By Clay Culp, Relationship Rx facilitator
Watch Clay discuss this topic on WTNZ Fox43 here.
Most couples experience ebbs and flows in sexual satisfaction throughout the course of their relationship. It’s simply inevitable that as we grow, age, and change together, so too will our ways of being physically intimate with one another.
This can happen for a variety of reasons such as the birth of a child, increased stress at work, medical problems, or even just all-so common general fluctuations in intimacy. Before you know it, it seems sex has gone from something that felt natural and easy based on a mutual feeling of chemistry to something that feels tense, awkward, or uneasy.
Once the process begins, it’s easy for negative patterns surrounding sex to develop. For example, a wife may avoid all physical affection from her husband, worrying that any type of touch — even a hug — might be mistaken as a cue to initiate sex. This avoidance can be seen as deeply rejecting, perhaps evidence of lack of attraction, love, or care. Rather than simple rejection, the avoidant partner could simply be feeling “touched out” from a day spent at home being crawled on by young kids and in need intellectual, rather than physical stimulation. Without recognition and communication, however, a pattern of avoidance, pursuit and rejection can become entrenched.
Fortunately, even small and simple changes can help couples get out of their rut and reconnect. If you have found yourself in this situation, consider the following suggestions:
1) Sometimes less is more: Partners often differ in sexual desire. For the partner desiring more sex, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking the answer is simply to initiate more sexual advances. But the dance of sexual intimacy is not like a math ratio, where simply increasing the number of advances will inevitably lead to more sex. Sex is a far more emotionally complicated behavior. In fact, less is sometimes more. Easing up can have a way of reducing feelings of pressure and anxiety. And remember, physical affection apart from overt sexual advances is an important part of developing the emotional connection many people require before feeling comfortable with sex.
2) Know what you need: In order this part of our lives to be fulfilling and enjoyable, certain conditions must be met. These often include things like not being ill or tired, not being overly anxious, and feeling emotionally connected. As a culture, we’re taught that these conditions usually only apply to women. Men can and should be ready, willing, and able for sex at anytime, we’re told. This is just one of many common misconceptions. As Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld details in his book The New Male Sexuality, men are not “sex machines.” It is important for both partners to consider what factors contribute to or detract from a positive experience.
3) Discuss it outside of the bedroom: Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to talk about your needs and desires. While communication during the act itself can be extremely important, talking about it outside of the bedroom can help couples reduce anxiety. If you wait until things are already underway, you may find yourself feeling too vulnerable to really open up about what you are needing or wanting. As difficult as it can be to talk about, many people find it’s better than the alternative of never bringing them up or bringing them up during sex. Talking about it can even be a fun way to generate desire and intimacy.
4) Expand your horizons: When our focus regarding sex becomes too narrow, we often miss out of opportunities for physical intimacy and sexual fulfillment. As our relationship grows and changes, so too must our expectations surrounding sex. Focus on the process of sharing intimate time together, rather than performance or any specific outcome.
5) Don’t be afraid to dive in: As one couple recently told me, sometimes the answer is simply to “get naked and see what happens.” When the desire is there but feelings of awkwardness or tension remain, the situation is sometimes not unlike trying to go for a swim when the water feels cold to the touch. If you dip just your toes in, it’s easy to decide it would be better to wait, perhaps for a more perfect, slightly warmer moment. Some research indicates that, in fact, the mood can follow the action rather than the other way around.
6) Recognize root causes: While sex is an important component of a healthy relationship, problems in this area are often a symptom of other issues, rather than the problem in and of itself. But it’s far easier to focus on sex, a concrete and physical measure that can be counted and cataloged rather than deeper emotionally issues that may be serving as a roadblock to physical intimacy. As painful as some this can be to accept, using the symptom of sex as a starting point for deeper conversation can be just the spark needed to set you on the path toward greater emotional connection and relationship satisfaction.
Edited by Lucia Miranda, Relationship Rx facilitator.