Does Sex Change the Relationship?
(Column: Sex and Relationships)
Question: My name is Dave and my girlfriend is Sharon. Iíve had a couple of relationships before Sharon that were sexual. Itís also sexual with Sharon in addition to being friends and being there for each other. Sharon and I both have mental illnesses, I have schizophrenia and she has bipolar disorder. My other girlfriends had mental illnesses too. Before having sex in a new relationship, things are fine. After sex, things get so screwed up with strong emotions, jealousy, stupid mind games. I hate it! Is it because we have mental illness that sex messes the relationships up? I think normal people don't change after sex like we do. I love having sex but at the same time I have noticed that it really destroyed all my past relationships and it looks like it's destroying my present one too. We're fighting now more than ever after we started having sex. Can you give me some good advice about this situation?
Michelle says: It is difficult for me to address your personal relationships without greater knowledge of how your behavior changes when a relationship becomes sexual. Without specific information I must address the issues in a general sense. Sex changes relationships- this is absolutely incontrovertible. Whether or not this change is negative depends, in my experience, on the emotional foundation that already exists and the sexual compatibility of the players.
Sexual compatibility is a make or break element for any couple. If one person desires sex much more frequently than the other person, or if the two people have vastly different sexual styles, the couple will have difficulty surviving. In any sexual relationship a great deal of flexibility and communication are necessary but some people are simply fundamentally incompatible. When such incompatibility becomes apparent the relationship is put under a great deal of stress; itís possible that the problems youíre having arise because sex is producing this kind of tension.
Assuming that a basic level of compatibility exists sex can bring a couple emotionally closer to one another. For women in particular sex has been shown to cause a surge in hormones that create an emotional link with their lover. When the relationship lacks a strong foundation these feelings can lead to vulnerability and fear of betrayal. To avoid this sort of reaction itís important that both people feel safe in their sexual experience.
I do not know of any evidence that people with mental illness have more difficulty feeling safe with their sexual partners but it is certainly true that they have more extreme emotional reactions, which could lead to more problems in a relationship following sex. I would recommend that you talk to your girlfriend about your emotional response to sex; communication is nearly always the best approach to any problem in a relationship. Donít give up on sexual relationships; physical intimacy can deepen an emotional bond.
Jenny responds: Love means love and friendship. But sex opens a whole new chapter into a relationship. It sounds like you had it good when no sex was involved. I say take a break from the sex. It will still be there later on in the relationship. You would not like to lose love and friendship just for sex. I agree with you that mentally ill people feel differently towards sex than people without mental illness. If you two are fighting after sex, I suggest you both sit down and write what's wrong or upsetting you and then compare notes. Good luck with the sex issue and be happy that you at least have a partner.