For many of us, long-term relationships are the name of the game — domestic bliss is what we’re looking for at the end of the day. But sometimes when we find it, we discover that the comfort and stability of a long-term relationship means trading off some of the things we enjoyed in the early hot and heavy months — like having sex all the time. For some long-term couples, this means having sex rarely, a few times a year, or not at all.
If this is you, you aren’t alone — this is very common. If you’re not feeling fulfilled by this situation, that’s common too. But how do you move forward if you and your partner are just on different pages about this issue? Here’s what I recommend.
Communicate to find the “why” before the “how”
We all know you’re supposed to communicate in relationships — but how we approach communication and what we aim to do with it can make a world of difference in how we resolve our issues. It’s possible to communicate clearly and still walk away without moving closer to an issue — or even making something worse.
Here’s how I would not recommend communicating about not having enough sex: “We never have sex anymore. Do you even still love me/are you still attracted to me?” This sets up both of you to fail: at least one partner is already on the defensive, and the stakes have been raised to “do you even love me” right from the start. Instead, try something more like this: “Hey, I was hoping we could check in and talk about how our sex life is going; when’s a good time for you?” When you do check in, you can share how you’re feeling about the frequency with which you’re having sex — but make sure you’re also asking your partner to share how they’re feeling, too; they may have needs that are going unmet you didn’t even know about.
Once you’ve gotten the idea of not having enough sex on the table, be intentional about how you discuss it. Instead of leaping right into trying to find a solution, or asking your partner to commit to a different schedule, try stating clearly that you aren’t looking to resolve it right now. Although it may seem counterintuitive, it can take a lot of pressure off. Instead, try asking more open-ended questions about how you and your partner are both feeling, about your relationship and about sex — your partner may share that they’re having stressors or trauma around sex that you weren’t aware of, or you may be able to come to realizations about what’s bothering you so much about this, that wouldn’t have come up in a conversation designed to find an immediate solution. You may even find out that the sex you’ve been having isn’t very good for your partner — which means this is a conversation you need to go into with an open mind and without defensiveness or accusations.
Think about what sex means to you, and what needs it meets
We often take it for granted that sex is universally desirable for reasons that don’t need to be explained — and by all means, sex is fantastic and you don’t need to justify why you want or enjoy it. However, that doesn’t mean that sex means the same thing to all of us, or that all of us want it for the same reason (or the kind of sex at the same amount).
If you’re the partner who wants to be having more sex than you are, think about why it’s bothering you. It’s completely fine to just want to be having sex with your partner that you love and are attracted to, but is there anything more there? Do you feel rejected, undesirable, or abandoned when you don’t have sex? Do you feel less connected to your partner?
How does your partner feel about sex? Do they have different associations with it? Are there any shared associations or experiences you can build a shared common ground from to work with?
Experiment with nonsexual intimacy
“Nonsexual intimacy” could look like a range of things for you and your partner — many of which you probably already practice. Examples could be:
Making intentional time for a hug and kiss at the start or end of each day, or when you come home from work
Holding hands or giving a foot massage while watching TV or talking about your day
Making a point of flirting or giving compliments on your partner’s outfit and/or body
Sending photos of yourself during the day, and asking for them in return
Setting an alarm ten minutes earlier than you need to get up in the morning to spend time cuddling before you get up
Finding opportunities for more physical touch during your shared day – touching their lower back while your partner is doing dishes, or touching their arm while talking
These might sound like the things we do while in the early stages of dating — flirting, basically. The point of doing this is twofold. First, it accomplishes the same thing flirting does when you’ve first met someone and are crazy about them: it establishes that you’re interested, invites them to do the same, and builds sexual connection and chemistry.