In my last post, I wrote about the importance of forgiveness for maintaining couple bonds, and noted that old resentments were often the root cause of relationships becoming sexless.
If you’re in a couple and have eschewed sex because of simmering and unhealed resentment, you might be surprised to find that your specific bitterness about a particular issue is very common. That understanding sometimes is helpful in the healing and forgiveness process.
Here are a few common events that can lead to sexual shutdowns:
• Resentments over what happened at the wedding
• Resentments over postponed parenthood, infertility, or miscarriage
• Resentments over what happened post childbirth
• Resentments over lack of loyalty in family squabbles
• Resentments over workaholism
• Resentments over one partner making a sacrifice to further the career of the other
• Resentments over lack of support when a partner is facing a medical problem or injury
Even in cases where you are tempted to hold on to your anger and hurt, forgiveness is possible. And with healing, the sexual relationship can mend, often becoming stronger than it was before the injury.
Let me give you an example.
Sara and Seth seemed like a very “together” couple, but the moment Seth opened his mouth to complain about their sexual relationship, I knew I would have a challenging time with them. Both of them were in their mid-30s, and they had a 6-year-old son named Jake.
Seth reported that since Jake’s birth — a difficult one with a long labor and some vaginal tearing — their sex life had vanished.
He obviously felt hurt and rejected. But as often happens, feelings came out as hostility. He talked about the fact that he felt like he gave Sara a good life, that Jake was a great kid, and that everything about their life looked perfect on the outside. He described how proud he felt of how beautiful Sara was and spoke angrily about the fact that he saw men watching Sara whenever she was out in public. When, in fact, he “wasn’t getting any.”
Needless to say, Seth’s comment did nothing to endear him to Sara. She felt that his need for sex was based in his competitive feelings with other men, rather than wanting to be close to her. She felt that his comments were thoughtless and objectified her.
At first, she acted like the reasons for her sexual shut down were vague, or based on Seth’s brash language and insensitivity. But as we talked longer, another powerful reason emerged for her withholding sex.
Seth had gone back to work just a few days after Jake was born. Sara had felt completely abandoned. She had underestimated how exhausting it would be to take care of a newborn, and Jake was a colicky baby. Sara’s own mother had died of cancer the year before Jake was born. Sara told me she had called Seth at work, almost every single day, crying in the early months, and that Seth had not been supportive.
Seth objected, saying that he had offered to have his mother come and help Sara. But Sara refused because she didn’t like his mother.
Then Seth offered to hire a nurse to help out. What he didn’t do was offer to come home from work and take his turn at soothing Jake. (In fact, he did get her a baby nurse for the first three months.)
The more Sara talked with me as a mediator, the better Seth could listen to her.
She explained that she had felt alone and like a failure when she had such a hard time taking care of baby Jake. And the recent loss of her own mother made it worse. She knew that had her mother been alive, she would have been there during those early months to help take care of Jake.
Over the course of several weeks, with me working as mediator, Seth was able to listen to Sara without becoming defensive. And eventually, something wonderful happened: Trust was restored.
When Sara and Seth finally made eye contact at the end of the third session of “unpacking” this ugly bundle of mutual anger, each had tears in their eyes. They kissed.
From that point on, their sexual relationship resumed. Within a few weeks, they were done with therapy. They promised to check back in with me if the sexual relationship got stuck, but they never needed to come back.
Honestly, as therapists, that’s our goal: To put ourselves out of a job.
If you realize that you are holding on to toxic indignations, think about forgiveness. Couples therapy and sex therapy can help even if the problem is decades old
Once again, here is a wonderful article by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu. In it is a magical meditation to help you begin the process of forgiveness.
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