In the beginning, your wife was charming and quite appealing. You had no problems with intimacy. Your wife couldn't keep her hands off of you. You felt desired, cherished and loved. Before long, the atmosphere changed. Your wife became less and less interested in sex. Your wife is still charming and appealing and your level of desire hasn't changed but that person who once seemed so giving sexually has now become rather stingy with her affections. You find yourself wondering, "what happened?"
The role sex plays in a marriage.
Sex is a way of connecting to your wife emotionally and physically. It builds a bond that promotes closeness and emotional intimacy. Sex is the glue that holds a marriage together. Some would disagree but it's my opinion that the sharing of intimate pleasure in a marriage enables couples to bond more deeply as friends. That friendship will sustain the marriage as we age, our bodies change and our need for the sexual connection lessens. Sex is what separates a couples relationship from all other relationships. A marriage without sexual intimacy and friendship will eventually sputter and die.
Why withhold sex as punishment?
Withholding sex is about control. It's a passive/aggressive way of expressing anger. Someone who withholds sex will imply by their actions that they have a lot to give. They are, by all outward indications sincere in their love for their spouse. They hook you in with sincerity and then they cut you off.
They feel in control if they have the upper hand sexually. You are put in the position of being the one who initiates sex. Your spouse doesn't have to do anything in the relationship except show up. All the work needed to develop and maintain a sexual bond is up to you. They don't have to take responsibility for any problems in the marriage, and if the marriage ends they can point a finger at you for being the problem.
What are the consequences of withholding sex?
Sexual rejection, especially by someone who vowed to "love, honor and cleave unto" you is devastating. It leaves you feeling unattractive and undesirable. You may internalize her rejection and blame yourself by thinking you are not attractive enough; sexy enough, thin enough, smart enough. Her actions will give root to unhealthy beliefs about yourself and your value as a person. There is the danger of depression, loss of hope, you may feel old before your time and there is certainly a sense of shame. Shame over the fact that your own spouse does not desire you. This shame keeps you from sharing your problems with someone else. You find yourself with no support system and the growing belief that there is something terribly wrong with you.
Surviving a sexless marriage.
The only way to survive a sexless marriage it is to run from it. I rarely tell people that divorce is their only option. In this case, my experience has taught me that there is little hope for change. Take your damaged self-image, your shame and any unhealthy beliefs you have come to feel about yourself and get out. Once you've done that, find a qualified therapist that can help you take back the power your spouse had to cause you to feel such negative emotions. The damage will die hard and may be slow to repair but with time and work, you will once again feel sexually desirable and attractive.