“You know more about my sexuality than my wife,” said my client, a man in his early 40’s who was lamenting about the lack of intimacy in his marriage. I was initially taken aback, how could this be so?
Then I realized that my client and his wife were like many couples, if not most, in that they were not having open and honest conversations about their sexual feelings, needs, and desires.
Why do couples avoid talking about sex?
Embarrassment or shame in talking about sex in general which may be due to religious or cultural teachings that sex is somehow dirty, bad or wrong.
Being private about your sex life, which is often something intensely personal that we may not often discuss openly with others.
Previous experiences of talking with your partner or former partners that didn’t go well.
Fear of hurting their partner’s feelings, rejection and conflict.
Hoping that the problem will magically resolve itself. Actually, the opposite is more likely. Often, the longer you wait, the bigger the issue becomes.
After more than 20 years of counseling individual adults and couples on the relationship and sexual issues, I recommend the following:
Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements to reduce defensiveness. For example, “I love you and want to explore these fantasies with you” instead of “You never want to experiment.”
Before speaking, ask yourself, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” Choose diplomacy and pick your words carefully. For example, “A healthy lifestyle is something I find really attractive. Can we work on this together?” instead of “I am not as attracted to you since you gained weight.”
Express your needs and desires in a way that is honest, authentic and clear. For example, “I really enjoy foreplay and need it to get in the mood” or “I am interested in trying some sex toys or role play together. What do you think?”
Communicate, compromise and be creative. The client I mentioned in the opening paragraph needed pornography to get an erection. Through counseling, he finally developed the courage and the language to share this with his wife.
He asked that she consider allowing the pornography to be introduced into the bedroom. At first, she was surprised and resistant, but through conversation did agree to give it a try. It ended up solving an unspoken problem that had been creating a huge divide in their relationship and ignited passion in the bedroom.
Nurture emotional, relational and spiritual intimacy. Spend 20 minutes a day of talking about non-household related issues. You know, like you did when you were dating before bills and kids when you talked about everything from books, movies, and current events to your innermost dreams and passions.
Be present. Apply mindfulness to your relationship. Get off your smartphone or tablet and give your partner your eye contact and full attention. Consider doing something reflective together such as meditating, prayer, watching the sunset or simply taking a walk.
Do shared activities or projects together. My favorite is working out because it can raise endorphins and have you both feeling more confident and attractive. Also consider gardening, taking a cooking class, or working on a home improvement or decorating project together.
Learn one another’s Love Languages. Dr. Gary Chapman says we all have preferred ways of giving and receiving love.
Say words of affirmation, do acts of service, spend quality time together, demonstrate physical intimacy and give gifts to show your partner you love them.
Also, recognize when they are expressing love and care for you and reflect appreciation.
Improve your communication and conflict resolution techniques. Learn about Dr. John Gottman’s four relationship killers – Criticism, Contempt, Stonewalling, and Defensiveness. Make a commitment to stop those behaviors. Learn how to communicate assertively and authentically.
Schedule regular date nights. Go on a date at a minimum once a month, preferably weekly. Remember, these do not need to be expensive. Consider a babysitting option if you have kiddos.
Practice gratitude. People sometimes focus on what their relationship is lacking.
No relationship or partner is perfect.
Train yourself to increase positivity by looking at the good parts of your partner and your relationship.
Spice things up in the bedroom by taking baby steps. Reduce pressure to have intercourse if it’s been a while. Start by increasing physical connection and affection.
Make an effort to hold hands, hug, kiss, cuddle or make-out. Consider giving one another massages or taking a shower or bathing together. Make effort to increase the romance. Create time and space for connection, get kids out of the bed, light candles, put on music, wear lingerie, etc.
Consider conversation starter card games such as Our Moments or simply play Truth or Dare. Consider books like Kama Sutra to enhance your sex life as desired.
Consider counseling. Address the underlying emotional and relational issues in individual or couples therapy. Perhaps even consider a couples retreat.
Seeking counseling doesn’t mean your relationship is in crisis or on verge of breakup, it can help nurture the relationship by giving time and safe space to promote intimacy
Having a positive sex life in your marriage takes communication, creativity, and collaboration. You and your marriage are worth the effort.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Joyce Marter, LCPC is a licensed psychotherapist with over 20 years experience and Founder of Urban Balance, a counseling practice with over 100 therapists working from ten locations in three states. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and the Chair of the Midwest Region of the American Counseling Association. She is frequently quoted in the media, including outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, US News