Sex is an important part of intimate relationships. It’s also one of the most challenging areas to navigate when it comes to negotiating different needs and wants. It is common for one person to want sex more often or in different ways than their partner. People see sex differently. Sex may be very important and meet a variety of needs or sex may be less important and meet very few personal needs. How these differences play out between two people in a committed long-term relationship will affect every other aspect of their relationship. Approaching this sensitive subject can be difficult. And when a couple gets stuck or gives up on creating a satisfying sex life, frustration and disconnect ensues.
So how does a couple approach sexual issues in their relationship? While it may sound cliché, the remedy begins with talk and ends with touch. Here are my 10 basic rules for addressing sexual issues.
- Don’t assume your partner knows there’s a problem. Even though you believe you’ve dropped enough hints or have made your needs known, if nothing is changing, a more direct conversation is called for.
- Don’t have the conversation during or immediately after sex. Have the conversation at a time when you have privacy and will not be rushed.
- Start out by stating your intentions. If your intentions are to make your partner wrong, feel bad, guilty, or ashamed, I suggest you rethink your intentions—I promise you, things will not go well. Intentions that reflect a desire to build intimacy, connection, satisfaction, and pleasure between and for you and your partner are the kind of intentions that result in listening and relationship building—not defending, attacking, or withdrawing.
- Let your partner know how he or she pleases you and what is good about your sex life, first. Then let your partner know what is missing for you and why this is important. Make sure you are concrete and clear in your wording. Don’t be afraid to use language that reflects how you like to be touched and where. If quantity, not quality is your issue, be clear on how much more sex is wanted and why.
- Be sure to ask your partner how his or her needs are being currently met and if your partner desires anything different. Remember, everyone is different and people’s needs and preferences change over time. In other words, don’t expect your partner to like the same things that your previous partner liked and don’t expect your partner’s sexual preferences to stay the same throughout the entire life cycle of the relationship.
- Remember, sex can serve many different needs. Be open to exploring the possibilities. Sex can relieve stress, increase well-being, create intimacy, relieve sexual tension, enhance self-esteem, and bring playfulness and fun into your relationship. Be open to exploring different techniques, approaches, locations, and frequency, as well as the varied and unexpected benefits you both can achieve.
- If after a full conversation about the issues, you or your partner is not comfortable with any sexual activity, please accept and respect their boundaries. It is important that both you and your partner feel safe and valued as is. If you cannot live with things the way they are, then this is another conversation for another day. However, it is important to remember item 5 above—what is unacceptable today may not be tomorrow.
- The next time you have sex, take the pressure of yourselves. Be willing to try new things and explore new territory—but do so with a playful attitude. Don’t worry about doing things right. Focus on building intimacy and connection. I promise that the rest will follow in time.
- Don’t be afraid to show, guide, and help your partner learn how to please you. Most people want to please their partners and may be unsure or insecure on how to proceed with your requests. A gentle and loving gesture in helping your partner understand how to do so can help.
- And lastly, give your partner lots of positive feedback and reinforcement. Let your partner know in one way or another that he or she is pleasing you. You want your partner to feel appreciated and good about being your sexual partner. The goal is for you both to feel secure, confident, and loved within the intimacy of your sexual relationship. It is within this atmosphere that pleasure and connection is achieved.
If you or someone you know are struggling with sexual issues in their relationship, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Having these conversations can be difficult and figuring out how to deal with the differences can take its toll. Receiving coaching or counseling can increase your chances for a successful outcome. Investing in your relationship is the best investment you can make—so call 1-888-99PATHS or 1-310-379-5855 today and schedule your session. I work by phone, Skype or in person.
As always, I’m here to support you in creating strong and powerful relationships.
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
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