After answering your questions about money, we now turn our attention to sex. Thank you for your submissions this week. We received many great (and difficult) questions about sexual desire, infidelity, and intimate communication. Remember that the answers below are intended to be psycho-educational. If you would like to speak with a professional trained in the Gottman Method, we encourage you consult the Gottman Referral Network.
My girlfriend is 48 and I’m 43, and we’re in a very loving same-sex relationship. She has very little sex drive, and although we have healthy communication about it, I’m struggling to deal with the hurt, disappointment, and loss around the subject. How can I learn to better cope with her lack of desire?
The fact that you have healthy communication about sex is a positive indicator of the strength of your relationship. It is understandable to be hurt when you do not feel sexually desired by your partner. However, try very hard not to see it as an implied criticism of your attractiveness, sexual virility, lovemaking skill, or innermost being. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman recommends having the attitude of a professional chef. “A chef isn’t insulted if a customer isn’t in the mood for polenta tonight or has an aversion to squid,” he explains. “Instead he or she makes accommodations that will satisfy the customer’s palate.”
We recommend shifting the focus from sex to sensuality. Many couples are surprised to find that touching, holding, kissing, and massaging instead of having sex actually results in a heightened sexual desire over time. As Zach Brittle explains in S is for Sex, “Hugging, holding hands, snuggling, kissing all foster intimacy. A commitment to intimacy can yield more frequent and more satisfying sex, but even when it doesn’t, intimacy remains and ultimately trumps intercourse.”
My husband and I have a terrible sex life. It used to be fabulous! We have two children together. It all started with a comment he made about me needing to lose weight after my last baby, and I lost it. I lost my self-control, lost my respect for him, lost my sex drive completely. I just cannot get into bed and have sex with a man if he doesn’t find me attractive the way I am – even if he is my husband. He says I should put in some effort, I say he should respect me for who I am. When I refuse him, he will get so angry and verbally abusive, making me want to refuse him even more! It’s a vicious circle that I don’t see getting better any time soon. I’m worried we’ll end up in divorce court because of it! Please help!
It is understandable that you are hurt by your husband’s comments. When an incident has occurred that is hurtful to either partner, it is important to process and do some repair work to reestablish emotional connection and intimacy. This is an opportunity for you and your husband to have an intimate conversation.
You can begin an intimate conversation with an open-ended question, that is, a question with a longer answer than just “yes” or “no.” An example may be, “What kind of things can we do together, besides sex, that would help us feel more connected?” Once the conversation has started, there are three skills that can be used to help you explore and talk about your feelings as the conversation proceeds. The first skill is putting your feelings into words. Some examples may be I feel unappreciated, I feel insulted, I feel misunderstood, or I don’t feel accepted. The second skill is asking questions. Some examples of these types of questions may be What are the feelings you are afraid to bring up?, Do you have any mixed feelings? What are they?, What, if anything, makes you angry here. The third skill is to express empathy and understanding. Empathetic statements show that you deeply understand your partner and some examples are you’re making total sense, I understand how you feel, and That hurts me to hear that. An intimate conversation can be the beginning of the healing process and, when you understand what is behind the angry words, you may feel differently towards each other and can begin to rebuild emotional connection.
Is there a resource available with an action plan for improving communication about sex? We know communication is key, but where do you start? A sort of workbook so to speak that guides people through how to communicate better? We have been in counseling before (very successfully), so we understand the concepts, and I feel we’re not alone. We just need a little help getting started sometimes. Thanks!
As we explain in the Gott Sex? Video Series, there is no more stable and replicated result in the sex field than this: being able to talk comfortably about sex is strongly related to sexual satisfaction. How often couples talk about sex, as well as the quality of the conversation, are strongly correlated with relationship happiness. Research shows that only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk with one another about sex say they are satisfied sexually, as well as satisfied in general with their relationships.
To get started, work on building a Love Map of each other’s sexuality. If you know each other’s preferences, you will be able to create more excitement and pleasure for your partner – and by resonating with your partner’s excitement, you will deepen your own pleasure. In turn, this can make your relationship much more personal and put more lovemaking into your sex life.
We have created two iOS apps available for purchase in the iTunes store (Sex Questions to Ask Your Man and Sex Questions to Ask Your Woman) that can help you begin the conversation. Read more about our mobile apps here.
Could you please explain how to get better at talking during sex or how to have banter with my partner? I get shy and nervous. I wonder if he would enjoy what I want to express.
Talking during sex can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if you’re not used to it. But by turning towards your partner and talking during sex, you make things personal, engaging in a form of emotional communication that increases intimacy and passion in your lovemaking. I’m sure he would enjoy what you have to express! By focusing on the emotional instead of the physical, you can actually improve your physical experience without even trying.
If you’re looking for a place to start, we provided romantic things to say to a man and woman during sex on the Gottman Blog here. The best way to enrich your lovemaking is to learn about each other’s sexual likes and dislikes, and to express them to each other openly.