I received a question recently about the topic of make-up sex. It’s something I’ve been thinking about as well for the last year or so, so I’m glad they brought it up.
Here’s the question (used with permission):
Today at church, I was in the baby nursery, and talking with other moms while we held little ones. I related that my husband and I had finally had a “good fight.” After 10 years of marriage, we’d made it through a topic of conflict, without stopping and resenting each other or turning our house into a frigid passive-aggressive ice castle. We’d raised our voices but had kept our good humors and finished the fight. Success!
The other moms were impressed. We compared notes about how fights usually happen. Misunderstanding. Something hurtful said or implied. Silence. Chill environment. Sex hiatus.
When we came to the bit about a sex hiatus everyone nodded vigorous agreement. This isn’t a group I had expected to chime in about the topic of sex but everyone seemed relieved to know it wasn’t just them.
Later, I related this story to my husband. “What?” He exclaimed, “I was hoping we could finally try makeup sex. Is that not really a thing?”
It certainly hasn’t been for us. In fact, in previous years even after we’d makeup sometimes it took a while for me to enjoy sex again. That’s improved with having support through your site. Thank you God.
So here’s my question: is makeup sex the exception for folks? I’d never considered that my experience might be the common one- of makeup sex being a total unicorn. Maybe it’s something to do with folks that like my hubby and I tend to “fight” with silence and the withdrawal of affection. What do you think?
Thanks! – Hannah
So, is make-up sex a myth? I remember asking the same thing myself because make-up sex doesn’t really exist in our marriage either. In the past, we typically had sex despite having an argument, not because of it. More recently we’ve learned to have discussions rather than arguments. We’ve learned to handle conflict without damaging the relationship. As a result, never have to “make-up”, because we haven’t broken anything.
1. Make-up sex according to attachment theory
Why does make-up sex occur? According to attachment theory, as I understand it, make-up sex happens in this sort of progression:
- You have a strong emotional and physical connection to your spouse
- You have an argument with your spouse that makes that connection feel insecure
- Your brain sees this as a threat to your survival and/or well-being and seeks to find a way to repair the relationship
- You suddenly become extremely attracted to your spouse as a method instigating sex
- Sex occurs and the relationship feels repaired again
This has some conditions:
2. You have to have a strong connection to your spouse
If your connection to your spouse is already broken, strained, or you are drifting apart then you may not feel that an argument has damaged it. If it’s already in pieces, then another crack isn’t going to make much of a difference. There won’t be the sense that the relationship can be repaired by having sex again. Likewise, if the relationship was never strong, then you won’t feel the loss of security. While sex can create a sense of security, if the connection isn’t strong, you won’t feel that desire.
Note: it doesn’t have to be a healthy relationship, just a strong connection. There are plenty of people in very unhealthy relationships that still have a lot of make-up sex. Just because the connection is strong, doesn’t mean it’s stable. In fact, a strong connection with lots of instability will yield even more make-up sex, in theory.
3. You have to feel the relationship needs repairing
There are three scenarios where this may not be the case.
The first is that you don’t feel the argument has harmed your relationship. Just because you have conflict and are at odds, doesn’t mean you’ve damaged the relationship. Healthier relationships are more elastic and can be stretched without being damaged. So, even if you are feeling hurt, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you think the relationship is hurting. If you are still feeling the relationship is stable, you may not feel a strong push to repair it, as it’s not damaged. Instead, your feeling hurt will be the stronger emotion, which will push to keep you apart while you heal.
The second is if the conflict has damaged the relationship too much to be repaired by sex. For example, if you catch your spouse in an affair and they are unrepentant. Having sex isn’t going to resolve that conflict. You may not feel the desire for make-up sex in that case. There has been too much betrayal and damage done. There are other marriages where affairs have occurred and have been healed by sex, after repentance and forgiveness.
