8 Ways to Survive Sexual Dry Spells in Your Relationship

Photo focuses on raised hands of couple lying in bedLet me ease the burden of sex for you. I use the word “burden” because I know sex can feel like one sometimes. Sex may not be the most important pillar in your relationship, but how you engage, navigate, and connect around sex is crucial, whether sex is active or dormant.

Life has a way of steamrolling a couple’s sex life. Kids. School. Chores. Career. Family. Health care. Finances. Other obligations.

It’s always someone’s birthday or a holiday. No matter how much you clean, the house always looks dirty. The lawn keeps growing. Your to-do list has no end. Your boss demands more of your time. The kids always need new shoes or have a baseball game.

When you finally sit down at the end of each day, you feel depleted. The only thing you have any energy for is your favorite TV show. However, you save that for the weekend because you have to catch up on work email. Then you go to bed, only to wake up to the same routine, responsibilities, and exhaustion.

Somewhere in there, you are supposed to make time for your partner—for date nights and for sex. Not humanly possible, right? Your relationship may go on like this for years until fighting and irritability set in, someone has an affair, or someone walks away.

Whether you are the pursuer of sex or the distancer in your relationship, sex can feel untenable. If sex happens but feels dissatisfying, it may be your sex life is comprised more of quickies and obligatory sex than true engagement. If you habitually compare your current sex life to “how much we used to do it,” you may set up future sexual encounters as failures.

Mismatched sexual desire is not uncommon in romantic relationships. One person frequently pursues sex while the other, the one with lower drive, distances. Ultimately, the pursuer may feel rejected and wonder, “What is wrong with us? With me?”

Here are some tips to help you survive the inevitable sexual dry spells of a marriage or long-term relationship:

1. Talk About the Dry Spell

The dry spell can become a painful elephant in the room. Have a respectful conversation, acknowledge how you both feel about sex, how life or relationship discord has hijacked you and your spark. Note what you miss sexually (whether it’s about yourself or your partner). Talk about what you look forward to when desire returns. Be honest, regardless of whether you’re the pursuer or the distancer. Own your roles without pressuring each other.

2. Practice Realistic Expectations

If you set the bar at an unachievable height, you are doomed to feel disappointed. Acceptance reflects a mature outlook on sex. This does not mean either one of you does not want sex or is “settling.” It means you practice realistic expectations regarding how you approach your sex life. It means accepting you are not that couple on television (or in porn) who have spontaneous, hot sex every single time.

3. Strive for Quality, Not Quantity

Some partners place heavy emphasis on quantity. Partners may say, “Well, we have sex only once a month” with embarrassment. For some couples, this might be where your baseline settles. If so, focus more on making that “once a month” as fulfilling as possible for both of you. If you improve the quality of those times, you may feel more connected, enough so that the space between does not feel as long or lonely.

4. Value Emotional Connection as Much as Sexual Connection

Your emotional life and sexual life are intertwined. If sex chronically diminishes, it may be more than life’s hijack. Have more intimate conversations, ask each other about how your relationship feels, share with one another, express gratitude, compliment each other, and treat each other kindly and with respect. Value these qualities as much as you value sex.

5. Practice Healthy Doses of Humor

Do not take yourself too seriously. Remember, dry spells are inevitable.

Do not take yourself too seriously. Remember, dry spells are inevitable. Before jumping to conclusions or dwelling in rejection, practice humor to ease the tension around sex. When both partners make light, loving jokes about the dry spell, it may alleviate pressure on both sides. At the same time, humor works only when both partners are laughing. Jokes should not be masked digs. Make them playful, considerate, and loving.

6. Acknowledge Your Partner’s Bids Even If You Don’t Act on Them

Couples run into trouble when sexual bids are ignored, dismissed, or even harshly rejected. When your partner is in the mood but you are not, but you are nonetheless flattered, consider expressing appreciation. Try not to act annoyed. Can you appreciate that, after all this time together, your partner still desires you?

7. Expand Your Definition of Sex

Partners typically view sex through the narrow definition of intercourse or penetration where at least one person experiences orgasm. Can you shift how you think of sex? Rather than striving for penetration, focus on sexual connection. With this expanded view, you may have a wider range of sexual options to choose from that do not obligate you to “go all the way” every time.

