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Sexual Bereavement: what Happens when a Passionate Relationship Ends? (part 2)

Updated: Jul 3

In the initial aftermath of the breakup of a passionate relationship, emotions can range from shock to relief, from overwhelming sadness to rage, and everything in between, depending on what went before. What I am curious about exploring here is how we process the loss of sexual intimacy in a relationship, especially if the sexual connection between the couple had been intense and joyful and expansive. So much of what is written about relationship failure points to the breakdown of the sexual connection, especially after the birth of children, or in midlife, that precipitates the breakdown of loving communication leading to the demise of the whole relationship. This, however, doesn't always describes the trajectory. Sometimes the sex is good when other things start to fall apart. It can be confusing to work out why the connection in this place of union doesn't maintain the vitality of the rest of the relationship. It can be deeply wounding to realise that even this vulnerable offering of the whole self, body and soul, has not been enough to preserve love. Every relationship is unique so the grief that follows the break down of a sexual relationship is unique. What I noticed for myself, is the feeling that nothing I could give of myself would ever be enough. I felt so deeply and cruelly rejected.

Sexual liberation means that we can enter into sexual partnerships with people we hardly know in ways that would have been taboo or impossible historically. I don't have a moral view on this, but I have come to reflect on what it might mean for the couple as their partnership progresses after a hormonal bond has been created in the very early stages of the relationship. One of the key hormones of love making is oxytocin. It is the same hormone that is produced when a baby is born and is the hormone that aids bonding between mother and infant. The same effect is produced between lovers. This means that we form profound physical and chemical ties with partners who might be fundamentally incompatible with our other life values. As the relationship unfolds, the bedroom might remain a place of connection, but the rest of the relationship spirals into breakdown until the whole thing is untennable.

We can learn something from the spiritual traditions that court sexuality as part of their religious practice. Tantra has come to the west in a hedonistic guise divested of its spiritual roots. Through extended sexual play, sensuality and sometimes rigid heteronormative expectations, couples are encouraged to form intense sexual connections. This can be profound and loving, but as many couples discover, without the deep spiritual and emotional work that, in their native contexts would be the bedrock of these practices, what once felt loving can sour into toxicity as the emotional temperature rises. Sexual arousal, heightens whatever emotions are already present. So, if there was anger, there is more anger; the desire to control, more control; jealousy, more jealousy. We don't need to have participated in a Tantric workshop to have experienced this in our most intimate relationships. What western tantra points to is the idea of sex as an appetite that can be best satisfied through the skillful acquisition of techniques. What we find in practice is that sex is so much deeper, multifaceted and richer than a handful of techniques – the interplay between lovers calls on the deepest parts of ourselves so for good sex to spill over into a loving relationship, there has to be self-mastery of the emotional and spiritual body first.

As intense sexual experiences magnify underlying emotional instability within an individual, the ability to maintain equanimity and love in the rest of the relationship can become strained. Love making can soothe the rucus for a while, but in the long run, one partner needs to pull away for their own well-being. No amount of sex, however loving it might feel in the moment can make up for cruelty or emotional disregulation in other parts of the relationship.

This can be profoundly bewildering. In the aftermath of a protracted break up, I have found the Taoist exercises that start with self love, deeply healing. Without the bedrock of self love, whatever sexual intimacy that follows is on shaky ground. Navigating future relationships is also safer from a foundation of self love because it means we are unlikely to allow ourselves to create an oxytocin bond with someone who doesn't value respect, humility and compassion.

I have also found that looking back at the relationship that brought me so much pain through the lens of the Grief Recovery Method has enabled me to see clearly what I need to do to bring completion and peace to my heart today.

If you would like to find peace and healing after the break up of a passionate sexual relationship, book a free call with me to discover how the Grief Recovery Method can help you.

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