Can I Divorce my Spouse for Withholding Sex?
Despite the ubiquity of jokes about wedding bells serving as the death knell for a couple’s sex life, research shows that the majority of married couples have sex a little more than once a week (or 58-68 times each year). In fact, 7.5% of couples report having sex daily. Though there is no precise “normal” number of sexual encounters for a couple, a sexual relationship that both partners feel satisfied by is important for a healthy relationship. Experts define a sexless marriage as having sex fewer than ten times in a given year. If you have found yourself in this situation, you are not alone; 12% of all married couples report that they have not had sex in more than three months, and more than 6% of married women report that they have not sex with their spouse in over a year. Considering the importance of a satisfying sexual relationship to a successful marriage, is withholding sex grounds for divorce?
What is withholding sex?
The term “sexless marriage” does not solely describe a marriage literally lacking in sexual activity, though seldom or non-existent sex is the central factor. These relationships are usually also marred by repeated ignored or denied advances as well as an overall lack of intimacy. Sexless marriage is physically frustrating and emotionally painful; long-term and repeated rejection can take a severe toll on the rejected spouse’s confidence and self esteem. Withholding sex or using sex as a weapon against your spouse is not only incredibly damaging to the health of the relationship but can also have legal consequences. If you recognize your relationship to your own spouse in this description, it may be time to start considering divorce.
Can I divorce my spouse for withholding sex?
According to legal precedent, marriage implies that there will be a sexual relationship between the partners. Withholding sex can therefore be grounds for divorce. This is often referred to as “constructive abandonment.” Even though the withholding spouse has not physically abandoned their partner, it can be argued that they have spiritually withdrawn from the marriage and therefore is grounds for an at-fault divorce. Considering the intensely personal nature of this action, the lack of witnesses can make it difficult to prove in court. Another tort often mentioned in relation to divorces of this nature is “alienation of affections.” This action is brought against a third party (an extramarital affair, a family member, a therapist, etc.) who is alleged to be responsible for the failure of the marriage. However, this tort has been abolished in most jurisdictions, and as of 2016 is only recognized in 6 U.S. states.
A low sex drive or lack of interest in sexual activity can be caused by a variety of internal and external factors. Stress, lack of time, misunderstandings or disagreements between spouses, medication, depression and lack of sleep have all been reported as reasons for a decrease in frequency of sexual activity or interest in sex. If your spouse is experiencing one of these things, seeking advice from a sex therapist, counselor or medical doctor may help you both positively resolve the issue. It can be grounds for an at-fault divorce if a spouse refuses to seek medication or therapy that may help with sexual issues despite their partner’s encouragement.
Relationship experts agree that a sexless marriage is not, in and of itself, a flawed one. The issue comes when partners are not able to come to an arrangement regarding sexual activity that satisfies both of them, or when one spouse uses sex as a weapon, a tool to be used to reward or punish their partner.
If you have found yourself in a marriage where your spouse is withholding sex, seeking help from a counselor or sex therapist may allow you to resolve the issue before legal action becomes necessary. But if the issues persist or your spouse is unwilling to work through this, you should instead seek the advice of an experienced family lawyer. Withholding sex is a valid reason for divorce; studies rank a happy sex life as the second most important factor in a successful marriage, topped only by faithfulness. While “dry spells” and other sporadic instances of decreased sexual activity are a normal part of any relationship, you do not need to resign yourself to a sexless marriage. Seek the counsel of a family lawyer to find out if divorce might be the right option for you.