THE BLOG

7 Ways Sex Can Kill a Marriage

02/02/2013 02:54 am ET | Updated Apr 03, 2013

Can sex kill a marriage? Absolutely. Problems in the bedroom can lead to deep dissatisfaction. A marital sex problem is like a canary in a coal mine -- a warning alarm that danger lies ahead.

Here are 7 ways sex can kill a marriage:

1. One spouse controls the frequency of sex: Married couples vary considerably in terms of how much sex they have or don't have. While studies report that married people on average have sex seven times a month, there is no magic formula that couples can follow to ensure a happy sex life. The crucial point is that both partners have to feel good about how much sex they are having and how much control they have over their sex life. If one person takes charge of when and how sex happens, relationship killers like dissatisfaction, resentment and anger can emerge.

2. Spouses withhold sex: This can be an insidious problem, particularly if sex is used as a weapon to punish one another. It's particularly toxic if an unresolved grievance from the past is offered up as the reason for the withholding of sex. Once one partner ends up sleeping on the couch instead of the marital bed, the end is probably near. Another insidious problem is using sex as a "treat" to reward the partner for good behavior -- a training method that is better suited for household pets!

3. The marriage becomes sexless. Marriages where sex never or very rarely occurs is an issue that has gained more attention in recent years. Studies estimate that a whopping 15 percent of married couples have not had sex with their spouse in the last six months to one year. In some cases, this can be an indication that the marriage has died and the couple has decided to stay together for other reasons like money, children or health insurance. In other cases, the marriage may have morphed into a platonic relationship. An sexless marriage becomes a problem if one person is unhappy with the situation and yearns for a sexual connection with a partner.

In some marriages, a breakdown in the sexual relationship may be an indicator of deeper problems in the relationship such as lack of trust, intimacy, resentment, anger. One or both people may be suffering from depression. These are issues that can be worked on in therapy, if both people are willing to do the work. A lack of interest in sex can also be a symptom of a medical or aging issue. Some people maintain an active sex drive till the end of their lives. Others lose their drive as they advance in years. The health of a relationship between older partners will be based on whether both are equally content with their sex lives.

4. Spouses are too busy or too tired for sex. This issue frequently rears its head when a couple has a busy family life or if one or both partners has a demanding job. Not having time for sex can be a problem if it becomes a way of life and the couple loses their closeness and intimacy. Planning regular date nights is something commonly advised for couples who don't have enough one-on-one time. The downside is that scheduling sex tends to preclude spontaneity. Balancing scheduling with occasional spontaneity might be the best formula for success.

5. Spouses have differing attitudes about porn. A lot of people look at porn, including men and women with healthy sex lives. Porn can become a problem if one partner doesn't like the other watching porn, particularly if it's perceived as a replacement for sex with the partner. As with other sexual problems, porn addiction can be an indicator of an emotional disconnect between a couple. If the porn becomes a hidden addiction consumed in private, there may be underlying issues that require help from a professional in addition to compromise between the partners.

6. A spouse dislikes sex with their partner. A surprising number of married people I have talked to speak openly of not enjoying sex with their partners anymore. In some marriages, rediscovering a satisfying sex life can involve communicating what does and doesn't feel good, asking for sexual acts that are not being given, or asking for more variety if it's become too predictable or repetitive. Here's an exercise I recommend: one person is the passive recipient of sexual attention and can ask the other for anything they desire. The person giving expects nothing in return. Next time the roles switch. Through this, partners are able to ask for things they may have a problem vocalizing, and the other person learns a lot about what their partner really enjoys.

7. A spouse cheats. This is the most obvious marriage killer. The positive side of cheating is that it can sometimes serve to revive a relationship; it's an opportunity to bring up what is lacking in the relationship and propel a couple into a renewed and better union -- though it's a painful way to get there.

Sexual satisfaction in all its forms is a vital part of a healthy marriage -- though of course it's not the whole picture. I once heard a therapist describe a good marriage as being like a three legged stool: one leg is emotional connection, one is mental connection, and the other is sexual connection. If one leg is missing, the stool collapses.

Did sex play a part in your marriage floundering? Please take this opportunity to share your story below. Don't hold back!