By Zukiswa Dlamini
Navigating sex in a relationship can be a pleasurable and fun part of intimacy. But, when problems or disagreements arise in the bedroom, they tend to spill over into other aspects of the relationship. Celibacy is often discussed and agreed upon at the beginning of a relationship. But, one partner can choose this route while already in a sexual relationship. “There is no doubt that when a sexually active partner decides to abstain from sex, it will have a major impact on the relationship,” says Naledi Molefe, a Johannesburg-based counsellor. “Even though personal, this affects your partner directly. This is why it is a big decision.”
For 28-year-old Tshepi*, the issue of abstinence in her relationship came as a shock. “Melusi* and I had been dating for two years when he told me that he wanted to stop our sexual relationship because he wanted to grow his relationship with God. He was planning on being celibate until marriage, but didn’t know when he wanted us to get married. Even though I found it devastating and couldn’t understand how he could make such a huge change after two years, I accepted it. This change caused problems in our relationship because I still had sexual needs and, not having them fulfilled made me unhappy. We eventually broke up because he wouldn’t budge, and I wasn’t willing to not have sex indefinitely,” says Tshepi. According to Renee Green, a church counsellor who works with couples, this isn’t a unique outcome. “When the fundamental dynamic of a relationship is changed by one party, it is easy for the other one to feel hard done by. And whether we want to accept it or not, sex is a big part of a relationship. So, having different beliefs about it, especially midway into the relationship, will test even the strongest of relationships,” she explains. Naledi says the manner in which you bring up the conversation is important because it will have an effect on how your partner receives the information. “Start by reassuring your partner that you still want to be in a relationship with them, if that is the case. Tell them the reasons behind your decision and, while at it, make suggestions of how you see the relationship going forward, now that sex will no longer be on the cards,” she advises. “Be realistic about the fact that your partner might choose to end the relationship if they feel that they can’t abstain with you. They are under no obligation to be celibate just because you want to,” she adds. Renee agrees, adding that the partner not wanting to abstain also has to be considerate. “Usually, the partner that wants to continue having sex will feel that the decision is selfish and silly. But, that does not mean you have the right to go against your partner’s decision. Just because someone has had sex with you in the past does not mean they owe you any,” she adds.
If you decide to abstain after having a sexual relationship and, your partner doesn’t, there is a real chance that your values differ. “It is very easy to make the fall out of abstinence be all about sex. But, there is a great chance that if you are not on the same page about it as a couple, you will not be on the same page about other issues, too. This can cause major rifts in a relationship, and is a red flag that you are not compatible,” says Naledi. Renee says since she does most of her work within the church, they do encourage couples to abstain before marriage. But, many choose not to. “This issue is fixable in dating relationships, but a lot more complicated in marriages. While I have seen a few dating couples succeed with abstinence, most of those who made this decision after having been sexually active did not make it.”
Bringing sexy back
Abstinence will usually have a deadline, be it six months, a year or when you get married. But once that period is over, how is sex then re-introduced back into the relationship? “For couples with good sexual chemistry, this isn’t likely to be a problem. Many will be looking forward to the end of the abstinence period, which could signal a honeymoon phase of sex and passion,” says Naledi. But, she cautions that before you re-introduce sex, you need to discuss whether you are both on the same page about it. “This includes the reasons why you are having sex again and the agreement about sexual intimacy going forward,” she adds. Renee says bringing sex back into the equation needs to be evaluated. “It’s easy for sex to be used as a reward and be withheld as punishment. That is not the same as abstinence. So, make sure that when you start having sex again, it is for the right reasons that you are both comfortable with” she concludes.
Intimacy isn’t just about sex. Here are simple things you can do to bring intimacy back into your relationship.
- Quality time – Don’t just sit in front of the television and call that quality time. Make time to talk and really connect. This is one of the best ways to be intimate.
- Touch – Simple acts, such as holding hands or stroking each other, build feelings of intimacy.
- Share hobbies – Find a hobby that you both enjoy, and take part in it to bond.
- Time apart – Taking time to do your own thing without your partner helps you come back into your relationship a better person. Spending all your time together might seem healthy, but it actually isn’t.
- Laugh – This does wonders for your mood and health. It also leaves you feeling connected. Have fun with your partner; this will do wonders for your relationship satisfaction.