When One Partner Sexually Shuts Down

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There may be a time when your partner in a monogamous relationship stops initiating or responding to sexual invitations. It’s important to find out whether it’s a matter of can’t or won’t.

It’s certainly common for a woman to say no when she’s angry or him to not respond as expected if he is overtired or preoccupied with other matters. But if your partner has seemingly just shut down, not been interested in sexual activity for days or weeks, it’s time to have a serious conversation.

If it’s really a case of “I just don’t want to,” it’s important to the relationship to have an honest discussion. Is your partner dealing with some bodily issues? Is he or she angry, in pain, grieving, or just not feeling it? Is couples counseling a possibility or solo therapy for your partner addressing the reasons for the shutdown? All are helpful if this occurs.

Then there are cases where your partner simply is unable to enjoy sexual intercourse anymore, and they are usually physical. He can no longer have erections (sometimes after prostate surgery). She may have a painful vaginal problem that is reoccurring or constant.

If the relationships is a monogamous one and the other partner is not willing to give up sex, there is a difficult problem. “If I cant you can’t either” is usually not workable.

One hopes that the incapacitated one will be gracious enough to be willing to work on an arrangement. Whether the other is free to have sex under certain circumstances: perhaps take a lover, perhaps only casual sex, perhaps an ongoing agreement with a sex worker. It will be up to the couple to decide what’s possible.

Over my many years as a therapist, I helped three couples come to agreements on this issue. Oddly enough, they were three different arrangements.

In one, he was entitled to go out on Saturday nights. Whether it was with his friends partying or with a lover, she didn’t want to know. His sex life was to be kept private.

In another case, if she took a lover that she cared for he wanted to meet him. She did, he met him, and he became a family friend invited to all family occasions.

In the third case, the couple could not come to an agreement. One of them could not stand the idea of the other having outside sex and the other was not willing to be chaste, so the couple broke up.

Whatever the situation, the couple needs to come to an arrangement that suits the needs of both partners, perhaps with the help of a third party. In any case, it is a difficult situation that must be handled with honesty and empathy.

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