By far one of the most common issues in a relationship is dissatisfaction with the amount of sex in it. Sometimes, this is because partners in the relationship have different libidos or sexual tastes; sometimes, both partners wish they were having more sex, but something isn’t clicking. Regardless of the reason, many couples try the same things to get past it: having sex even when one or both people don’t feel like it, scheduling sex, or even opening the relationship.
If these strategies work for you, that’s great; if you’re still struggling, I have a surprising suggestion for you: you might have more success tackling the disconnect in your sex life outside of bed. Here’s seven ideas for your relationship that may shift things in your sex life without ever stepping foot in the bedroom.
Spend more time apart
Paradoxically, when you want to feel closer and more connected to your partner, it can help for both of you to invest intentionally in your lives outside each other. As the saying goes, how can I miss you if we’re never apart? Even when you love your partner and want to spend all your time together, the extreme level of familiarity that entails can stop eroticism in its tracks. Try spending time with friends, hobbies, family, and interests separately, and see what shifts in the time you spend together.
Level up your communication
People repeat that communication is key ad nauseam, but it’s the truth. Often we interpret this to mean communication about the hard stuff — problems in your relationship, things you take issue with — and that is important. It’s impossible to have a healthy sex life if one or both of you is harboring resentments you aren’t discussing openly, remedying that is definitely a necessary step.
Sometimes, though, we focus on the big C communication and lose sight of the day to day communication that forms the glue of a relationship. When was the last time you asked about your partner’s best friend at work? Do you still tell each other anecdotes about trivial interactions you had at the grocery store? When you were first dating, you likely wanted to know everything about each other, even tiny minutiae about your day. Try spending a week committing to asking about the details of your partner’s life and really listening to the answers, inviting them to share further with genuine attention and investment; notice what changes in the time you spend together, including in bed.
Start an activity together outside the bedroom
We often talk about sex as a way to “reconnect,” and it is — but it’s hard to have sex if you’re already feeling disconnected. Explore activities you can do together that rely on cooperation, communication and problem-solving together — maybe it’s learning a new skill together, like bread baking, or maybe it’s something smaller stakes, like doing the crossword together over breakfast on Sundays. It sounds trite, but real intimacy is built from thousands of small interactions like this; finding situations where you can be on each other’s team and solve challenges together and where you can build routines and rituals together will increase intimacy across all parts of your life, including in the bedroom.
Try sleeping separately
This sounds counterintuitive — but some live-in couples find that their relationship is transformed in positive ways by sleeping in separate bedrooms. It’s possible that you’re relying on routines around sleep for your sex life, assuming that sex will organically happen when you go to bed — but differences in your sleep style means this never happens.
If you usually go to bed at 8:30 pm because you have to get up at 5 but your partner stays up until 11 gaming with their friends, you aren’t going to naturally end up having sex without discussion about it. Separate bedrooms can helpfully force you to communicate about this more actively — and it may be easier and more fun to have sex when you aren’t harboring resentments about your partner’s snoring, cold feet and need to sleep with white noise playing.
Masturbate on your own
For some people, part of the point of being in a healthy relationship is that they don’t have to masturbate, because they have a sexual partner. But especially as our relationships stretch into the long term, we can risk losing sight of our individual sexual selves and relying on our partner for all the desire and eroticism in our lives.
Masturbating regularly helps you reconnect with when you actually feel like doing something sexual and what it feels like to be aroused; it invites you to think actively about your own fantasies and desires rather than letting your sex life keep going on autoplay. Besides that, it helps remind you of what feels good to you and how you like to be touched — or even teach you something new you can teach your partner.
Bring flirting back into play
When you look at “successful” couples who are not only together after a long period of time, but still seem crazy about each other, they often have this in common: they still flirt with each other, even if they’ve been together 30 years. We tend to think of flirting as how we catch somebody’s interest before we get together with them, and stop doing so once we settle into “real” relationship stuff, like living together. But the frisson of flattery and desire you get from your crush flirting with you doesn’t have to go away after you’re settled in together — and can be powerful fuel for an immediate sense of attraction you can carry into the bedroom.
Try treating your partner like you’re still angling for a first date — compliment their outfit with visible appreciation, talk about how much you want to see them or how much you’ve been thinking about them; consider getting into sexting if you haven’t already. You’d be amazed how much of a difference it can make in your sex life to experience reminders of how attracted you both are to each other.