Couples are often at a loss when inevitably infatuation runs its course and the topography of sexual desire shifts. As a relationship matures, the initial lust abates and familiarity and predictability become the norm. Couples who seek counseling to reaffirm their sexual relationship often expect their sex lives to be as they were at the beginning. While that early phase cannot be revived, sex can function in a mature relationship to deepen a couple’s connection in profound and exciting ways. Embracing this shift often requires considerable work and experimentation.
Many factors contribute to loss of lust in a relationship. As couples become more familiar, they take each other for granted. Mystery and fantasy give way to compromise and predictability. Sex becomes routine and just another chore along with work, children, and bills. As sex becomes something to check off a list, it loses priority, becomes less frequent and can slip completely out of a relationship. I have worked with many couples who enter treatment because perfunctory or nonexistent sex is causing a major rupture in their relationship.
Many couples seek treatment in an effort to have the early magic reaffirmed; if it is not, they fear their relationship is dysfunctional and may even break-up. In such cases I first get the couple to bring sensuality into their relationship without any pressure to perform. Most couples think of intercourse as necessary for sexual intimacy, but through experimentation without the expectation of intercourse and orgasm, couples can learn to experiment with each other in new sensual ways. I help couples establish sensuality in their relationship that isn’t necessarily tied to sex. This helps couples develop a renewed awareness of each other’s bodies, redeveloping what had been lost by neglect.
Often, without the pressure to perform, touch becomes more sensitive. The boundaries between sensuality and sex become blurred and couples learn to put less importance on the hard line distinctions between the sex act and what feels erotic. I suggest that couples be playful when exploring sensuality to help move the focus away from the pressure to perform. I then suggest a gradual physical exploration, slowly moving the couple towards a more genital experimentation. This process helps the couple find, develop, and renew their physical intimacy without pressure and expectation.
With work and commitment couples can develop a new, exciting, open and fluid sex life that is an expression of their emotional intimacy. This new mature physical intimacy is deeper because it is an expression of the bond between the partners rather than an expression of lust toward the unknown.