The last scenario is that you have a weak attachment mechanism. My parents didn’t really practice attachment parenting and so I don’t attach to others easily. When our marriage had a lot of conflicts early on, and its stability was shaken, my first instinct was to draw away, not draw towards my spouse. I’d rather go sit in front of the computer and disconnect from the world rather than try to reconnect with my spouse. Truth be told, that’s still how I prefer to deal with conflict outside of my marriage: by disconnecting. I have to fight against that instinct. These days I’m quite attached to my wife, but we no longer have conflicts that cause insecurity, and so make-up sex still isn’t a thing for us.
4. Make-up sex is a warning
Make-up sex is a good and useful mechanism for repairing a healthy relationship. However, it should also be taken as a warning. Something just happened that threatened the security of the marriage. Something is causing you to feel it needs repair, and that needs to be addressed. While sex might help you repair and just move past it, there’s a good change whatever conflict kicked the cycle off is going to come around again.
If make-up sex is occurring there are one of two possibilities:
- The marriage is unstable and simple conflicts cause one or both spouses to feel insecure. This might just mean you have a young marriage that hasn’t grown into security yet. But, it might mean you never grew into security, or there are some fundamental structural issues with the marriage that should be worked on.
- The conflict itself is serious and needs to be addressed as a serious conflict. Find the root cause and deal with the real conflict. Find a way to do it in a way that doesn’t create instability in the marriage. Read How to resolve conflict more effectively to help you start to communicate in a way that will move you forward. And practice active listening to help resolve the conflict.
If you don’t treat it as a warning, make-up sex might be shoring up your marriage past some smaller conflicts. But, eventually, you will deal with a major conflict that you won’t be able to band-aid with make-up sex. If you don’t have the skills to handle it because you’ve been relying on a stop-gap, then you may be in for a difficult time.
5. Is make-up sex a myth?
Yes and no. Make-up sex exists, and it can be a helpful mechanism for repairing relationships. What is a myth is the Hollywood portrayal of make-up sex. TV and movies would have you believe that every couple has make-up sex and that it’s a normal part of any marriage. The truth is, make-up sex only occurs in specific instances and is a warning sign. Something unhealthy either has occurred, or is occurring, or that the marriage hasn’t reached maturity yet. Either way, there’s work to be done.
At least, that’s my take on it. What’s yours?
4 thoughts on “Is make-up sex a myth?”
I can’t imagine being interested in lovemaking when I’m recently ticked at my wife. It takes a few days to get back to that stage.
Hmmm!! This definition of “makeup sex” is rather technical. When we were first married, I could say three critical words and my wife would have a three day standoff (I could get over it in minutes). This resulted in no sex for days. We had to makeup before we had sex. (not sure this fits your definition). Over the years we shortened our standoff to a few hours before we could have sex. Recently, I have made some critical or absentmindedly mean remarks and expected no sex for awhile. However, when we went to bed, my wife initiated with me, and I of course responded. (Is that makeup sex?) I am not sure we made up before sex, or if sex was the indication that we had already forgiven each other.
I think the nature of the conflict has a lot to do with if make up sex is an appropriate way to end it. When we become emotionally attached to somebody, we are vulnerable towards them as well. If they use that vulnerability against us, intentional or not, then the natural desire is to pull back emotionally, become less vulnerable towards them in self defense. In a case like that, AFTER the conflict is settled to the satisfaction of both, make up sex is a way of re-opening that vulnerability and renewing the relationship, both the apology and the forgiveness are sealed in a physical and emotional bond. That I consider healthy.
Other conflicts, say like a disagreement on who to vote for or something else doesn’t really touch on that vulnerability, so there should be no need for make up sex. Just have sexy sex instead.
Using sex to manipulate a spouse into giving up a conflict, or trying to bury a conflict with sexual pleasure rather than resolve it is something toxic in the long term.
I wouldn’t say that my husband and I have makeup sex. But, we do look at having sex together a day or two or three days after a fight as a meaningful way of reconnecting and showing our love and trust for one another. I’ve never understood the typical makeup sex, but this is what helps us and it’s always really meaningful and good.