You probably didn’t need a study to tell you this, but research confirms that sex is one of the ingredients that’s most crucial to making long-term relationships thrive. Early on, feeling sexy and passionate isn’t hard—but things can get trickier as the years go on. Hoping to bust out of a dry spell or prevent those embers from fading? Don’t make these common mistakes.
Mistake #1: Thinking you need a “date night” to connect
If you’re like most couples, the first thing you do when you want to reconnect with your partner is put a “date night” on the calendar. “The idea is that after a fancy dinner, candlelight, and wine, you’ll come home and want to jump each other,” says Tammy Nelson, PhD, a sex and relationship therapist and author of The New Monogamy. But what really happens after a meal of rich food, a few glasses of wine, and a late night out? “Most couples want nothing more than to go to sleep,” Nelson points out.
Send the kids out while you and your partner stay home alone. “Think of this as a sacred time for the two of you to practice ‘planned’ spontaneity,” Nelson suggests. “It’s a much better way to act out all of your fantasies, without feeling bloated and hungover the next day.”
Mistake #2: Forgoing sex because you’re not in the mood
“Having a grown-up life is exhausting, and stress and fatigue can decrease desire,” acknowledges Nelson. But if you wait to have sex until you have plenty of free time and boundless energy, you may be waiting a long time.
Plus, “for many people, particularly women, desire comes after arousal, not the other way around,” Nelson notes. “That means once your body is sufficiently aroused, you may find you are more into sex than you realized.”
Just do it, and you’ll probably be glad that you did. If you’re genuinely crazed from obligations and short on time, you can still fit in a quickie, says Nelson. “The sexual contact will make you feel connected to your partner and can reduce the stress in your marriage.” Sex also helps release endorphins and dopamine, serotonin, and other brain chemicals that can reduce your stress during the day and help you sleep better at night.
Mistake #3: Falling into a rut
There’s something to be said for sex so familiar that you can anticipate what’s coming next. “Each of you knows the buttons to push for the other, and if you have a routine that’s giving the other a good orgasm, then by all means, keep at it,” says Nelson. That’s said, it’s not uncommon for couples to get entrenched in habits that aren’t working. They just aren’t sure how to change them or worry that speaking up will hurt the other’s feelings.
“Pick one day a week to do something different,” suggests Nelson, “maybe a morning or an afternoon when you have more leisure time to expand on the erotic connection in your relationship.” Start by telling your partner three things you appreciate about him sexually, plus one bedroom move you’d like more of. Then listen as your partner does the same.
“Talking about sex can increase the sexual tension between you, and if you do this exercise in bed, it can really turn up the heat,” Nelson says.
Mistake #4: Worrying how your sex life stacks up
From leaked sex tapes to the latest episode of Game of Thrones, we’re inundated with sexual images—which can put an outsized amount of pressure on us to look or act a certain way in the bedroom. “Sex isn’t supposed to look like porn,” says Amy Levine, a sex coach in New York City and founder of IgniteYourPleasure.com. “Sex in real life can be awkward, takes practice, and has the potential to be incredibly intimate and vulnerable.”
Be open-minded, Levine says. “Be present, know what feels good to you, communicate your wants and desires, be yourself, and find your confidence.” In other words, approach sex with your partner, she says, “without judgment or expectations.”
Mistake #5: Taking your emotional connection for granted
When was the last time you really spoke to your partner, other than to confirm what’s for dinner or who’s on duty to pick up the kids after soccer practice? Thanks to hectic, overscheduled days, the majority of time we spend with our partners takes place when we’re asleep, notes Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York City. “But quality relationships require an intimate emotional connection during awake times,” he says.
Carve out 30 minutes of connection with your partner before shutting your eyes, Hokemeyer advises. “Turn off all electronics and snuggle or discuss the events of the day.” And while you love your kids (or the family pet) dearly, having them around at this time will “squeeze out the romance,” he notes. “Set clear boundaries and enforce them.”
Mistake #6: Not talking about sex
“The inability to have open and honest communication is at the heart of many couples’ problems in the bedroom,” says Elona Landau, a sex educator in Portland, Oregon. “Even with the people to whom we’re committed, we can’t openly talk about our wants, desires, and needs.” We either never learned how, she says, or keep quiet for fear of being judged, shamed, or shut down.
Your partner isn’t a mind-reader, and neither are you. Want to have sex more often, try something new, or have concerns about your waning libido? Speak up. Meanwhile, ask your partner to weigh in on the state of your physical union. Just as relationships grow and evolve over time, so does your sexuality.
“Listen with ‘fresh ears’ and try to hear what your partner wants without putting it through your own filter,” says Landau. Pay attention to how you’re responding, whether you’re intrigued, uncomfortable, or somewhere else on the spectrum—and approach that with curiosity as well. “Being willing to hear the other person, acknowledge their vulnerability, and be empathetic to their needs can go a long way.”
Curated by Erbe