In the early years of a relationship, sex is hot, hot, hot! But how do married couples and committed partners keep sexual passion alive over the long haul? Fancy lingerie, articles with “7 easy tips…,” and sex toys may help, but long-term desire is rooted in something more challenging: a commitment to deeper vulnerability.
What makes vulnerability so challenging? For most couples, the biggest challenge is the tension between the need for independence and the need for closeness. Each partner in a relationship must decide separately how much independence they’re willing to give up to gain the amount of closeness they want. And usually, partners are on opposite sides of the continuum between these two human needs. For instance, perhaps your partner wants to spend more time having sex (closeness), but you feel the need to devote more time to work (space). Or one wants to spend time together talking (closeness) as opposed to the other wishing to train for a marathon (independence).
Sex gets caught in this struggle. When negotiations for intimacy and distance fail, sexual connection is the critical area often first crushed. The power struggle may not stop sex altogether, but it can create an unsatisfactory love life.
For example, if a couple becomes too close, not allowing for invigorating differences, sex can be flat with too little eroticism, reducing its appeal. On the other hand, if partners are too far apart, sex will be mechanical with little intimacy or real connection.
Here are some ways to disentangle sex from the power struggle:
- Discover your partner over and over again. Realize that there might be more to your partner than what you think. Same goes for assumptions about what your partner likes in bed, ask again.
- Respect differences that are non-essential. I’ve had couples spend whole therapy sessions arguing about the proper way to cut up fish for the grill – each wanting to control the other. Their sex life was hopelessly snagged, even though both felt attraction and desire. Ultimately they could not submit to the moment and lose themselves in pleasure.
- Time is not the problem. Lack of sex is never about not having enough time. Upon review, I can always find four to five times the couple had plenty of opportunity for sex. These same couples with no time for sex routinely make once-a-week therapy appointments and sit together for an hour. This excuse signifies part of the unresolved power struggle.
- Negotiate money fairly. The old adage about a balance of power in a relationship, “one holds the purse strings and the other the key to the bedroom,” plays out time and again in my consulting room.
- Request what you want in bed rather than complain about what you’re not getting.
- Commit to giving love in the way that your partner asks for it.
I firmly believe that you can have rice every day, if you mix it up. (I mean this literally if you live in certain Asian countries or are severely impoverished and have a hotpot). You can keep the flame alive, in the bedchamber and the heart chamber with minimal effort. The key is remembering to do little things for your wife or longtime girlfriend or life partner that keep her surprised and sexually interested— almost to the point of wariness. I know that remembering to be unexpected seems counterintuitive, which is why it’s important to plan your spontaneity with laser precision.
I’ve assembled some tips to keep your relationship feeling freshly shucked. Love is like a car, or intestines, and romance is like the oil change, or colonoscopy. Print these out and keep them in your pocket—you’ll be magically transported back to a time when you didn’t think of sex as an annoying reason to take off your robe. Back when seeing each other still made you a little nervous. Maybe nervous-er, if you’re really good at it.
So put a rose in your teeth and let’s go!
Set an iPhone alert once a month for ROMANCE. On that day, do something romantic, like bringing her a favorite snack or showing up at work to serenade her in front of her colleagues. If she ever sees the iPhone alert, act casual and pretend like ROMANCE is the name of an adult video store.
Sometimes jealousy is a real aphrodisiac. Why not give her the illusion that you’ve been cheating on her without any of the actual cheating. Have a friend call your cell phone repeatedly at odd hours, or quickly cover up your computer screen whenever she walks into a room. Now take her in your arms. Surprise! You’ve been taking a ballroom dancing class the whole time.
Use an Internet coupon for a couple’s massage. Let the soothing music and scent of bamboo take you into your own little world, and feel free to talk like the two people giving the massage aren’t there. Maybe discuss how weird it is to be massaged, as a couple, by two people, and wonder aloud if the masseuses would consider having sex with you.
Why not make a trail of rose petals leading to the bedroom? Or breadcrumbs. Sometimes women reeeeeeeeally want to have sex and we just get lost.