How Stress Impacts Sex in Marriage and How to Rekindle Passion

How Stress Impacts Sex in Marriage and How to Rekindle Passion July 2, 2023

It’s common for married couples to complain of leading busy lives and not feeling energized enough to have sex at the end of a long day. The causes of stress for couples include increasing workloads, financial pressures, lack of trust and insecurity, and growing conflicts within their relationship. Most of the couples I’ve counseled also described how extreme fatigue negatively impacted both the frequency and quality of their sex lives.

In fact, in Come As You Are, sex researcher Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. explains that half of the women studied by experts’ report that stress, depression, and anxiety decrease their interest in sex; and also reduce sexual arousal and can interfere with orgasm.

How o the hormones and neurochemicals of stress interfere with sexual response, to either suppress or stimulate sexual behavior? Dr.Emily Nagoski suggests that the findings are uncertain but we do know that stressed-out humans interpret all stimuli as threats and that the brain can only handle so much input at one time. Seen in this light, the stressed-out brain suffers from information overload and is striving to guarantee survival. Since the main focus of an overwhelmed brain is subsistence, and it can’t easily flee from threats from perceived predators or fight them off, people typically freeze or go into shut down mode to conserve energy and resources.

As a result, it’s natural for people to prioritize their activities and sex probably isn’t going to be at the top of their list. In fact, even if stressed out couples decides to have sex, it probably won’t feel as pleasurable because they may feel somewhat numb or emotionally unavailable due to chronic stress.

Dr. Nagoski suggests that the anecdote to stress overload is regular exercise, good sleep habits, and healthy communication with your partner and loved ones. She explains that stress reduces sexual interest in 80 to 90 percent of people and sexual pleasure in even more individuals.

If you want to rekindle the passion in your marriage, the first step is becoming more comfortable with sensual communication. This requires an interest and willingness in expressing more of your sexual desires and having a positive attitude about your ability as a couple to get and give pleasure without judgment or criticism. It’s a matter of changing yourself rather than waiting for your partner to initiate sex or even meeting each other half-way.

 7 tips to rev up the love and passion in your marriage or intimate relationship:

  1. Plan exciting and novel dates with your partner. Try something like hiking or kayaking that’s outside of your comfort zone. Be sure to extend your dates into the bedroom.
  2. Schedule frequent dates – no kids. The timing may not be spontaneous but your activities can be. Kids are incredibly resilient and they’ll make out fine with a babysitter once a week or spending time with family members.
  3. Resolve conflicts skillfully. Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy a relationship. Learn to air your differences and compromise so that both of you get some (but not all) of the things you desire. Avoid trying to prove a point and remember you’re on the same team. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to dodge it are at the risk of developing stagnant relationships – so learn to accept this and manage it instead.
  4. Tune into your sexy side. You can do this by treating yourself to a special night out or massage. Find ways to tell your partner “you’re sexy,” while avoiding critique after sex.
  5. Be sure to go bed at the same time as your partner. Studies show that going to bed at different times can be a sign of avoiding intimacy. Author Jill P. Weber writes: “Emotional intimacy is likely the most important ingredient in long-term fulfillment.” After analyzing data from the Grant Study – the longest longitudinal study in human development – Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger found that couples who are the happiest and physically healthiest in old age are those who maintain close and intimate relationships.
  6. Allow tension to build with foreplay. Our brains experience more pleasure when the anticipation of the reward goes on for some time before we get the actual reward. So take your time, share fantasies, and change locations for sexual intimacy.
  7. Let your children know that your relationship with their other parent is important. You can convey this through warmth, affection, and spending time away from them with your partner.

Making your marriage a priority will pay off for you, your partner, and your children in the long run. For your marriage or romantic relationship to thrive, it’s important to create daily rituals of spending time together (such as cuddling on the couch), practice being gentle and kind, and learn to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Even if you’re not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection and emotional intimacy can help you to rev up the passion and sustain a deep, meaningful bond.

Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

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