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Sex and Your High Conflict Relationship

High conflict couples fight a lot. Fights are intense and feel out of control, like no matter what you do, you can't seem to stop fighting.


You might assume that most high conflict couples don't have much sex. After all, if you're fighting all the time, surely no one is in the mood.


However, many high conflict couples actually have a lot of sex. In this post I'll explore why some high conflict couples have an active sex life, whether that's a good thing, and how to navigate sex in your high conflict relationship.


What Does Sex Do For Your Relationship?

Sex serves many purposes, and most people have sex for different reasons at different times. You might have sex to give or receive pleasure, to experience emotional connection, to make a baby, to blow off steam, to feel desired, to maintain your relationship health...the list goes on. Sex can healthily fulfill many different motivations.


For many high conflict couples, sex often happens in part for one of the following reasons:


  1. To reconnect after conflict - otherwise known as makeup sex. Partners may use sex to regain emotional equilibrium after a bad fight. Sex can be a symbol that the fight is over, and it also can provide shared physiological regulation. Feeling good feels good, especially after you recently both felt bad.

  2. To manage conflict - some couples lack the conflict resolution skills to stop fighting. You may both desperately want the fight to end, but somehow it just keeps going. Falling into bed together can help you literally stop fighting, typically without actually discussing a plan for next time or feeling emotionally resolved.

  3. To maintain emotional intensity - some high conflict couples have sold themselves a story about how the intensity of their fights actually signifies passion and love. Intense sex reiterates this narrative. Conflict might even be your foreplay, getting you both revved up for uninhibited, heated sex.

  4. To escape your relationship problems - some couples use sex as a way to avoid the relationship issues that are causing them to fight. When you are being sexual together, you don't have to contend with the issues you face. You can just feel the sensation.


Note - in situations of abuse, sex can be used as a form of coercion, control, or violence. This post refers to consensual sex, where, although sex may be used in unhelpful or unhealthy ways, both partners fully consent. More information about different types of abuse is available here.


Does Your Sex Life Add Fuel To Your High Conflict Relationship?

Sex is a powerful, positive force in human relationships. Not all sex needs to be emotionally deep or warm and fuzzy.


And...for some high conflict couples, their sex life has become part of the reason why they can't get out of a high conflict holding pattern. If the only way you know how to stop fighting is to be physically intimate, you will keep struggling to get out of conflict because, well, you can't always have sex. What will you do when you're fighting in the car? Or in front of your kids? Makeup sex is lovely, but it can't be the sole way you resolve conflict.


Similarly, you may subconsciously desire the "extra hot" vibes of makeup sex and use that as an excuse to get extra out of control during conflict. Some couples blur the line of fantasy and reality, behaving vicously during fights that bleed into wild or kinky sex. If aggressive or boundary crossing sex is a turn on for you, that is absolutely something to discuss and negotiate outside of conflict. If you play those fantasies out through conflict, you risk compromising yours or your partner's consent and safety.


So while sex is fundamentally a beautiful and good force, it can also serve to keep you stuck in high conflict pergatory. If sex serves as a crutch, an escape, or a fastpass in your relationship, it may be part of why you can't get out of the high conflict pattern.


Will Fighting Fair Make Our Sex Life Worse?

Some high conflict couples rely on the emotional intensity they get from fighting as fuel for passionate sex. Sex that is hot because you feel incredibly hurt or insecure about your relationship may be experienced as extra hot, even though in reality, that heat is coming from the absence of safety and security.


You might wonder - will fighting less, or less intensely, mean you don't have wild, passionate sex anymore?


Yes and no. If you rely on conflict to create your chemistry, and you suddenly start having way less conflict, you may well experience a dip in the intensity of your sex life.


But, assuming you replace toxic fights with effective conflict resolution, you will gain emotional intimacy to build back that passion on a sturdier foundation. You will create earned chemistry rather than poisonous fumes.


Ultimately, you will have better sex if you stop hurting each other during conflict.


Hot Sex Without Harm

Imagine for a moment, what your sex life would be like if you no longer had terrible, spun out conflicts with your partner.


How does this sound?


  • You can explore your desires, fantasies, and kinks with your partner. You don't have to fight to activate the themes that turn you on - you can communicate, plan, and play out your erotic wishes.

  • You can stop fighting when you want - no need to get naked. You can have makeup sex if you want to, but it isn't the only way you get through a fight.

  • The romance and passion of your relationship does not rely on things staying terrible. You can have calm, peaceful days and then build intentional eroticism and pleasure together.

  • You feel safe in your relationship, so you have room to explore sexually. Sex adds to your life rather than patching up the gaping holes in your relationship.


You Can Have The Love - And Sex - You Long For

High conflict relationships are messy, painful, and grueling. Good sex, even in the midst of a very hard relationship, can feel like a silver lining. But if that silver lining is part of why you are stuck in a cycle of toxic fights, you may want to reconsider if it is instead golden handcuffs - keeping you chained to a pattern you long to flee.


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