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Help! I’m trapped in a sexless, loveless marriage

Heads needn’t have rolled if ‘Worried of Windsor’ had invented the renewable marriage licence

By Jon McKnightPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
Picture credit: Hans Holbein The Younger

Englebert Humperdinck wasn’t around when Henry the Eighth first ran into marital problems - but if he had been, you can bet the monarch would have been striding the palace corridors humming “Please, release me, let me go” instead of Greensleeves.

The corpulent King’s domestic difficulties are well documented, his methods of dealing with them were famously brutal, and he clearly wasn’t one to put up with a sexless, loveless, “friendship marriage”.

Yet, four hundred years later, you’d be surprised how many people are, and do.

Marriages, civil partnerships and other long-term relationships can go stale for all sort of reasons, and if neither partner wants sex any more, there isn’t a problem.

Some rationalise it by saying it’s merely a “friendship marriage” in which sex no longer plays a part and, although that isn’t what marriage was really designed for, it’s nobody else’s business.

But if one partner does want sex and the other doesn’t, at least one (and probably both) will be in for a lifetime of misery.

It all depends on what your expectations were when you went into the marriage.

If you and your partner were both asexual, no problem. If you were fervently religious and believed that sex was for procreation only, no problem either.

But if either one of you went into the marriage expecting a lifetime of sex with the person you loved to the exclusion of all others, what can you do when your partner doesn’t want sex any more?

Sometimes, there’s still hope.

If you’ve simply grown tired of each other or the same-old, same-old, you could put spice back into your marriage in a myriad of ways, all of them exciting, and a good place to start would be any of the books written by my friend and occasional mentor, the international sex and relationships guru Tracey Cox.

If you’re both willing in spirit but the flesh is, er, unco-operative, it’s worth having a confidential chat with a doctor or sex therapist to rule out any physical causes, and those little blue pills can work wonders, though should only be taken after seeking professional medical advice.

It might be that one of you is using sex as a bargaining chip, a way of exercising control over the other, and that’s usually a recipe for disaster.

It’s also an asymmetric problem for, as the character Dr Frasier Crane remarked in the TV comedy Frasier, women use sex to get what they want - but men don’t have that option, because sex is what they want.

If you’ve been together a long time, perhaps since you were teenaged sweethearts, you may have simply grown apart and developed different needs and tastes as you’ve grown older - ie, one’s into vanilla sex, the other’s into the full Ben & Jerry’s, or you simply don’t fancy each other any more.

But if none of those apply and one of you is stuck in a marriage (let’s use the term to cover all equivalent relationships) that’s loveless and sexless, do you just accept it as your unfortunate lot and spend the rest of your life lonely and celibate, trusting in reincarnation for better luck next time around, or do you grab back control of your life and do something about it?

How you deal with the problem depends on you and your partner’s expectations, attitudes and personalities.

Some turn to deception, having affairs behind their partner’s back, which can have disastrous consequences.

Others have affairs, openly, knowing that their partner is happy to take a turn-a-blind-eye approach while keeping up appearances of a happy marriage to the outside world.

Others, still, seek solace with sex-workers - an expensive option, apparently - and while it might fulfil their sexual needs, it won’t help them satisfy their needs for love and affection and genuinely-wanted companionship.

It’s a moral minefield, have no doubt about it.

Those with religious convictions may have very few options indeed - though Henry the Eighth did solve that by starting his own church instead and declaring himself the head of it.

To emphasise the point, he declared that his self-awarded title, Fidei Defensor, the Latin for Defender of the Faith, should appear on English coinage and, though shortened initially to Fid Def and now simply F D, it still does today.

Even those whose faith only manifests itself at Christenings, weddings and funerals can nevertheless take their marriage vows seriously and feel that only death should part them from a partner who doesn’t love them, possibly hates them, is at best indifferent to them, yet wishes to exercise a lifelong monopoly and, effectively, a veto, over their own sex lives.

The manger is centre-stage in Christian philosophy, for instance, yet an awful lot of people (or a lot of awful people) decide to be a dog in that manger and declare that, while they won’t be having sex with their partner for the rest of their days, no-one else should be allowed to, either.

“If you don’t want to have sex with me and you don’t want me to have sex with anyone else, what am I supposed to do for the rest of my life?” a partner might be forgiven for asking.

Or, as Mr Humperdinck put it, in the words of his lyricists, “to live a lie would be a sin, release me and let me love again”.

One way of avoiding this, which has not yet been trialled, would be to make marriage licences renewable, rather like the annual MoT roadworthiness test for cars in the UK.

But rather than having each partner checked for physical decrepitude, their marriage would be up for renewal each year and they could simply pay a nominal fee to renew it or, if they prefer, allow it to lapse.

No divorce, no takings-to-the-cleaners, no shame: just a simple decision not to continue with it, just as you might let your Amazon Prime membership lapse.

If that option had been around in King Henry’s time, several of his brides would have kept their heads, none of his divorces would have been necessary, and he’d never have needed to invent the Church Of England.

But the world might still have missed out.

His Royal Highness, freed from the complications that til-death-do-us-part marriages imposed on him, would probably have been far too busy in the bedroom to have ever written Greensleeves.

What do you think? Should people remain trapped in loveless, sexless marriages forever? Could renewable marriages work? Why not write a story in response and share your thoughts on Vocal+? And whether you love or hate this, please back up your opinion by sharing this story.

sexual wellness

About the Creator

Jon McKnight

I have left Vocal.

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