Lingering Resentments and the Undoing of Sexual Pleasure

How resentments hurt sexual pleasure

“I’ve always been a highly sexual person. We used to have a great sex life, but slowly something went out in me. Now when Beck [her partner of fifteen years] touches me, I tense up rather than get turned on.” ~ Lucy, age 36

There are many things that can flat-line sexual pleasure and desire—and unfortunately, too many couples in long-term relationships experience a diminished interest not only in sex, but more importantly, they experience a strangulation of their sexual-self. The sexual-self is an important part of one’s identity; it’s the part of you that, under ideal circumstances, is infused with life-affirming feelings and attitudes that seek expression and validation. Sexual desire is one manifestation of your sexual-self; other components of one’s sexual-self might include playfulness, empowerment, excitement, vibrancy, edginess, abandon, sensuality, flirtatiousness, and an enlivened feeling, to name a few.

Your sexual-self, as well as sexual desire and intimacy, require certain relationship conditions to flourish. When these conditions are lacking or violated in some way, desire retreats, sometimes temporarily, at other times, permanently. The erosion of sexual intimacy may occur slowly or rapidly, again, depending on the circumstances of your relationship.

In the case of Lucy mentioned above, her loss of sexual desire occurred slowly as the misunderstandings and breakdowns in communication with her partner Beck mounted over time. As a result, she began to stockpile lingering resentments toward Beck, resentments that forced her sexual-self into hiding.

Are Lingering Resentments Hurting Your Desire to Be Sexual?

Resentments are one of the most inhospitable relationship conditions for desire and sexual intimacy. I’ve worked with many couples who fail to see the connection between not wanting sex for extended periods of time and the existence of underlying resentments. The challenge is that many of us may not always be aware that feelings of resentment exist; and we often fail to see a lack of interest in sex as a symptom of our underlying resentments.

When I asked Lucy if she ever felt resentment toward Beck, she replied, “I don’t think so. I mean, I’m not really angry with Beck at the moment… But I know that I typically avoid feelings of anger.” Many of us confuse anger and resentment, and while related, they are different. Understanding these differences is important in assessing whether resentments are hurting your sex life.

The experience of anger is usually temporary, having a beginning, middle and end. We perceive some transgression (such as feeling ignored or disrespected by our partner) and the fires of anger flare up. It’s hard to ignore anger since it pulls for our attention. And ideally, your anger motivates you to set healthy limits and address the transgression with some type of resolution.

Resentments are the accumulation of unresolved emotional wounding and anger. Unlike anger, resentments don’t have an easily identifiable starting and ending point. They linger and frequently take up residence in the background of our minds (where they can go largely unnoticed). It is behind the veil of consciousness that resentments have their greatest destructive power on both emotional intimacy and sexual desire.

5 Ways Resentments Dampen Desire and Sexual Pleasure

Let’s turn our attention to how underlying resentments negatively impact your ability to be sexual (and feel sexual).

  1. Resentment leads to ongoing defensiveness (either a low-grade defensiveness or an overt defensiveness);
  2. Resentment causes us to wall off our most vulnerable parts of ourself (including our sexual-self);
  3. The energy of resentment is to turn away (disengage) from your partner rather than turn toward him/her with an open heart;
  4. Resentment keeps us in a state of continual frustration and deprivation, as if we exist in an emotional purgatory with no clear escape;
  5. Resentment fuels an ongoing undercurrent of negative energy which shapes our interactions and colors our perceptions of the object of our resentment.

As you can see from the above list, resentments can stand in direct opposition to the openness, sense of adventure and emotional closeness that intimacy and sexual pleasure require.

Lucy’s resentments caused her to pull away from Beck and to close off parts of herself (which diminished her vitality and spiritedness); and she began to feel negative toward him—though she wasn’t fully conscious that this was happening. While unable to articulate her resentments, they spoke through her body—as evident in her intense, adverse physical reactions whenever Beck touched her. In these moments, it was as if her resentments and body screamed, “How dare you touch me! You’ve hurt me so much that I cannot allow you to have me sexually.”

How to Spice Up Your Marriage/Relationship Action Step

So if you (or your spouse/partner) are struggling with issues of lowered sexual desire or a lack of sexual pleasure, take a few self-reflective moments and ask yourself:

  • “How safe do I feel with my partner emotionally?”;
  • “Based upon our relationship history, what do I anticipate if I allow myself to be emotionally and sexually vulnerable?”
  • “If I feel myself pulling away (a disengaging energy toward my partner), what underlying resentments might exist to explain my reactions?”

Remember, while there are many factors that can negatively impact sexual desire and pleasure, too frequently couples mistakenly fail to assess how underlying resentments might be standing in the way of a great sex life. Don’t let this common occurrence go unexamined.

(Featured [top] image Relationship Difficulties” by Marin/