Let's Talk About Sex
When partners in a committed relationship hit a point where there is an obvious difference in sex drives any difficulties in talking about sex can quickly become magnified, and while you may have tried to talk about the issue on several occasions, it can quickly feel like something neither of you wants to talk about. At that point talking may not be the best thing to do, but eventually you have to start communicating about the issue in order to get through it, around it, or even end the relationship in a respectful and loving way. Here are some ideas on what to do when talking isn’t working anymore.
1. What Do You Mean By Sex?
Whether you want more or less sex, what does it mean to you when you say you want sex? Do you want specific behaviors, specific outcomes (e.g. an orgasm)? Do you want more intimacy, more connection or more attention paid to you? We all assume we know what we mean when we say “sex” but sex has many meanings, and you should start by clarifying for yourself what sex means to you. At some point that’s something you can communicate to your partner.
2. Define the Issue for Yourself
It’s rare that one of you will be dissatisfied while the other is completely happy. Even if you like things the way they are, how do you feel about your partner’s dissatisfaction with your sex life? Does this issue feel like a relationship “deal breaker,” something that will have to be fixed or it will destroy your relationship? Does this feel like something that is less important to you than finding compromise on raising kids, or work or family? If you find out that your partner prioritizes sex differently than you, are you willing to compromise to stay in the relationship?
3. Describe Your Sex Drive
Your interest in sex is connected to many parts of your life. Have you taken the time to think about how your own history and your current life have influenced your interest in sex? One way to explore this for yourself is to write out your sexual history. This may not be something you share with your partner, but having a better understanding of your sexual desire can help you take responsibility when talking with a partner.
4. When Talking Won’t Do, Write a Letter
Don’t worry about language or grammar. Writing down what you want to talk about is a great step to clarify your issues for yourself and practice the way you might communicate it to your partner. Some people actually write their partner a letter, and end up giving it to them at a later point. Letter writing can be a powerful way to communicate your thoughts and feelings, and if done along with talking it can increase intimacy in a relationship in surprising ways.
5. Compare Notes with Your Partner
Have a conversation about what sex means to each of you. Don’t make this conversation about the current problems you have with your sex life. Instead start by keeping it broad, with the goal being that you each get to understand the role sex has played in each other’s lives before and during your relationship. Remember the goal of this conversation is just to eliminate problems of miscommunication and mistaken assumptions.
6. Do You Have a Goal?
One reason conversations about sex may get thwarted is that you don’t have a goal in mind. Your goal might be specific or general. It might be that you want to know yourselves or each other better. It might be that that you want to find a way to stay together and both of you be happy. It might be that want to figure out if the relationship is worth saving. Whatever the reason, having a goal to work toward can help keep you on track.
7. Avoid Blaming, Take Responsibility
It’s easy in this situation for one partner to be labeled as the “problem” and for the other to deny any responsibility, claiming that they are happy with the way things are. If you’re that partner, ask yourself if you’re really happy knowing that your partner is unhappy? In reality, if one partner in a relationship is dissatisfied often the other is as well. When you do talk about issues of difference in sex drives avoid the temptation to blame each other and make an effort to each take responsibility for the situation.
8. Remember You’re a Team
Sometimes differences in sex drive are so great that a couple will choose to end the relationship. Ultimately this is the couple’s decision to make, but regardless of the outcome, if your partner is someone you love and respect, try to cultivate a sense of teamwork between the two of you rather than being on opposite teams battling it out. The ultimate goal is one you want to arrive at together. However, when defenses go up and we feel challenged it is often easier to get into a fighting posture than a cooperative one and give up.
9. Make Change a Possibility
Often we can talk about ourselves and our partners as if we are incapable of change (“I’m just not that kind of person.” “She would never do that,” “I can’t see him offering that in a million years.”) The fact is that we are all capable of change, probably far more change than we imagine. This does not mean we will change, but it does mean we can change. However, when we talk about our situation as if change is impossible we are shutting ourselves and our partners down and may actually make change harder to accomplish.
10. Talk About Your Options
There are many causes of sex drive discrepancies in a relationship and many ways of addressing the problem. Read over the above tips and talk about the options available to you. Are you both willing to try counseling or therapy? Are you willing to find a good book to help you navigate through these issues and will you both be committed to reading it and talking about it regularly? In the end if only one of you is willing to work on this issue there may not be a lot of hope for a mutually satisfying resolution, so making sure you’re both on board is a crucial step in working toward change.