8. Look for Small Windows of Opportunity

When time and energy fall short, try mini-moments of sexual connection. These can range from acts such as longer, lingering kisses to light foreplay and more. Smaller gestures let your partner know, “I may not be able to follow through right now, but I want to,” “I like touching you,” and “I miss you.” These are mini-moments. You can even declare, “I’m coming in for a mini” so you are both clear on the intention.

A friend of mine once referred to his sex life as “peaks and valleys.” How you approach those peaks and valleys makes all the difference between sustained connection and disgruntled disconnection.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • kassie

    February 20th, 2017 at 7:31 AM

    We have a hard time having a real and honest conversations like this because for the most part I think that we are afraid of hurting each other’s feelings. It wouldn’t be like that and I have tried to tell him but he always just says that everything is fine and he is perfectly happy with the sex life.

    I can’t then come out and say that well maybe I’m not and I would like to fix a few hings. I don’t want him to think that it is making me unhappy because that isn’t exactly it but I do feel like there was a time when it was a little bit better and I would like to get back to that point again.

  • gus

    February 21st, 2017 at 2:53 PM

    It might not be that much but there will be times for new parents especially when you really have to take advantage of the baby’s nap time!

  • Sadie

    February 21st, 2017 at 4:57 PM

    I don’t know a single person who has NEVER had a dry spell. A friend gave me the name of a good book called “The Six Passions of the Red-Hot Lover” by Wendy Brown, whylovesucceeds.com/. Then she looked me square in the face and gave me some good advice. She said, sometimes whether you’re in the mood or not, say ‘yes’ and get in the mood – it’ll make more of a difference than you realize. It has!

  • Carolynn Aristone [AUTHOR]

    February 22nd, 2017 at 7:46 AM

    Your comments are all valid. The lack of sex may or may not lead to a general unhappiness, an emptiness or even a void. When you approach that conversation from a heartfelt, loving place, it breeds intimacy. If you feel less than satisfied in your sex life and you also struggle to talk about it, intimacy in general may be compromised. Different circumstances can certainly impact the dry spells, new baby, new job, stress, etc. And yes, sometimes, saying yes can get the juices flowing but that is not the case for everyone. Knowing how to navigate this highly sensitive subject is key to maintaining healthy loving connection.

  • kendall l

    February 22nd, 2017 at 8:45 AM

    My husband gets so bogged down on oh its been this long since we have had sex but he doesn’t think about all the other things that we have had to manage to get in too! It just frustrates me because it is like he is keeping score or these tally marks in his head!

  • Brian

    February 23rd, 2017 at 12:18 PM

    I am sort of on the opposite end, my wife never wants to have sex anymore since we had our baby. I know that it takes a while for things to bounce back physically after giving birth but I really feel like a lot of the time she resents me and resents the fact that she stays home with the baby while I go to work.
    I think that she thinks that I am out getting to have all of this fun and I am like I am working and the only thing that she can think to do to get back at me for some weird reason is to not have sex with me.
    I am almost at a loss because here this should be a happy time in our lives and truthfully I think that this is all making both of us miserable.

  • Kristie

    February 26th, 2017 at 1:38 PM

    there are other ways other than sex to be intimate with someone

  • Halley

    January 1st, 2019 at 6:48 PM

    My fiance and I have never had sex often. He has low testosterone, so it takes hours if he is able to finish at all. And the only way he can is if he is rough and fast. It’s extremely painful for me since my hysterectomy and I no longer enjoy sex with him. I know my emotions also come in to play as well. Last time we dated, he cheated on me. He is different this time and is very caring and attentive, but in the back of my mind is always on the thought of him cheating. He wants to fix our sex life, but I don’t know how.

  • Vlad

    September 15th, 2019 at 9:40 AM

    Beautifully put, thanks! :)

  • Calvin A

    October 29th, 2019 at 12:05 PM

    This is good advice! However, the best way to deal with a dry spell is simply not allow them to happen, especially without kida. I’d love to see ideas on preventing them altogether.

  • JP

    September 15th, 2020 at 6:53 PM

    “there are other ways other than sex to be intimate with someone” – none of them are as fun, or worth the effort.

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