Let 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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