(Plus, 4 things that WON'T work.)
If the chemistry of attraction fades for most couples within six to nine months of being together, how are you supposed to maintain a satisfying sex life for the years and decades you hope to spend with your spouse?
If you're hearing half of what I am, you know this is not just an issue for married couples. Sexual doldrums, or just quitting having sex, happens at many different points in a relationship.
Let's go beneath the surface to first understand what might be occurring for the two of you, and then what you can do about it if that's not what you want.
Here's what won't work:
1. You ignore the issues.
Such as only one wanting it or neither of you wanting it. A reoccurring problem in a marriage is like a toothache: untreated, it only gets worse.
2. You expect to find true marital happiness by becoming celibate buddies with your spouse, essentially shutting down your sexuality.
He's not just your best friend, nor is he your brother; he or she is your beloved. And unless two parties agree to a cessation of sexual relations for health or another mutually acceptable reason, leaving sensuality or sexuality out of the marriage can leave one partner bitter, and the relationship weaker.
Of course, there are periods when one partner is less interested in sex; for many women, it often coincides with menopause; for men, a loss of libido can occur with extra stress at work or unemployment.
A solid relationship doesn't break down over such periods. It helps to discuss what's going on to make sure one partner doesn't feel it's "about him or her" and not the other distracting issue.
3. You think having an affair will help.
Diverting your sexual needs to an affair with someone else will undoubtedly produce short-term drama to heat up a marriage, but it is not a long-term solution. An affair-discovered, or not, can also aggravate feelings of abandonment or distrust, feelings which may be present already if your sexuality is absent or minimally present.
4. You believe that adding a little variety or novelty will not rescue a dying sexual relationship.
Buying sexy lingerie and sex toys, trying new sexual positions, or even "swinging" with another couple can provide diversion and fleeting relief from (or more likely aggravate) the sexual doldrums, especially if one feels pressured by the other to perform or get with the program.
Having said that, any or all of these things can in fact spice up the relationship if the two partners are on the same page and both wish to try something new, but these novel behaviors are no substitute for the one essential step you must take if you wish to bring passion back to your relationship: restoring and deepening the connection between the two of you.
Instead, here's what couples should be doing to increase the passionate sex in their relationship.
1. Use the intimacy you've accumulated.
Instead of trying to go back to an earlier stage when the chemistry between you made everything new and exciting, use the chemistry of familiarity to go deeper into the intimacy the two of you already have.
By all means, get out some of your old romantic tricks that may have gotten dusty from lack of use. Bring each other flowers, do foot massages, trade compliments. The admonition "use it or lose it" is as true about your intimacy muscles as it is any other part of your body.
2. Start with you.
You may have thought you were about to "fix" your relationship, but whoever once said, "Happiness is an inside job" had it exactly right. It's hard to feel sexually attracted to your partner if you are not feeling physically fit or content in your own body. The issue goes far beyond attractiveness.
Too many marriages regard self-image as off-limits for discussion or confrontation when attempting to deal with dysfunction in a sexual relationship. Whether you're attempting to bring sexuality back with the help of a therapist or you're doing it on your own, the place to start is within yourself.
One way to begin the process is to take some steps to gently wake up your senses. In other words, romance yourself. Here are some simple techniques.
- Relax your body. Sit or lie down on the floor or the bed. Put your attention on every part of your body, commanding each to relax completely. Go from your head to your toes, taking 10 or 15 minutes to release all your tension. Count from 10 to 0, for your forehead, neck, arms, pelvis, and so on, until each is completely relaxed.
- Move. Take a daily walk, a run up the stairs, or dance to your favorite music
- Use positive affirmations. "I am a beautiful, zesty, sexy woman." "I am a strong and virile guy." Or whatever feels good and enlivening when you say it out loud.
- Rediscover sexual self-pleasuring. Try a vibrator, get a mirror and lock the door.
- "Sensualize" your environment. Light candles, get a fur rug or a new duvet, hang nudes on the walls, move the stereo into the bedroom.
The point of these activities is to re-open your body and mind to non-sexual sensuality and feelings. Unless you can stop the whirlwind of daily activity and worry and engage all five of your senses, healthy sexuality, not to mention life itself, will speed right past you while you're not looking.
Rediscovering yourself will then naturally extend to your relationship. Your goal is to give each of you the opportunity to get to know the other's body, mind, and heart all over again, as if for the first time.
3. Try proven strategies to reawaken your sexuality.
One person can do a lot to reawaken him or herself sensually and sexually, but, ultimately, reviving sexuality in a marriage requires the participation of both partners. If you are the one asking for your partner's involvement in a sexual renewal, be sure to frame your request positively.
"I'd like to put more effort into making our sex life better" sounds sweeter and a lot more inviting than "Our sex is so boring, I can't stand it anymore." Certainly, threats and ultimatums are not constructive. Be sure to begin gently, perhaps offer to do something for him, give a massage or foot rub, for example.
If your partner responds either tentatively or negatively, try not to overreact. You may have caught her by surprise. She may still feel stuck in the old stalemate. Give her time to process your request. Be positive. Before you interpret your partner's lack of enthusiasm as being a message about you, or your body, consider these questions:
- Is she overtired and stressed out?
- Has she recently experienced a loss?
- Is she just getting over a physical illness?
- Is she worried about a situation at work?
Let her know that your offer stands even if she's not ready to take you up on it just then. Then she can come back to you when she's ready. If she responds enthusiastically, allow things to unfold without pushing or intellectualizing.
After enjoying some sensual time together, you may wish to take the opportunity to open up the conversation. If this feels like it would help the two of you open up further to clear the air, then speak about what's been going on between the two of you sexually.
Remember, you're looking to share feelings at this time. Not to assign blame or offer a negative prognosis on the past or future of your sexuality. The most important thing you can express to him is your real desire to bring back the sexual passion you used to enjoy in your relationship. And when you talk, keep touching him. It's amazing how much love can be expressed in a simple stroke.
4. Slow things down.
Ironically, the best way sex therapists have found to help people rejuvenate sexuality is by advising the couple to do anything but have sexual intercourse for some period of time. The idea is to take all pressure off and keep performance completely off the table.
Sensuality comes before sexuality. Playful touching, kissing, and caressing are what will ideally unfold at this stage. There's also some counter-suggestion going on here; no matter how old people are, they tend to rebel against something they're told to do or not to do.
So, whether you take all the advice or a part, your objective is to go slow. Envision what might happen if you were to go back to your very first date before you ever shared a single passionate kiss. Try to recapture the initial feelings and small steps you took before you both "opted in" to full sexual expression. What did his kisses feel like? What about the first electric spark you exchanged? When and where did it happen?
A long-term relationship is a cause for celebration. Plus, you've got a whole chemical stew standing by waiting to help cement your bond: it's called the chemistry of commitment.
Not to be confused with the initial lightening bolts of attraction, this concoction includes the sweet oxytocin that is released by touch and the endorphins that accumulate from sustained intimacy. The benefits long-married couples say they value most are the intimacy and security that time brings to the union.
At its best, this longevity translates into companionship with continuing passion serving as the glue holding you together. The passion in a long-term relationship inevitably cools, but it can be revived with a process of rediscovery and a conscious effort to deepen intimacy between two partners.
This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.