Sex, romance, and relationships, all go hand in hand and are integral to our health. A healthy sex life forms an integral part of our romantic relationships and while sex is not the most important component, sex-related problems remain one of the primary causes for unhappy or failing relationships. Some of the most common problems in the bedroom include infrequent or absent sex, extramarital affairs, and nowadays often addictive cybersex. But relationships do not necessarily start or end with sex because there is much more to it.
A relationship is a complex multidimensional evolving process which follows a specific developmental path with different stages.1 First there is this hormonal spark mostly followed by the honeymoon phase. Then reality sets in and there might be some disappointment to deal with before stability can be achieved. Each of these relationship stages bring specific challenges and problems and can therefore be affected by many factors.1
Not only sexual problems can have detrimental effects on the relationship quality but plenty of things can kill a romance, such as stress at work, financial problems but also jealousy, lack of communication between the partners and even smaller things such as being attached to your smartphone that can dull real-life interactions and transmit partners the feeling that one is just not interested in them.2
While problems and turmoil are part of any relationship course, long-term feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, and neglect are not. Some people negotiate these different relationship stages relatively easily but some do not and need some support. Here, sex and relationship counseling can help couples improve their relationship in many ways by helping them resolving conflicts, teaching them how to communicate effectively, enhancing their emotional connection, improving their sex life and hence, strengthening their bond. Often, however, people feel embarrassed to see a counsellor and wait too long to take action and risk that their problems aggravate and the relationship becomes even more fragile. Or they have inaccurate assumptions about how therapy works and don´t trust the counsellor or the whole process.
All of this prevents many people from seeking therapy and keeps them stuck, often resulting in relationship break-ups. But it is important to know that couples therapy can provide a safe, structured, and supportive environment in which to explore unacknowledged sexual and other problems and to learn essential tools to promote affection, intimacy, and communication.
Dr.sc. Andrea Burri
European Institute for Sexual Health, Hamburg, Germany
1 Meier A, Allen G. Romantic Relationships from Adolescence to Young Adulthood: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Sociol Q. 2009 Spring;50(2):308-335.
2 Lapierre M, Lewis MN. Should it stay or should it go now? Smartphones and relational health. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication.