Living Like Roommates: How Did We Get Here?

couple separated on sofa_ambro freedigitalphotos

The term “sexless marriage” gets a lot of attention, but often, relationships are “touchless” long before they get labeled as sexless.

I was watching a movie, Le Week-End, the other day. It is about a British couple who, after 30 years of marriage, return to Paris to re-create their Honeymoon. The movie was quirky, yet so clearly showcased the awkwardness of a touchless and sexless marriage. It reminded me that relationships are often touchless long before they are sexless.

A sexless marriage or relationship is one in which minimal or no sexual activity is taking place between the people in the relationship. Minimal in this situation would be defined as: sexual activity occurs less than ten times per year. While the term “touchless” does not have as formal a definition as sexless does, I am going to define it as: no meaningful touch, affection, or physical intimacy between partners other than casual greetings.

While some couples that are not able to make sexytime happen still touch one another throughout the day and cuddle at night, the vast majority of sexless relationships are void of this kind of touching. It is quite common in our society today to get so busy with work, school, kids, blogs, and all the running around that we overlook our partners and go whole days without having physical contact with them.

Touch is an incredibly important need for human beings. When a baby is born, we touch, hold, and caress the baby. In classic psychology experiments, it has been shown that even with sustenance and warmth, babies will die without affection from a caregiver. A baby is unable to regulate its own nervous system and actually needs someone else to attune to in order to stabilize itself. I once read an article about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) that noted that in nations where SIDS rates were low, the infant slept in the bed with at least one parent and this allowed the baby to regulate via their parents’ nervous system. In countries where babies slept alone, SIDS was much higher. (I could not find the article but I did find this – AskDr.Sears)

As children grow older, they often receive less and less touch. We live in a fear-based culture and the fear of sexual abuse or inappropriate touch is high. Typically, boys stop getting cuddled or touched earlier in their lives than girls. Some experts have speculated that this early decrease of physical touch of boys could be one reason why boys engage in rough play with friends. They are trying to get physical contact with another human body.

Fast forward this into intimate relationships, and we have two people who touch deprived (possibly from early in childhood) and most likely sex starved.

How do you begin to bridge the gap in your relationship if this is happening?

  • The first place to examine is your own relationship with touch. What are your expectations around touch? Does touch always have to lead to something sexual or can your just touch your partner because it feels good? Can you receive touch from your partner without it feeling like something must happen sexually because they touched you? Often, couples stop touching because they attach an expectation to the touch, or there is an established pattern of touch leading to other behaviors that has become too predictable or limiting to them. One kind of touch means this, or another kind of touch will mean that. It feels good to give and to receive; could you let touch simply be an expression of pleasure in that moment?
  • Maybe you do not touch your partner because you get the sense that they do not like the way you touch. This is common, especially when the touch has carried the meaning that something “must come (pun intended)” from the touch. In this case, I recommend slowing yourself down. Take some deep breaths. Take more deep breaths when you are with your partner, and feel your hand attached to your arm, attached to your body. Notice your partner’s body, really look at their body and see it. Notice where you want to touch them. Hint: if you just want to touch their genitals, that won’t get you the response you are looking for. It is great that you want to touch the really sexy places, but see if you can find other places on the body that are also appealing. Try a neck, wrist, swell of back, shoulder, thighs. As you let yourself reach out, stay really connected to your breath and your hands. Feel your partner under your hands. Even if only for a second or two. Gradually try to increase the touching up to a few times a day or longer caresses. If you have been in a touchless relationship for a while, don’t set your expectations too high. You might have to keep exploring this new way of reaching out for a few weeks (or longer) before your partner relaxes enough to show interest back.

Example of this: A client came to see me because he and his wife hardly ever had sex; only on holidays and birthdays. He wanted to feel closer to her but felt every time he went to touch her, she pulled away. We worked on getting him to slow down, breathe, touch for his own pleasure out of just wanting the connection. After a few weeks of letting himself make loving contact when he wanted to without it having to mean something or lead to something else, she opened up and wanted sex (at home and without a birthday attached). He was shocked, I wasn’t, yet I was very happy for him. He was learning how to create an experience for her beyond the act of sex in and of itself.

What if you don’t like the way your partner touches you? Tell them! Tell them as soon as possible. Life if too short to go without pleasurable touch. You deserve to be touched in the way you desire and your desires need to be forefront in your relationship. Especially if you want sexual energy to grow. Here is how the conversation could get started:

  • “Hey babe, when you touch me (like that) I feel like you are just trying to have sex with me and you are not interested in just being with me. It makes me feel shut down and want to pull away from you. I want to be sexual with you, I just think my body is needing more time to warm up. Do you think we could set aside some time this week to sit down and maybe I can give you feedback about touch and what my body would respond better to?”
  • OR: “Honey, I notice these days we hardly touch and I am missing how connected I use to feel with you. I have been thinking about touch a lot lately and I realized I never showed you how I like (or how much I like) to be touched. I would love to show you next time we are together and alone.”

It is a necessary need as a human beings to be touched, held, and caressed. This is not gender specific, this spans all genders and ages. The type of touch would clearly change based on your relationship with the other person, but touching in and of itself is crucial to being here on this planet. In intimate relationships we seek to fill so much of our personal needs, especially relying on our partners for our touching needs.

It might be interesting to ask your partner if they feel like you touch them often enough or with the right pressure or speed. We can always do more in our relationships to create more pleasurable experiences for our partners.

Happy touching!

– Keeley

Image via Ambro on FreeDigitalPhotos