We're not yet through February wintertime blues, but at least the days are getting a little bit longer- and to celebrate, we're starting our new column! It's not advice- you get plenty of that already. We're shooting to increase mental health access by breaking down some of the barriers people have about starting therapy- enter Ask @mytherapist We'll select questions from our various social media outlets and respond! Today's question is:
My partner and I have been in a relationship for 6 years, and haven't had sex in 2. I watch porn, and I'm sure she has a vibrator, but we just don't get off together anymore. Will couples therapy help us get the spark back in our relationship?
Great question! This is SUCH a common theme in couples therapy. Online you see this referred to sexless marriages, lesbian bed death, etc. - and regardless of the people involved in the relationship, it is quite common. One study suggests that when the level of intimacy is stable, passion (that means sexual passion) tends to be low. It is only when intimacy is increasing that there is a strong sense of passion, the study suggests. So what does that mean for you in couples therapy? Well, one of the main goals will be to increase your intimacy (thereby increasing your passion), and the other might be to help identify the unrealistic expectations you have about how much sex you SHOULD be having in your relationship (compared to what you think other "normal" peoples' sex lives are all about).
In rational emotive behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, we would want to then challenge that thinking in order to help you accept the world as it is, rather than the way you think it should be. Your relationship is what it is, and perhaps we can work on increasing passion, and perhaps not - does that mean something about the value of your relationship? Not necessarily! Once we work on some of the thinking involved by each of you, then we would want to encourage you to research a bit on human sexuality and relationships to see that you have more options than you might think! Some people increase intimacy and passion by become more sexually adventurous together. This might be within the confines of monogamy or any other relationship style (open relationships, polyamory,etc). Some people work on the more administrative parts of the relationship that maybe aren't so sexy, like figuring out how to have chore time, parent time, etc, then making an effort to have sexy time - even if that means you're masturbating together in the same room rather than waiting for your partner to do laundry so you can rub one out real quick.
Relationships that are a few years in might not look the same as they did when you were first dating, and that's totally normal! When you were dating, you lived apart, you saw each other less, and the sex you were having was still a novelty- and that's how humans are wired - for novelty! In therapy we want to make sure you have a shared vision of the future, but still get to feel like you're a whole person, and sometimes getting to spend some time on yourself will lead to you and your partner getting to know each other again - increasing intimacy and increasing passion!
Sex is not the barometer of a relationship. Just THINKING about coming to couples counseling with a sex therapist is a loving act that really shows how dedicated you are to your partner. Keep up that momentum and although therapy might not change things overnight, you'll definitely learn some things about yourself and your relationship!
Dr. Michael DeMarco is a therapist in New York offering individual psychotherapy, couples counseling and sex therapy in Manhattan.