Sexual Chemistry Isn't Built In Bed — Here's What Couples Should Do Instead

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When couples start experiencing dissatisfaction and dysfunction with the quality of their intimacy and sexual interaction, they tend to focus almost entirely on what happens in the bed. The problem is, by the time you're in bed, it's already too late. You're doomed, just like when you face a big life challenge, test, or exam, and you haven't put in the hard work and time to study and prepare adequately.

A loving, intimate, and happy sex life takes time to manifest, and most of the real work and "emotional foreplay" needs to happen before the sex occurs. When that doesn't happen, one or both partners can become resentful about the lack of intimacy, potentially interpreting the behavior correctly or incorrectly as a function of attraction. This can lead to a negative spiral of self-confidence in the relationship and an even deeper negative feedback loop in the bedroom. But the truth is, many dips in a couple's sex life have little to do with being attracted to each other or not.

If you're finding there's not a lot of heat in your relationship these days, it's important to think about what you're doing outside of the bedroom to facilitate more intimacy. Here are a few ideas:

1. Foreplay doesn't start in the bedroom.

Be creative and start setting the tone and warming up to each other throughout the day. Foreplay is about the connection—really feeling "seen" by each other. This can start over a quiet dinner at home or in a restaurant where communicating helps with connecting, or you can use an activity that loosens you both up and brings you both together—a concert, watching a thriller in theaters, hiking, or whatever else you both enjoy. It can also start with playful texting throughout the day, communicating about a suggestion for a planned night out together.

When intimacy becomes more about the "connection" than just the physical act, it shows your partner that you want to have sex with them, not just anyone. Sex begets sex, so having intimate sexual encounters will also make room for opportunities for quicker physical sexual connections with your partner to flourish as well.

2. Find ways to connect about the private—in public.

Reminding each other throughout the following day or week about an intimate encounter that you experienced together is a great way to keep it alive. You can do this by taking a few seconds to send suggestive texts or quick phone calls. The message is "I haven't forgotten about what we shared together," and it also subliminally sets the stage for "more to come." Even a wink at a dinner party can set the stage for a private moment shared between a couple. It may serve as a reminder of something shared the night before or something they're anticipating.

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3. Shower appreciation on each other in your normal lives.

We don't often connect gratitude and domestic chores to sexuality, but in truth, they can be deeply linked. Most people appreciate follow-through because it indicates that they're on their partner's mind. People like to feel appreciated for the acts of kindness they do and all they provide in a relationship. That helps them feel "seen," which in turn allows people to feel more vulnerable, open, and confident—feelings that are necessary for a healthy, energetic sexual connection. Remembering to follow-up with a question about your partner's day or a comment of gratitude, for example, can go a long way toward making people feel seen, appreciated, and connected to the relationship.

4. Schedule dates, not sex.

Scheduling dates is much more important than scheduling sex. Scheduling sex can feel robotic, and when sex becomes robotic as opposed to organic, it becomes harder to ensure that on a given day and time, each of you is in a head space to "connect" on an intimate level. If the sexual encounter becomes purely physical on prescribed days, it may feel forced and drive a wedge between the partners. When one partner has an expectation on a certain night that another may not be able to provide, it will inevitably cause a disconnect. Performance anxiety or insecurity may follow, leading to sexual avoidance.

Schedule the date, and try to connect with each other as human beings that love and care about each other. If that leads to a sexual encounter, great! If it doesn't, the more meaningful the connectedness continues to be, the more likely the sexual encounters will follow.

5. Have a real talk.

Pick a night on which you both agree you're not having sex but want to come together to talk about it—and I mean really talk about it. Get into the details about what you want and what you're feeling: Are you bored? Do you feel overwhelmed by your partner's overtures? Does sex just not feel good or exciting to you right now? Is it hard to have sex when you have other ongoing problems in your relationship or in your life?

These aren't easy things to talk about, and even if they're about sex, they're by no means "sexy." (Which is why I recommend setting a night aside to talk about this that is separate from date night.) But if you ignore and don't address uncomfortable issues, you are at risk of not being equipped to confront more challenging topics later. If one partner or the other is feeling resentful about too much or too little sexual contact, a conversation, albeit difficult, is necessary to understand what is in the way of a synergistic sexual relationship. Once the partners have a better understanding of each other's needs, it'll be easier to discuss solutions to find the right balance that accommodates both people's personal preferences.

Consistent and reciprocal communication is imperative. You might want to set aside a specific night for this initially; then over time, hopefully you can develop a rhythm where it's easy and comfortable bringing these topics up organically as necessary. In order to maintain a healthy sexual relationship, it is critical to reach a reasonable comfort level of communication with each other. Having these mindful albeit challenging discussions about how to break through barriers of boredom to meet each other's needs is essential.

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6. Nurture, nurture, nurture!

Healthy sexual relationships need to be nurtured on an ongoing basis like you would care for all other important aspects of your life. Getting it back on track is one thing; keeping it on track is another. Even as you do begin to build new energy in your intimate life, make sure to keep putting in the work and effort to prevent you from detailing again.

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