What To Do When Your Sex Life Gets Dull: A Couples Therapist Explains

For the past 30 years I've worked as a couples therapist in New York City. One complaint rings true across all cultures: couples claim to love each other as much as ever, but their sex lives have become dull and devoid of eroticism.

So why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex? What are the obstacles and anxieties we experience when our quest for secure love clashes with our pursuit of passion?

From the moment we come into this world, we straddle a paradox: our need for security, predictability and stability versus our equally strong need for adventure, novelty and discovery. Connection and freedom, love and desire, or the domestic and the erotic — name it as you wish — all these juxtapositions point to an essential predicament.

Never before have we tried to reconcile in one relationship these two set of opposing needs. We are asking the same person to give us both familiarity and excitement, comfort and edge. We want our partner to be the anchor, and the waves.

But what nurtures love, our feelings of responsibility, care, worry, mutuality and protection for our beloved, are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire, which lives on the side of unselfconsciousness, freedom, and being carefree.

Love and desire relate, but they also conflict. Therein lies the mystery of eroticism. What makes us feel emotionally secure is not always what turns us on sexually.

If you want to reignite your love life, take on the responsibility of your own desire. Start here:

1. Make a list of 10 things you do to turn yourself on.

Your partner can make the most romantic advances, but if you're shut down and the shop is closed, nothing will happen. How we feel about ourselves is key in how responsive we are sexually.

Instead of saying, "You turn me on when ..." or, "What turns me on is ..." OWN your wanting by saying, "I turn myself on by ... " and, "I awaken my desire when ..." and, "I come to live by ..."

For example:

I turn myself on when ...

  • I go dancing.
  • I feel good about my body.
  • I remember a sexy encounter.

I turn myself off and shut down my desires when ...

  • I worry about money.
  • I worry about the kids.
  • I don’t exercise.

2. Be actively engaged in your sex life.

Do you find yourself thinking way more about the details of every meal, but expect to be sexual at a moment's notice? Sex stops if it's not interesting. You'll find that many people don't stop being interested in sex, but they aren't interested in the sex they can have. Imagination is an essential erotic ingredient.

To stay erotically engaged with someone for the long haul is an active engagement. Committed sex is premeditated sex; it is willful and intentional. Put effort toward making time for and creatively planning for intimacy.

3. Remember that we don’t own our partner.

He or she is only on loan, with an option to renew. Recognizing our partner’s sovereignty can ignite eroticism because we are recognizing their separateness from ourselves. Curiosity is a key erotic element, as it keeps us interested in ourselves and in our partner.

4. Look at your partner with “new eyes.”

Love is an exercise in selective perception. Novelty is the ability to let the unknown in, even in the midst of the familiar. When we see the person we know once again as somewhat mysterious, somewhat elusive and somewhat unknown, it can give us a change in perspective.

You'll notice also that there is no caretaking in desire, no one needs the other, and that creates a space. In that space between me and you lies the erotic élan. Ask yourself, "When do you find yourself most drawn to your partner?" Not just sexually attracted, but drawn to.

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Esther Perel

Psychotherapist & Author
Psychotherapist Esther Perel is recognized as one of the world’s most original and insightful voices on personal and professional relationships.She is the bestselling author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, translated into 26 languages. Fluent in nine of them, the Belgian native now brings her inclusive, multicultural pulse to The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity (due out October 2017, Harper Collins).The New York Times, in a cover story, named Esther the most important game changer on sexuality and relational health since Dr. Ruth. Esther’s two critically acclaimed viral TED talks have reached over 16 million views in under 3 years and she has consulted on the award-winning Showtime drama, The Affair.In addition to Ms. Perel’s 34-year private practice in New York City, she is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, an AASECT certified sex therapist, a member of the American Family Therapy Academy, and of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research.Perel speaks the unspoken—articulating the hidden psychological states most people can’t yet put into words—and unearths the complicated and contradictory needs that are shaping relationships and commitment today. Learn more at EstherPerel.com or by following @EstherPerelOffical on Instagram.
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