There comes a point in many relationships when the sex just isn’t what it used to be. That may seem like a depressing reality but fixing a lackluster sex life requires recognizing it’s an issue. “The first step, and the easiest step, is just to talk with each other about the fact that sex requires prioritizing,” says Vanessa Marin, sex therapist. Communication is almost always the best way to address troubles in paradise but that may not be enough. Read on for other tips for how you (and your partner) can give your sex life its due.
Know That All Couples Are Different
Just because you’ve heard the average couple has sex twice a week, doesn’t mean that’s right for your relationship. “It’s different for each couple,” says Marin. “It’s up to them to decide what role they want sex to play in their relationship.” If you think something is off, talk to your partner about it but don’t go looking for problems where there aren’t any. Your relationship is about you and your partner and whatever it is, it’s uniquely yours.
Find the Time, And the Place
When sex falls by the wayside, there are two common problems: lack of time and lack of place. “Usually my clients are too busy with work,” say Marin. “I also see a lot of parents who are just stretched too thin, trying to take care of kids on top of everything else.” People lead busy lives and sex often requires an appropriate setting. When you and your partner are juggling work, kids, events, and friends, these two, seemingly simple things can be hard to come by.
Work at It
Even if you are really into your partner and you two are great together, your sexual relationship can still be problematic. This is because sex in a relationship takes some real work. “Something that comes up a lot with couples is they expect sex is just going to be easy and come naturally,” says Marin. “Some people don’t always realize that you need to put effort into prioritizing it, into making enough time and a place for there to even be intimacy in the first place.”
Don’t Immediately Blame the Relationship
Couples may worry that a difficult sex life is indicative of bigger problems in the relationship. This can, of course, be true. “For some couples it does come up because there are other issues in the relationship: they’re fighting, they’re drifting away from each other, something else is going on,” says Marin. But she adds that in the majority of situations she has seen, a deprioritized sex life is a fairly self-contained issue. Again, it usually comes down to busy people not having the time or a place to get busy.
If you are ready to address a lackluster — or just plain lacking — sexual relationship, the first step is putting the problem out there. Talk about it, plain and simple. Then, decide to make fixing it a priority. Simply acknowledging the trouble is an enormous step forward, particularly because it allows you and your partner to get on the same page. Here, it’s important to be clear and realistic.
Work as a Team
Since both you and your partner are involved in your sex life, it makes sense to address any sex-related concerns as a team. Marin suggests having a mindset of “What can we do together to make sex more of a priority?” This also means no one partner is to blame for the issues and no one partner should be responsible for changes. If only one of you is initiating sex, talk about that and see if you can’t be better about working together.
Aim for Early Days
It’s not what you’re used to seeing in TV or movies but Marin suggests having sex well before bedtime. “The head hits the pillow and it’s way too late at that point,” she says. Instead, consider starting things up after you get home from work. At that time, you’re both unwinding and still relatively energetic. (Some people might still like a 10 minute break to get settled in at home first.)
Plan for Sex
Sometimes a little extra planning is needed to address this issue. This is particularly true for people with children, who may encounter special challenges when it comes to focusing more on sex and having some privacy where they can do that. Marin advises hiring a babysitter or making arrangements with another family to switch off watching kids. This can free up time (and the house) for uninhibited intimacy. Even for couples without kids, there might be added planning necessary in order to avoid calls from the boss, distraction by email, or other attention-hogging intrusions.
Turn Off the Electronics
This tip applies to your health in general but too much time on phones, TV, and computers can certainly put a damper on intimacy. “It’s so easy for us to get sucked into laying on the couch, watching TV. And, all of the sudden, three hours have passed,” says Marin. Power down and you will free up a surprising amount of time that you and your partner can use to pay attention to and work on your relationship.
A lot of places are touting the “State of the Relationship” talk. Marin says talking about your relationship with your partner is great but this perspective on it is not ideal. “It kind of gets built up as this one big conversation that you’re going to have about your sex life and that’s pretty daunting,” says Marin. Instead, have smaller talks. Be comfortable and don’t feel the need to address everything at once. Also, consider the timing of your talks. Avoid adding more stress to an especially crazy week but don’t hold things in just to accommodate day-to-day stresses.
Look at the Rest of Your Life
Marin has seen couples for whom their lack of sex life is extremely stressful and frustrating. In this stage, the problem can seem insurmountable. A shift in perspective may help. “What it comes down to in those times is saying, ‘Look at what you’re doing to yourselves right now,’” says Marin. No one is happy in this situation and the resulting distance can bring relationships to the brink. Fixes for this might be big, like talking to your boss about being overworked. “Sometimes there are tough decisions that have to be made,” says Marin, “but I think you have to realize what it is that you’re giving up if you continue down that same path.”
Focus on Quality Time, Not Sex
It can work for some people but scheduling a specific time for sex isn’t all that sexy. Rather than having sex o’clock, Marin recommends scheduling quality time with no pressure. Spending time together and being present is intimacy too. If it happens to lead to sex, then great. If not, it’s still time very well spent.