Find the words and reap the rewards
When communication breaks down in a relationship, so does the desire for sex.
Lack of physical intimacy inside a relationship can cause depression, anger, disinterest, and boredom.
I’ve been there.
While sex isn’t the most important part of a healthy relationship, it is an essential part of feeling close to our partners.
When we are unsatisfied with our sex lives, the problem is usually not the lack of sex and intimacy itself but the meaning behind it.
It feels sad and worrying to be rejected when you reach out to your partner for physical affection, and they turn you away. Or when weeks go by without any initiation for closeness.
What’s Really Behind the Desire for Sex?
If you want sex from your partner, what is it that you are actually reaching out for? I’ll bet that most people who are approaching their partners for sex are not hell-bent on having an orgasm. Everyone knows we can give ourselves one of those at any time.
At its core, sex is about wanting to feel close, wanting to feel seen, wanting to feel loved and important.
It’s understandable that over time, in relationships, it gets easier to take each other for granted and stop ‘seeing’ the person we share our lives with every day.
Why is it that in our relationships, when we start to talk about problems with our intimacy, we tend to get stuck on the words? The stakes seem so high. The fear of vulnerability and sharing our needs and honest thoughts can be overwhelming.
There’s also the fear of being rejected, dismissed, or misunderstood. Sometimes, it can feel easier to accept what is happening rather than initiate a difficult conversation and not get the outcome we are looking for.
Relationships and marriages are incredibly complex entities.
In the first few years, relating to each other is fairly easy. You are in the beginning stages of getting to know each other properly. Even if there is conflict, things are patched up quickly, and you don’t need overly heavy discussions.
Slowly, as the reality of building a life together sinks in, the need to communicate effectively gets more critical. Throw parenthood into the mix, and the need gets even greater.
But wait, hang on!
I was never taught how to ask someone for something I needed physically or emotionally. I wasn’t taught how to cope if that person said no when I finally got the courage to ask.
How many of us have expressed a need to our partners after working up the guts to do it for so long, only to have them completely misunderstand what we’re asking for or dismiss what we are asking for because they don’t rate it as being important?
Denial as a Coping Mechanism
I always considered myself to be a good communicator. When things were fractious in my marriage or I needed something, I was proactive about initiating conversations to work through it and improve the situation.
When I look back with the benefit of hindsight, I know I wasn’t brave enough to get to the real core of why things were breaking down. I stuck to the surface level — the ‘in your face’ part of the problem.
I didn’t have the guts to admit that I didn’t want to have sex. That I didn’t feel seen, important, heard, loved. When it came to the real issue, I just couldn’t find the words I needed.
As time went on and our kids took the bulk of our attention and energy, our intimacy was almost nonexistent.
We were stuck in a loop of sweeping everything under the carpet to avoid having a brutally honest conversation about what was really going on between us.
The disconnect slowly grew and took on a life of its own.
I used blame to make myself feel better. “He never brings things up. He always shuts me down. He never wants to talk about the real issues”.
Looking back, though, I realize there was a payoff for me. By blaming my ex for not bringing things up, I could continue to hide and avoid painful conversations myself.
By the time we were in marriage counselling, it was too late. The damage and hurt we both felt were irreparable. As much as we tried everything we could to save our relationship, we had to accept that it wasn’t possible.
To this day, I don’t know what my ex-husband thinks about all of the above. Does he wish he’d been able to tell me how he was feeling deep down?
Couples who are struggling with a lack of physical intimacy can usually trace the issue back to unresolved relationship issues that have been simmering in the background.
So, How Do We Get Better at Communicating To Improve Our Sex Lives?
If we are going to go forward after our divorces and have quality, healthy relationships that don’t end up unravelling because of the same patterns of relating, what do we need to be brave enough to change?
I’ve learned that when a conversation seems scary and hard, that’s an indication that you should definitely have it. If your partner isn’t willing or isn’t able to understand your point of view (or vice versa), then talk to a coach or therapist sooner rather than later.
We tend to think of relationship counselling as the last resort when things are going wrong, but we shouldn’t use it as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
It’s okay to seek support for communication in our relationships.
Unfortunately, nobody teaches us how to address these types of problems when we are younger. We aren’t taught how to tell someone we feel unseen, rejected, disinterested, or bored.
Nobody teaches us that there is an option to go to our partners honestly about our struggles and strategize as a team to improve the relationship.
If more people were explicitly taught how to have difficult conversations with their partners, our relationships would be better. It’s not bulletproof, but many more would certainly have a higher chance of lasting.
Not Just Divorced Couples
Even though there was an obvious communication breakdown with couples who separate, there are countless married people out there who feel isolated and lonely inside their relationships because they’re not connecting with their partners on a deep level.
Many are just living as roommates and going through the motions on auto-pilot. They would love to have more fulfilling connections with their spouses but are stuck in a loop of interacting the way they always have.
They’re too tired or too nervous to open the can of worms that could explode if they express how they are truly feeling.
They don’t trust that they can deal with what may come up once they start the conversation.
After divorce, we want more for our love lives. We don’t want to experience disconnect and lack of intimacy like we did in our marriages.
The goal should be to start getting better and braver with communicating. Every single one of us can become better communicators with intention. It doesn’t just happen.
Past patterns and communication styles will persist unless they are challenged and actively worked on.
Open, honest, and vulnerable conversations lead to intimacy, and intimacy is the glue that holds relationships together in the long run.
Plan for Success
Sex and physical intimacy is the only thing that differentiates a friendship from a romantic relationship. A strong relationship needs both to weather the highs and lows of long-term love.
If you avoid heavy discussions because you struggle to find the right words in a relationship, set a goal to work through those barriers and become more confident in handling high-stakes conversations.
We all want to love and be loved again after our marriages end. And we deserve to set ourselves up to succeed the next time around.
Make learning how to become a better communicator a top priority and give yourself the best chance of having a strong, healthy relationship with a quality partner as you rebuild your life post-divorce.
About Carol Madden
Hello, my name is Carol Madden and I am a certified divorce coach working with clients around the world from my online practice in New Zealand.
I aim to help individuals navigate the often overwhelming emotions and practical considerations of separating from a spouse. I understand the unique challenges that divorce can bring, having been through my own divorce ten years ago.
I believe that divorce can be an opportunity for growth and positive change, rather than just a painful ending. Through my coaching, I help clients gain clarity and confidence as they move forward in their lives.
As a writer, I am excited to share my perspectives on divorce with readers seeking solid support during their separations. Whether providing tips for managing the emotional rollercoaster or offering practical advice for effectively co-parenting, I want to help others through this challenging time.