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Marriage is sexless for one in five couplesAugust 8, 2012 @ 5:41 pm (Updated: 11:03 am - 8/9/12 )
Kay and Arnold celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary with a nice dinner, idle conversation and a practical gift.
"We got each other the new cable subscription," Kay says. "A lot of channels."
What she really wants is to have an intimate connection with her husband again.
They haven't had sex for years.
The two end up with a marriage counselor who talks them through steps they can take to become close again, even though Arnold is reluctant, saying "we're not 22 years old."
"Tonight I would like you to spend a period of time with your arms around one another," Dr. Feld advises.
Dr. Feld is comedian Steve Carell, offering tips to Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones who are playing an over 50, sexless couple in the movie "Hope Springs."
The fictional story is real life, and not so funny, for an estimated 20 percent of married people, according to the most recent National Health and Social Life Survey by the University of Chicago.
By definition, "sexless" can mean not having intimate contact within the past six months to a year, though some couples have gone much longer than that.
"I don't know what happened. We don't even talk about it any more. We just stopped having any contact, not even kissing," says Maria, who's 66. "That was about 15 years ago."
A sexless marriage isn't the problem. It's a symptom of the problem. The deeper issue is a lack of intimacy, according to a Seattle marriage researcher.
"When libido dies, it's really because the relationship is not continuing to be romantic and they're not spending time getting close and working on sex that involves intimacy and a real connection," says Dr. John Gottman, director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle.
"You hear people say being in love is just something that happens in the beginning when you first meet somebody. You can't have that in a long term relationship. Well, I don't think that's true," he adds.
It is true that marriage, and having a good sex life, is work.
Couples get involved with their infinite to-do lists and stop being playful, having fun and going on adventures together, Gottman says. Most couples don't even know what their partner finds erotic.
People change, and marriages also change through the years. Spouses often think the person they're with is the same person they married 10, 20, or 30 years ago. They don't bother to learn about how their interests, likes and dislikes might have evolved.
"Every single person has multiple marriages in their life, it just depends on whether it's with one person or multiple people," says Seattle psychotherapist Julie Holt.
About half of the clients she counsels have marriage issues.
"If someone is coming into my office and they are tearing into each other that's a sign to me that this will probably work because there's so much passion between the two of them," Holt says.
"If somebody comes in and they just stare at me and say 'fix us' then it's a challenge."
For many couples it's difficult to get back on track because they've gone so long without an intimate connection, either through sex or a deep conversation.
Part of reason marriages might become sexless is rooted in the way each spouse interacted with their parents growing up.
"We want to find comfort, and we want to be safe, and we want to find a place where we can go and it's a sanctuary. Often times we create the patterns that we had when we were kids," Holt explains.
"If you had a lifestyle when you were a kid where you didn't talk to your mom or dad very often and there was not a lot of close, intimate conversation, then you're going to recreate that in your marriage."
Holt doesn't believe there are any "hopeless" cases, if the partners are willing to open up and talk about what they need and want. Easier said than done? Yes. Each partner might be afraid of hurt or rejection, or just entirely apathetic to their partner.
There are mixed opinions about how to rekindle marital sex. For some couples, it may be as simple as a weekend away from the kids, taking a vacation or cruise, or just having some time alone. Others may need help in re-establishing communication. Going to see a light-hearted movie about the subject might be a good way to start.
By LINDA THOMAS
Photos by Barry Wetcher for Sony Pictures Entertainment
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