My wife and I were out with a group of friends a few weeks ago and one of my wife’s friends asked me, as a relationship expert, "What's the 'secret sauce' that allows the two of you to keep having great sex after 21 years together?'"
Not wanting to hang this woman out to dry, and save myself from awkwardness (both our spouses were present, and obviously curious to see where the conversation would go), I tried to explain—but it's never about comparison.
Many couples I work with or know personally spend their time speculating about how their sex lives compare with those of other couples. In general, I don’t really find comparison useful or effective—every relationship has its own unique rhythm and style.
I tell anyone who asks that comparison is not useful or productive. The key is always communication—both in and out of the bedroom. So, if you want to have great sex, focus on being a great communicator. Here are some qualities of great communicators (that inevitably lead to great sex).
1. They're raw and real.
Being “raw and real” doesn’t mean you should be raunchy—although, if that does it for you, go for it. Couples that enjoy a good sexual connection openly share what they want. They are good at being specific and clear about what turns up the heat. Knowing the “ingredients” goes a long way to creating the right kind of sexual connection. It can be as simple as asking, “Can you draw me a picture of what it would look like for me to get you so hot you want to explode?” It’s okay to smile when you say this, just don’t be sarcastic!
There's nothing worse than being just outside the right door and then choosing the wrong one. When you're really honest, you open yourself to so many more possibilities.
2. They respond positively to constructive criticism.
Creating space in your relationship for conversation that might be a little (or very) uncomfortable can be a complete game changer. Couples that enjoy a strong sexual connection talk about what’s working well and breaking down. So, no guessing allowed. You could ask, “What parts of last night worked well and what areas could use improvement?”
Be specific and open to what’s being said. After all, the goal is to keep the “fire” burning and improve your intimate connection. Just remember to take it as constructive criticism, intended to help both of you, rather than responding defensively. That won't get you anywhere.
3. They don't manipulate.
Couples with good sex lives don’t play games or manipulate. If your partner doesn’t know where you are, they can’t change direction. Just because you go out for a nice dinner, don’t assume a hot sexual encounter will end the evening. If your goal is to engage in “x” behavior for “y” result you're taking the least efficient route that's the most likely to cause confusion and disappointment.
Share your expectations and leave room for new possibilities. You might ask one another, “How would you like to see our evening unfold?” Create the mood and experience that crosses the “t’s” and dots the “i’s” for both of you. Remember, it’s a two-way street!
4. They never stop asking questions.
Couples that enjoy a strong sexual relationship are comfortable asking questions. Assuming you always have the answers is a recipe for failure. Ego can keep us from having conversations that lead to positive change. Even during the act of intimacy, you could say, “Is this working for you? Do you have other suggestions?” But you can have those conversations whenever you feel most comfortable. What's important is that you have them.
5. They explore new things, continually course correcting for deeper intimacy.
This is probably the single most important component of a great love life (assuming you're communicating well). If intimacy becomes repetitive, excitement fades. Trying new positions or adding a little salsa music can spice things up. Couples that maintain a healthy, connected sexual relationship are open to trying new things. You can keep things fresh by sharing fantasies with one another, for example. Once you bring your imagination into the bedroom, you'll discover an infinity of possibility. Sounds like fun? It should be.
Jeff Kane, MFT, PhD, has been happily married to his lovely wife Sherry for 21 years. Over the past 22 years, he's had the pleasure of helping couples overcome the most challenging and painful times in their lives, and helped couples regain their passion, fire, and experience incredible intimacy in their relationships. He's an author, speaker, and marriage and family therapist.
Jeff invites you to stop by relationships unscripted and say hi, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get your free, practical guide to nine powerful ways to show love here. He believes all relationships are perfectly imperfect—it's how we navigate the ups and downs that will lead to solutions or keep us stuck.