When Sex Causes an Emotional Breakdown
It’s 9pm. You slide between the sheets with a book and a smile. It was one of those rare evenings without fight or fuss. Everyone was fed by 8pm. The dishes were washed and the babies were bathed by 8:45. Your husband offered to read the bedtime stories tonight so that you could have some alone time.
All is well.
Until it's not.
You drift off to sleep before your husband comes to bed, and when he does he sees you there, glowing in your sleep with effortless beauty, and he is overwhelmed with love and holy desire for you.
He comes to your side, touches you sweetly, saying something cheeky.
In your sleepy state you do not register his touch as sweet or his words charming.
Sometimes you do. Sometimes this dreamy state is a perfect entrance into tender love making. But this time what your body registers reminds you of something else.
In an instant, the placid, moonlit sea inside you rages into a storm of emotion. Fear, anger, sadness, shame, rip you from sleep, and a fortress goes up around your heart. On one side is the man you love. On the other side is you, prisoner of a profound confusion.
Your body is telling you to fight, flee or freeze. Your mind is telling you your feelings are irrational. One half feels panic, the other half feels condemned. And there you are, suddenly divided, pulled apart by animal intelligence and “a wife’s duty.” One minute ago you laid there in peace, now you lay there frozen.
Emotional breakdown in 5. 4. 3. 2…
Is there any hope in this place?
What are you to do if you love your man, you are learning to love yourself, your body, sex, and yet you are still stricken at times by these flash floods of pain from your past?
I have laid there like you, overwhelmed by the terror of this internal contradiction, unsure of who I am and what I “should” be feeling. This experience leaves a woman heartbroken about how these out of the blue breakdowns affect her marriage, her man, and her beliefs about herself.
The good news is, I’ve been on this healing journey of sexual wellbeing for awhile now, and I’ve found many tools that have helped me, and can help you too.
Hope in Bedroom Darkness
The bedroom is the place we sleep, make love, and emotionally breakdown.
Sex is powerful, and even the hint of it at the wrong moment can send those of us who have suffered any kind of abuse or misuse into she-hulk mode on our husbands.
When you are triggered, you may not even know exactly why you’ve been triggered.
Some nights your husband’s gentle hands on your back feel like a lovely invitation. Other nights those same hands feel creepy, and remind you of unwanted touch from some other.
Sex, love, memory, trauma are complicated enough on their own. Together, they create a quantum field of complexity.
But you don’t have to feel powerless anymore. And you can get to place where sex is nourishment to your soul. Orgasms are one of nature's best healing magic. Imagine a time in your near future where your bedroom is full of lightness, laughter, freedom and joy, a time not far from now where your body and your heart feel more open alive than you ever believed they could be.
You Are Not Alone in Your Emotional Breakdown
The first thing you need to know is that you aren’t alone.
Though this dark and scary place feels empty of company, a sisterhood of women of every age, background, and nationality lie with you.
Emotional breakdowns happen because trauma has happened. We don’t have to know exactly what kind of trauma we have suffered in order to know that we have been wounded.
Research is showing that the trauma doesn’t even have to be our own. The traumatic event could have happened to someone we know, or someone in our family history, our mothers, our grandmothers, our sisters and brothers. We are all connected, and we are all affected. You are not alone in feeling the feelings you feel.
You Are Not Powerless in the Bedroom
The second thing you need to know is that you have power.
You do not have to suffer this same pattern forever, if you don’t want to. You, like I have and so many others have too, can learn to coach yourself through an emotional breakdown in the bedroom. The momentum of that victory can then be used to say a daily yes to sexual wellbeing, and deep inner healing.
Here are five simple things to remember that will enable you to coach yourself through an emotional breakdown in the bedroom.
1. Honor What is Happening
Triggers happen to all of us. Triggers aren’t the enemy. Triggers are holy invitations to healing. When you bring your awareness to what is happening with this perspective, patterns start to change. Honor what’s happening by refusing to run or hide inside.
Breathe and simply acknowledge you are being triggered. You are going to be okay. If you are with your partner, say as few words as possible, and say them gently, without blame, “Just give me a minute, love. My body is remembering something difficult.”
This first step is so important, because most of us women have been taught to ignore what we are feeling. And it’s this self-disrespect that makes us explode and emotionally breakdown, not the trigger itself. We honor what’s happening by respecting our body and accepting right where we are.
This following quote from the yogi, Barron Baptiste from his book, Perfectly Imperfect is talking about the power of being where we are on our yoga mats, but it relates just as well to the power of being where we are in our beds.
2. Go to the Feeling
This is the last place we want to go. Most of us have trained ourselves to run from, or numb the feeling, but the path of healing is through the feeling.
