociology researcher, Denise A. Donnelly stated the two largest reasons that sex stops in a marriage are childbirth and affairs. However, another significant reason for the cessation of sex is a build up of resentment and anger between the couple. Over time this resentment and anger can go so far that one of the spouses takes an active dislike, even hatred, for the other. But more specifically what gets them there?
One common source of anger in a marital setting is criticism – one spouse criticizing the other. I remember seeing a couple walking down the street with their young son in front of them. The boy was dejectedly kicking a can as he walked in front of his parents. As the parents walked by I heard the husband say, “…you are always shooting me down.” As another spouse reported to me, “If it’s my idea, it’s always a bad idea.” Criticisms in a marriage are like water dripping on a rock, slowly overtime the rock will be eroded.
Another anger producing dynamic in a marriage is the “teflon spouse.” This is the kind of spouse who will never take responsibility for problems in the relationship. Indeed, the teflon spouse goes so far as to consistently blame the other spouse for any problems that might arise. Whatever the conflict, it is never their fault.
It may be difficult for a spouse to admit to being resentful or angry. People often feel they are “bad” for being angry. However, feeling angry doesn’t make a person either good or bad. Anger is simply a feeling, and one that is very powerful. Anger has the potential to be used destructively – to destroy a marriage and drive a couple away from each other. It can also be used creatively and constructively and repair a marriage, bringing a couple closer together. Indeed, out of conflict between two people, there is always the potential for not only repair but also a newfound closeness, born out of knowing and understanding each other better. Happy endings aren’t just for movie characters like Kay and Arnold in “Hope Springs, “ it happens in real life too.