MARIA DEL RUSSO
How do you deal when your sex drive doesn’t match your partner’s? Refiney 29 asks relationship expert Susan Winter for her advice on this partnership issue.
One of the biggest misconceptions people seem to have about relationships is that there’s a “right” amount of sex to be having. The truth of the matter is that, when you’re in a relationship, your sex life will probably ebb and flow depending on a lot of factors — how long you’ve been together, whether or not one partner is stressed, health issues, and so on. But if you’ve noticed that lately you and your S.O. have been seriously off when it comes to how often you’re having sex, it might not be a bad idea to check in to see what’s up.
Now, asking a partner why they haven’t been interested in ripping your clothes off might be an awkward conversation to have — especially if you guys haven’t been dating all that long. “If you’ve only been dating someone for about two months, it could be as simple as the honeymoon phase ending,” says Susan Winter, a relationship expert and author in NYC. “In the beginning of a relationship, it’s natural to want to be having as much sex as possible. But after about a month, that phase ends, and you tend to settle into a more regular routine.” In other words, it helps to be realistic and realize that you guys may not be going at it daily past the first few months.
But if you realize that your partner is only interested in having sex once a week, while you’d prefer to have it three times a week, it could be that your needs just don’t match up. “You guys either have to compromise, or you’ve got to decide whether or not it’s a deal-breaker and end the relationship,” Winter says. “But it’s important to be clear about what you need to make you happy, and then let your partner know so you can take the next step.” Remember: Having a different libido than your partner doesn’t always point to an underlying “issue” — it could just be a difference in desire, which is a totally normal thing. It just might mean you have a tough decision to make.
If you’re in a long-term relationship, however, a sudden change in your sex life can throw you for a loop, and Winter says it’s important to address it sooner rather than later. “You could start by addressing the situation non-verbally,” she says. “You can try to be a little sexy, establish a mood, suggest a romantic getaway, or share a romantic dinner.” But if your partner continues to rebuff you, it could mean that something’s up — and the best thing to do is ask them what the issue is.
“YOUR SEX LIFE WILL EVOLVE IN A PARTNERSHIP, BUT YOUR NEEDS ARE SOMETHING THAT NEED TO BE HAMMERED OUT — THE SAME WAY YOU’D DISCUSS IMPORTANT THINGS LIKE WHETHER OR NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN.”
SUSAN WINTER, RELATIONSHIP EXPERT AND AUTHOR
Sit your partner down away from the bedroom — where they can feel their most vulnerable about this situation. “You could say something as simple as, ‘What’s going on? Is there something happing that’s causing this that I could help with?'” Winter says. “Your objective is to figure out what’s wrong, because you can’t fix it without knowing that.” But it’s important to be supportive and not accusatory — your partner could shut down if they feel like you’re blaming them for their lack of sex drive, which could make the situation worse, Winter says. You should also avoid the assumption that their change in libido is your fault, or has anything to do with your desirability. The more neutral you approach the conversation, the better.
“They’re likely going to answer in one of two ways,” Winter says. “They’ll either tell you what the issue is, and you can work on it together, or they’ll say ‘I don’t know.'” The latter can be a completely valid answer — they truly may not understand what’s keeping them from wanting to have sex. But it could also be a way of deflecting the real reason, which they may feel will hurt you more than the lack of sex. “They may be resistant to tell you what’s wrong, but it’s important that they do,” Winter says. “Explain to them that you’re in a partnership, and that this is an important part of that. Let them know that you’re supportive, and that your end goal isn’t just sex — it’s helping them to feel better overall.”
If your partner is unwilling to talk about the differences in your libidos, you’ve tried multiple times to bring up the topic and make them feel better, and your sex life still hasn’t returned, Winter says that it’s then time to ask yourself the hard questions. “If you’re in a long-term relationship, and they won’t talk to you about it, that’s a problem.” she says. “If one person is unwilling to act like a partner [in this relationship] by talking about it, then that’s not acceptable.”
You may be frustrated, but it’s important to remember that a mismatch in libidos can sometimes be just that: a mismatch. It doesn’t mean either person is wrong, and it doesn’t necessarily point to the end of a partnership. (Some couples choose to stay together despite the mismatch, or open their relationship so that both partners’ needs are being met.) The most important thing, however, is communication. If neither partner is willing to discuss alternatives or next steps, then the problem isn’t their sex drives — it’s a lack of communication.
“Your sex life will evolve in a partnership, but your needs are something that need to be hammered out — the same way you’d discuss important things like whether or not to have children,” Winter says. A healthy partnership is one in which there is free and healthy communication. Talking about sex plays into that, so never be afraid to bring it up. If all goes well, the conversation will either bring you and your partner even closer, or give you the information you need to make the decision that’s right for you.