I’m here to talk about long-term relationships and marriages when the sex life either disappears or is changed drastically, and one or both people are unhappy. It is so common, I think most of you would be surprised. People come into couples counseling and talk about it all the time. It’s natural; life is complex, our sexuality is a complex thing, and when you’ve been with somebody for a long time, life events happen, things change that get in the way. Here is some of the main ones that I find:
The first thing is that if you’re resentful, you’re bickering and you’re fighting often, this gets in the way of sex. You have to understand that. There’s a difference for most of us, we cannot push through; we need to feel we care about our partner and we like our partner in order to feel sexual. It is important for most people. If this is you, you really need to work on your communication, you need to get some help – if you need it – with your resentment, and you need to work that out with your partner for your sexuality to improve.
Another thing is called a push-pull effect. It happens often where one person pressures for sex. “I want sex, I want sex, it’s not enough,” and the other person, feeling that pressure, pulls away. This push-pull effect is very painful. Usually, two people have different sex drives and most likely, that will never change, but what happens because of this stress and pressure, it ends up being even worse than it actually would be otherwise. What I usually teach people to do is for the person that is pressuring – and it’s scary for them to pull back because they feel like: “Well, nothing will happen if I do,” but I ask them to do it anyways – pull back and relieve some of that pressure. For the other partner, they need to figure out a way that’s comfortable for them to come forward and take more responsibility for a happy, healthy sex life. This doesn’t mean meeting your partner’s needs or every single whim. It means coming forward in some sort of meaningful and some ways that can be seen by the other person that maybe you haven’t done before. Truly, both people need to be responsible for their sexual relationship, not just one person. You do have to find a happy medium that works for both people, but you don’t want to feel that pressure and stress, so you have to reverse the roles sometimes.
Another thing is called the roommate situation. It’s a syndrome people fall in where they lose their sex drive. It’s very painful. You become co-parents, you become roommates, you don’t feel the sex anymore, and for most people, they feel like it’s gone completely. That’s not the case. For a lot of people, they can rekindle it. There’s some things that have to be done, and yes, it could feel like homework, but you need to come back into your sexual relationship with each other and do it slowly. Something that I understand about sex is sex is really in the brain; it’s not necessarily a physical response. We have to feel the other person is a sexual being and we lose that. In order to find it, we need to rekindle it. A way to do that is to start with touch homework. You could have sensual massages maybe, take turns doing that with one another at night, and leave sex out of it. You can also eventually move into foreplay and touching each other, but also leaving maybe penetration out of that. Another thing you can do is that, when it becomes comfortable, you’ll finally feel that one or both of you feels like: “We had sex,” and it’ll be a triumphant moment and you might even feel like it was really satisfying. You need to keep that going. You need to rekindle, you need to do it slowly, and you need to find a way for both of you to be happy, and do it at the right pace for both people.
The other thing is that life events happen in a long-term relationship; someone we care about dies, we have kids, we become parents, we have financial hardship. A lot of things get in the way of our capacity to feel sexual. Mental illness, some of us feel depressed or anxious. All these things can get in the way of one person feeling sexual or both. Of course, those life events have to move through our lives, so sometimes our sex will wax and wane; it will change, and that’s natural. What you want to do is when things shift back, you need to come back in your sexual relationship, make time for it. Be balanced in your life. If you have kids, make sure you protect a lot of time for being physical with one another, for being with each other in a romantic way.
Which leads me to a couple additional suggestions for you. You hear the cliché “date night” all the time. For me, it means something different. Remember when you were dating in the beginning, how much effort you put into it? You had a special surprise for that person. You need to really treat each other as if you’re dating each other again. Take turns surprising each other on date night. Do the research and put the effort into those date nights like you did in the beginning, and make it meaningful and important. When you’re together, even though you’ve known each other forever, ask questions that are important. “What’s changed in the last 10 years with you? What do you want from your life now?” Be interested in each other and curious. We often forget how to do that through the day in, day out relationship. Reacquaint with each other, and that’s how you become romantic.
I hope these suggestions help. Thank you.