TODAY

TODAY   |  April 30, 2013

Sexless marriage: How to reignite the spark

All couples wonder how much intimacy is normal and healthy, but what do you do if the spark disappears completely? NBC’s Maria Schiavocampo reports on one couple who struggled with this question, and relationship therapists Argie Allen and Ian Kerner give advice.

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>>> back now at 8:37. when it comes to marriage how much intimacy is healthy and normal and what do you do if the spark has disappeared completely. mara schiavocampo has one couple's story. good morning.

>> good morning. the majority of couples have sex regularly but some struggle with the loss of intimacy and are left figuring out how to repair a sexless marriage . couples not having sex after marriage are often a punch line of pretty funny jokes.

>> before you get married get all the sex you want. afterwards, i don't feel like it, i got a headache.

>> reporter: for this couple their sexless marriage was no laughing matter. when chris initiated sex with his wife of almost ten years she would usually turn him down.

>> the longest time we went without sex was a year. there were multiple times we would go six months.

>> reporter: he kept a journal, documenting her lack of interest.

>> i wanted to prove to my wife we had a sexless marriage .

>> i didn't really want it. he wanted it.

>> i started to wonder, does my wife still love me? the way i dealt with it was to eat. swelled up like a balloon.

>> reporter: chris decided to take action and presented options.

>> i could live in a sexless marriage . i could meet my sexual needs somewhere outside the marriage. the last option was we fix our sex life .

>> reporter: her choice was to fix their sex life .

>> i decided the only way i was going to save our marriage, i better make myself be the best option or i'll lose him.

>> reporter: their sex life is not typical of married couples in this country. according to a university of chicago study, 80% of married couples have sex a few times a month or more. 32% say they have sex two to three times a week while 47% reported having sex a few times a month.

>> sex is the number one thing people fight about. you stop having sex , there will be no more fights. i am living proof. i have no sex. i am the happiest i have ever been.

>> men really do get more of their emotional needs from sex. women get their emotional needs a lot of places. sex as well, but they don't need it as much because they are getting their needs met elsewhere.

>> reporter: last year with advice from a self-help book they worked together to bring intimacy and desire back to the relationship and save their marriage.

>> i think we both gained more respect for each other. i have gained more respect for him seeing how independent he is. he's gained confidence in himself. and a self-worth. that has made me love him more. i want to be with him more.

>> we have been on turbo speed ever since.

>> reporter: experts say it's normal for sexual attraction to wane over time . one study found couples who focused on each over's needs, not their own were best able to maintain desire for each other over time . savannah?

>> mara schiavocampo, thank you so much. r.g. allen is from drexley university and ian kerner is a sex and relationship therapist. good morning.

>> good morning.

>> as we heard, it is typical for the sexual desire to change over time . how do you know what's normal and what's something to be alarmed about?

>> you're not feeling comfortable. or one person is angry or upset all the time or you're feeling like you are arguing too much. you have to peel back the layers and figure out what is going on.

>> we often hear about a man wanting to have sex and a woman not really having the desire. isn't it just as common to have the opposite be true?

>> absolutely. i think it's a stereotype that men are always amped up and raring to go. i do a lot of work with low libido couples , mismatched libido. just as often it's the guy's low desire. especially with the economy. for men, so much of sexual desire comes from self-esteem. a lot of guys are getting battered out there in the world. it's affecting what happens in the bedroom.

>> that reflects how complex this is. i wonder if you look at a dramatic drop in sexual desire as a canary in the coal mine , a warning that other things are amiss.

>> it's a neon flashing light. it could be the kids, fatigue, depression, chronic illness, just time that eludes us. we have to talk about it. people want to have sex but they don't want to have a conversation about it.

>> i have a feeling you will tell me there is no right answer. people are wondering what is normal for a married couple in terms of frequency of sex.

>> i have a little rule of thumb which is try to be sexually intimate once a week. you know, if you can stay connected once a week you're maintaining the connection. if you let a week go then it's two, three and pretty soon you can't remember the last time you had sex. sex ruts beget sex ruts. sex begets sex. i tell couples to put your body through the motions. trust that your brain will follow. i have a try it, you'll like it approach.

>> do you agree? are you a proponent of, even if you're not feeling it, do it for your partner.

>> absolutely. sometimes you have to plan it. i say throw the gadgets out of the bedroom, even the tv. make it a place where you connect. i agree with ian. sometimes you have to plan it because other things will get in the way. it will not be if you have a change in sexuality or your sexual relationship . it will be when and what you're going to do about it.

>> the premise of the discussion is you have to have sex if you are in a relationship. i suppose there are people who could agree mutually, all right we don't want to have that much sex. or are you saying that's a no-no?

>> i think sex is really important. it's the glue that holds couples together. it's what makes your relationship special. it's what makes you more than just roommates. when couples have healthy sex lives they are having healthier lives overall. when they are not having healthy sex they are vulnerable to anger, depression, infidelity.