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  • Writer's pictureMaria Mohamed

The Impact of Stress on Intimacy and How to Manage It as a Couple

Have you ever found yourselves caught in the exhausting cycle of coming home from work,

feeling drained, and avoiding any hint of intimacy? It's a scenario that many couples can relate to – when the allure of relaxation takes priority over the desire for connection.

While it's entirely normal for couples to experience ebbs and flows in their sexual intimacy as

they journey through life together, it's essential to recognize when these fluctuations become

more than just a phase. When one or both partners consistently feel their emotional and

physical needs remain unaddressed or misunderstood, it can lead to a gradual buildup of

resentment within the relationship.

This accumulating sense of frustration can create barriers that hinder partners from initiating, engaging in, and deriving satisfaction from their intimate moments. Addressing these issues proactively is not only a matter of preserving the connection and vitality of the relationship but also a key aspect of maintaining personal well-being and happiness.

What does stress have to do with sex?

People naturally cycle between states of stress and calm. The Sympathetic Nervous System

(SNS) is what manages our fight, flight, or freeze responds and helps up respond to stressful


When we are stressed, our SNS goes into overdrive and directs all our body’s energy into the

worry at hand. For many people that might be a work project, a hostile school environment, a

busy caretaking role, etc. And, as you can probably guess, this leaves very little mental and

emotional space for playfulness and intimacy.

Not only that, but when our SNS is in overdrive, we are hyperaware of what is happening

outside of our bodies, so paying any sort of attention to pleasure and desire within our bodies is extremely difficult.

So, when one or more partners within a relationship are stressed, sex can start to feel like a

distraction from the worry at hand. And a distraction from the energy that we need to be

spending on managing or solving this worry.

Has stress infiltrated your relationship?

So how do you know when stress has become a protagonist within your relationship?

This can be broken down into 3 domains:

Stress can block the brain’s signals of sexual desire to the body, which can then affect sexual

function and performance.

So, if you start to notice a decrease in physical arousal, that might be a sign that stress is

beginning to control your body.

When one or more partners are stuck in a fight, flight, or freeze response, it can be hard to

build and maintain a meaningful connection. Connection is soothing to our brains, but when

our brains think that they need to be continuously “ON,” any signs of calmness can actually be taken as a threat to our state of hypervigilance.

So, if you’re finding yourself unable to connect with your partner or relax after a stressful day, this might mean that stress is beginning to control your emotional state.


When we are continuously stressed beyond a tolerable threshold, this can begin to breakdown healthy communication patterns within our relationship. Because our stress level is so high in general, we have a lower tolerance for stress within conversations.

So, if you are noticing that your arguments are becoming for painful and intolerable and, more often than not, are going unresolved, this may be a sign that stress is influencing you and your partner’s communication patterns.

Managing Stress Together.

If the lack of intimacy within your relationship is starting to negatively impact you, it is

important communicate that to your partner in a way that is open, honest, and vulnerable. It

could be helpful to reflect on what it is that you appreciate and get out of intimacy, what you

miss, and what you hope will change about your sexual relationship.

During these conversations, it is important that you remain aware of how much vulnerability

and emotional deepening you can tolerate in on seating. If you notice your heart starting to

race, your palms getting sweaty, a lump in your throat, or any other cues from your body that

you are reaching your limit, take a 10–20-minute pause in the conversation. And throughout

this pause, do something that takes your mind off the conversation rather that stewing in the

anger or frustration of the conversation.

Additionally, you and your partner can engage in activities that might help reduce the stress

together such as meditating, going for a walk, or yoga. These options differ from having a

conversation because they are parallel relaxation and stress-reducing activities. However, they still provide the space for you and your partner to co-regulate.

Scheduling Intimacy

I know that scheduling in time block for intimacy isn’t spontaneous and maybe doesn’t even

sound exciting. However, scheduling in time for intimacy ensures that reconnecting with your partner doesn’t get continuously pushed down your to-do list.

Also, it creates a protected time that you can prepare for that is meant for you and your

partner to reconnect. When you create time-boundaries around intimacy, it also ensures that

you don’t feel like your worries are being forgotten or neglected. Instead, they’ll be waiting for you.

Here is a great article that can guide you through scheduling time for intimacy into your


When is it time to go see a therapist?

Seeing a therapist is up to you and what your relationship needs. Seeing a couple’s therapist

doesn’t mean that your relationship is trouble or falling apart. Really, what it means is that you are committed to deepening your bond with your partner. To being in a relationship that is meaningful and fulfilling to you. As well as that you are committed to growing and evolving


Sometimes, that means getting help in the places where you get stuck as couple from

somebody that cares about you and your relationship’s wellbeing.


In the dance of love and life, it's normal to encounter periods where stress takes center stage

and intimacy takes a backseat. When stress becomes a protagonist in your relationship, it can

cast a shadow over your emotional and physical connection.

Recognizing the signs that stress is taking over, whether they manifest physically, emotionally, or through a breakdown in communication, is the crucial first step. It's essential to remember that acknowledging these signs doesn't signify weakness; rather, it's a testament to the strength of your commitment to a fulfilling and meaningful relationship.

The path to rekindling passion and connection starts with open, honest, and vulnerable

conversations. It's a journey that may involve seeking guidance from a therapist who is

committed to your relationship's well-being.

So, don't hesitate to embark on this journey, because every moment invested in nurturing your bond can lead to a deeper and more fulfilling connection, helping you navigate the challenges of stress together.


Maria Mohamed is a counseling intern, passionate about helping both couples and individuals who are seeking to foster fulfilling and meaningful relationships. Her clients may be couples who are recovering from infidelity, experiencing desire discrepancies, or struggling with communication, or individuals who are exploring attachment wounds, past traumas, and relationship issues. Maria hopes to provide a safe environment for her clients to nurture their connections and personal growth. She believes in strengthening emotional bonds and fostering secure connections using the power of self-exploration.

If you are interested in working with Maria, you can schedule an appointment online or call the office at 512-994-2588 and ask to be scheduled with Maria.



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