Can a Marriage Last Without Intimacy?

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Anyone who has been in a relationship knows the importance of intimacy, both physically and emotionally. And while shared interests and kids can help bind a couple together, can a marriage last without intimacy?

As a general rule, most marriages with a lack of intimacy fail. While 15% of marriages lack physical intimacy, a recent study found that among divorced couples surveyed, 43% listed intimacy issues, including a lack of physical intimacy as the reason for divorce. 

If you have been in multiple relationships, chances are you also have had one where the intimacy was lacking. No passion, no fire burning, and yes; little to no sex.

But a relationship with little to no emotional intimacy or physical intimacy is going to be very challenging.

So today, we’re diving in deep into the world of marriages, intimacy, and what to do if you find yourself in that situation. We’ll explore the underlying causes a partner might have to not be intimate. We will also talk about options the spouse wanting the intimacy has to get it back.

But specifically, though, we’re answering the tough question of can a marriage last without intimacy.

How a lack of intimacy affects a marriage

A recent study by the Social Psychological and Personality Science Journal looked at over 25,000 couples over 23 years. They found overwhelmingly that couples who had sex at least once a week were significantly happier than those who do not.

Interestingly, happiness did not seem to be affected when the sexual activity occurred even more frequently than once a week. So as long as it’s at least once a week, the frequency of sex has little impact on a couple’s overall happiness.

The lead researcher on the study, Assistant Professor Amy Muise of York University, stated:

“it’s important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner, but you don’t need to have sex every day as long as you’re maintaining that connection.”

But what happens to a marriage where intimacy and sex are lacking?

The following are all side effects of a sexless relationship:

  • Both partners feel unhappy, alone, and unfulfilled
  • The partner on the receiving end feels unloved and unattractive
  • Frustrations from the lack of sex cause the couple to emotionally withdraw too
  • Apathy will set in with the partner who wants more intimacy
  • The partner who wants sex is more likely to have an affair

Going further, the UK law firm of Woolley & Co found that 43% of the divorces they analyzed ended in divorce due to sexual issues, including a lack of intimacy.

In yet another recent survey conducted by the Huffington Post, they found that over 50% of spouses “wouldn’t have married their spouses if they had known the marriage would be sexless.”

And while that survey did note that almost 50% of spouses said “lack of sex in the marriage was not a deal-breaker”, 33% said they would consider divorce.

A lack of intimacy, sexual or otherwise, can be painful for the partner on the receiving end.

It is often seen as a rejection, and that rejection is painful. As the attachment bond is weakened, the marriage is weakened. After a long time with this issue, the marriage can reach a point of no return.

Is it OK to be in a sexless marriage?

Anything between 2 consenting adults is OK and technically no one else’s business. But there are 2 main problems.

First, it’s pretty rare that both people in the relationship are OK with the lack of sexual intimacy. Second, unless we’re talking about a medical condition for the low sex drive when a partner pulls away and shuts down, there’s usually a somewhat catastrophic incident that led to it.

While it could be that one spouse cheated on the other and the spouse who was cheated on then shut down on an intimate level.

That’s totally understandable and something that will improve over time as the couple (hopefully) work through the issue.

Is your emotional and physical intimacy suffering in the wake of an affair? If so, I highly recommend you take a moment and check out one of my most popular posts on Pinterest.

There I walk you through the exact steps to Save a Marriage After Infidelity (click to read my article). So while it is technically OK to be in a sexless marriage, in most cases, the answer is no.

Is a sexless marriage normal?

In short, no.

While it certainly does happen (15% of married couples haven’t had sex in 6-12 months or more), most people would not consider a sexless marriage normal.

Technically “sexless” doesn’t mean no sex ever. It just means less sex. Most experts agree that 10 or fewer sex acts a year counts as “sexless”. So we’re talking anyone who doesn’t have regular sex at least once a month.

What is “normal” is for the sex in your relationship to diminish after the first few years.

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that when a relationship is new, those intimate interactions with your partner hit the brain like opioids, activating the reward center of the brain. It also was shown to reduce pain and unhappiness.

Over time, as our brain becomes used to our partner, that effect can diminish.

After all, that’s often when kids come into the picture and one or both spouses start to ramp up their career goals or maybe continue their education. Life comes into play and all of that can conspire to put our sex life, and sometimes our marriage, on the back burner.

BUT, if you aren’t at least having sex once a month (once a week is more the average for long-term married couples), then that’s a sign that something is wrong. When you see that sign, it’s crucial that you act before your marriage starts to crumble.

Whether or not a marriage can survive without physical intimacy is what we’re exploring next.

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Can a marriage survive without physical intimacy?

In short, no.

All human beings need and crave emotional and physical intimacy as a basic need. Without it, the connection and spark between the 2 people withers and dies.

Also, as I mentioned above, usually for a person to suddenly withdraw from intimacy, there is often a triggering event. And while it could be something fairly common and easily treatable like vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction, it could also be something more traumatic from our childhood.

