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A boy and a girl looking at each other

How could they want to have sex at a time like this?!

Often times you may measure the health of a relationship by the sexual interactions. You’d expect if things are stressful, going poorly or rocky, that sex would be the last thing on most partner’s minds. However, for some people it’s actually the opposite. Sex is something they long for most in these difficult times. It’s a pathway to closeness.

Although, sometimes this drive for physical connection can be frustrating or even invalidating for a partner.          

How can you want to have sex at a time like this?!

That’s what you’re thinking about?

Are you even paying attention to what I’m saying?

I feel like you’re just using me for my body!

Certainly this can come across in tons of negative ways. Navigating this difference in desire can be tricky and even lead to an argument of it’s own if you’re not clear on your intentions.

Honestly, it’s not always about what you think. Actually, in the midst of a crisis sex may be a great tool for your relationship.

Sexual Pursuers

In every relationship there is a partner who pursues more for emotional closeness and one who tends to withdraw slightly from this type of connection. The same can be said about sex drive.

Actually, often times, the partner who struggles with emotional connection tends to find sexual and physical connection more accessible.

While some may find this physical reach superficial, for others, this is their attempt to repair, reconnect and take care of the relationship.

You might find yourself saying, I need to feel close before I can be sexual. For a sexual pursuer, this is their attempt at just that. They want to feel close too!

How do we navigate this?

First off, know that neither one of you is wrong. Verbal expression and physical expression are both acceptable ways to express love and try to heal a relationship rupture. The problem comes in when you try to do one without the other. These two things go to together.

It’s crucial that your physical advances come with verbal intentions. If you don’t connect the emotional intention of your reach with your sexual advance, you leave your moves up to the interpretation of your already distant partner. Sounds risky.

Consequently, partners can jump to conclusions putting the wrong assumptions on these advances. Far from loving, this can appear callous, insensitive and even invalidating.

This ends up in a terrible negative cycle for the partner trying to interpret and the partner trying to repair.

I tried to get close to her and she swatted me away. She must not want to work this out.           

I was so upset and then he tried to start kissing me. It’s like he didn’t even care about what I was feeling.

What’s happening behind the scenes?

Usually physical advances sprout from an awareness that the relationship is in danger. Distance is growing. It’s a way to ask, will you join me again? Come back!

Touch can be a wonderful jumpstart to rekindling connection after a negative cycle. For some people not only is this accessible, but it’s more of a secure way to reach.

I might not be able to say the right thing or have the solution every time, but I do know how to make you feel good and get us close in other ways. Let me help the way I do know.

That’s nice, but I still don’t like when they do that.

Here’s where therapy comes into play. Counseling can help you learn to communicate this to your partner in a vulnerable way which invites them to better meet your needs, rather than a critical way that shuts them down or puts them on the defense. Remember, both of you don’t want to increase the disconnection.

Face it, it sounds like neither of you are fully communicating in these standoffs. You’re not asking for what you need to feel secure with your partner and they’re not stating the deeper intentions of their actions.

If you can learn to share your worries and upset, you partner can share theirs. At Cycles Couples Counseling, we’re willing to bet you’re both probably looking for the same thing in these moments—security and reassurance. It's all about connection.

Nonsexual Pursuers—Stop with the assumptions!

It’s important to voice your hurts and fears in those moments. Reactivity like criticism, accusations or attacks can only further add to an already insecure situation.

Can you tell your partner the story you tell yourself about their actions?

Can you check in with them to see if this is accurate?

Maybe you’ll find you create a discrediting narrative that your partner is just horny and doesn’t care. Maybe you’ll find you’re absolutely right!

Usually though, through these conversations you’ll find your partner is just as scared about the relationship as you are. They care too. That’s actually why they’re acting this way. Sometimes sex the only way they know how to reach to you in attachment panic.

Take this as a compliment!

In their time of greatest need, they want YOU.
YOU are the one they want to be closest to.
YOU are their safe harbor.
YOU are their comfort.      

Sexual Pursuers—Share your emotional intention!

There’s nothing wrong with using sex to reconnect with your partner. It’s important, however, that there’s dialogue to go with this. A physical reach needs to be paired with a verbal explanation to be safe.

You may feel rejected and hurt when your partner shuts down your advances. On the outside this often appears as anger, or anxiety.

Can you share with your partner the impact this distance from them has on you?

It seems like it’s powerful. Can you let them in on how much they matter?

Knowing being away from them or on bad terms with them makes you upset, can let them in on the fact they’re important to you. You do care. Otherwise, you wouldn’t feel this way. Without your words, your actions can look empty and self-serving, rather than relationship repairing.

Why can’t we have both?

A healthy romantic relationship has both emotional expression AND sexual connection. A strong emotional bond just makes you best friends. A great sexual chemistry just makes you a hook up. However, both these qualities together make the magical type of relationship we call romantic.

You deserve the closeness. You deserve the pleasure. You deserve the safety.

If you want an intimate relationship you need to be able to navigate both facets and engage in them simultaneously. If you want to build and maintain security, vulnerable discussion is your key to closing the gap on disconnection.

For help on broaching this topic with your partner schedule a free counseling consultation today!

Learn more about Sex & Intimacy Therapy in California.

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