How Couples Can Handle Differences in Sexual Desire

Just about any marriage can go through times when one partner is less interested in sex than the other. Often, this is a short-term concern that relates to stress in other areas of life. All it signifies is that one of you is more distracted or tired than usual, thanks to a sudden change in schedule – anything from end-of-year work cycles to a health crisis in the family.

Challenges like these can leave your partner exhausted, wanting nothing more than sleep or a night in front of the TV. And while sexual dry spells usually end when stress levels return to normal, a prolonged disinterest in sex can definitely hurt your relationship. Not only do differences in desire stir up resentment and self-doubt, but they may also leave you wondering if this is the first step toward a sexless marriage.

That fear, as it turns out, is entirely valid. According to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, fewer people are having regular sex these days – whether or not they have a spouse or steady partner. So it’s wise to address any threat to your sex life as a real concern.


There is no rule that defines how long a dry spell should be before you both get worried about it. This can depend on your age, how long you’ve been together and what your sex life has been in the past.

Ultimately, if a dry spell is causing palpable tension or is attacking the confidence of one or both of you, it’s time to take things seriously.

Of course, that can be more difficult than it sounds. Unless both partners are willing to engage in open communication, discussing your diminished sex life may dredge up feelings of guilt, anger, blame, or embarrassment. This can block your ability to find a comfortable solution to the problem.


There are steps you can take to address the problem lovingly. Start by skipping any assumptions you may have made about why your partner does not appear to want more sex. Realize that loss of sexual interest can be caused by stress, depression, erectile dysfunction, hormone imbalances, genital pain, chronic illness, medications, low self-esteem – not to mention the emotional issues that exist in other areas of your relationship.

With a list that long, you can see that the problem may involve any number of factors. So the more drastic thoughts you may be having – for example, that your partner is having an affair or doesn’t desire you anymore – may be totally unfounded.

Even more importantly, you need to understand the difference between these three states:

  • Low libido, which is the loss of sexual desire
  • Hypoactive desire, which means the absence of sexual fantasies
  • Sexual dysfunction, which is the inability to have sex, which usually triggers feelings of guilt

Each of these conditions can have physical and psychological causes, but all are treated in a different way. By knowing the difference, you can approach the problem more objectively and fairly, protecting your partner from blame and shame.


When approaching your spouse about sexual issues, make sure you’re not in the bedroom. This is the place where both of you feel exposed and vulnerable. Instead, find a place you can speak privately but feel confident and comfortable.

Make every effort to be sensitive to your partner’s feelings, with no hint of blame. While you want to be honest about your worries, place your thoughts in the context of love and concern instead of painting your spouse as the cause of problems you are suffering. That last bit of territory is where worry can turn into blame.

If your partner is able to pinpoint a problem such as work stress or exhaustion, work together to find a solution. Focus on small changes you can both make and seek medical help if needed. Do not be shy about suggesting marriage counseling. Therapy can be great for learning stress management skills, and also may help you uncover issues such as anxiety or depression.

If your partner doesn’t know the cause but acknowledges that you do have a problem, suggest a physical exam with the family doctor. Low libido is often the result of an undiagnosed medical condition such as low testosterone, high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, or diabetes. It can also be caused by antidepressants, birth control pills, and certain prostate medications.

If your partner shuts down or is shy about discussing the issue, don’t take it personally – but don’t give up. You will need to continue to seek solutions, even if your loved one is reluctant at first.

Remember that this is not about one of you failing the other. It is simply that you both need to take ownership of the problem as a couple. By taking the lead (and suggesting couples counseling if needed), you can bring the issue into the light, which will ultimately strengthen your relationship.

It is important to remember that solving any problem within your marriage is a process, not a single event. Take your time, be patient, and, if needed, seek therapy to ensure your self-esteem and confidence remain intact.

As an experienced couples counselor, I have helped hundreds of married and committed couples address differences in sexual desire. If you’re struggling to find answers and need expert support, reach out to me today.


Verywell Mind