So until that spouse deals with the underlying cause and learns to Let Go of the Past (click to read my post), they will face challenges in all walks of life.

Not dealing with it will ultimately cause them to not be the person they truly want to be.

If that sounds at all familiar, I highly recommend you take a moment and to click the link above and review my most shared post on Twitter.

The only other possible exception there would be if a long-term couple had an issue that left one (or both) of them unable to be physically intimate. Obviously, in that case, the other spouse would (hopefully) understand and be considerate of the limitations.

But for that marriage to survive, the relationship would have to have been built on very solid ground over a long period of time. They would also have to still be able to connect emotionally in an intimate way or make other accommodations for the limitations.

So asking can a marriage last without intimacy almost always leads to a solid “no”.

If your marriage is failing, then check out this short video on the 7 Steps to Fixing a Marriage that will help get yours back on track.


Is a sexless marriage grounds for divorce?

The short answer is you can divorce anyone for any reason in almost any state in the US.

Obviously, laws vary from state to state and certainly from country to country, but when someone decides to divorce, in most cases, they’ll find a way to make it happen. But a lack of a love life is one of the common reasons for divorce.

There is also a legal precedent. Legally, marriage implies a sexual relationship between the spouses. Thus, if one spouse withholds sex, it can, therefore, be grounds for divorce.

Lawyers typically refer to this as “constructive abandonment.”

Even though the spouse refusing sex hasn’t physically abandoned their spouse, it can be successfully argued that they have emotionally withdrawn from the marriage.

That, by definition, is grounds for an at-fault divorce.

According to the General Social Survey, married couples, on average, have sex 58 times a year. That amounts to a little more than once a week.

That being said, married couples under 30 have sex almost twice as often. The reasons for the age differences are pretty obvious. Younger people have fewer (if any) kids and generally are not at the peak of their careers.

But if you think those numbers are low, around 15 percent of married couples haven’t had sex anywhere from 6-12 months. That’s according to associate professor of sociology Denise A. Donnelly of Georgia State University.

What’s a relationship without intimacy?

Maybe we should first start by defining intimacy.

After all, it might mean different things to different people. The dictionary describes it as

  • a close familiarity or friendship; closeness
  • a private cozy atmosphere.
  • an intimate act, especially sexual intercourse.

So obviously it includes sex but is not exclusively sex.

If sexual desire, for medical or emotional reasons, just isn’t possible (at least for right now), consider some alternatives that can still provide that needed intimate connection.

Here are some of the top ways of building intimacy without the traditional sex act:

1. Touch

Often when we find ourselves in long-term relationships, we allow the day-to-day distractions of life to limit our non-sexual touching.

So we have to be intentional and strive to connect to your spouse throughout the day.

Hold hands as you go for a walk. Kiss each morning, each evening, and during the day. Physical touch that isn’t (necessarily) tied to just wanting sex builds and fosters healthy intimacy and emotional connection.

A healthy sex life is an important part of any romantic relationship.

But there are many forms of intimacy and if frequent sex isn’t possible, that doesn’t mean married people can’t connect intimately in other ways.

2. Spend time talking without distraction

When I come home from work at the end of a long day, there’s nothing I feel like doing more than throwing on comfy clothes, pouring a drink, and vegging out in front of the TV.

But you know what that doesn’t do?

It provides almost no connection to and for my wife who I haven’t seen all day. So maybe not every day, but at least 2-3 times a week, focus on your spouse.

Turn the TV off, put the phones down and after the kids are asleep, just sit and talk. You’ll be amazed at what you learn, how much more connected you both feel, and how much better your relationship will get over time.

3. Explore other forms of orgasm

Perhaps you or your spouse has a medical condition like ED?

Or perhaps an emotional trauma issue has left one of you not wanting traditional intercourse? If so, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with exploring alternate forms of orgasm.

4. Court and date one another

Most of us can recall that heart-pounding magic of when our relationship was new and shiny.

But over time, especially with careers, mortgages, kids, and life, that tends to diminish as our priorities shift.

So, if you find yourself asking “can a marriage last without intimacy?”, setting a regular date night is a great way to rebuild that passion you both once had.

5. Connect throughout the workday through calls and texts

Often in the mornings, spouses go their separate ways and don’t reconnect again until the dinner table or later.

Thus, finding some way to connect throughout our busy days is crucial! So whether it’s through a call or a few texts or even an email, do something to connect with them.

It lets them know you’re thinking about them and it’s an opportunity to have an exchange. And however impersonal an electronic exchange is, it’s better than none.

How can I improve my sexless marriage?

If you are the spouse withholding the sex then obviously there is something medically or emotionally going on that needs to be dealt with.

If you are the spouse who struggles with intimacy, even if you divorce your spouse, you can’t run away from yourself. Those damaging feelings (or underlying medical conditions) will still be there. And any prospective future partner will still have sexual needs.

You owe it to yourself to fix it.

If you are the spouse being forced to live in an emotionally barren and sexless marriage then you have an altogether different path to fixing the issue.

