By Mark Goldberg, LCMFT, CST
The work demands of the 21st century are difficult for many people. Gone are the days of a stable, life long job at a single employer with job security, benefits and pensions. The economy is rapidly evolving and with it comes job and career insecurity and increased demands for productivity. It goes without say that many workforce participants are stressed.
Stress management is a critical skill for people to develop and there has been growing energy focused on this need as well as work/life balance and self care. Despite these efforts many people are working harder and are more stressed than ever before and this can have detrimental effects on individuals, couples and families.
People are wired for social connection and many people seek to meet primary connection needs with a single, long-term partner. To make long term relationships feel safe, secure and connecting people need to invest into them. This requires time and emotional energy. Stress, worry and other preoccupying concerns can erode the positive elements of a relationship over time.
When work stress starts to impact relationships, it can have a detrimental effect on sexual intimacy. For many couples, sexual connection is part of how they work on and strengthen their bond. When this important component of their relationship is no longer happening or has significantly diminished frequency or quality the relationship can suffer. This can create a compounding loop leading couples down a road that seems difficult to resolve.
How stress impacts sexual intimacy
Stress causes distraction and preoccupation of the mind. Anxiety and worrying thoughts can take the mind away from pleasure, a key ingredient in healthy intimacy, and lead to sexual dysfunction, diminished pleasure and loss of interest in sex. It is very difficult to enjoy sexual activity if a person is worrying about work or business.
Stress causes isolation and distance. When people are preoccupied with work, not only is it difficult to enjoy and feel pleasure, but their partners can also experience distance. Many people experiencing stress will isolate and will be in their heads. Silence and lack of communication can be stressful on the relationship leading to tension, criticism and conflict. Distance can lead to partner loss of sexual desire.
In some instances a partner can maintain sexual interest and may even pursue their partner. Some people attempt to relieve stress through sexual activity. However, partners are sometimes left feeling objectified with their partner only interested in physical and sexual intimacy but not willing to communicate or bond in other ways.
This stress can carry over into issues such as psychogenic erectile dysfunction in the bedroom.
What can you do about it?
If you are struggling sexually, stress reduction efforts are important. Many people lose connection with pleasure during these times and reestablishing your relationship with pleasure can also help. Many people benefit from activities outside of their routine or home environment that help to reduce stress and break up the monotony.
If your partner is struggling with the impact of your stress, there are ways to help them and protect the relationship. The person you are in a relationship with needs to know that they are important to you, appreciated and loved. Even in stressful situations, like chronic work stress, this expression can be very impactful. Other ways to help the relationship are gifts, acknowledgment, and date nights.
Doing something is often more helpful than encouraging your partner to wait for things to get better for you. Of course, this is easier said than done and people experiencing sexual challenges in the context of work stress can benefit from talking with a therapist.