Every time I write about marriage, I hear from readers who lament their sexless marriages. The comments are all from men, and they tell of years, sometimes decades, of living together without love, affection, or sexual intimacy. The writers describe an arid life of “going separate ways” and “living separate lives.” Often a man will speak admiringly of his wife as the mother of their children and a fine person, but sadly relate that there is no longer any personal interaction between them as a couple. These are the ones who haven’t bothered to divorce, yet they lead lives of quiet, grinding frustration, if not desperation, hostility, anger and depression. Such responses have come so often that I’ve taken note and relate them to the social science research that reveals even younger couples are increasingly under so much stress that a noticeable number of them are “too tired” for marital intimacy.
We’ve all seen it happen: a young couple steps onto the fast track and the treadmill of life begins to take its toll. An overly stressful lifestyle becomes habitual, with an inevitably corrosive effect upon health and relationships. Natural exuberance gets ground down, laughter seldom breaks through the grim determination and drive, and the little touches of endearment ebb away.
Are these the inevitable, natural effects of building careers or businesses? Of having children? Of simply getting older? Of two people with different temperaments, expectations, and tastes, trying to navigate their disagreements? Yes, yes, yes, and yes, if a couple doesn’t pay attention to the actions that are needed to counter the negative side effects these factors can generate. The once vibrant joy of life, fueled by sexual passion that a couple shared, need not be blasted to pieces by some dramatic, explosive turn of events like the celebrity blow-ups reported daily in the tabloids. More often than not, their tender feelings for each other are destroyed much more subtly — almost imperceptibly — eroded away day by day in tiny grains until a chasm is opened up between then; call it marriage’s second law of entropy.