Why Avoiding Conflict Can Kill Sexual Desire
By Nancy Wasson, Ph.D.
Do you think you’re being a “good” spouse if you stifle your irritation or negative feelings in order to keep the peace in your marriage? And would you be surprised to learn that avoiding conflict can cause you to lose your sexual desire for your mate?
Many times, lack of fights, disagreements, arguments, and dissention is strongly connected to lack of passion and desire. I’m certainly not advocating open war with “no holds barred” because that kills passion and desire, also. But the absence of heated arguments is often correlated to the absence of strong sexual feelings.
Over the years, I have worked in counseling with numerous spouses who have prided themselves on having a calm marriage with few rifts. Usually by the time they came to see me, it was because the marriage felt empty and without passion.
The spouses cared about each other but there was no spark of sexual desire. The spouses felt like siblings or best friends but not lovers. Their relationship was polite, placid, easygoing, routine, and predictably lifeless.
Why does the avoidance of conflict negatively impact sexual desire in a relationship? It would seem that always getting along well would mean better sex, but that’s not the case at all. That’s because the “always getting along well” is just on the surface in many cases.
Buried Emotions Can Kill the Spark in a Marriage
When a couple never has heated arguments or disagreements, it usually means that one or the other is burying their real feelings. At least one spouse, and maybe both, is giving in to the other one, either to keep the peace or because it’s easier than resisting.
Usually, one partner routinely gives in to the other the majority of the time in cases like this. That means that the spouse who is committed to keeping the peace at all costs is not fully expressing his (or her) unique individuality. Something is missing—the butting of heads that occurs when two independent strong-willed people live together and have to compromise and reach agreement about things that they disagree on.
When a spouse stuffs her (or his) angry, negative feelings in a closet and shuts the door, she may think she has handled things in a helpful way. She has preserved the peace and made marital life smoother for the time being. At the time, she may tell herself that her negative feelings don’t matter and that she has done the “right” thing by avoiding conflict. She has been a “good wife.”
But the anger and negative feelings keep growing larger in the dark closet where they have been stuffed away. Eventually, as more anger and negative feelings are put in the closet, they may push open the door and flood out—most likely in an inappropriate way and at an inappropriate time.
It may be something small that is the trigger for the emotional outburst where everything tumbles out into the daylight for all to see. It doesn’t take a lot of big incidents for this to happen—just a bit here and there over time—feelings that are never expressed or dealt with so that the person could be a “good spouse.”
By the time the feelings are finally expressed, resentment and anger have accumulated and have already damaged the emotional intimacy in the relationship. The build up of emotional debris from unresolved issues can smother the flames of passion. And anger growing underground can suck the air and life out of a relationship.
When a spouse tries to stifle her (or his) angry feelings, the vital life force energy and passion is also stifled. It’s not possible to bury negative feelings without also affecting the positive ones. Everything is connected.
If anger and resentment are buried, the capacity of the individual to experience desire and passion is also affected. This includes desire and passion for the partner and for life in general.
One of the tip-offs is the word “should”: “I should be a ‘good wife’ and not disagree,” “I should be a ‘good husband’ and not rock the boat too much,” or “I should always try to keep the peace and avoid causing arguments.” When you find yourself trying to make yourself do something because you “should,” there are probably some other opposing feelings that need to be examined and expressed in an appropriate way.
The key is to express feelings at the time they first emerge but to do it in an appropriate way that allows you and your spouse to deal with them and resolve them. Then you’ll avoid the build up of anger and resentment that can sabotage your sexual relationship and kill your sexual desire. You’ll also avoid the depression that comes from routinely stifling your feelings and preferences as well as the unplanned explosions that can result later on.
The road to great sex starts with satisfying emotional intimacy, and it’s maintained by expressing feelings appropriately and keeping the channels of communication as clear and debris-free as possible. For that to be possible, feelings have to be acknowledged and dealt with, not buried.