It’s a common problem experienced by couples of all backgrounds and walks of life: One person wants more sex and the other wants…considerably less. Whether you’ve been with your partner for six months or six years, intimacy is an essential part of any healthy relationship. A prolonged disinterest in sex can be harmful to both parties in a relationship, as it can lead to resentment, romantic dissatisfaction, and feelings of rejection that can manifest as separation, even infidelity.
So, what can we do when our partner’s lack of interest in sex is creating tension? Here are some tips:
Consider What Has Changed
Have you been arguing a lot recently? Has there been increased stress in your lives? Is your partner depressed or tired? Often external events such as stress, a new baby, negatively-affected mental health, or grief can really affect our libido, how much fluctuates from person to person. If you’ve been arguing a lot, shifting power dynamics in a relationship can also have a dramatic effect on libido. See if you can pinpoint when your intimacy began to decline, identify what may be contributing factors, and work back from there.
Open Up the Conversation
Sex is a tricky topic, and we all have different levels of comfort in discussing it (especially when things aren’t going well). That said, the sooner things are addressed, the better. If you’re wanting to have a conversation with your partner about this, make sure you choose the right time (not when you’re both tired or stressed). Give them some notice that you want to talk about something important so they aren’t caught off guard, and perhaps write down what you want to say. It is a good idea to make this an ‘us’ problem instead of a ‘you’ problem.
Sometimes if we’re upset about an issue like this we can become accusatory or aggressive, but this never works —it is likely the other person will shut down or become defensive. Particularly if your partner’s libido has dropped due to depression or stress, they might feel shame about this, so remember to tread carefully and that their disinterest in sex may not necessarily be about you.
You won’t be surprised to hear that mismatched libidos or issues in the bedroom are one of the most common issues that bring couples to therapy or relationship coaching. After all, there is so much tied up in sex: self-esteem, manliness/womanliness, shame, desire, stigma, body image, and connection, and things can get confusing —quickly.
The good news is that most relationship coaches have heard it all before, and an issue that you’re having is likely to have a solution. Even better, the last six months have seen an explosion in affordable, accessible online help for relationships. Relationship coaching companies offer professional and confidential help for sex and intimacy issues, and you can also access couples therapy online through services.
If you’re not quite ready to talk to someone about this, there are wonderful books on this topic such as Come As You Are by Emily Nagowski, which explains a lot about why partners might have different levels of desire, and Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel, which gives a reasonable and reassuring perspective on differences in libido in modern relationships, and what we can do about it.
This situation is difficult for everyone who experiences it, but you’re not alone. If this is something you’ve noticed, chances are they’ve noticed it too. Don’t be afraid to have an open and honest conversation with your partner. These conversations, no matter how uncomfortable, can not only help you find the root of the problem but also encourage you both to come up with solutions for it. You and your partner may not know of all the resources at your disposal that can help you overcome this issue, but knowing you have each other to count on is enough to keep you motivated during this time in your relationship.