When most people think about abuse in a relationship, they think of physical abuse and how it can foster anger, resentment, and fear. Emotional or psychological abuse, however, can be equally or more damaging and have significant negative effects on sexual desire. Unfortunately, emotional abuse can be much more difficult to identify for some people because an abusive partners will often try to rationalize it away and turn it around – making you doubt yourself and making it difficult to identify at times.

Since sexual desire has both physical and emotional components to it, emotional abuse cuts right to the heart of it. Sexual desire depends on feeling relatively free of criticism from your partner, a significant component of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can come in many forms, but there are three main categories: 1. Domineering and controlling behaviors, 2. Verbal aggression and abuse, and 3. Jealous behaviors – or combinations of these.

When a person is emotionally abusive by being domineering or exerting control, they usual engage in behaviors meant to restrict a person – making sure they only wear certain clothing, control where they go, who they speak to. This can subtly take the form of constantly needing to check in by phone or text, or making a person accountable for all their time during hours separate from the partner. Oftentimes, a person finds themselves trying to provide evidence to support their whereabouts to prevent their partner from becoming angry with them. It can also take the form of controlling all the household finances or decisions and devaluing a person’s opinions. All this creates an environment of tension and anxiety – a direct interrupter of sexual desire.

Verbal aggression, abuse, and insults can directly contribute to depression and anxiety. Just imagine constantly getting negative messages day in and day out. It can be pretty confusing if these verbal insults are mixed in with loving statements – making a person start to wonder if this type of communication isn’t natural. When a person’s self-esteem continues to be bombarded, and interactions with a partner leave a person doubting themselves again and again, the desire for sex becomes less about a natural, healthy urge and more about trying to please the other person and get them to think positively about you.

Jealous behaviors are often mixed together with domineering behaviors because of the need to try to control the partner so that they are not lost to another person. One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that these (and all the emotional abusive) behaviors are born out of love. They are not. They stem from insecurity on the part of the abuser who tries to bully the person in order to feel in control.

Emotional abuse is a degrading process that breaks down a person who falls victim to it. It squashes sexual desire because it triggers a chronic stress response in a person and constantly threatens a person’s sense of self. If you find yourself in such a relationship, please take a close look at what it may be doing to your sense of self and your long-term happiness. In this case, a decrease in sexual desire can actually be a strong signal that your mind and body are sending to you.

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