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Monday, August 10, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Improving Sexual Intimacy in a Long-Term Relationship

One of the most common complaints that I hear in couples therapy for people in long term relationships is that their sex life has fizzled out.  Even couples who once had a passionate sex life complain that the passion has gone out of their relationship and one or both of them are hurt and angry that repeated attempts for sexual intimacy have been rejected.

Improving Sexual Intimacy in a Long-Term Relationship

Most couples don't seem to realize that this is a common problem for many people.  Somehow, most people assume that they're the exception and every other couple is having wild sexual passion.

While it's common for sexual passion to decrease somewhat over time, this doesn't mean that a couple has to settle for a sexless relationship.

You Don't Have to Wait Until You're "in the Mood" to Have Sex
Most people seem to think that they have to wait until each of them is "in the mood" before they even try having sex.

But with busy work schedules, children and all the responsibilities involved with having a family, waiting until the "stars align" to have sex might have you waiting a very long time.

Rather than waiting until you're each in the mood before you have sex, I recommend that even if both people aren't feeling in the mood in the moment that you go ahead and engage in sexual flirting and playfulness and what often happens is that, even if you didn't start out in the mood, you get into the mood.

The following vignette, which is a composite of many different cases to protect confidentiality, illustrates how a couple can improve a sex life that's dwindled:

Peg and Ed
Peg and Ed had been married for 12 years when they came to my office for couple counseling.

Improving Sexual Intimacy in a Long-Term Relationship

Barely speaking to each other, they each took turns complaining about the other one to me.

It was clear that they were both so angry with one another that they could hardly look at each other.

As a couples therapist, part of my job is to facilitate communication between the couple rather than having them only speak to me, so I asked them to address their concerns to each other.

Barely able to look at one another, Ed started.

He said he felt hurt, frustrated and angry that every time he tried to initiate sex, Peg rejected him.

Since he didn't want to keep feeling rejected, he stopped initiating.  He had hoped that Peg would "get the hint" and initiate sex between them, but he was disappointed because he felt that she barely noticed that they weren't having sex.

Improving Sexual Intimacy in  Long-Term Relationship

Peg looked like she could barely contain her anger while Ed was speaking, and she responded by saying that Ed would attempt to initiate sex late at night when she was exhausted.

After working a long day, she just wanted to sleep when he would initiate foreplay.  She felt that this was selfish and self centered of him.

I reminded each of them of the ground rules that I had discussed at the beginning of the session, which included listening intently to each other, talking from his or her own experience (rather than making accusations), and avoiding name calling.

As I usually do early on in couples therapy, I asked each of them what attracted each of them to the other.

At first, as each of them sat at the opposite ends of the couch, neither of them seemed enthusiastic about responding.

Eventually, Peg said that when she first saw Ed at her friend's party, she thought he was very handsome and she loved his smile.

As she remembered the day she met him, she smiled and her eyes glowed.  She especially liked how funny and charming he was that night.  When he talked to her that night, she felt like she was the only woman in the room.

As Ed listened to Peg talk about that evening, he smiled at her and talked about what he liked about her during their courtship and early years together.  He was attracted to her beauty.  He admired her for how intelligent she is, her creativity, and her sense of humor.  She also made him feel special.

As they listened to each other talk, they realized that they had become so angry with each other about sex that they stopped doing many of the things that brought them together and they didn't even realize it.

They began talking to each other about the things that they liked to do that they no longer do, and made a decision to go out more and see if they could recapture some of the enjoyment they had during the initial years of their relationship.

When they came back the following week, they recounted going out and having a good time together.  They still weren't having sex, but they seemed much more relaxed and sat closer to one another.

I talked to them about being sensuous and "playful" with each other as a prelude to improving their sex life--even if they weren't initially in the mood.

At first, they both seemed unsure of what I meant, but when they thought back to what they used to do, Peg remembered that she liked the way Ed used to give her massages.

As we explored this as a possibility, Peg said she didn't feel as sexually attractive as she used to be when she was younger.  She had gained weight and she felt self conscious about allowing Ed give her a massage.

Ed seemed surprised and told her that he still found her sexy and he liked the extra weight.

Then, it was Peg's turn to be surprised.  She seemed pleased that Ed still thought of her as sexy and said she thought she could probably make more of an effort to dress up when they went out and to wear lingerie at night.

I recommended to them that they be "playful" and sensuous as a start rather than focusing on having sex.

When they came back the next week, they both reported that they were anxious about giving each other massages and it was a little awkward at first.

Neither of them were "in the mood" at first, but, after a while, they both got into it and it became enjoyable.

Over the next few weeks, Ed and Peg became more open to trying new ways to be sensual with each other, even when one or both of them weren't in the mood initially, and they discovered that it brought them closer together.

Improving Sexual Intimacy in a Long-Term Relationship

Ed was still leery of taking the initiative, so they decided that Peg would would initiate sex when she felt more comfortable.

A month or so later, they reported that Peg surprised Ed one day when he got home by wearing lingerie and flirting with him in a sexy way.

Ed admitted that he came home from work feeling grumpy and tired and sex was the furthest thing from his mind, but he went with it.

Allowing her to take the lead, Ed was surprised that Peg initiated their sexual encounter by taking off his clothes and pulling him into the bedroom, which was a real turn on for Ed.

Even though he wasn't "in the mood" at first, he found himself very sexually aroused as Peg asserted herself sexually.

They both felt that it was the best sex they had had in years, and they both opened up emotionally and sexually in ways they never would have thought possible.

After that, they were both willing to experiment and surprise one another sexually in ways that they had never done before, and they were becoming more sexually daring.

They both agreed that they were enjoying their sex life more than they had in years.

Conclusion
Many couples mistakenly assume that they can't improve sexual intimacy because they're in a long term relationship.

At that point, either one or both of them often becomes dissatisfied and the relationship starts to go downhill.

Remembering what you both liked about each other when you first met can help you to reconnect with each other emotionally as well as being willing to be playful and sensuous without the pressure of having sex at first.

Introducing novelty and occasional surprises into your sex life can also help to keep the passion going.

Getting Help in Therapy
For many couples, where resentment and anger have built up over time, trying to improve sexual intimacy between them can be daunting.

If you and your spouse are having problems with your sex life, rather than allowing resentment to build to the point where the relationship can't be salvaged, you could benefit from seeing a couples therapist who can help you to navigate through the difficult passages and rekindle your relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.




































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