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March 1, 2023

How to Overcome Sexual Difficulties in your Relationship 

by Melanie Verschoore

Do you feel as if the sexual excitement with your partner is beginning to fizzle out?  Perhaps you feel panicked because you’re unaware of why you’re no longer in the mood to jump your partner’s bones 24/7, or vice versa – does this mean you’ve lost your connection to one another? Don’t be alarmed just yet, because it’s extremely common for both married and unmarried couples to experience such sexual troubles. It’s not always clear what factors could be contributing to your seemingly stagnant and/or unfulfilling sex life with your partner. Whether due to mental health problems, communication discrepancies, or familiarity with one another, there could be a number of different culprits negatively affecting your partner’s sexual relationship. One important thing to keep in mind is that declines in sexual activity happen naturally as relationships progress. In fact, there is often a steep drop in sexual frequency after the second year of a relationship1. It’s difficult to maintain high sexual desire over the course of a relationship2. However, even if you feel discouraged that one or both of you don’t have the same proclivity for sex you once did, you can still turn things around. Here are four tips to help you recognize and address what may be causing changes in your sex life, as well as how to manage and revitalize your bond.

1. Try new things together – in the bedroom and beyond.

In the beginning of relationships, passion and energy are at an all-time high. We constantly think and fantasize about our partner, want to spend time with them, and usually have a lot of sex.  However, as romantic relationships progress, we can easily become accustomed to our activities with our partner and, unfortunately, this can include sex. Sometimes couples are faced with sexual discrepancies, where one partner wants sex more or less than the other3. In such situations, attempting to fix the problem is often worth the effort3. This usually requires communicating about the issue. Another helpful strategy is to explore the potential kinks and fantasies of the partner who tends express their desires less. Although focusing on sexual behaviors that you can try out with your partner is important, your exciting activities together don’t always have to be centered around sex. Self-expansion theory is the idea that doing novel activities with your partner can ignite exhilaration and passion in your relationship2. This passion is can be reminiscent of the “falling in love stage” that people often crave when they notice a plateau forming in their relationship. Trying out some fun activities with your partner that you don’t typically do can help you incorporate this in your day-to-day life. This can include taking a pottery class together, visiting a museum, and more – just try out something new! Physical activities are another great way to incite passion in the relationship as well. The Two-Factor theory suggests that if you are physiologically aroused during an activity, you will attribute that arousal to the person you’re with. Hiking or going to concerts with your partner are just a couple great ways to get the adrenaline pumping and awaken your desires.

2. Reflect on your personal views about sex – and yourself

Your internal and external views about both sex and your overall body image can affect how you approach sex in your personal relationship. For instance, how you view yourself has a large impact on your sexual performance with a partner. Relationship functioning  tends to suffer when they are highly self-conscious about their bodies, and in turn causes them to have less pleasure/enjoyment during sexual activity4. Not only can body image issues lead people to avoid certain sexual activities all together, but it can also lead people to be distracted during sex4. When we are unable to fully focus on sex in the moment, it’s not as satisfying and may cause us to have a decreased desire for sex. Reflect on both your attitudes toward sex, as well as your personal relationship with your body and self-esteem. It’s important for you to communicate with your partner about your insecurities – whether about yourself or your sexual performance – so that they may support you and so you can move forward as a couple.

3. Ask about your partner’s mental wellbeing

You’d be surprised at how easily people can forget to inquire about the “simple things” with their partner, such as how their day was or if they ate, when comfortable in the relationship. Sometimes we get caught up in the hectic whirlwind of our own lives and fail to see the internal struggles our partner is facing, especially if they aren’t forthcoming about their emotions. Sexual difficulties are associated with poor mental health5; if you’re witnessing unknown changes in your sex life, it could be related to mental health struggles. This highlights the importance of frequent and honest communication, even about topics that aren’t the easiest to bring up. If you are unsure of how to approach your partner about this, just remember to be calm and honest. Communicate with your partner ways that they can support you in your struggles and incorporate them in your plans to look after your mental health. Maybe you could decide to check in with each other once a week to really assess how the two of you are feeling mentally/emotionally; just setting an intention can be extremely beneficial.

4. Don’t be afraid to have conversations about sex.

We know that open and transparent communication with a partner is crucial to both relationship functioning and sexual functioning, and sexual communication is no exception. Sex talk can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, so it’s no wonder that it’s not always easy to talk about with your partner. However, even if they may seem intimidating at first, having intimate conversations with your partner can be immensely beneficial. In fact, sexual communication is associated with relationship satisfaction6. This makes sense because if one partner is not communicating their sexual needs or desires to the other, the latter is likely to continue their unsatisfactory behavior. It’s important to talk about sex with your partner to ensure that you are aware of what you both like and don’t like and so that you can talk about sex more transparently in the future. Asking your partner first what they like or are interested in can lift some weight off your shoulders and, in turn, make it easier for you to then bring up your own interests/desires. Try to be honest and authentic, but also be sure to use positive language to avoid hurting their feelings and risk distancing your partner . Sex is a touchy subject, so you want to make sure you are sensitive to your partner’s feelings. It can create positive changes in your sex life when you and your partner talk about what you both want; it shows that you care about your partner’s happiness and satisfaction, while also helping to improve sex all together.

Conclusion

Being comfortable in communicating with your partner about your sexuality and mental well-being can improve sex life and relationship as a whole. Don’t be worried if the spark doesn’t feel as strong as it did in the beginning of your relationship – it’s natural, and there are still ways for you and your partner to work through this. Reflect on the status of your sex life with your partner– could any of the topics mentioned above be influencing aspects of your relationship? Try out a couple of these tips the next time you’re with your significant other and take note of the effects.

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References

1Schröder, Jette, J., Schröder, C., & Schmiedeberg. (20157). Effects of relationship duration, cohabitation, and marriage on the frequency of intercourse in couples: Findings from German panel data. Social Science Research52, 72–82.

2Muise, A., Harasymchuk, C., Day, L. C., Bacev-Giles, C., Gere, J., & Impett, E. A. (2019). Broadening your horizons: Self-expanding activities promote desire and satisfaction in established romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology116(2), 237–258.

3Vowels, L. M., & Mark, K. P. (2020). Strategies for mitigating sexual desire discrepancy in relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior49(3), 1017–1028.

4Wiederman, M. W. (2011). Body image and sexual functioning. In T. F. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention., 2nd ed. (pp. 271–278). The Guilford Press.

5Patrick, K., Heywood, W., Smith, A. M. A., Simpson, J. M., Shelley, J. M., Richters, J., & Pitts, M. K. (2013). A population-based study investigating the association between sexual and relationship satisfaction and psychological distress among heterosexuals. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy39(1), 56–70.

6Roels, Rick, R., Roels, E., & Janssen. (n.d.). Sexual and Relationship Satisfaction in Young, Heterosexual Couples: The Role of Sexual Frequency and Sexual Communication. The Journal of Sexual Medicine., 17(9), 1643–1652.

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