When grief destroys a couple’s connection and intimacy

Couple about to Kiss

This is a story about me and her. I would like to believe that we’re individually both great people; funny, smart and pretty regular. We’ve been together for eight years now. But there’s a crucial piece missing; we hardly have sex! It wasn’t always like this, though.

When we started dating, sex was regular. Sex was passionate and adventurous. Then we broke up, but after dating other people for the next couple of years, we gravitated towards each other again. Every time we met, we ended up naked, sweating and exhausted. No, I am not trying to invoke steamy images in your head. It is just to illustrate that sex wasn’t infrequent, to begin with.

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I had always wanted to be with her long-term and though she had never been sure of the relationship or the future it held, on my insistence she moved in with me. We struggled financially and a fair amount of adjustment was needed but we were happy. Even at this stage, sex was great. Then her family moved to the city and she went to live with them because her mother was sick. Gradually I became a part of her family. We never really discussed our relationship openly, but her mother was a smart lady. She liked me and knew that I had the patience and the tenacity needed to handle her idealistic and fairly protected daughter. Once, in fact, she jokingly expressed her desire to see us married! Even at this stage, with all the sneaking around, sex was steady. And good. This phase lasted for over a year.

Eventually, however, her mother succumbed to her illness. My girl was heartbroken. The rest of her family moved back to their hometown. She came back after a month of mourning. We moved into a new house, hoping for a fresh start. The house she liked was beyond my means but given the circumstances and her emotional state, I decided to take it. I just wanted her to be happy, even if it meant that I had to take three jobs. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Everyone in her family made an effort to move on, adjusting to the new life. Not that her mother could ever be forgotten, but there were things to do. Lives to live.

My girl stayed stuck in the past. She became reticent. Almost every time I moved in for a hug, she would withdraw, saying she was still grieving. That’s how it began. Strangely, however, she seemed happy when she was with her friends. She hosted parties and organised birthdays but asked me to stay away from when her friends were around. I didn’t know how to react. Gradually, her depression seemed restricted to me. Forget sex, even general intimacy was reduced to near nonexistence. This was especially difficult for me because I am generally a hug-and-kiss kind of a chap. We came very close to a break up several times. But I was hopeful of improvement. Little did I realize that nothing of the sort was happening.

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One day, when I hugged her from behind, as she stood in the kitchen, she withdrew. Instinctively, I let go. The relationship kept oscillating between hot and cold for over a year, like some old and repetitive soap opera, and finally, all hell broke loose. After a discussion about the lack of sex which then turned into a full-blown argument, she said that she’d never been interested in sex, to begin with and all through the years, she’d either feigned interest because I wanted it or did it because that’s what she thought was the way things were done. She didn’t like any sort of intimacy or want any. She said she felt sex was a chore and that’s all that I wanted from her. Then I reminded her of how I tried standing by her through everything, ceaselessly working to ensure that she was comfortable. I told her I didn’t understand why her depression only seemed to kick in when I was around. If she wasn’t happy then why was she still with me? More accusations and counter-accusations followed.

Today, we inhabit different rooms, hardly speak to each other and make only obligatory appearances together. The love, the passion, the adventure is gone. She claims it was never there, to begin with. I think we lost it in the rush of life. But the fact remains that we’re lugging around the corpse of a relationship just because neither dares to accept that the relationship is dead.

Expert Prachi Vaish on Handling Grief Together

We usually think that in a few months or years we can move on from the deaths of those we love, but sometimes we get stuck. Moving houses or making a ‘fresh start’ doesn’t work. Also, sometimes, losing someone as important as a mother induces a lot of survivor guilt in the person left behind. In times of grief sometimes we withdraw from the person closest to us, because being with them reminds us of the time that was – before the death and loss occurred – and induces fresh pangs of guilt and longing, which are opposing emotions and very painful. We seek solace in friends and other not-so-intimate people.

Instead of asking, “Why are you doing this?” one can ask, “What do you need?” “Can I do something for you today?” Complicated grief can last sometimes for 5-10 years even! The best option would be to find a qualified grief therapist or counsellor or an online support group and get structured and professional help. It’s merely a knot that needs to be untangled and the relationship CAN heal – trust me!

Prachi S Vaish is a licenced Clinical Psychologist and marital therapist, specialising in couples issues and recovery from trauma. She holds an M Phil in Clinical Psychology, heads India’s first online psychological services portal and regularly contributes articles as an expert consultant to many publications.

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