Sex, Intimacy, and Friendship: Keys to a Healthy Romance
Intimacy matters more than sex for some, but mutual respect is the foundation.
Posted May 21, 2018
Some researchers are telling us that monogamy is no longer hip and that consensual non-monogamous relationships are the wave of the future now that lifespans are stretching out much longer than they once did. One recent research study indicated that sexual satisfaction was higher for consensually non-monogamous individuals than for monogamous folk, while relationship satisfaction didn’t differ significantly between the two groups (Conley, , Piemonte, Gusakova, & Rubin, ). However, another recent study of college-aged adults indicated that people still have a preference for monogamous relationships. This research team (Thompson, Bagley, & Moore, 2018) used a research design that assessed their participants’ implicit attitudes rather than asking them to tick boxes agreeing or disagreeing with statements about monogamous relationships.
It seems that those who long for a larger pasture with more potential sexual partners to choose from feel happier with their sex lives than when they don’t get those options. However, it’s also important to note that if you’re in the type of relationship you prefer, monogamous or consensually non-monogamous, you’re going to as happy as that other group is. It’s good when we like the relationships we’re in because how we feel about our home lives can pretty much influence every other aspect of your life.
However, if you’re happily content in your monogamous relationship, but feeling a little bored by the current circumstances, there are ways to honor your partner and the relationship while shaking up things a bit, as well.
The saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” can be painfully true. While vegging out and catching up with your favorite shows can be way to bond and develop routines as a couple, the relationship might grow a little “too” predictable and start to feel a little stale.
Every couple should integrate special times together that involve activities that are different than what a couple normally does together. Whether your “date night” destination is the couch and Netflix or sushi before heading to a club for some dub step, as long as you’re doing something you both enjoy and is something you don’t usually do, you can inject a little excitement and shared pleasure into the evening.
It’s okay to agree to try things you are convinced you’re going to H-A-T-E. Although we live in a culture that suggests that we can always have things our way, when it comes to relationships, that’s a concept that just doesn’t fit. No matter how much you may adore your partner, it’s unlikely that you’re going to adore absolutely everything your partner enjoys doing. But it can be kind of fun for both of you if you let yourself go and try out something new – your partner may get to be the expert and you may get to be the beginner, and if that’s a flip-flop on the roles you usually play, that can bring even more enjoyment to the situation.
Monogamous or Not, Sex should still be Fun!
Research continues to show that happy couples enjoy sexual intimacy on a regular basis – and as long as both partners are happy with the frequency, it really doesn’t matter if it’s twice a day or twice a year. Seriously.
Being able to talk openly about sexual needs and preferences is essential to enjoying a fulfilling sexual relationship. Telling your partner what you need greatly improves the odds that you’ll get what you want. Allowing resentment, frustration, or disappointment to build up is the surest way to keep the fires of passion dampened. Sex is kind of like your favorite food – if you pretend you love Korean barbecue, but you’re a closet vegetarian, you’re only doing yourself out of what you’d enjoy a whole lot more than what you’re pretending you like.
If you want to try something new, let your partner know – but give your partner some ideas! Don’t just say “I don’t like it when you . . . .” Say something more helpful like, “Boy, I wonder what it would feel like if I ….” Or “Hey, I’ve been having this fantasy for a while – it sounds crazy, but I wonder if you’d be willing to . . . “
Make it about the NEW activity – don’t dwell on what you didn’t like. Retroactive embarrassment and retroactive mistakes never look better in the ugly light two weeks later!
And if you’re asexual, intimacy may look different, but closeness is still the goal.
Asexual Couples define their own Form of Intimacy
When it comes to asexual couples, the most important want to enjoy intimacy is to engage in whatever either partner personally defines as “intimacy.” While sex drives really do wax and web over a lifespan, if a couple truly identifies as asexual, then it is their prerogative to decide which activities they value as ways to offer one another support or to quench one another’s skin hunger. Research shows that people really do experience “skin hunger” when they have no one to embrace, offer or be offered a comforting touch, or literally lean on/into at the end of a difficult day.
There are definitely times when many of us would prefer a warm embrace over a quick hook-up between the sheets. Every couple has the right to decide their level of physical and emotional intimacy.
In Addition to Sex, You still need Friendship
It’s important to emphatically state that if a couple does NOT consider themselves to be friends, the relationship is not going to last long term. Friendship and companionship are what keep a relationship steady on over the course of years; if it’s all about passion, drama, sex, and excitement, the relationship won’t last past many anniversaries.
Do partners need to be “besties”? Nope, we don’t have to spend every leisure hour with our partners! That is almost a guaranteed way to burn out the fire. Even best friends need breaks from one another if they’ve been spending too much time together. We all need to have our own lives and create our own sense of individual identity. Self-intimacy is essential in order to build healthy intimacy with a partner.
Some couples do grow into cloying co-dependent relationships – and while these may actually endure over their lives, it is not necessarily the healthiest of relationships. We need to grow our own selves and this can’t be done if we are constantly in the company of another. We not only benefit from some extra-relational friendships, we also need time for solitude and alone time.
It’s definitely advisable to make time to connect with friends – sometimes couples have mutual friends and this can be an easy way to make sure each of you spends time with others. Time with your friends is one of the best ways you can recharge your energy and release tension or relieve stress. And sad, but true, is that we sometimes treat our friends better than we do our partners – we don’t nag them the same way or call them out like we might a partner. It feels good to be among people who won’t judge you or try to “improve” you.
Choosing a single partner or making a group situation work is your decision, but the behaviors that maintain healthy relationships are going to be pretty much the same across any relationship. If the relationship is bringing you satisfaction, do what you can to keep it on track. Healthy relationships require tending, so be willing to put in the work.
Conley, T. D., Piemonte, J. L., Gusakova, S., & Rubin, J. D. (2018). Sexual satisfaction among individuals in monogamous and consensually non-monogamous relationships. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 35,,4, 509-531. doi:10.1177/0265407517743078
Thompson, A. E., Bagley, A. J., & Moore, E. A. (2018). Young men and women’s implicit attitudes towards consensually nonmonogamous relationships. Psychology & Sexuality, 9, 2, 117-131.