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Fixing A Broken Sex Life

Breakups around Valentine's day are painfully common, with some19% of surveyed people saying they had broken up or been broken up around the love holiday. And even those who don’t break up, there is for many couples a melancholy around the disappointment and disconnects that many feel in their relationships. Years ago, in my first book, Love that Works, I mapped the multiple ways that loving relationships lose sight of their intimacy- in the ways that we stop showing up for our partners, or stop disclosing and sharing who we are in our communications, or are just constantly plagued by bad thoughts of our partner or our relationship. All of these insidious breaks in connection, chip away at the trust and willingness we bring to our lovers.  

And yet, of all the conflicts that come between couples, there is not a more painful or destructive argument than the sexual one, although arguably the others are often at the base of how our sex lives fall apart. Whether stuck in the frustration of who comes first or not at all, or on the scorekeeping of who initiates and who rejects more, or lost in the persistent silent erosion of who isn’t in the mood- our sexual arguments not only carry multiple layers of unsaid meaning, but the myriad bad feelings they generate linger long after the yelling is over. This is why sexual incompatibility is often cited as the number one reason people leave their relationships. Taking a closer look at how sexual issues emerge and persist in the life cycle of relationships, we can learn to locate the emergency exit and begin to heal this most essential element of intimate connection. Having been married and having sex with the same guy for over forty years has given me multiple opportunities to see these breaks from all sides… and yet here I stand as evidence that sexual breaks can be overcome. 

First let’s look at the most common reasons our sex life breaks: 
  1. Lacking Sexual Development – No one starts out knowing how to have good sex. Rather it is a developmental trajectory of learning what we want, what feels good and how to communicate it. I have vivid memories of how little I understood about my own arousal mechanism and how many years we both had too few words to describe our sexual preferences. It is not uncommon for couples to go years thinking their partner should just know what positions and what touch they want, which of course they don’t. It is in fact natural that these issues quickly degenerate into premature ejaculation and inability to orgasm, which often leads to blaming and further isolation. 
  1. Inability to Align Desire – Living with persistent sexual frustration often evolves into an approach-avoidance game where everyone loses and one or both partners start putting one foot out the door. Couple this with the different levels of desire that are common to all long term partnerships and you find yourself in the classic and unwinnable initiation game. No matter who wants sex more or who is more frequently rejected, everyone feels out of control and guilty or defensive for the damage that this inflicts. I can assure you, how remarkably similar the experience of shame, isolation and self-doubt was on both sides of this painful argument. 
  1. Giving up on Being in The Mood – Being consistently turned away sexually and turning your back on your intimate commitments amplifies rejection into every aspect of the relationship. Arriving at the moment when the sexual arguments stop entirely and are replaced by a total and persistent lack of interest in sexual intimacy is the beginning of the end. When we give up the will to fight for our sexual lives with our partner, and join the ranks of the sexless, we are releasing our connection to our partner in ways that are often not understood. 

And yet, here I am some forty years later, as proof that there is a way through this all too common sexual break in relationships. What made the biggest difference for me, was the willingness and dedication to learn more about my own sexual response. The more confident I became in my own ability to respond sexually, the more I could bring to our intimacy and stop blaming him when it didn’t work. The more empowered I was, the less he worried about my wrath, and had time to figure out what helped for him to last longer. As I became proficient at finding ways awaken my arousal I was able to throw out the entire idea of being in or waiting for a mood. The more I trusted my own sexual capacity, the more we were able to sync up our sexual desire. Fixing a broken sex life is an interior job first and foremost – no one else can make you want to feel sexy or want to know yourself as a sexual person.