Long separations due to deployment, followed by time spent in hospital for treatment and rehabilitation, can put a strain on any relationship, and your sex life may be one of the first things to go. Even if you’re the one who experienced combat injuries or other trauma, your partner may be changed by your experiences as well.
The Hollywood version of homecoming includes you hopping into bed accompanied by the sound of a 60-piece orchestra and a soft fade to black. Reality, as we all know, is quite different. Sex can be put on the backburner by one or both of you, and it can stay there long after you wish it would come off. Here are some common ways that coming home can impact your partner in terms of your sexual relationship.
If you’re dealing with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or other mental health issues, and even if your not, you may not feel up to talking with your partner about what’s going on for you and specifically about sexual matters. Once one partner shuts off sexual communication the other partner can quickly follow, and even after you might be ready to talk they may still feel unable to talk.
Making Sexual Assumptions
Talking about sex is difficult for most of us. The little information you get about sex may not be conveyed to your partner. Because of this your partner may make all sorts of assumptions about your sex life. They might assume that sex is the last thing on your mind and therefore they won’t bring it up. They might assume there are things you won’t be able to do sexually, but are afraid that asking would make you feel bad. They may be struggling with their own sexual problems but feel like it wouldn’t be fair to “burden” you with them. You may also make assumptions about them -- that they don’t want to have sex with you, that they aren’t interested in talking with you about sex, or that they don’t think you should be having sex.
Changes in Sexual Routine
Before deployment, you and your partner may have established a sexual routine which you felt comfortable with. During your separation both of you had to adapt to being alone. For example, your partner may have started to masturbate often or watch more erotic films when you were away and they may be embarrassed to talk to you about it now. Even though many couples continue to masturbate in relationships, few talk about it. Your partners’ discomfort with their new sexual routine may mean they won’t talk about sex at all, creating a much bigger barrier to sexual communication.
Being a Care Provider and a Lover
If your partner is providing some or a lot of help with daily activities because of your disability, it can impact sex. Providing assistance -- particularly with dressing and using the bathroom -- can change the power dynamics in a relationship and make it hard for both of you to relax into sex again. It’s easy to confuse needing help with being helpless, but they are very different. It’s also easy to use the routine of daily living as an excuse not to resume your sexual relationship. Your partner might be responsible for more daily chores than you, but they still have to take 50% of the responsibility for your sexual relationship. And just because they may assist you with aspects of daily living, doesn’t mean you can’t be in control of your sex life.
Disability Is Not the Only Problem
Your partner could have sexual problems all their own that are just now coming out. While they may have been triggered by your injuries or the relief of your return, they may actually have little or nothing to do with your injuries or health. Often we assume that the person with the injury or disability must be the one with all the problems, but this assumption is often incorrect.
Taking It Personally
If you’re experiencing a reduced interest in sex, or if you’re having sex but are emotionally distant, your partner may take this as a personal and sexual rejection. No matter how understanding they want to be, they will have their own issues about sex and the idea that you no longer want to have sex with them can make them pull away. This can start a vicious cycle where you each pull back farther and father.
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