Can A Marriage Survive Without Intimacy?

Sometimes, life gets in the way of love. In today's bustling world, we're constantly bogged down by tight deadlines and the pressure to be on our productivity A-game. As much as we want to, often, it's simply not feasible to spend quality time with our partners — and that's perfectly normal as long as we make up for it later. Quality time can mean different things to different people. Some think of it as having a lovely chat with their partner at the end of the day, while others require regular date nights. 

Quality time is an important pillar of any quality relationship because it's a way to cultivate intimacy between partners, which is the mark of a thriving relationship. It's a common misconception that intimacy is limited to sexual interactions between partners, however. Clinical psychologist Helene Brenner, Ph.D., defined the term to Well+Good as simply: "A one-on-one connection that involves a synchrony between two people." 

She noted that nowadays it's not uncommon to primarily communicate through shorter messages and memes to form connections while having a good laugh but intimacy helps us deepen those bonds, which makes us want to go the extra mile to sustain them. While sex isn't the only form of intimacy, it seems to be the one with which most couples struggle. In fact, according to one study, 15% of married couples haven't had sex with their partner in six months to a year.

Can a marriage without physical intimacy survive?

A marriage's ability to survive without physical intimacy depends on its importance to both partners. Some might view sex as a priority while others may think of it more as a bonus that comes with the relationship. If both partners are in the latter category, a marriage without physical intimacy could work. Sex therapist Christene Lozano explained to BBC that the real problem arises when both partners aren't on the same page about their sexual desires.

She expanded that, when one partner desires sex and the other turns them down, it can cause the one offering to feel unwanted and contribute to low self-esteem or even lead to infidelity. The refuser also starts to feel guilty for not wanting to have sex. This dynamic can put a lot of strain on a relationship and create resentment on both sides. Further, when a couple agrees not to have sex for reasons that aren't related to physical difficulties or asexuality, it can sometimes be an indication of deeper problems.

It could mean that the couple has grown apart and doesn't really desire each other anymore, or they don't trust each other enough to be honest. Sex therapist Nazanin Moali discussed her experience in a sexless marriage with HuffPost, sharing, "It was the inability to address the challenges around sex — to look deeply at each other, name our fears, needs, and desires, and stick around in the messiness of it all — that ultimately killed the marriage."

How to rekindle the spark of intimacy

Like most marital problems, talking it out should be your first port of call. It's best to not make any assumptions; if you're the refuser, try to address the root cause of the problem that prevents you from getting in the mood. If you're the offeror, discuss the importance of sex to you. If it's a sexual problem that prevents you from getting it on, brainstorm judgment-free solutions. Instead of swaying the conversation in a polarizing direction, try to find the middle ground where you're both compromising to make it work. 

Since intimacy goes beyond sex, you should try to rekindle your love before engaging in physical activity. Tony Robbins recommends regularly going on dates to fall in love with each other all over again. If you're both too busy, consider creating a weekly schedule for fun and intimate activities. As sex therapist Jordan Rullo, Ph.D., suggested to Flo, "For example, one week, you plan a recreational intimacy activity (e.g., a hike) to explore with your partner, and the next week, your partner plans a creative intimacy activity (e.g., a pottery class)."

Once you address the emotional issues, you can move on to creating a schedule for sex. As sex therapist Michael Aaron clarified to HuffPost, though, scheduling sex goes beyond setting a date. "Creating quality experiences requires foresight and planning, right down to negotiating specific sex acts," he said, adding that you should be open to experimentation and discussing your fantasies too.