Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Sexy Self Gone?

Every relationship and marriage has its ups and downs. However, given tools and resources, couples can learn how to negotiate differences and navigate through the stormy times

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How to get sex back in a sexless relationship

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. “
-Carl Jung

Every relationship and marriage has its ups and downs. Sometimes the downs can last longer than most relationships can tolerate.  However, given tools and resources, couples can learn how to negotiate differences and navigate through the stormy times, often preventing break- ups. One of the most common problems relationships encounter is sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction in women is usually a symptom of another underlying issue that may be conscious or unconscious.

What psychological factors are the most common in sexual dysfunction?

There are several reasons why sexual dysfunction occurs with women. It can be due to intra-personal reasons, whereby the issues lie within the woman that manifests unwittingly into the relationship; or, it can be due to inter-personal reasons, whereby the issues are due to the unresolved conflicts within the relationships. Oftentimes these interpersonal reasons can trigger the unhealed wounds of the past affecting sexual interest. It is also important to mention the possibility of both mental and physical health. 

There are many mitigating circumstances that lead to the dissipation of interest in sex in both men and women. Alcohol and drugs are major contributors to sexual dysfunction as is excessive pornography. Addiction, no matter the drug or behavior of choice fuels disconnection.

More often than not, these issues do not arise until the couple has either taken the vows or the relationship has progressed to building a family. After the honeymoon stage, the birth of a child can often interfere with the freedom that was once so available.  Add more kids to the plate and women become exhausted with caring for not just the husband, but the onslaught of what the family needs require, thus leaving her depleted by the time the couple is bedded down for the night.  Women who work, have kids, and don’t have the support to lighten their load develop apathy towards having sex, simply because of exhaustion and feeling alone in their effort. Their energy is depleted from expending the day at work, then followed by the needs of the children, housework, shopping, preparing dinner, tidying up, and taking the dog for a walk.  If their partners are supportive and they can find a way to cooperate with these responsibilities, there will be plenty of energy left for lovemaking.  If they are taking on all these roles and responsibilities alone, sex falls to the bottom of the barrel and sexual interest becomes a flat line. Anger builds up and sex is compromised more often unconsciously. In simplest terms, it requires two to handle all the responsibilities and obligations in family life, especially in these times when both parents are earners. If housekeepers are affordable, this can take some of the wear and tear off the woman as long as both partners are in agreement with hiring help.  This depends on the economics of the couple.

Divorced women who are alone in taking care of kids, work, and domestic responsibilities too often don’t have the time or energy to enjoy a fulfilling sex life so their sexuality becomes diminished or barren  Time management is key to ignite these human needs.  The danger is that loneliness seeps into their lives and the need to connect is too often lost for lack of time and vitality.  It can be complicated with online dating that too often fails, ending in disappointment and regret.  This, of course, is not always the case. I know many single and divorced women with children who have been successful in finding fulfilling relationships through the plethora of dating services.  However, that too takes time, patience, effort, and a very strong constitution. Rejection is inherent in this medium of meeting men, as it is for men as well.  After months of searching for the right mate, giving up is not uncommon.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that at the beginning of a relationship, sex is vital to cement the relationship and occupies most of the time.  It’s after time that sex wanes and reality sets in. Once we go between the sheets, projections fly everywhere seeing what might not really exist in the other.  It’s nature’s way of tricking us into procreating to make more of us and we think it’s love!

Different Stages in a Relationship

“Where is the man who ripped my clothes off, stayed for hours in bed, looking into my eyes and telling me how beautiful I am?”

The person who shared your bed and couldn’t get enough of you, suddenly, without cause or effect, loses interest and sexuality becomes yesterday’s Kelsey’s nuts. The sensual, horny Mr. Wonderful becomes disinterested once the conquest is over, falling asleep, replacing hours of pillow talk with snoring. In all fairness, men do not corner the market on this behavior.

The Honeymoon Stage

In the beginning, the “honeymoon” stage, everybody’s singing tenor and enjoying the best part.  Susan Campbell once wrote that each stage of a relationship mimics each stage of human psychic development.  In the first stage, when we are infants, we look to our mothers for all our dependency needs. This stage is called, CO-DEPENDENCY.  It’s the stage of “falling in love” when we are adults.  All the boundaries collapse and we feel nothing but the magic and splendor of the newness of each other.  We meet each other’s needs not unlike how a baby and new mother meet the needs of each other.  The baby looks into the eyes of the mother. The mother looks down into the eyes of the baby, and the feeling is, they are one—that’s our first connection.  It is not unlike the feelings experienced in the first stage of a relationship.  We have often heard the couple refer to each other as their “soul mate.”  This is a common expression we hear when relationships are in the first stage.

Second Stage: Counter-Dependendcy

In the second stage of life, called COUNTER-DEPENDENDCY, the child begins to move away from mom and explores the world. This is the beginning of what psychologists call INDIVIDUATION AND SEPARATION. It is part of our normal growth and development.  In relationships, we begin to adjust to the same changes. The boundaries begin to pop back up, and each partner moves a little away from each other, noticing the differences rather than the sameness that was seen in the first stage. This is when many marriages and relationships fall apart.  This is when the “soul mate” title is often dropped and exchanged for dog, asshole, or jerk.  It’s tough to hang in there and go for a resolution because things begin to happen unconsciously that we are not always in touch with. 

This is when some of our unresolved childhood issues surface and interface with the issues that are occurring in our relationships. It is the time when each of our pasts collides with the present and most of us don’t have the conscious awareness, tools, skills, and resources to work it out.  Most people are not even aware of how their personal history contaminates their relationships.   We grow up in homes with poor role modeling and use that as our frame of reference of how a relationship should be.  We bring in our own set of family systems and unresolved conflicts with our parents and unconsciously want to work it out in our adult relationships.  So we repeat patterns from the only modeling we knew. 

