#SexColumn: Grief can affect a relationship and a libido

Understanding that grief is a complex and personal process is crucial. Picture: Pexels (KAT)

Understanding that grief is a complex and personal process is crucial. Picture: Pexels (KAT)

Published Jul 4, 2024


By Sharon Gordon

My mother died recently after a short illness. She was one month from her 90th birthday and had become very frail, so it wasn’t a surprise. The surprise has been the way it has affected me. My mother was the glue that kept our family together. She was incredibly irritating and a master manipulator but without her I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I remember when I started Lola Montez. A friend told me I had to tell both my son and my mother. If I couldn’t be honest with them, then I had no right to be in the business. My parents lived on the South Coast at the time. I flew down especially to break the news.

My mother’s response was “Ag my girl, can’t you just stay a lawyer?” (for those of you who don’t know I practised law for many years). It took her about 2 years to set foot in one of my stores. Her reaction was overwhelming support and approval. She called my father from the store to tell him how beautiful and tasteful it was. She never asked me to explain how any of the toys worked.

Whenever I gave a talk – especially on how to give a blow job – someone always tried to film it, despite being asked not to. This was always out of respect for my mum who was very active on social media. Thankfully, I don’t think she ever saw anything.

She loved anything pink and hated pasta. My mum was always impeccably dressed and made up. G-d help you if your room and cupboards were untidy.

She never saw me without commenting on my hair or weight. She was the matriarch and could control us with a look across a room. I’m not really sure how to manage this grief thing. Should I medicate or feel the full brunt of it?

I’ve mixed up orders, forgotten to do important things and would rather stick pins in my eyes than see anyone. My partner is being incredibly supportive and I’m trying my best, but I know that right now I’m a bit of a mess. The rest of this article has been written with the help of others.

I don’t know how long this lasts. I suspect for a very long time. Grief can have significant effects on both a relationship and a libido. These effects can vary widely depending on who’s involved, the nature of the relationship, and the intensity of the grief.

Here are some ways grief might impact both aspects:

Effects on a Relationship:

1. Emotional Distance: One or both partners may become emotionally distant, finding it hard to connect or communicate as they process their grief. I’m okay with my partner but the thought of having to speak to anyone else makes me want to vomit. In fact, most of my friends will only hear of my mother’s passing from this column.

2. Increased Conflict: Grief can heighten stress levels, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts. Partners might express their grief differently, which can cause friction. Can you please just pick up your bloody socks.

3. Support Dynamics: One partner may need more support than the other, or they may grieve differently, leading to a perceived imbalance in the relationship. I’m the one grieving, so I expect all the support but not too much. I know it’s like walking a tightrope with me at the moment.

4. Role Changes: If the person lost played a significant role in the couple’s life (eg, a child or close family member), the surviving partner might have to take on new roles, leading to changes in the relationship dynamics. I think I’m okay with this one.

5. Shared Grief: Couples grieving together can sometimes find solace and a deeper connection in their shared experience, but it can also be overwhelming if both are struggling to cope. Luckily this does not apply to us.

Effects on Libido: Let’s be clear – mine, which was already a bit low.

1. Decreased Libido: It’s common for individuals to experience a reduced sex drive when grieving. The emotional toll can lead to a lack of interest in sexual activities. So, I’m perfectly normal.

2. Physical Symptoms: Grief can manifest physically, causing fatigue, sleep disturbances, and other symptoms that reduce libido. I am exhausted and experiencing very vivid dreams. They are filled with anxiety.

3. Emotional Numbness: People may feel emotionally numb or disconnected, which can dampen sexual desire. Isn’t there a song that talks about comfortably numb? I can identify.

4. Guilt: Some might feel guilty about experiencing pleasure or intimacy while grieving, leading to a suppressed libido. Mmm – maybe.

5. Anxiety and Depression: Grief can trigger or exacerbate anxiety and depression, both of which are associated with a decreased sex drive. My anxiety levels are through the roof. I’m hoping it will pass. I know that I should be exercising because it helps but I just don’t have the willpower right now.

Coping Strategies: I’m exploring these, and I’ll let you know how it’s going.

1. Open Communication: Talking openly about feelings and needs can help partners understand and support each other better. Heads up to the other partner or friend: bloody listen.

2. Therapy: Seeking professional help, either individually or as a couple, can provide tools to navigate grief and its effects on the relationship and libido. I don’t think I’m quite here yet, but maybe in a month or two.

3. Self-Care: Prioritising self-care activities that promote emotional and physical well-being can help manage grief’s impact. I am wallowing at the moment. I’ve locked myself up at home and can barely answer the phone.

4. Patience and Compassion: Giving oneself and one’s partner time to grieve and adjust without pressure can ease the strain on the relationship. The big question is – how much time?

5. Reconnect Gradually: Rebuilding intimacy and connection can take time. Small gestures of affection and spending quality time together can help. I don’t think I have destroyed anything yet, but I am aware that I could.

Understanding that grief is a complex and personal process is crucial. I loved my mother and respected her courage and strength. I was not with her when she passed, my brother was. I’m not sure how I feel about not being there.

I do know that a couple of days before she passed, she approved of my hair and weight. So, there’s that.

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