When we put all our eggs in one basket, sometimes they end up scrambled

I came across an article recently in The Guardian and it frustrated me enough that I needed to write about it.

From the article:

I have been with my partner for over a decade. We met in our early-20s through mutual friends. She was with another man at the time. Things were great to begin with, the thrill continued and we had an active and adventurous sex life. Unfortunately, within a couple of years – and unbeknown to me at the time – she had difficulties at work and seemingly lost all confidence. This led to our sex life falling off a cliff. I then became withdrawn, not understanding where the rejection was coming from and that made her feel worse.

The Guardian – Sex life has fallen
off a cliff

If you have had a long term relationship then it is almost certain that you have experienced something similar to what this couple are going through.

New relationships are fun, exciting, arousing, thrilling. And can give you fantastic sex. 

Over time though this always changes in a close relationship. Often in a good way. The connection between you becomes deeper and less superficial. You can relax more as you build trust with each other. 

But you will also lose the excitement and hot passion that comes with a new person, a new body, and exciting sex. 

If you are lucky then it matures into something more comfortable and deeper. If you’re not lucky then you experience something like the couple in this article. Work, money, children, and family among other things can all impact on your relationship, but your sex life with your partner will probably be the hardest hit.

Physical and emotional stress is a killer for libido. It’s even worse though when that issue is directly between you and the person you are having sex with. We can’t expect to have great sex when one or both of us is unhappy with the other. But – because of the way conventional relationships are structured – we still have the expectation that we should be able to have good sex regardless of whatever else is going on in our relationship.

That makes no sense at all.

The even sadder part is that – like the couple in the article – when our sexual connection fails as a couple, that can make the whole situation even worse.

I was disappointed by the advice provided to the person writing about his experience “Try to sooth yourself”? “Try to be gentle with yourself”? “Your strong desire to achieve relational and personal healing will eventually find its rewards.”

That isn’t helpful advice. They are platitudes that give no suggestions for helpful action and assume the only way to have a successful relationship is to follow the “normal” script of monogamy and suffering because in the long term it might get better on its own. No. This is in my opinion bad advice.

Let’s go back to basics. Relationships can be good or bad, but usually they are somewhere in between. Unfortunately we boobytrap our relationships by going into them with a requirement of monogamy, an inability to discuss actual needs, and no preparedness to make changes when things go wrong. So when we reach the point where our relationship is in crisis we have no tools to try to fix it with.

Imagine instead an open relationship where the subject of the article was able to have sex with someone other than just his partner – who is clearly going through some serious life stresses. It might be another partner, a friend with benefits, or a sex worker – it doesn’t matter what – as long as he wasn’t feeling cast into a pit of rejection, which then fed back on his partner and made her feel even worse.

In that scenario he would still rightly miss and mourn sex with his partner – but because he wasn’t feeling totally rejected, he may have been able to actually concentrate on her and support her in the way that she needed – helping her and bringing them closer together rather than pushing them apart.

There is nothing radical about this idea. It is in fact the solution that many people implement all the time when they have affairs, or see sex workers. It’s just that they didn’t start out their relationship with that safety net in place.

Many of my clients are women who love their partners and are very happy in their relationships. They don’t want to leave them. But they need good sex in their lives to be happy. So they come to me to get it – safely and discretely – sometimes they are able to discuss and negotiate their needs with their partner and see me openly, but that is rare, because for most of us, our relationships are built on “conventional” assumptions that are never discussed until we find ourselves in crisis.

So what would my advice to the subject of the article be?

  1. Get your sexual needs fulfilled outside of the relationship to short circuit the death-spiral of rejection that you are both going through – even better if you can discuss it with her (including giving her the same opportunity – who knows, having the attention of someone new might even help her with her self esteem and confidence). But definitely don’t try to do it together! Swinging is not the answer here. It might be fun down the line when this issue is resolved, but it won’t help while you are both tied in knots over sex and each other. Do your own thing for a while, have fun, rediscover yourself
  2. You both have issues that you need to work out to be happy people in and of yourselves. Getting therapy is good, but it sounds like you both need to take a hard look at your lives and ask the difficult questions: what do I really want out of my life? Can I get it in this relationship – and job? Once those questions are answered – honestly – then you have a basis to decide if the relationship is something you want to save and if so, what part in it sex with each other can play.

This is just my opinion based on my experiences both as a sex worker and personally – but I really think that when sex is a problem between people, it’s rarely the actual problem. It’s far more likely a symptom of a larger problem that then creates it’s own complications. So the best thing to do is take sex out of the equation. Get it somewhere else for however long you need to so that it’s not sabotaging your relationship. Then, with a clear head and a mollified libido you will be in a better position to fix the real problems.

John.