Love and Lust

Marriage, we often hear, grows less sexual with every passing year. Yet research shows that long-term couples often have vibrant sex lives, even more than their single counterparts. Here's how to keep the lust alive. 

Marriage and Sexual Frustrations: Inevitable or Solvable?

How to voice and resolve marital sexual complaints

Sexual complaints arise in practically every marriage and long term relationship. But why are sexual dissatisfactions so incredibly common? How can we voice sexual frustrations to our spouse productively? And how can we maintain marital sexual satisfaction over the long haul? In short, are marital sexual frustrations inevitable or solvable?

The History of Sexual Frustration

In their incredibly well researched and highly entertaining bestselling book Sex at Dawn, fellow Psychology Today blogger Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha present numerous strands of evidence to suggest that we evolved in social groups that fostered a far more promiscuous attitude about sex and monogamy than exists today. Indeed, their main thesis is that so many married couples struggle with sexual complaints and fidelity because both men and women evolved to share multiple sexual partners.

According to Ryan, monogamy and female sexual repression are extremely recent developments in human culture and ones that emerged as artifacts of our transition from hunter gatherer to agriculture based modern societies. Before the agricultural revolution, groups of modern humans shared food, child care and sexual partners, and did so harmoniously.

The changes brought about by our transition to agricultural societies were monumental and they had a huge impact on our societies, our physiology, our psychology and our behavior. In short, ten thousand years ago modern humans planted not just oats and barley but the seeds of their own impending sexual frustration. Indeed, as any therapist can attest, sexual complaints and frustrations are the norm in long term relationships rather than the exception.

One of the reasons sexual complaints are so common in marriages is that most people struggle to voice such concerns to their spouses productively. In my book The Squeaky Wheel, I discuss case studies in which one partners' sexual complaints and dissatisfactions are dismissed or minimized by the other and how this so can easily lead to emotional disengagement and infidelity and even to separation and divorce  (See my article: The Affair Warning Sign you Should Never Ignore).

How to Voice Sexual Complaints Productively

One of the reasons so many couples struggle with sexual issues is because sex is such a highly sensitive topic and one that is difficult to discuss openly and cooperatively. Our complaining psychology is such that most of us lack the skills to voice marital complaints productively at the best of times. Sexual dissatisfactions are harder to voice than most marital complaints and they are certainly among the hardest to receive. Therefore most couples simply do not know how to discuss these issues effectively.

The best way to voice sexual complaints to a partner is to use the Complaint Sandwich structure (a tutorial can be found in this article: Complain to Your Spouse without Starting an Argument). Of course, when voicing sexual complaints we should be as sensitive, gentle and affirming as possible and understand that any discomfort we feel when doing so is certainly shared by our partner.

Our goal when voicing sexual complaints to a spouse should be to introduce the topic and become more comfortable with discussing it. We must remember to recognize sexual issues in long term relationships as ones that can only be resolved with the input, openness and creativity of both members of the couple. In other words, blame and accusations have no place in a productive discussion about sex.

The truth is that the clash of human nature with the expectations of modern culture and society is such that our sexual desires will always be at some conflict with the realities of our lives. The solution is not to blame our desires or our partners but to figure out the best way to balance our own sexual needs with those of our partners and to balance the two with the long term interests of our marriages and relationships. 

Maintaining Marital Sexual Satisfaction over the Long Haul

The goal of any discussion between a couple about how to make their sex life more enriching and satisfying should be to create an ongoing dialogue. Even if couples discuss their sexual desires, satisfactions and dissatisfactions successfully and find solutions for spicing up their sexual relationship, their work is not done. They will need to revisit and adapt their sexual practices throughout the lifespan of the marriage if they wish to have a satisfying sex life over the long haul.

In her international bestselling book Mating in Captivity Esther Perel asserts that comfort and familiarity are at odds with eroticism which often requires novelty and excitement. She urges couples to approach one another openly and honestly and to make efforts to accommodate each other's sexual desires rather than repress them or reject them. 

Most couples recognize that relationships take both work and open communication to succeed and certainly the sexual dimension of our relationships requires ample amounts of both. The sooner couples start talking openly about their sexual wants and desires, the sooner they will be able to discover their unique path to a more satisfying sexual relationship and consequently to a longer lasting and more satisfying partnership.

View my short and quite personal TEDx talk about Psychological Health here:

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Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

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Love and Lust