By: Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT
Many couples report wanting a better sex life. But with children, careers, endless household duties, financial pressures, and all of the other energy drainers that come with modern family life, sexual desire can fade away. This is fairly common. 20% of couples who are married with kids have sex less than 10 times a year, which translates to around 20 million couples not having much sex. But common does not necessarily mean it is healthy or desirable. Alas, problems arise when one wants sex more or the other wants sex less. And if you become complacent, not much is likely to change.
If you miss having sex with your partner, the best place to start is through conversation. In my work with couples, I notice that a lot of couples avoid talking about sex. Instead, they keep their feelings to themselves. Before they know it, years have gone by and they have not had much sex at all. If you want more sex, there may be some things you will want to stop doing and other things you will want to start doing. Keep reading.
1. Stop pressuring your partner
Pressuring your partner to have sex will may result in them just doing it. Yet, this is not likely to be satisfying for either one of you. In addition it will make it more likely that your partner will withdraw from sex and from you. Instead of demanding sex (even in subtle ways) shift your focus towards strengthen the bond with your partner.
2. Get real about what you really want and need
Sex feels good and its fun. But it's not just about the sex. If you have not had sex with your partner for a long time, and if you do not feel that close to your partner in general, your underlying needs (for connection, soothing, love, and touch) are probably screaming to be tended to. There is deep comfort that comes from being physically close and emotionally bonded to your partner. Sex is just one of the ways we get these needs met. Get clear with yourself, and your partner, about the importance of sex.
3. Build security to take risks
The excitement and passion that comes with new love ensures the survival of our species. When falling in love, our brain pumps out serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin which translates to new couples loving every single moment together for about 18 months. This is just long enough to conceive and birth a baby. Once the brain chemicals dip back to baseline many couples report missing the exhilaration they experienced when they were first together.
One way to get these feelings back is to take risks, create novelty, and seek out variety as a couple. If you use your imagination, I am sure you can think of some fun things to do! When we have a strong foundation of connection and safety we are more likely to take risks and be adventurous. Start by building a secure bond and create a foundation of deep respect, love and connection.
4. Be vulnerable
Share your frustrations, fears, hopes, and dreams with your partner. Let them in on your inner world. Being vulnerable with one another creates closeness and bonding. We connect more easily with each other when we share emotionally.
5. Hold space
Hold the space for your partner to talk about their feelings and really listen to what they have to say. Most of the time your partner probably does not want advice, fixing or problem solving (unless they ask for it). As humans, we want to know that our feelings are important to our partner, that our partner cares about what we are going through, and that they are there for us. Hold space for all of of this and listen deeply.
Like you did when you first met. Make eye contact, play, and have fun with your partner. Flirting is not reserved for brand new couples. Keep it hot, fresh, and alive.
7. Take the lead
These days, with intense schedules, kids, and a to-do list that never ends, spontaneity has likely been swapped with routine and the grind. It's time to bring back spontaneity. Remember, the more connected you are on an emotional level, the more playful you can be in bed. Seduce your partner when they are not expecting it or sneak in a quicky when you can. Be bold and go for it.
Quick shoulder rubs are fantastic and I encourage you to give them freely (assuming your partner likes massages). To take it up a notch put the kids to sleep, light candles, bring out the oil, and give each other full body massages. Do this with the genuine intention of wanting to help one another relax. Do not try to have sex! Giving massages with the intention of relaxation and pleasure creates openness and connection. If this leads to sex - that is great - yet do not go into this with the hope of sex.
9. Examine the load and make adjustments if needed
If your partner is telling you they are tired to have sex, they mean it. With all the day-to-day obligations of family, many find that sex becomes one more item on to-do list (which is not sexy). Sit down and map out schedules, household duties, children, and logistics. How you can create more balance? If needed figure out another way to get your family more support through babysitters, grandparents, or other form of support.
10. Stop pursuing
If the more you try to have sex, the more uninterested your partner becomes, then stop trying for awhile. You may have to spend weeks or months re-building your bond and friendship. See what happens if you drop the sex agenda entirely. Some couples get stuck in a pursue - distance pattern. Often, all it takes to stop the pattern is for the person pursuing to stop pursuing.
11. Talk about sex, and if all else fails, get relationship help
If you have never talked about your feelings around sex, now is a good time to start. Talking may be enough to turn things around. If you try all of these tips, and nothing changes, consider couples or sex therapy.
What have you done to keep your sex life alive after kids? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!
Hello! I am Cristina Trette. I am a Couples Therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Certified in Perinatal Mental Health. I write on all things related to relationships, parenthood, and connection.