First, if you did anything to cause your partner to withdraw, you have to own it 100%, fix it, and be patient. Extramarital affairs are a common reason a spouse might have withdrawn from being intimate.

But if your spouse is dealing with something from their past or some other issue outside the marriage then that requires a different approach. Before you start demanding sex, you have to help your spouse identify the root cause and support them in dealing with that.

Do let them know how their actions make you feel. Don’t make them feel guilty, ashamed, or criticized.

When they feel supported emotionally and don’t feel criticized or belittled, they will start to open back up; especially if you support them in getting the mental or physical help they need.

There are ultimately many ways to Rekindle a Marriage (click to read on my website) when the passion has faded. So if you’re ready, dive in deeper into one of my most shared blog posts on my whole site.

The terrible truth about divorce statistics

Ultimately we can talk about thoughts and feelings all day on the question of can a marriage last without intimacy?

But it’s also good to take a look at the cold, hard facts.

The top 3 reasons for divorce include:

  • Infidelity
  • Money problems
  • Basic incompatibility

In truth, a lack of intimacy could certainly fall under the heading of “basic incompatibility, so let’s dive in deeper.

The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (bet those are some folks who know how to party) found that”the incompatibility is usually caused by one or more of the other choices.”

They go on to note that “basic incompatibility – is usually created by deeper issues somewhere in the relationship – usually an emotional, physical, or financial breach of trust.”

But on a slightly good note, they ultimately found that “financial disagreements were the strongest disagreement types to predict divorce for both men and women.”

So compared to a sexless marriage, money is an even greater destroyer of marriages.

That being said, it’s clear that in the vast majority of cases that when asking the question can a marriage last without intimacy, the answer is almost always going to be a no.

Now that you understand how important intimacy is, I urge you to check out all 31 incredible ways you can Restore Intimacy in Marriage (click to see my tips on how).

The marriage you save may be your own!

How long do sexless marriages last?

On average, all marriages last 8.2 years but due to the age of those in sexless marriages, it is common for them to stay together that long or longer despite the lack of physical connection.

Sexless marriages. not surprisingly, are more common above age 30 and the age group where it is most common is age 60 or above. While couples in their 60s would often stay together even if the amount of sex has diminished, the divorce rate for ages 50+ is starting to increase.

Remember, a “sexless marriage” is one where a couple has sexual experiences no more than once a month. And upwards of 20% of marriages fall into this category.

But let’s face it. That’s not a healthy relationship.

How many sexless marriages end in divorce?

As a general rule, 50% of all marriages end. Upwards of 20% of all marriages are technically sexless with 13.5% of all married couples having not had sex in 5 or more years.

But as we’ve discussed, no-fault divorces mean that a couple doesn’t have to list a specific reason for filing for divorce. So while 50% or more of sexless marriages could end in divorce, there are other factors that might make that number lower.

For starters, as we’ve discussed, a lack of physical intimacy increases with age.

50% of women ages 75-85 totally lose interest in sex. By comparison, only 1 in 4 men in that same age range have lost interest in sex. Overall, an interest in sex starts dropping from age 57 and can vanish by age 85.

But couples in their 60s, 70s, or 80s are less likely to divorce because of the amount of time they’ve already spent together and the challenges of finding someone new at that age.

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Why do couples stop being intimate?

Couples stop being physically and/or emotionally intimate due to one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Complacency – A focus on careers, running the household, and raising children often sees a couple putting romance on the back burner. Over time, this can become the norm.
  2. Pain – As a woman gets closer to menopause (or is past it), sometimes vaginal dryness makes sex painful. Luckily, using lubrication can be an easy way to remedy this.
  3. Erectile dysfunction – Men over age 40 can experience a drop in testosterone and an increase in erectile dysfunction (ED). Because of ego, many men struggle to admit this to their spouses or seek treatment for it. Luckily, it’s not that hard or expensive to get testosterone shots or take medication that can help.
  4. Damaged Trust – 40% of couples see 1 or both partners having an affair. According to the General Social Survey, “twenty percent of men cheat compared to 13 percent of women.” So a lack of trust can easily affect intimacy, especially if the one who cheated has done it with more than 1 person and not taken steps to earn the trust back.
  5. Anger issues or emotional abuse – Let’s face it. No one wants to have sex with someone they are scared of. So a man (or a woman) who is constantly getting angry, is controlling, or otherwise emotionally abusive is never going to make their spouse want to willingly have sex with them.

And going back to cheating, there are other sources that claim 70% of married Americans cheat at least once in their marriage.


Final thoughts

In this post, we took a hard look into one of the more common marital challenges.

Intimacy and the lack of it in marriages and relationships. We explored why someone might withdraw their intimacy from a relationship and what we can do to get it back. Specifically, we answered the question can a marriage last without intimacy.

While you may not like the answer, now that you know it, you can at least make an educated choice as to what to do in your marriage.

Is your marriage struggling with intimacy?