Doing what comes naturally, is not necessarily in our best interest.  Without the insight and understanding of all this, we tend to fight it out, oftentimes unfairly, using blaming, shaming, criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and judgment on each other.  Most of this behavior we learned in our own homes.  This inevitably causes a rift in the relationship resulting in sexual disinterest and/or dysfunction.  This is when most couples or individuals in the relationship come into treatment, and many times too late to repair.  However, this is not always the case, and I have found that with discharging the pain, beliefs, and hurts from the past, everyone has a chance to make a new start.  This of course depends on the willingness of both parties to move forward and if there is enough healthy tissue left to repair. Not every relationship is reparable.  Sometimes irreconcilable differences make it best if couples divorce or break up.

Third Stage: Independence and Autonomy

The third state of human psychic development (according to Erik Erikson, a social psychologist), is called INDEPENDENCE. In childhood, this is when we go to school discovering our autonomy and independence.  It’s our first time away from home, and we have to face issues without Mom and Dad there to take care of things. As we learn to do this successfully, we grow more self-assured and build our self-esteem. 

In relationships, there is no intimacy without autonomy. When we reach this third stage in our relationships, it can be a threat to our partners, if they are not needed as much as in the first and second stages. Depending on the mental health and maturity of each partner, determines how successful they work through this stage. It takes two healthy, mature adults to have a successful relationship, each having their own autonomy.  When codependency is the foundation of the relationship, it is doomed to fail unless both partners thrive on the codependency equally.

In 1492 Rabbi Mendell said, If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you!  He coined codependency more than 600 years ago.

Fourth Stage: Interdependence

The fourth stage, where 50% of couples never arrive, with 60% of divorces taking place in the second and third stages, is called INTERDEPENDENCE.  It takes years for this stage to mature. This is when each partner supports the autonomy of the other and enriches each other’s life, rather than completes or competes with it. This takes maturity, self-esteem, insight into owning our own stuff as described in the previous chapter, and becoming enlightened.  Most couples require a therapist to help them arrive at this stage.  The good news, it can be done!

How do past family issues lead to sexual dysfunction?

All through these stages, the most common reaction to the anger and hurt that arises in ALL relationships, except of course if two people agree never to disagree, and that is not an authentic relationship, is getting “turned off”. That is when sexual dysfunction raises its nasty head.  This can happen to both men and women.  Sexual dysfunction is one manifestation of a relationship turned sour.  It may not be the relationship’s fault.  It may be the folks that live in the relational space that became polluted over time.  It takes personal work within the structure of the relationship in order to resolve their family of origin work has been dragged into the present from the past.

Most family of origin issues are socked away in gunny sacks that eventually are transported into the relationship.  If these issues include abuse, whether, physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, intellectual, spiritual, abandonment, or neglect that was connected with either/or partner, and worse, if both, then the relationship becomes “the killing field”.  This is why it is so important that these matters be treated just like a broken bone.  If left untreated, they won’t heal on their own and will surely get played out in the relationship, potentially destroying what was once so wonderful.

Poor Role Modeling and Unrealistic Expectations

It is important to note that most of us come into relationships with unrealistic expectations, and when our unrealistic expectations are not met by our significant other, that’s when disappointment, disillusionment, and bitterness are born.  Our sexuality changes as these expectations are not realized. So changing those expectations are paramount to a successful outcome.  Poor role modeling and unrealistic expectations are perhaps the two most common reasons why most relationships fail.

Sexually Stimulating Drugs: Widening the Gap Between Men and Women

It might be worth mentioning that the onslaught of Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and other sexually stimulating drugs manufactured for men with nothing as yet to match it with the female gender, widens the gap in the natural process of aging.  Men can maintain their sexual prowess with the help of Viagra, and women are left in their natural aging process without chemical support. This has been a pandemic sexual issue in couples in their fifties and through the rest of their lives. Women are slowing down and men, with the assistance of Viagra and other sexual stimulants, are still in their twenties, thirties, and forties.  The aging factor as it specifically pertains to sexuality no longer maintains compatibility.

High-speed Living and Disconnection in Our Relationships

In addition, living in the world today, with all its stressors and variables that we cannot control, contributes to the lack of longevity in relationships.  What used to be “forever, until death do us part” is less than 60% in marriages today. Our fast world, with high-speed technology and high-speed advancements, has left the human spirit panting and exhausted just trying to keep up with the times. Our minds and soulful content can’t expand as fast as our technology is moving. We barely speak to each other. Email and texting have become the new norm of communication. Partners go to bed holding their computers instead of each other. This is a setup for disconnection.  It leaves us with little time to nurture each other and keep our happiness in perspective.

Slowing Down and Restoring Our Relationships

Perhaps the divisiveness in our country is symbolic and a reflection of the divisiveness in our personal relationships—not just with our partners, but with family, friends, and colleagues. So often we find ourselves adding a new dimension to our relationships that of wanting to be right rather than happy – finding fault and the worst in each other rather than remembering what brought us together in the beginning. We seem to be living in surrealistic times, facing a new reality and a new norm. It may be a time for us to slow down, spend less, work together, turn off electronic devices, computers and even limit television time.  It is important to develop a “team” effort to move forward to restoration and spiritually. Maybe we need to re-evaluate what is really important–to become aware of our strengths as well as our weaknesses and to make the changes that are needed to grow old together.


Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author of I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success. In private practice since 1978, she specializes in individual and couple’s therapy, grief therapy, EMDR, NLP, inner child work and codependency. Learn more about her services at www.joanechilds.com.

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