We’re tired. We’re busy. We’re constantly dealing with competing pressures. It can be challenging to find the time and stimulate the mood for sex and intimacy in your romantic relationship sometimes, and that can lead to feeling increasingly disconnected from each other over time. Often couples don’t talk about the problem, preferring to tell themselves, "It'll sort itself out. We're just going through a dry spell."
That may be the case; however, a caution: Distance has a way of increasing in small—almost imperceptible—ways if we don’t acknowledge the changes we’re going through and the pressures we’re under and face them as a team. When we don’t talk about things, we tend to start making assumptions about each other and we risk creating more distance due to the buildup of misunderstandings.
As a therapist who works with couples, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is, "What can we do to get ‘the spark’ back when sex is not as exciting as it used to be, or we’re just not motivated to make it happen?" Here are the six tips I give every couple who's struggling in this area:
1. Acknowledge the situation.
Nothing will change unless you speak up. Say something about what’s happening (or not happening). As with most situations in life, how you say it is vital. A drop in intimacy and sex in a couple is a sensitive topic—anxieties about not being attractive anymore, or feeling judged or rejected can be sitting close to the surface. That’s one reason we fear bringing it up. So, it’s important not to come out of the gate blaming your partner or yourself. Instead, lovingly acknowledge how you feel (positives and negatives), then say how you’d like things to change.
Be prepared to back up those thoughts with some beautiful compliments and reminiscences on satisfying, sexy moments, to start turning your minds and bodies back toward eroticism and connection. It’s OK if it takes a while for things to settle down in your respective worlds—just keep the doors open and the love will flow.
2. Check in on the emotional state of your relationship.
If a dry spell is prolonged, it might be time to take a closer look at how you’re both really feeling in the relationship. It’s difficult to feel passionate and loving if you’re holding onto resentments, anxieties, or stresses caused by the relationship. Are you able to talk openly and compassionately about stuff that matters to you every day—not just sex? If distance is building, you need to start talking about how you’re feeling. If you can't, think about seeking professional help in getting the conversation started.
Never be critical of your partner—criticism, especially about intimate issues, leads us to shut down and become defensive. Instead, ask each other for help with things that aren’t working or are bothering you and offer your help and partnership freely. Generosity, kindness, and openness are sexy. Building resentment, criticism, and distance only pushes each other away and makes it harder to reconnect. Tell the truth in love.
3. Make time and space for each other and for the transition from the other roles you play in life to the role of lover.
It’s important to allow yourselves the emotional space to transition from the roles of parent, worker, and all the rest, to the role of lover. That doesn’t always happen naturally or easily at the end of a day when you’re both exhausted—sometimes you must consciously plan to make it happen. Discussing and planning for sex and romance together can build anticipation and prolong excitement and pleasure. Planning for sex is not an admission of defeat. It's a willingness to pivot your strategy to keep romance alive when the game has changed.
4. Make foreplay an everyday state of mind.
Relationship expert Esther Perel suggests taking the perspective that we’re always in foreplay with a lover when we’re not actually having sex. It’s a perspective that can remind you to live passionately and value the connection with your partner in every moment. The energy of the sexual connection between you is acknowledged in even the smallest simple touch or smile, never taking each other’s company for granted. Fun and a sense of possibility are always alive between you.
5. Gather inspiration and resources.
Sex and love are creative expressions and everyone benefits from a little inspiration in their creativity. Gather some resources and share them, making sure they also work for your partner’s taste. I don’t recommend visual stuff (because it usually involves images of others) so much as sensual products that encourage massage, touching, and focusing on each other in more intense ways than the everyday.
6. Get into your own body.
The best way to feel more turned on in your relationship is to feel more alive and turned on in your life in general. Get into moving your own body, enjoying your own body, and indulging in pleasure and fun, just for you. You’ll feel so much more primed to connect with your partner when you feel connected and grounded in your own being.
Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the things you should always be selfish about in your partnerships and the questions that could keep your marriage from ending.