Conflict is inevitable in relationships. One may think that the partner is too strict with the children or too lenient. Couples often have fights over issues like this and solutions to these disagreements can be found. However, there is one area of conflict that many couples avoid arguing about at all costs: differences in sexual desire.
Why are so many people afraid to communicate their sexual needs to their partner? This is the question that Canadian psychologist Uzma Rehman and her team explored in a study on conflict communication in couples.
In the same way that we avoid going to the dentist despite a toothache, we avoid talking with our partner about sensitive topics (and thus we allow problems to escalate).
Instead of communicating our preferences and inquiring about our partner’s, we rely on cultural scripts that tell us how the sexual act is supposed to unfold. Despite our need for a break from routine, we keep our fantasies to ourselves. It’s no wonder that our sex life becomes stale after years of marriage.
Previous research has shown that couples avoid these conversations because they perceive it as threatening in three different ways:
– Threatens the relationship. People fear that arguing will irreparably damage the relationship. In other words, they value their relationships even when they are not happy.
– Threatens the couple . People fear that arguing will harm their partner’s feelings. That is, they care about the well-being of their partner, even when they are unhappy with the way their relationship is developing.
– Threat to oneself. They fear that talking about it will make them vulnerable. If they reveal too much about themselves, they worry that their partner will disapprove. We need our partner’s approval and the fear of losing her is one of the main reasons people avoid talking about sensitive topics.
In their study, the experts asked a group of couples to imagine themselves in a conflict situation with their partner (a non-sexual problem about sharing housework or a sexual problem about the frequency of intimacy). Afterwards, they answered a questionnaire.
On the one hand, the results showed that sexual conflicts are similar to non-sexual conflicts, in the sense that the three types of fear – or dangers – were high. On the other hand, sexual arguments had even higher levels of perceived threat to themselves than non-sexual confrontations.
In summary, this study showed that the main reason people avoid talking to their partners about sexual problems is because they consider such discussion to be a threat to themselves.
Reasons why couples shy away from arguing about intimacy issues
First, on many occasions, sex is seen as an embarrassing topic of conversation.
Second, sex education is still far from adequate.
Due to our shame and ignorance when it comes to sexual matters, we feel especially vulnerable and do not reveal our secret fantasies to our partners. Since we believe that our desires are strange, we assume that our partner will feel the same. Also, our urges seem to come from our inner core, and we feel like we have no control over them. When we dare to reveal secret fantasies only to have them reprimanded, we feel like our partner rejects who we really are, so we prefer to keep our mouths shut instead.
People who have the courage to discuss intimacy issues with their partners are generally happier in their relationships.
Conflict is inevitable in relationships, and issues of intimacy are among the most difficult to deal with. And yet the conflict itself is not a sign that the relationship is in trouble. On the contrary, if both members of the couple approach the discussion with the desire to solve the problem, the relationship will end up strengthened.
Reference: Rehman, US, Balan, D., Sutherland, S., & McNeil, J. (2018). Understanding barriers to sexual communication. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1177 / 0265407518794900.