Can you fix a sexless relationship?


The Door Guy is a veteran of countless clubs around town. People say they've seen it all, but he's seen more. Write to him for everything from live advice to life advice.

Dear Door Guy:

Hello there! Enjoyed your recent peroration regarding whether or not punching is to be expected. I suspect that writer may have received a bit of extra attention from one or more bouncers on one or more occasions, likely due to his own ungentlemanly behavior.

I want to elicit your advice regarding how to repair a sex life. But first, may I thank you in advance for editing the daylights out of this letter so as to not sound quite so ... pathetic?

My question is, well, I guess I'll just say it: My husband hasn't touched me in almost 10 years. That looks as dreadful in writing as it feels in real life. It's cruel, infuriating, and I don't know what to do about it.

Advice from books on the subject of marital harmony is easily summarized: "Already made him a sandwich? The only other thing he needs to be happy is sex, so hop on!" I laugh the laugh of the damned when I read such things, the assumption being it's the wife who is the disinterested party. What's a tall, beautiful woman forced into celibacy against her passionate will to do?

— Untouched

Dear Untouched:

“So hop on?” Seriously? Could you please forward me the name of said advisor so I can ask them how to break into the business and/or punch them in the neck? I'm not sure what books on marital harmony you're reading but if the advice is that terrible, I am clearly not getting paid enough. It's apparently all this talking about rock 'n' roll and insider bar bullshit that no one really needs to know.

I'm not a therapist, but I'm a door guy. Through both work necessity and sheer boredom, I'm a pretty good observer of human behavior. I can't promise you great advice, but I can definitely promise you better — or at least something that looks a little better — than what you've been getting so far.

So here's the thing, Untouched: The problem you're having isn't just one problem, it's multiple problems. This is because relationships (and their inevitable problems) are nonlinear and everything that's good or bad about them influence everything else. People don't think of things as nonlinear. We think of whatever reality we're in at the moment as the reality, everything progressing forward from this moment along a straight line. But the truth is far more complicated.

Relationship problems basically come in four categories (or quadrants, if I wanted to stick with the geometry metaphor): The two of you have problems with each other; the two of you have problems caused by external forces; and each of you have individual problems. When strife happens between a couple, it's not usually one problem, it's multiple problems from all four of these quadrants, constantly interconnecting and creating points of conflict. We like to pretend that we're on a path in life, but really, we're zig-zagging all over the place.

Sometimes money is a conflict. Sometimes differing desires is a conflict. A million things can be a conflict. Sex is one of the worst, because we're taught at an early age to not talk about it, to keep it secret and mysterious. We're taught this a) because people want you to believe sex is dirty, and b) because people want you to believe that sex is magical and that we should he able to do it and be satisfied without ever talking. And since that should be magical and mysterious, sometimes we think everything in a relationship should be as well.

But if we don't talk, if we avoid those points of conflict (maybe because one of you avoids conflict, maybe because you or your partner blows the other off or won't listen) then they create more problems and eventually our individual and relationship lives are overflowing with bullshit.

And I think, after 10 years, it's entirely in your right, Untouched, to cut that bullshit and ask your man what the fuck his problem is.

Because that's the part I don't know. I don't know how well you two talk (although hopefully you're on the same vocabulary level, I had to look up “peroration”). I don't know if he's a total jerk, or depressed, or asexual, or covering up some hidden secret about sex he doesn't want to share, or if somewhere along the line he thought you didn't want to have sex and now he's wondering why you aren't touching him.

But the only fix here is to talk, and the problem with talking, the real reason why nobody does it, is because it's entirely possible that it won't work. People bury relationship problems, hoping they go away, because the other choice is to force the issue. Forcing the issue, however, comes with the risk two people admitting the relationship isn't working at all.

But is the other option — 10 years of frustrated celibacy and attendant misery — any better than ending it? I say no.

Bad communication only goes away through good communication, and good communication is hard to get going. It takes practice, and it won't always work the first time. You'll have to decide how many shots you take ahead of time. But you have to yank the Band-Aid off.

Sit him down. Treat him as a partner. Tell him you want to make this work (because you do) but you need to be able to talk about and understand why your sex life isn't much of a life at all. If he's willing to talk, share what you need, be ready to hear things you don't anticipate, and see if you can find common ground. For some people this means working through it together. For some it means agreeing to find other ways (or people) to satisfy you. For some people this means ending it. But if you're talking, you'll be able to make a decision together about your future.

On the other hand, if you have tried your best and he still doesn't talk, or if he blows you off, then he's pretty much made the decision for you: If you can't talk, it's time to move on.

Back to rock 'n' roll problems next week, folks!

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