There is a way to go to the feeling without being swallowed up by it, and the way is through the body. Instead of focusing on the emotion of anger, or fear, or sadness, draw your attention to the sensations you are feeling in your body. Notice the physical sensations beneath the emotional charge. What does fear/anger/sadness viscerally feel like? Does it feel like pressure? Heat? Emptiness? A hollow feeling the chest or gut? Does it feel like tingling or muscular tension? Bring your curiosity, courage and mindfulness.
Your body is your loyal friend. Listen to her.
3. Remember: It’s Not Your Fault
Maybe you remember being sexual abused, misused or shamed. Maybe you are someone who can’t quite put her finger on it, but you live with a queasy feeling that something not right happened to you.
Whether we stored what happened to us as an explicit (we remember) or implicit (we don’t remember) memory, the experience lives in us still. Trauma is not just an event that took place some time in the past, it is also the imprint left by that experience on your body and soul. There is nothing that you did or didn’t do that made this your fault. This is just how our body works and what’s wonderful about how our body works, is that our body want us to be well. When we stop denying what is true or faulting our body for it, our body can lead us into wellness.
4. Remember: It’s Not His Fault
Though it’s natural to want to react and cast blame, your husband is not your enemy.
His desire for you is good, and though he may not understand or be entirely sympathetic to what is going on with you mid trigger, his love for you makes him your ally, not your foe.
Stay with your own feelings and sensations. Resist the urge to run away from yourself by making him the scapegoat. It’s okay to feel angry and confused. The way you have been having sex as a couple may need to change. Example: If you have a history of “Just doing it” and this causes you to disassociate or emotionally freeze during the act, you can be done with this. It’s not good for him or you or your relationship.
In the moment of the intense emotional trigger, you be responsible for you. It’s possible to feel the power of raw emotion without turning it into a dagger. Remember: He is for you. You are on the same team.
Mindful breathing gives us back our agency. Agency is the term psychologist use for the feeling of being in charge of your life. It begins with our simple awareness of our subtle sensory, body-based feelings, like the feeling of our own inhale and exhale.
Link your awareness to your breath with two simple I AM statements of truth:
I am loved. I am safe.
Inhale I am loved. Exhale I am safe. Breathe slowly and steadily into the space in your body that is holding the sensation you identified in step #2. Whether it’s hollowness, pressure, heat or emptiness you feel, invite in the presence of a higher love. The One who calms storms is with you. Trust this power. Even if it has been a long time since you identified with having any sort of faith, this power will show up for you, is already showing up for you. Let go of religiosity and just breathe, abiding in this very real presence of higher love.
Waves of different emotional intensity might come as the trigger passes through you. You will not drown, so don’t hold your breath. Keep breathing evenly, feeling into the physical sensations. Breathe in for a count of 4, exhale slowly for a count of 4. Continue until the storm has passed and the sea within is calm again.
Coach Yourself in Courageous Work
These five things have helped me profoundly. They have come to my aid to coach me through my own emotional breakdowns in the bedroom. I offer them to you with a prayer that they will come effortlessly to your mind whenever you find yourself caught in a wild sea within. As a friend and teacher of mine has taught me, "There is a way to freak out without completely freaking out."
And if you still freak out, don't condemn yourself for it. Kindness is the only true way we can change our patterns. Return to the work without despair and trust that something new is taking shape.
You may not believe it, but believe it (and smile big): sex is awesome. When we heal from fear, guilt, and shame in the bedroom we are given a whole new world to explore and celebrate. Every aspect of our life begins to spark with redeemed beauty, productivity, and creativity. You will know yourself as the whole woman you are made to be.
And (bonus) your skin will glow, you'll look years younger, your mood will lift, and the protective pounds you've been carrying will naturally melt away. Healthy Sex isn't just good for our heart and mind, it's really good for the health and vitality of our body as well.
So get excited, and join other brave vixens just like you in the Romance & Adventure community. do the good work only you can do: coach yourself kindly and use every trigger as an invitation to heal.
May we feel grateful for our triggers and believe that breakdowns are actually awesome, because breakdowns lead us to breakthroughs. And we all want a breakthrough, don't we? Especially in the bedroom because there is so much GOODNESS there waiting for us to enjoy!
May this blog post benefit you and your husband.
The journey to sexual wellbeing is courageous work, and I say confidently from my own experience that she who is willing to show up for it, will be blessed by it.
Where to Go From Here for More Sexual Wellbeing
My husband and I say this all the time to our clients: talk about sex when you aren't having sex! One easy way to start the conversation is to forward this blog post to your spouse. When you guys are together share whatever it brought up for you and ask your partner what they found interesting, helpful or challenging.
Please share it with your girlfriends, too. Our sisterhood needs new conversations around sex and sexuality.
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Get on the waiting list for the R&A Sutras Mastery Program returning this fall.
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What do you do to coach yourself through triggers and emotional breakdowns (not just in the bedroom)? Share your tips and stories below.