When it comes to relationships, we talk about sex a lot. A lot. When I was single, it was hard not to imagine the health and wellness of my future relationship was all about how we performed in the bedroom. Even as a married person, I am constantly bombarded by advice on how to improve our sex life, with an implicit (or explicit) claim that doing so will improve the relationship as a whole. Indeed, sometimes it seems our culture is communicating that your sex life is your relationship!
If your relationship is struggling, maybe (just maybe) it is not about sex. Maybe you are bad at it or interested in it or confused about what is normal. But I think the narrative missing about healthy relationships is the fact that sex is not that important. And if we are looking to heal relationships, even if we are looking to heal our sex life, it is most often a deeper issue that needs to be addressed first.
The major struggle in relationships is communication. In fact, sex itself is a kind of communication. A manifestation of the intimacy of the relationship.
If you are struggling in your relationship, the first thing you have to do is talk about it. There is so much we don’t communicate (and so much we communicate without being aware of it).
We aren’t listening to one another. Our intimacy issues go a lot deeper than the physical. And if we are having trouble with sex, it may be an indication that we are not communicating in our relationships to full capacity.
The reason we talk about sex so much is because, well, it is easier. It’s easier to talk about the physical than the emotional. Everything in a relationship, from sex to talking to vacationing, is about values. It’s all about how to share and honor the values of each individual member and how to work together to discover the shared values of the relationship.
Our coping mechanisms are more rightly called self-preservation mechanisms. We have developed a set of traps, walls, and weapons to defend our self, to protect us from the hurts of this world. The soft underbelly is our values. They are what we are trying to guard, to protect.
A lot of times, we use sex as a shield, a way to avoid direct exposure to the vulnerable truths within. We think we can fix our loneliness and confusion and anger by fixing our sex life. The truth is our sex life is transformed by addressing the deep values of a relationship, not the other way around.
Sex is not a skills competition. Figuring it out is not how to win a relationship. It is not the value of a relationship. It is not the source of communication, but a side effect of it. If we keep treating symptoms, the disease will spread. If we rely on our sex life to be the solution to our ailing relationships, our woes will simply find new ways to manifest themselves.
Sex is beautiful and wonderful. But it is only a piece of a relationship. It cannot define what two people mean to each other. At best, it can reflect it. Maybe your relationship is about more than sex. A lot more.