When things are not going well in a sexual and romantic relationship, it can really help if both partners try to understand why.
So, if you are in a relationship that’s in some trouble, ask yourself the following questions.
What do you each want out of the relationship?
Do you still enjoy your life together?
Are you ready to sacrifice time and energy to make your relationship work again?
Do you still love each other?
Your answers to these questions will help you pinpoint the extent of the problem and whether or not you both have the energy and the will to make changes to improve things.
Let’s look now at some common causes of relationship difficulties and ways to tackle them.
Stop the blame game
When things are going badly, couples tend to ask who is at fault and which of them is to blame. Neither of these questions is helpful.
It’s better by far for both partners to accept that they share joint responsibility for the relationship and to agree that when they are having problems they should work at them together.
Dr Jack Dominian, who – until his retirement – was one of the UK’s leading relationship psychiatrists, always says that if couples want to improve their relationships, they should ban the phrase: ‘The trouble with you is …’ This is good advice!
Find time to work on your relationship
In today’s busy, modern world, you need to find time for each other. This is not easy if you both have hectic careers and becomes even more difficult when you have children.
But if you have established that you both have a will to make things better, you need to look at your joint schedules and find time when you can be together.
If you don’t find time, improvement will be slow or non-existent.
But if you can make time to talk and to be together, you may well overcome your difficulties.
Change the way you communicate
Frequently, couples stop making an effort with each other. They may even insult each other or take each other for granted.
Suppose the door bell rings. One partner may yell at the other: ‘Get that will you?’ It doesn’t take much effort to add the word ‘please’ or to ask in a different way, such as: ‘Would you mind answering the door?’
This may sound a small point, and maybe an old-fashioned one, but when couples bellow demands at each other, it sounds abrasive and disrespectful.
When aggression becomes a habit, it can seriously damage the romance in a relationship.
The key thing here is that you should make sure you show each other the respect that you did when you first met.
Make an effort for each other
Lack of respect can also be shown in appearances. It’s sad that couples often stop making an effort with how they look.
A small thing like changing work clothes for something brighter for dinner – and the woman putting on some make-up and the man having a shave – can transform a routine evening into more of an occasion.
Try the 10-minute rule
Men often say: ‘She just wants to go on and on about things, and it drives me mad.’ While women say: ‘We never talk.’ Both parties cannot be right!
If you and your partner are struggling to discuss the things that matter to you both, it’s a good idea to deploy the 10-minute rule.
One partner has his or her say for 10 minutes. During this time the other partner listens intently and does not interrupt.
After 10 minutes, the second partner takes the floor for 10 minutes. Men, in particular, appreciate the chance to have their say without interruption and with the guarantee that the conversation will not go on all night.
After both of you have had your say, have a further 10 minutes between you.
The whole discussion should be over in 30 minutes.
If both parties agree to carry on with the conversation, that’s fine, but it should never go on for more than an hour.
If you both know that you have limited time, you will be more concise, and hopefully spare each other any histrionic behaviour.
Have an evening out
Try to have one evening out per week, just the two of you. If you have children this is more difficult to arrange, but it’s not impossible. And when you have this ‘date’, avoid talking about your offspring or work.
Socialise as a couple
Another good thing to do is to make sure that you get some friends round on a regular basis, even if it’s just for a takeaway or supper round the kitchen table.
You’ll have a good laugh, and if these friends have known you since the beginning of your relationship, it will remind you of happier days and you’ll feel younger and more carefree.
Call in the professionals
If your relationship is in real trouble and none of the above suggestions help significantly, you might want to consider having some relationship therapy.
The obvious place to go for this in the UK is Relate, who offer low-cost, face-to-face counselling. Additionally, they offer email or phone counselling.
No matter where you live in the UK, there is likely to be a branch of Relate near you.
You can also opt to go to a private therapist. This will cost more, but usually allow you to be more in control of when you go, how many sessions you have and so on.
And what about sex?
It is unlikely that a sex life in trouble will improve greatly if work is not put in on the whole relationship.
Of course, there are times when both partners may be steamed up and the sex works wonderfully. But apart from these spontaneous and happy times, couples often complain that they don’t make love as much as they did or that one or both partners have lost the urge.
Increasingly we are seeing couples – men as well as women – who have little interest in sex. Fatigue is often the main culprit here. Many people now work such long hours that they feel permanently exhausted.
Often a loss of libido can be about resentment or a pervading sense of unhappiness with the relationship itself.
For example, a man may lose interest in sex if the woman is very aggressive in bed or out, nags him to do better sexually, or if she keeps complaining that he doesn’t do his share of the housework.
And a woman may feel a lack of interest sexually for similar reasons, including a perception that her man never says he loves her unless he wants sex.
She may also resent the fact that he doesn’t listen to her at the end of a tough day.
So, I cannot emphasise enough that before you look at your sex life, you should look more generally at your relationship.
Having done that, there are plenty of ways in which you can liven up your sex life.
You might want to take turns in running the sex session. In other words, the man may make all the suggestions one night and the woman another. This often leads to much greater variety.
A short break away is always a good bet for enlivening a relationship. I did a survey once in which 96 per cent of women told me they felt sexier when they were on holiday – even just a short weekend break.
You might use fantasies, always supposing that the same sorts of things turn you on.
You might read erotica to each other before, or even during, sex.
Some couples enjoy porn together – usually DVDs of attractive couples making love.
Some couples like to dress up or to use vibrators or other sex toys. They might also enjoy reading sex manuals on different sexual positions, or dressing up in sexy lingerie.
There are some very good sex shops online that are attractive to women and cater for all these sorts of products. Some of the best are:
What if one of us has a medical problem that’s stopping sex?
The above advice assumes that neither partner has a serious sex problem, such as premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, pain during intercourse or difficulty getting an erection.
If you have a problem that makes sex difficult, there are therapists who can help and there are articles on all these conditions elsewhere on this website.
When to seek professional help
If you think your sex-life has become stale and boring, and none of the above suggestions appeal, you might also benefit from some sex therapy.
Some therapists specialise in helping couples by teaching them techniques where intercourse is banned for a while so that the couple can enjoy touching, stroking and other forms of love play. This can have a dramatic effect on a flagging relationship.
If you want to contact a specialist in sex and relationship therapy, go to someone properly qualified such as:
a Relate counsellor who is trained in psychosexual matters
a private therapist who is a fully accredited member of the College for Sexual and Relationship Therapy.
a doctor who is a member of the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine.
And what if a partner’s had an affair?
Finally, you may be reading this article because one of you has had an affair, and you are now trying to rebuild your relationship in and out of bed.
This will be a rocky time for you, so some Relate or other relationship counselling could prove beneficial.
Also, do read an excellent book that should help you both called ‘After the Affair’ by Julia Cole, published by Vermilion.
You need to rebuild trust too, so please realise that things are unlikely to improve instantly. These things take time, but are well worth working at.
Written by Christine Webber, psychotherapist and lifecoach