A gap in libido is one of the most common complaints of couples in treatment. In counseling couples and individuals over 40 years, I have worked with countless couples whose sex drives didn’t match. This situation can lead to severe stress, infidelity, and/or divorce. Sex problems can weaken the most solid relationship.
There are wide variations in how often a person wants to engage in sex. On one end of the continuum are those who view sex as a routine daily activity like brushing their teeth. On the other end, some prefer no sexual engagement at all. Most of us fit somewhere in the middle.
A person’s natural sex drive can be diminished by a number of factors, including child-birth and parenting, career, stress, medications (except, of course, for drugs like Viagra), menopause, and aging. These can widen the gap for couples who’ve gotten comfortable with small differences in their sex drives. When the gap gets too wide, problems often emerge.
Changes in one of the partner’s feelings about the relationship will also be reflected in the bedroom. For instance, anger is an anti-aphrodisiac, and so is poor hygiene, excessive alcohol, and visiting in-laws from out of state.
How can you address sex and keep it from ruining your relationship? Below I’ve shared a 5 step process that we use with clients to help them resolve sex drive disparity. Follow these steps sequentially, take your time, and try to maintain an attitude of curiosity about yourself and your partner.
Step 1: Start by shifting the focus to yourself. Decide, in your ideal world, how many times per week you’d like to have sex with your partner. Now consider how your responsibilities, duties and hobbies impact your ideal number. Be honest with yourself. How much of your time and physical and emotional resources do you really want to dedicate to your sexuality? Identify your level of sexual energy? On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your sexual relationship with your partner?
Step 2: Why do you think this problem exists? Are your sex drives just naturally different, or might they be a reflection of other problems in your relationship? Has your passion eroded over time? Is sex routine and boring? Knowing the answers to these question is critical. If you define the problem, finding a solution is possible.
Step 3: Are you and your partner open and honest with each other? Do you feel safe to talk openly about everything , including sex? How would it feel for you to initiate a conversation about your sex life – embarrassing, scary, shameful, vulnerable, guilty, sad, angry?
Step 4: Write down your responses to Step 1-3 and review them. Prepare to talk with you partner about your feelings and sexual wants and needs. Consider asking your partner to complete these 5 steps before you start a discussion to give him or her an opportunity to prepare too. When you do talk, try to listen without feeling defensive, resentful or angry. Having a deeper understanding of your partner’s sexual needs and desires will diffuse tension and negative emotion and strengthen your connection.
Step 5: Compare and contrastthe commonalities and differences in your sexual needs and wants. Remember to be, and stay, clear in your own mind your sexual wants and needs. Don’t let your clarity get diluted or dissolved during your discussion.The areas you and your partner have in common can serve as a foundation you can build upon. Your differences are challenges to overcome together.
Disagreements about sex is a major causes of divorce. If you and/or your partner are experiencing difficulties, it is best to address them immediately to stop the inevitable erosion to your relationship. Besides sex can be the ultimate way to nurture a deep connection and ensure a satisfying, lasting relationship.
Mary Ellen Goggin and Jerry Duberstein, Ph.D.