This might be a topic that most people may find themselves wanting to read, but also feel a little insecure in doing openly. There is no doubt that relationships (especially the romantic ones), take a lot of work. Sometimes, we might even question our sanity for staying in the relationship after any length of time. There is an element of any romantic relationship for which stress likely draws us into a lack of intimacy for many couples where there is less emotional stability. Yes, I am speaking of sex. When a romantic relationship is strained in some way, or there is otherwise less harmony, sexual activity can tend to be put on a back burner. This is actually quite normal. We lose that desire for intimacy with our partner or spouse when the relationship is not stable or impaired. However, there are still some who think that sex can change circumstances to an issue causing stress. The reality, is that it doesn't change anything. Additionally, the stress of the relationship might even out you at odds with each other in terms of where your minds are about being sexual during stressful situations.
If you are on the side of the relationship not wanting sex when you are feeling stressed, you might be less inclined to care about your partner's needs, as you are busy dealing with your emotions in the disharmony of the relationship. You may or may not be able to put words to your reasons for feeling as you do, but nevertheless there is an absence of desire to be intimate. There might be other issues that are more personal to you that are difficult to discuss, and which have nothing to do with whatever might be an ongoing concern in your overall environment. Communication is key here with your spouse or partner. None of us are really all that good at mind reading, so the more you can keep the lines of communication open and to express your needs or lack of desire for intimacy the better.
If you are on the side of the relationship who thinks that being sexual when times are tough is a way to buffer the stress in your relationship, you might actually find a disagreeable partner. This is obviously not the time to think of your own sexual gratification as a way to create peace in your relationship. For one, it will be short lived. Second, it isn't every effective in solving the stress in the relationship. The sexual encounter might even backfire on you in your attempts to soothe the stress you both are experiencing in your environment. Sexual pleasure should be an expression of joy, but not used as a band-aid when times are tough.
Perhaps the more positive way to go, is to recognize that the stress in the relationship (whatever constitutes the stress) needs to be addressed directly. Understanding what is going on in the relationship, and being willing to work on fixing it, is one of the healthier approaches to dealing with issues that impact your relationship. Communication, strategizing to find solutions, seeking support from friends and family as needed, or even connecting with outside resources are likely to be very beneficial. Rather than think that the issues will simply go away on their own and one can just turn away from the problem, know that ignoring the issues which are causing the stress is likely only going to get worse. We cannot create change by standing still and doing nothing. So we must be present and in the moment of awareness to what is happening - both to ourselves, as well as our spouse or partner.
Developing healthy coping skills in a relationship is a central goal in dealing with stressful issues, and this in turn will help you in overcoming the many challenges you face. Seeking help from a counselor might also be useful in moving through these challenges. We all struggle in solving problems in our marriages, our committed partnerships, or even just basic romance. To move away from the space of a primal sexual behavior as solution to dealing with stressful situations to a place of conscious awareness of problem solving takes effort, maturity, desire, and a healthy approach to living life. There will be time for sexual intimacy when the space in your relationship is emotionally cleaner and the problems are handled effectively. When that time arrives you'll both be likely to enjoy it more than you could possibly imagine.
Shawn Thomas Berthel M.S., is the owner of Life Path Counseling PLLC, and a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. He lives in University Place, Washington.