I Traded Orgasms for Organization: My ‘To Do’ List Broke Our Sex Life

“Everything else gets the best of her while I get the rest of her” is a common complaint I hear from defeated partners at the start of couples therapy. As early as the dating phase, some relationships show warning signs of poor physical or sexual connection. The quality and frequency of sex and intimacy between partners is often hindered by “the list”. Whether one partner is an ambitious and driven entrepreneur or simply a fan of organization and structure, being a slave to a daily list of things to do can make it difficult for them to shut off their task-oriented brain and make space for spontaneous or regular physical connection with their significant other. “You don’t have time for an orgasm?’ is the question it boils down to in their partner’s minds. Who can’t make time for an orgasm? A person that is on a mission to check one more thing off their list. That’s who.

The list doesn’t discriminate. Being task-oriented is not about gender as much as it is about control and anxiety. Stereotypically, many of us have come to believe that women more frequently have a hard time shutting down their brains and getting into their bodies to be fully present for sexual connection. However, many men struggle to break from their daily and weekly routines to hop into bed alongside their partner or invest the time needed to kindle a sexual flame.

“When the struggle to be physically and sexually motivated in your love life begins early, it usually doesn’t get better on its own.”

Task-oriented partners that place making time for intimacy and sex low on their priority list play a part in creating an unhealthy dynamic. Over time, their significant other may lash out in frustration or cease to initiate intimacy in response to their failure to deviate from the list. This creates even greater physical and emotional distance, making it awkward to reconnect on the occasions that it does happen. This dynamic occurs when significant others sense that sex feels more like an obligation or box to be checked on their partner’s priority list.

Is having a daily or weekly checklist a bad thing? No. In fact, it’s quite common that the more task-oriented partner provides the stability that both partners need to manage daily life in an efficient way. There is value in organization, and many partners that complain about the lack of physical or sexual attention they receive still acknowledge the benefits that come along with their partner’s structured approach to life. However, structure is no substitute for sex and being obsessed with maintaining order actually creates more chaos when you’re in a committed sexual relationship.

I’m thankful when I can catch this dynamic early in couples therapy. It’s common to see the pattern forming during pre-marital therapy, which helps both partners identify their feelings about intimacy, initiation, and control and begin to work toward creating healthy sexual practices. When couples participate in therapy long after their physical relationship has been derailed by too much structure and list -following, there’s still much work we can do to repair the damage. The first priority is helping all couples understand the possible negative impact that physical and sexual neglect can have on a romantic relationship. While many ambitious and highly structured partners believe that their relationship can endure limited amounts of physical intimacy because other aspects of the relationship are in good shape, they fail to truly understand the feelings of hurt, rejection, resistance, and distance their significant others have been carrying. Requests for therapy, physical separations both inside and outside of the home, and affairs are common warning signs that reveal just how important physical intimacy is to their partner.

When these requests and behaviors pop up, it’s easy to get distracted by them and make them the focal point, however they are just one-piece of the problematic puzzle. Something has to grab a partner’s attention when they are sleepwalking through certain aspects of the relationship, and when more conservative methods don’t work then significant others usually resort to more aggressive tactics.

If your physical intimacy has been negatively impacted by other priorities, then you are not alone. It may be time to talk to a licensed therapist or trusted person about ways you can create a more balanced emotional and physical connection with your significant other. In the meantime, here are several things that are essential to creating and maintaining a healthy physical connection:

1. Evaluate your priorities frequently.

Being in a romantic partnership requires sharing your time, resources, and affection in ways that fulfill your partner’s needs-not just your own. Share your priorities with each other, and evaluate how you can prioritize each other while achieving your personal goals. If you’re still in the dating phase, remember that you are still evaluating each other. It’s possible that you and your partner’s priorities or sexual needs are not compatible. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge early signs that your needs don’t align well. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for a lifelong struggle.

2. Master the art of being firm and flexible.

We all have different emotional and physical boundaries. Rigid boundaries can create feelings of rejection and defeat, while loose boundaries can leave us feeling unsafe and taken advantage of. While creating schedules, lists, and routines, make sure that your structures are firm enough to become consistent and reliable, with room for spontaneity and periodic changes. While routine creates comfort for some people, it fosters boredom for others. Some partners acknowledge that it’s difficult to slow down their racing thoughts or stop worrying about important tasks that need to get done by a certain time. If this is a persistent problem then it’s possible that you may be struggling with anxiety or an overscheduled life. Anxiety is a treatable condition that affects more than 3 million Americans. Speaking with a licensed clinician can help. For more severe cases, prescription medicine can also help you reduce or eliminate anxiety. Other times, you may discover that while you are used to a fast-paced lifestyle, prolonged exposure to a stressful schedule can take it’s toll on your ability to slow down, shift gears, and relax your mind and body. A therapist, executive coach, or life coach can also help you to evaluate your schedule and make important changes that will provide more balance and improve your overall quality of life.

3. Make physical connection a priority.

This may sound obvious to some, but not for those that don’t consider physical touch their primary love language. If you believe you have a low sex drive, low interest in physical intimacy, or struggle with physical connection due to past physical or sexual trauma this may be difficult for you. Make it a priority to explore any emotional or physical barriers to enjoying physical intimacy. This may require individual therapy. If you’ve encountered struggles in your current relationship then it may be helpful to attend couples sessions. A good way to know if your physical intimacy needs attention is if you constantly feel reluctant, too tired, or unwilling to initiate physical or sexual contact with your partner and they aren’t satisfied. You can cause more damage to your connection by avoiding or blaming your partner for your personal struggles. It’s better to acknowledge it head on, take it seriously, and show that you are willing to grow in this area.

4. Advocate for your needs.

It’s not uncommon for some partners to struggle with meeting their significant other’s needs for physical connection when their emotional or physical needs aren’t being met. Ask yourself if you are feeling heard, understood, and fulfilled by your partner. You may discover that feelings of neglect or resentment are creating an unwanted barrier. Some partners resent not having more help from their significant other with daily tasks that prevent them from spending more quality time connecting. “If my partner would help me with my list, then I’d be more willing to initiate or participate in sex,” many report. Without finding ways to express your needs in a way that gets results, these feelings may continue to grow and fester. If communication breaks down in ways that negatively impact change, then seek help in understanding how the practical and emotional elements of your relationship often impact the physical and sexual ones. There are many self-help books on communication and teamwork as well as videos and therapy services dedicated to helping you improve in this area.

The hard truth is that it’s not okay to do nothing. “This is simply who I am” is not a valid justification for letting the physical connection in your relationship suffer. If you need less physical connection than your partner but need more connection in other areas, then both of you can empathize with each other and evaluate how to honor each other’s requests as if it were one of the top priorities on your personal list. At the end of the day it’s important to decide what’s most important-“the list” or your relationship. Usually, honoring both of them leads to satisfaction. Work to make a quality physical connection a mainstay and your partner may just beat you to checking other things off of your list.

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