For many spouses, external events can negatively affect the sexual context. This generally is the wife, but not always, as this reader’s question shows:
We are working through a sexual refusal pattern in marriage and we are making good progress. Last night I pointed out that I wish sex had been longer but since we had very limited time I’m glad that we just had sex. To which my husband said, yeah, it’s good that we had sex considering we went to the hospital [to see my grandma who is recovering from a fall]. This sparked a conversation where I discovered that ‘unsexy’ external factors such as going to a hospital, animal shelter, etc. Impact my husband’s desire to have sex. In other words, if has had to do something or go somewhere unpleasant he finds that he will think about that thing and not want sex. I don’t relate to that very much – I mean I can talk about a family member’s terminal and progressive illness at dinner but then turn around later that night and still have sex without the sex being seriously impacted (although I may find myself with a fleeting thought about it). Anyway, here is the question: in your opinion, how common is it that external circumstances outside of our control put a damper on intimacy? And, what are some strategies and tactics for overcoming these roadblocks and continuing an intimate/sexual relationship with your spouse? (Before you think I am heartless, realize that I am not looking for a perfect set of circumstances to have sex – instead, I accept life will never be perfect and I just want to make the best of it by not letting it affect intimacy with my spouse.)
So, let’s try to answer these questions. I’ll give my thoughts, and I’d love it if our other readers would offer their thoughts in the comments section below.
How common is it that external circumstances outside of our control put a damper on intimacy?
I think it’s extremely common. Again, this typically occurs in women, but that’s not always the case. As I’ve been saying for the past while, sex drive is far more complicated than just a simple “high” or “low”. Part of the ability to become aroused depends on our brains determining what is and what is not a sexual context. And, part of that mechanism is controlled by stress.
As well, we each have our own “triggers” for what hits our sexual accelerator pedal vs our sexual brake pedal. It seems that the reader above might have a very unsusceptible brake pedal, meaning, not many things put the brakes on sex. Her husband’s, on the other hand, seems to be quite sensitive. As well, stress can affect how our brain picks up these triggers as well. For the vast majority of the population, stress makes the brain notice brake triggers far more easily than accelerator triggers. In fact, what is normally an accelerator trigger can become a brake trigger in stressful situations. For the rest of the population, the opposite is true: in stressful situations, the accelerator is more sensitive.
And it’s completely understandable that you have trouble relating to the other side. Your brains are wired completely different. It’s hard to recognize that it’s the same systems, just configured in different ways when the end result is the complete opposite effect.
What are some strategies and tactics for overcoming these roadblocks and continuing an intimate/sexual relationship with your spouse?
The first is for both of spouses to recognize why it happens. Once we understand how our brain works, we can sometimes override it. But that’s hard to do if you don’t know what’s going on. Sometimes even just knowing makes a difference. As well, this reader’s husband is probably more than a little stressed or anxious about the fact that he’s a man exhibiting behaviours that more often show up in the other gender. That can feel emasculating, which can be terrifying for men.
But, it doesn’t mean he’s not a “real man”. It just means his brake trigger is a little more sensitive. If you have a touchy brake in a muscle car, it doesn’t make it more feminine. It just means it has a touchy brake that you need to be aware of and adjust accordingly.
So, how can you adjust?
The biggest thing is to reduce the stress. If something happens that causes the stress to go up, something that is “unsexy”, then give it time to transition. Don’t just try to jump from “unsexy” context to sexy context. It can take a few hours to switch gears for some. As well, you might be able to shorten the transition by talking through what is going on. This allows the open loops floating around in the brain to be closed. It gives resolution and closure to the topic. It stops the brain from playing the “what-if” game which can easily derail a sexy context. In this way, stress can actually be released instead of becoming more chronic and holding on. It’s like releasing the emergency brake.
Most people will tell you just to “act sexier” or bring new exciting things in. They’ll suggest basically piling on the accelerator. But, the problem is, if the brake pedal is on the floor, it doesn’t matter how hard to stomp on the accelerator. You still won’t get anywhere. Help your spouse release the brakes, and you’ll find you get much further.
I hope that helps. Readers, please share your thoughts below.Have a Question? Ask it here!