It’s quite common for couples in long-term committed relationships to find themselves at a point where one partner wants sex more, or less, than another, often referred to as differences in sex drive. There may be many reasons for discrepancies in sex drive and finding a way through the situation often means opening up discussion about your whole relationship, not just the sex part. It also means that cookie cutter solutions offered in the form of five-step plans don’t always work. The ideas below aren’t meant as a one-size-fits-all solution, but if you and your partner have very different levels of interest in sex and you’re not sure where to start to work on the problem, you may find this information helpful in opening up new thinking about a very old and very common dilemma.
Sex Drive Reality Check
Sexual desire or sex drive isn’t a static experience. Our sex drive may change over the course of a day, week, or month, and will change many times across our lifespan. If one of you doesn’t want as much sex as the other it might be a long-term situation, but it might not.
Long-term committed relationships require negotiation and compromise and that includes sex. It’s unrealistic to think that you will get everything you want, especially if you’re expecting it all from one person.
Change is always a possibility, if not always possible. Any kind of change is possible, and people’s ability to change can be unpredictable. At the same time there is no guarantee that any amount of thinking, feeling, and talking about your relationship will result in the change you want.
Avoid quantification and comparison. No good will come from one or both of you feeling pressure to perform or measure up in a way that matches what you think other people are doing. Sexual desire is an exquisitely unique expression of our individuality, and comparisons serve no one.
It might not be the first thing you do, but at some point you’re going to have to talk with your partner about these issue
Start with yourself. It’s easy to blame your partner for problems in your relationship without considering what role you play in developing and maintaining the problem. This is particularly true when, on the surface, one partner is asking for more sex and the other is satisfied with the amount of sex in the relationship. It’s rare that one partner in a relationship completely satisfied while the other is not. Even if you think the problems all lie with your partner, ask yourself some questions about the situation to clarify your own needs:
- When did you become aware of a difference in sex drive?
- Do you know how much sex you’d like to have?
- If you’re satisfied with your sex life as it is, how do you feel when you hear your partner isn’t satisfied?
- If you’re dissatisfied with your sex life can you describe how without talking about the quantity?
- When you say you want sex what does that mean to you?
- When your partner asks for sex, what is it that you imagine they are asking for?
- Without putting all the responsibility on your partner, what do you think are some of the causes of the difference in sexual interest or desire?
These are only a few questions, but taking time for yourself to answer these can be good preparation for talking with your partner.
Talk to your partner. This one might seem obvious, but if you’ve been struggling with difference in sex drive for a while you may be at a point where you feel like you can’t talk about it anymore. When you get to that point it can often be helpful to seek out a counselor or therapist.
Ultimately you need to be able to communicate with your partner in a way that isn’t about blaming each other. Try to remember that you’re in this together and the reason you’re struggling (presumably) is because you want to stay together. One way to change up the dynamic is to write a letter to your partner about how you’re feeling and ask them to respond by writing you a letter. Moving from talking to writing opens up many possibilities and can shake up old patterns that you both fall into when you talk about these issues.
Find a counselor or therapist. Some issues in relationships are so complicated and touch us so deeply that having a third party, someone who is there not for one partner or the other, but for the relationship, can be incredibly helpful. While therapy isn’t financially an option for everyone, if you can access affordable couples therapy or counseling you also benefit from the experience of other couples struggles with this very common problem. You don’t need to find a sex therapist as long as it’s a therapist who works with couples and is comfortable talking about sex (many aren’t!).
Finding self-help resources. There are dozens of books specifically about dealing with sex drive discrepancies in long term relationships. Often these books use the terminology of the “sexless marriage.” Finding a self-help book that works for you is always a matter of trial and error, and unless you have a limitless budget, going to the library and taking some time to flip through a few titles is a good way to get a feel for the tone of the book, what sorts of direct suggestions or help the book offers, and whether or not you feel the book is speaking to you.
Explore sexual compromises. Just as you compromise with your partner on which movies you see, what you have for dinner, and maybe even where you end up living, long-term sexual relationships require sexual compromise. This doesn’t mean doing things you aren’t comfortable with, but it does mean having an open mind and being able to talk about your sexual preferences and desires honestly. Finding sexual compromise is much easier when all your sexual options are made visible. Often our sexual options seem narrow because we don’t really know what our partner desires. When we keep our desires secret it can appear as if we don’t have any, or only have the ones we are comfortable showing our partner on a regular basis. Uncomfortable though it might be, revealing our desires that we have kept hidden can be a crucial part of working through differences in sexual desire.