The spillover effect.

One of the common myths around sex is that it is just one compartment of a relationship. In other words, if everything else in the relationship is good — you get along well, have similar values, enjoy spending time together — then that can overcompensate for what is lacking sexually. However, I have seen time and time again that this is often not the case. That doesn’t mean that having other strengths in the relationship isn’t important and necessary; or that having a strong bond can’t carry a couple through times where sex is not in the picture; or that you can’t be happily committed to someone unless you’re always satisfied in the bedroom. Rather, it’s the misguided notion that the emotional health of a relationship is unaffected by sex.

John Callahan, a cartoonist, once said that, “Sex is like air; it’s not important unless you aren’t getting any.” What a true statement for couples who are struggling with sexual dysfunction and unable to enjoy their sexual relationship. Sex is not just about intercourse or foreplay; it’s about the experience of closeness both physically and emotionally, feeling connected, whole. Thus, when that isn’t there and time continues to go by, it is only natural that it will spill over into other aspects of the relationship and contribute to conflicts. For example, let’s say a couple is fighting over the fact the garbage wasn’t taken out. I have no doubt that if they have been having satisfying sex regularly, the argument will be less intense than if it’s been ten months.

It’s appealing to believe that sex is just one compartment of a relationship because it would mean that as long as everything else is good, the sexual issues will stay in the little messy corner. But the reality is that they don’t. Perhaps if we view relationships with this perspective, especially when giving a listening ear to a friend or assessing your own issues, relationship satisfaction will be seen not as a simple sum of its parts but akin to America’s Great Lakes; separate segments but naturally connected with constant fluidity.

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