Sexual breakdowns start subtly. The tiny blips on the radar that signal our partnership is veering toward bitterness, infidelity, or divorce often don’t trigger the alarm—until it’s too late. They are blips, after all. All we have to signal us to impending danger is a little voice in the back of our heads that says, “Something’s not right here." But we often quiet that voice with the response, "But I guess it's not too bad."
Sexual breakdown in partnerships is a quiet, insidious poison. Relationships that could have thrived often end up dissolving—not because the pair is mismatched or there was never any hope—but because those little warning signs weren’t heeded as harbingers of the death of intimacy.
“The death of intimacy?” you might be thinking. “That’s a bit of an exaggeration.”
But if you've ever had your relationship fall apart after years of dissatisfying sex, you know I’m not exaggerating. If you’ve been there, you probably felt the same pain, confusion, agony, and hopelessness that I felt when it happened to me.
You might feel more like roommates than lovers, more like a parent than a partner. You might cringe when your partner touches you, or postpone going to bed because you can’t stand having “that fight about sex” one more time.
When I reached that bitter breaking point in my marriage seven years ago, I asked myself over and over again, “How did this happen?”
It happens slowly. And I will tell you one thing: When couples come to me on the verge of divorce, one person in the pair is often blindsided—having had no idea how bad things had gotten—whereas the other partner has known and been trying to tell their partner for years.
It might be easy for us to smooth over these warning signs as “no big deal.” But they are a big deal. Those tiny dissatisfactions and disappointments really matter in the long run.
If you want to save your relationship from sexual dysfunction and the bitterness it encourages, you’ve got to take those little things seriously.
But turning your sex life around isn't just a matter of saving the relationship—it's so much more than that! If successful, you'll feel enraptured with your partner, in love, and adored. You'll enjoy mind-blowing sex that’s mutually fulfilling. You'll feel confident enough to ask for what you need and want in a way that makes your partner excited to give it to you.
If you're seeing any of these warning signs, I suggest getting help now. It's so much easier to repair a relationship before it reaches its breaking point.
1. You crave "something more" with sex—but you aren't sure how to explain it.
This is the very first sign, the first blip on the radar. It doesn't mean that anything is wrong, necessarily. But it nags at the back of our minds in that small voice that is easy to shush. If you ever think, “There’s got to be more to sex than this,” I urge you to not ignore that voice. Instead, start to explore your sexual desires. Learn from experts you trust about what else is possible; they can offer real guidance centered around lifelong sexual fulfillment.
2. For those with male partners: Your partner has stopped wanting to help you.
When a man feels sexually connected with and appreciated by his partner, he wants to give them everything they've ever wanted. It’s quite a beautiful sight to behold—and even more incredible to experience. But this remarkable gift of service that men are dying to offer those they love will start to wither if they feel rejected, criticized, or unappreciated—especially sexually.
If your partner seems distant and is more interested in drinking, watching TV, or working—take heed. It doesn't mean he doesn't love you; it does mean he would rather watch TV than risk you criticizing or rejecting him again. The sexual health of your relationship isn’t just his responsibility—it’s yours too. How could you take more responsibility for your own arousal and connection?
3. For those with female partners: Your partner has stopped touching you.
When a woman feels sexually confident, safe, and warm toward her partner, she likes to touch them and be touched by them. When a woman feels sexually withdrawn or guarded, she will often recoil, brace herself, or swat her partner away when they touch. She may fear that any touch is attached to the expectation of sex—even if she doesn't want to have it. To avoid this, learn a new method of sex that feels better for everyone and doesn’t involve any obligation or expectations. Stop having round-the-bases sex. This is the most effective way for sex to become fun—and safe—again.
4. You try to make your partner climax quickly so you can be done with sex and do what you want to do.
I hear this all the time—and I’ve done it myself. When a relationship is only a few years old, women often laugh about this phenomenon as if it were a secret joke of sisterhood. “Get the job done and move on with your day!” When a relationship is closer to its breaking point, women stop laughing about this because it’s stopped being funny. It’s heartbreaking on both sides.
5. You have sex on a schedule.
We’re all busy. It seems well-intentioned to create a schedule for sex. With kids and work, who doesn’t love a planned date night?! I have certainly put “SEX” in the Google calendar I share with my partner. This type of scheduling can be beneficial. But the type of scheduling that is based upon trying to have a “normal, healthy sex life” is a harbinger of disaster.
When someone comes to me and says, “I give my partner sex every week so that I'm not pestered for the rest of the week,” or, “I go down on my partner at least three times a week because I’m not going to be one of those people who never does it!” then I know they are headed for trouble. If you're having sex for these reasons, you're not doing it because you want to. You're trying to conform to some idea of what makes a “healthy" sex life. This will ultimately lead to less intimacy, more performance anxiety, and less enjoyment. The remedy is to get reacquainted with your desire and begin to connect sexually based on your genuine interest in doing so—not based on how long it’s been since your last encounter.
6. You fight with your partner often.
Let’s get real. Sometimes there is a real problem in the relationship that must be addressed—and sometimes this problem warrants a fight. But at least half the time, there's no real problem when we fight. Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “Wait—why are we even fighting?” as you hurl a fresh insult in your partner’s direction?
Most fights between partners who like each other and intend to stay together are a symptom of the desire for more intense contact.
Fighting is a possible sign that you’re not having enough of the kind of sex that gets you as deeply connected as you want to be with each other. (I know, it seems backward.) The answer is not quantity—it's quality.
7. You feel exhausted, overworked, and irritable.
As women, we have too much to do already. My teacher Nicole Daedone calls it the Western women’s mantra: “I work too hard, I eat too much, I diet too much, I drink too much, I shop too much, I give too much. And still, there’s this sense of hunger inside that I can’t touch.” For too many of us, that sense of hunger is going unfulfilled—and instead of feeling nourished by sex, it feels more like a chore than a pleasure.
I tell all my clients, “After sex, I feel as refreshed as if I’d just taken a great nap.” Because the kind of sex I have—and teach—isn’t a chore I perform only for my partner's benefit; It’s a desire-based act I perform for my own benefit and pleasure. If you’re feeling burned-out and tired, it’s a sign that you need more of the kind of sex that feeds your inner hunger (you know, that longing inside that no amount of ice cream can fill).
Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the things you should always be selfish about in your partnerships and the questions that could keep your marriage from ending.