Get back that loving feeling.
Ah, young love. Remember that? It might be hard to recall when you first met your husband or wife and the joy it would bring when their name flashed up on your phone. Don’t get us wrong, we’re sure you still feel that way (of course!) but now that bills, jobs and kids have also jumped on board, it can be hard to reignite that initial spark and getting some “alone time” whenever and wherever you want! With the pressures of daily life, it’s also easy for desire discrepancy to creep in and levels to become out of whack, so here’s some advice about how to get back on track.
What is desire discrepancy?
When you find someone who feels like your perfect match, usually the sex feels pretty good, too – at least it does in the beginning. Most likely you both can’t keep your hands off each other. It’s common to think that you wouldn’t ever have sexual desire problems because you’re in the limerence phase at this point; you’re completely falling in love and you think you have a special partner who’s your perfect match. Sexual desire issues are something that happens to other people, not you, right?
However, I’m here to let you know that sooner or later, most couples have desire problems where one person wants sex more and the other wants it less. We call this mismatch “desire discrepancy”. As a Certified Sex Therapist, I find desire problems are the most common sexual complaint among couples. So if you are struggling with finding a middle ground where you’re both satisfied, you’re not alone!
But everything seemed so good!
There may not have been any signs at the beginning of your relationship that anything would change in the sexual department for either of you. There are often no clues in the honeymoon period as to if, when or which partner will experience a change in sexual interest, or the fact you may find yourself with a desire discrepancy. So when the sexual frequency starts to shift, strong feelings and fears may erupt with thoughts of:
- We used to have an easy sex life, what happened?
- Why don’t I think about sex as much as I used to – is something wrong with me?
- Does my partner still find me attractive?
Challenging the myths
Many couples believe that if they are both in love with each other then they should want sex often and at the same frequency. It’s important to know that there’s no “normal” or “right” amount of desire for sex, just a difference of opinion. Some people want lots of sex, and others want sex much less frequently – both are healthy and okay. Also, it is very usual for lust to shift over time, with age, stress levels, physical health, and hormone changes playing a factor. What’s not productive or helpful is to tell your partner that their level of desire is wrong and yours is right. This only keeps you stuck in the desire discrepancy blame game and you can be assured neither of you will be getting your needs met!
Rather than acknowledging that everyone is unique and that couples should learn to value and embrace their differences, we are taught to see differences in sexual desire between partners as a warning signal that something is wrong. So what starts as a perfectly normal variation in sexual desire between partners can start to become an “issue” and then it begins to drive the partners apart. Most of us would say it’s pretty normal that we are rarely in the same mood, thinking the same thoughts or having the same feelings as our partner. So why would we always want the same amount of sex?
How do you deal with desire discrepancy?
First and foremost, get “unstuck from gridlock.” Desire discrepancy can cause you to get focused on the polarising gridlock of whose needs are getting met and who feels convinced to do what the other wants. It can help to stop focusing on whose needs are more important and shift to a more curious state. First, ask yourself, then ask each other:
- What activities do you like?
- What might you actually like to try?
- What are your turn-ons and what are turn-offs?
- Is there something you’d like to do that you’ve never shared?
You can then deepen the conversation and ask:
- What are your fears and vulnerabilities around sex with each other?
- Are there things you’ve avoided because of how they were received in the past?
- What is working and not working for you two?
When discussing these questions it’s important to make an effort to settle yourself down so that you both remain present in the conversation. We tend to get anxious when discussing intimate topics and the more you can take deep breaths, stay engaged and really hear each other, the more you will gain from the interaction. It’s through these types of conversations that you can connect and bring a deeper level of intimacy to your relationship.
Share the responsibility for sex
It can be easy for the higher desire partner to take on the role of the initiator, but feel resentful for having this role, and rejected and hurt when their partner doesn’t want to engage. The lower desire partner doesn’t fare much better as they often feel like they’re being pressured, or feel guilty for not meeting their partners’ needs.
Both of you need to take responsibility for carving out sexual space in the relationship. It can be helpful to put aside a regularly scheduled time where you can both agree to be intimate. Put boundaries around this special time and make it a priority so that it doesn’t get pushed to the side. This way the higher desire partner knows they can look forward to the “date” and the lower desire partner won’t feel the constant pressure of sex.
Reframe the goals of sex
Many couples get caught up in goal-oriented sex where it’s a race to the finish line to reach an orgasm. When we have more goal-oriented sex, we also focus too much on how our bodies are performing, which can cause pressure and anxiety. This may lead to avoidance. So what you want to do is create dynamics that lessen the pressure.
If you make connection and pleasure the measure of good sex, you’re more likely to have more enjoyable, fulfilling intimate interactions. So improvise and be creative, and go with what is feeling good in the moment, rather than a prescribed plan. Pick from a whole menu of activities that feel pleasurable to you. With less pressure and more quality sex, you may find that you’re able to find a good balance for both of you.