Sex and relationships are important topics in therapy. Whether the problem is conflict with a partner or spouse, the decision of whether or not to stay in a relationship, the pain and confusion after a breakup or divorce, frustrations with dating and single life, or questions about sexuality, therapy can provide a private and relatively objective answer. a space to acquire knowledge and acquire skills.
The problem is that we don’t have sex or relationships in a vacuum. We date, have sex, break up, marry, divorce, procreate and communicate in our social and economic conditions. Therapeutic techniques such as “I” statements, value inventories, and the DEAR MAN skill can help navigate relationships, but when it comes to intimacy, capitalism still forces our hand in countless ways. For this reason, we cannot simply therapist our way out of relationship issues subject to our social context.
As I wrote in Grandstand before, capitalism makes life much more stressful that it must be. Most people struggle in a society where the cost of living is skyrocketing, and most people work all the time to pay for the basic necessities of survival. We are short of both time and money, and these twin shortages can cause serious problems for sex and relationships.
In a 2009 study published in the journal Family relationshipsresearchers found that “spouses rated conflict [about money] as more intense and meaningful than other conflict topics: they lasted longer, more often covered issues that had been previously discussed, and had greater current and long-term significance to the couples’ relationship. » As recently as February 2022, the Independent reported on a UK study that found almost two-thirds of people who admit to arguing with their partner have done so over money. A third admitted to hiding financial secrets from his partner, such as savings or debts – proof of the power that financial stress has to undermine basic principles of good relationship management, such as communication and openness. It is even more difficult to eliminate the issue of financial stress from a romantic relationship when that stress is exacerbated, as is so often the case, by overwork.
The issue of time scarcity becomes even more prevalent when people are involved in any type of non-monogamous relationship – open relationships, swinging, or polyamory. A growing number of therapists are presenting themselves as sex-positive, offering expert knowledge about these lifestyles and offering them as empowering alternatives to the status quo. Once, several years ago, a therapist asked me if I would consider an open relationship as an alternative to the unhappy relationship I felt stuck in. I laughed at her. “Where can I find the time? »
How quickly a relationship progresses can also be influenced by financial factors. Sky-high rental costs often cause young couples to move in together before they really feel ready: in London alone, tenants face record rents amid a cost of living crisis, while in September 2021 rents outside of London rose at their fastest pace since 2008, and moving in with a partner can often be a way to mitigate this. Financial factors in turn prevent people from leaving relationships in which they are no longer happy, let alone abusive relationships. Therapists often find themselves helping their clients navigate situations of interpersonal violence safely – but how can clients make safe choices for themselves when the available options are abuse or homelessness?
There is also celibacy. As writer Anne Helen Petersen observes, not being able to share the cost of housing, utilities, household items, etc. puts single people at a financial disadvantage compared to their partnered counterparts. In the United States, single people pay more taxes, and marriage is one of the only reliable ways to get a good health insurance plan. A 2010 study she cites estimates that a single woman with an annual salary of $40,000 would pay nearly half a million dollars over her lifetime compared to a married woman with the same salary. Given that choice, why wouldn’t you stay in a bad relationship?
The solutions to these types of problems usually come down to more money and more time. For example, one of the many possible ripple effects of financial stress and overwork is altered libido. In 2017, the small town of Overtornea in Sweden floated the idea of paid sex leave in response to the rise in the average age of the population – and while that idea is obviously silly, it actually indicates the type of material approach that could have a positive impact on relationships. A more realistic interpretation might exist in the form of a four-day week without loss of pay, which would give individuals more time to relax and nurture the physical and emotional elements of their relationships. To release some of the financial pressure on romantic relationships, we simply need higher wages.
Whatever kinds of relationships we have – and not just romantically, but also with friends and family – the conditions of capitalism play a role in our ability to maintain and nurture them, depriving us of of our time and rewarding us with a salary barely enough to live on. That’s not to say that socialism can solve all the problems of the heart, but there are clear benefits to building a world that values the freedom and well-being of all over the wealth of the few.