Many long term relationships that are stable and otherwise happy may be challenged when it comes to sex. Love Sex Relationships...can these three words coexist?
Perhaps sex is routine, dull, uninspiring. Perhaps it is infrequent. And it may surprise you to learn that many long-term couples have given up on sex altogether.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Even if you have gotten into a rut of an unsatisfying sex life in a relationship that has many other merits, you can begin to bring the passion back into your love life. The trick is to not expect miracles over night, but rather to begin a steady path in the right direction. You can get your love life back on track!
“Help! I’m in the relationship doldrums!” Brianna had been married for seventeen years and was looking forward to another few decades, when she came to us for counseling for love, sex and relationship issues. Activities in the bedroom with her husband had gotten fairly routine. There weren’t any surprises. “I just wish I could wave a wand and have it be the way it was when we were dating.”
If you’ve been in a relationship for awhile, and the sex has diminished or disappeared, it may take some time to rekindle passion. But there are a few things you can do to bring back that “new relationship” feeling of kindness, affection and appreciation that comes when both of you were going that extra mile to please each other.
What can happen when people get comfortable with each other is that they begin to take each other for granted. This is a rut you don’t want to fall into. When couples come for counseling, usually one person recognizes this problem before the other one does. The problem is that person wants their partner to be the one to change first.
A basic principle that we find really helpful in relationship counseling is this: The person who notices the problem, is the person who has a problem, in the sense that this issue is bothering them. This is why they need to be proactive to do something about it. And the person with the problem is very motivated to have a change, and is exactly the person who potentially can find a solution. This is the person with the energy and will to make the change. If you are the one in the relationship who can see the problem, you are the one who needs to be responsible for at least initiating change.
The bottom line is if you can see there is a problem, do something about it! Don’t wait for your partner to initiate change. Especially if that partner is oblivious to the problem. You may be the only one who can do something to get the ball rolling, to make things different. If you want to bring passion and sex back into your relationship, you need to take responsibility and take action.
The idea that you need to take responsibility for addressing the issue doesn’t mean – and it shouldn’t be assumed - that the problem is your fault. Healthy approaches to relationship solutions have nothing to do with fault-finding! It just means that because you see it and are bothered by it, you are the most logical person to do something different. By doing something different, you have the potential to make something new happen.
What many people in relationships do is complain about the same old behavior, and their method of communicating is in the same old ways. Then they wonder why nothing different happens. That is the definition of insanity: “Doing things the same way and expecting something different to happen.”
So, let’s say your partner has a habitual behavior that you don’t like. But instead of blaming your partner, you are going to take responsibility for it – not for the problem – but for finding the solution. You are going to make something different happen by responding to the old problem in a new way.
Blaming does as much good as kicking a dog. Instead of trying to blame your partner into new behavior, you are going to teach your lovin’ ole’ dog some new tricks, by trying new tricks yourself. New behavior from your partner has a chance to emerge as soon as you stop blaming your partner, and making assumptions about their character based on their behavior.
A lot of couples get into trouble when they try to discuss their sex life, or absence of if, because they fall into the habit of blaming. Typically they come to the discussion with both barrels blazing: “You never want to have sex!” “You don’t love me anymore!” “You think I’m fat and disgusting.” These are statements that may not even be true, and it is a mistake to assume you know, and tell your partner what he or she is feeling.
If you’ve been using some ineffective communication styles, using sentences that begin with deadly statements like: “You never (fill in the blank) or “You always…” – Or sentences that end in negative comments about their character like: “You never clean the cat box! You’re so lazy!” It’s time to change your old ways. Instead, you can ask for what you want in a new, kinder, simple tone of voice, the kind of pleasant tone you use when you ask someone to “please pass the butter.”
When you use this nice tone, you are assuming you will get what you want. You are not dragging a whole history of times that your partner didn’t pass the butter! This optimistic or positive tone creates less resistance. But on the other hand, if they can hear your disappointed tone, they are likely to give you more of the same. Assume you are going to get cooperation and it is more likely to happen.
Going back to the example of wanting someone to clean the cat box, you might say something like this: “I would really appreciate it if you clean the cat box when you see it needs it. It would really make me feel like we share the responsibility.”
Try a simple request for new sensual behavior. “I would love it if we just kissed for ten seconds before we go to sleep.” That is a simple request for a specific behavior. It is not asking the person for something vague or too unrealistic. Then when you see this behavior happening, be sure to show your appreciation and avoid the temptation to criticize even the smallest detail.
This is better than a generic request like “I wish we had more physical affection.” That is so broad that it is likely to short circuit the other person if there are some barriers to intimacy. Start with something that you like, and know that they like also. Then you can add another request some time down the road.
Then you would thank your partner for doing this simple task. Don’t leave this appreciation part out. If you want to reinforce new behavior, you are going to have to give a lot of positive reinforcement to motivate them to change. They learn that if they do good things, you are pleased, and they get appreciation. It is like a training cycle.
Follow this simple formula and get the good feelings back again!
Three steps to creating new behaviors in relationships:
First Step: Start by letting him know what he's doing right.
Second Step: Give him a challenge -- something he can do for you.
Third Step: Give him heaps of approval when he achieves the task.
The first step means you have to pay attention, to notice what he does right. If you’ve been focusing on what you don’t like, (and perhaps even nagging about it) you have to make an effort to switch your focus – and begin to notice something else that he does that you can appreciate. When only the complaints are getting air-time they eat away at good feelings. You need to consistently express appreciation for the small by nice things that are already happening. When we take for granted the small but nice things that our partners do, this erodes the foundation of our happiness together.
Imagine consistently noticing small nice things and commenting on them. "I love it that you always remember to pick up the mail from the mailbox." If your man knows that you notice when he does well, and that you will appreciate it in some way he can see, hear, or feel, he will be more encouraged to do lots of nice things for you. He wants love and encouragement, so if you show him how to get it, he'll go for it!
Here's an example of a small moment that Tina uses to make her man, John, feel good about himself:
TINA: Honey, there's a big bug in the bathroom, you're so good at catching them, would you get it for me, please?"
Then when John removes the uninvited guest, he is treated like the hero that he is.
TINA: Thanks, honey. I love it that you just go in there and get those big ugly bugs. You're my hero! (smooch!)
Sound simple? Maybe even corny? Well, it is. But it works!! Men go where the gold is, emotionally speaking. Make sure you have plenty of verbal and other forms of encouragement to keep him coming back. Make sure you are the source of the emotional honey pot. Believe it or not, most men actually enjoy pleasing their woman. Give him a challenge, something you know he can do to please you. Then adore him for doing it.
Remember when he first met you, how he was inspired to please you? He would do all kinds of nice things just because it would make you smile. And because you would tell him in many ways how much you liked and appreciated his attention. He was a hero in your eyes. And that's just what he can continue to be, if you treat him like one!
So, who stopped the romance? It doesn't matter who stopped it. You can get it back on track by acting like you are dating again. You can maintain the courtship feelings forever if you maintain that daily appreciative attitude.
And don't wait for him to make the first move! You start, by acknowledging what he is doing well. Catch him in the act of being a good man, and that's what will motivate him to be even better. Appreciating him is like giving him the green light to act like a hero. It is guaranteed to put the sweet nectar of love and kindness back into your relationship!
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