The Role of the Nervous System in Rebuilding Trust After Betrayal

Now more than ever, we are inundated with messages about what it means to have a “good” sex life. In the context of romantic relationships, we get sold the idea that a good sexual connection means sex is frequent, intensely passionate, spontaneous, and usually results in orgasm for all parties. This may sometimes hold true for some couples, but the truth is that in real relationships between real people, sex rarely meets this standard. These myths about sex in relationships can do damage – leading to shame, self-judgment, and even conflict in otherwise satisfying and healthy relationships.

One of the most common issues that couples seek sex therapy for is differences in sexual desire – one partner having more or less desire than the other. The impacts of desire differences can be painful for both partners, who may be left feeling emotionally disconnected, shameful or undesirable, unappreciated or criticized, and managing the hurt feelings that often come with unmet emotional needs. 

Research has suggested that up to 70% of couples experience some degree of sexual desire discrepancy at some point in their relationship. Interestingly, researchers have found that while happily married couples only attributed 15-20% of their success to a “good sex life,” unsatisfied married couples said that their “bad sex life” accounts for 50-70% of their issues.

What does this tell us? It suggests that sexual desire differences are common and what influences the degree to which these differences negatively impact a relationship is how strong and healthy that relationship is to begin with. For many couples, dissatisfaction with their sex life often acts as the canary in the coal mine – when it is present, a couple is often also dealing with issues of emotional connection, communication, and conflict. 

Given how common these differences in desire are, how might a couple handle desire discrepancies to reduce the negative impact they may have on their relationship?

Open Communication about Sex

Open and honest communication is crucial. Couples should create a safe space to discuss their sexual needs, desires, and any concerns they might have. This involves not just talking, but also active listening. Understanding each other’s perspectives without judgment can foster a deeper connection and greater understanding.

Responsiveness and Compassion

Being responsive to your partner’s needs and showing compassion is essential. This means recognizing and validating their feelings even if you don’t fully understand them. Research has suggested that perceiving your partner as responsive can reduce the negative impacts of desire differences on relationship satisfaction by 40%.

Nonsexual Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy doesn’t always have to be sexual. Holding hands, cuddling, or giving a massage can enhance feelings of closeness and connection. These nonsexual touches can create a sense of safety and affection, supporting us in building a more satisfying sexual relationship.

Understanding What Can Worsen Sexual Desire Differences is Equally Important.

Pressure (from self or others)

Feeling pressured to have sex or perform in a certain way can significantly dampen sexual desire and relationship satisfaction. Sometimes pressure is overt, other times we hold unspoken expectations for ourselves and our partners that might be contributing to perceived pressure. It’s important for couples to recognize and work to alleviate any undue pressure.

Unmanaged Stress

Stress from work, family, or other areas of life can spill over into a couple’s sexual relationship. We know that stress is one of the most common factors that reduce sexual desire. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, physical exercise, and the development of a more emotionally supportive relationship can help reduce barriers to experiencing sexual desire.

Unresolved Past Relational Ruptures or Betrayals 

Past betrayals or unresolved conflicts can create a barrier to intimacy. Addressing these issues head-on, possibly with the help of a therapist, can help rebuild trust and improve sexual desire.

While sexual desire discrepancies are common, they do not need to be relationship ending. Finding ways to communicate with empathy and compassion and prioritizing non-sexual physical intimacy can help couples manage desire discrepancies and reduce the negative impact on both the health of their relationship and the mental health of each partner. For many, working through desire differences and towards a more satisfying sex life on their own can feel overwhelmingly difficult. A therapist can offer a supportive space, empathy, and guidance as you navigate rebuilding a satisfying sex life with your partner.

If you find yourself wanting more support whether alone or with your partner, schedule an appointment with me today. At Love Heal Grow we have a variety of other therapists who can also assist you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow today to get in touch with one of our therapists.

maria dimachkie therapist sacramento california

Hi, I’m Maria Dimachkie, therapist for individuals and couples at Love Heal Grow Counseling.

I help​ individuals and couples who have overcome difficult, painful times that have left them feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and fearful of the future. You can experience more fulfillment in your life and relationships! I’m here to support you.

You can read more about me or schedule an appointment here: About Maria

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