By: Becca Hirsch, AMFT

It probably comes as no surprise that many couples have difficulty keeping their “spark” alive throughout their relationship.  As time goes on, the “infatuation stage” wears off anywhere from six months to two years in, and often, desire decreases and stressors increase as a couple has children, more financial stressors, and more professional stressors that may lead them to feel the need for marriage counseling.  However, some couples seem to maintain their intimacy and desire over time, and report to be satisfied with the level of physical intimacy in their relationship.  What separates couples who struggle with desire versus couples who don’t?  

Sarah Hunter Murray, a psychologist and sex researcher, conducted a study to answer that question.   In her search, Dr. Murray interviewed two groups of women (18-29): one group who felt their physical intimacy was alive and well and the other group reported that they had been experiencing a wane in their intimacy.  Through her research, she found three major components separated these two groups of women:

  1. Staying mentally present during sex.
    I often hear when working with couples in therapy that women have a difficult time staying present during sex.  They discuss thinking about what they’re going to make for dinner, what chores still have to be done, whether they finished writing an e-mail to their boss, and so forth.  Sex is most enjoyable, pleasurable, and connected when you are able to stay present and focus on the physical sensations and touch.  Many sex therapists and marriage counselors use mindfulness techniques in therapy to teach clients to stay present-focused and become more attuned to their body.  The more you practice mindfulness and learn to stay present-focused during sex, the easier it’ll become to tune out your list of chores and really focus on pleasure and touch.
  2. Positive interpretation of monotony and routine.
    As your relationship grows and evolves over time, date night goes from a night out on the town to wearing sweatpants and watching Netflix on the couch together.  As our date nights become more routine, so do our sex lives.  What Dr. Murray’s research has informed us is that it’s not necessarily the monotony and routine that leads to lower desire in sex, it’s the perception of it.  The women who reported to have high-desire described that they liked routine because, over time, their partner had learned how to please them and what they liked, which made the routine enjoyable and pleasurable (which led to higher satisfaction and higher desire).  On the other hand, women who reported to have lower desire viewed their routine as boring and frustrating.
  3. Make sex a priority.
    Over the course of every relationship, it is very normal and healthy for desire and interest in sex to ebb and flow, especially as various stressors occur individually and within the relationship; a waning interest in sex is not necessarily a reason to rush out for marriage counseling sessions.   Having a sexual slump doesn’t necessarily predict desire issues in a relationship; it is how the couple communicates their slump and what they do about it that makes a difference.  Women in the higher desire group reported that when they noticed a sexual slump in their relationship, they discussed with their partners and did something to “spice it up.”  To the contrary, women in the lower desire group took more of a passive role when a slump occurred and didn’t do much to address their concerns with their partners.

If you are having trouble getting the spark back in your relationship, it would be useful to consult with a couples and sex therapist for individual or marriage counseling.  Contact Symmetry Counseling today to set up an appointment with one of our couples therapists or psychologists who address concerns related to sex and intimacy.