‘Set aside time for sex’ – how to get better at long-term relationships
As a counsellor I say to my clients: ‘You need to invest as much energy and time in you
In the same way that you set aside time for the gym or hobbies, set aside time for sex. Illustration: iStock
It’s not inevitable that the romance will die in a long-term relationship, but things do change. When you first meet someone, you focus on them entirely, want to spend all your time with them and have a lot of sex. That crazy, romantic love settles down within six months to two years. Other things get in the way, such as work and children. And unexpected challenges, such as bereavements or financial pressures, can test a relationship.
You need to focus on keeping your relationship alive. As a counsellor, I always say to my clients: “You need to invest as much energy and time in your relationship as you do for anything else, whether it’s your work, studies, children or friends.”
Schedule time together, for just the two of you. That might be date nights or weekends away, or it might be creating new interests together, such as rock climbing or going to gigs. A shared calendar is a good idea, so you are aware of the other person’s schedule. And be considerate. If you’re going out with friends after work, send your partner a message and let them know. It shows you’re thinking of them.
Think about how you’re communicating with your partner. Does your partner often misunderstand what you’re saying? Do you tend to leave issues unresolved? Unresolved issues have a tendency to mount up. Something that might not have started as a massive problem – your partner’s chronic lateness, say – can become one if you don’t discuss it.
If you still end up arguing, try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Most of us find that extremely hard.
Ask your partner what makes them feel loved. Is it you cleaning their car? Taking the kids to the park on a Sunday so they can have a lie-in? Do it for them. Often, people need to hear verbal expressions of love. Tell them that you love them, unprompted. Give them a hug or bring them a cup of coffee. Little things like that make a huge difference.
You should never try to change your partner’s personality, because it was that personality that you fell in love with. But that doesn’t mean you can’t identify behaviours you don’t like. For example, if they are very impatient and always interrupt you when you’re speaking, tell them: “When you interrupt me, it makes me feel as if what I’m saying isn’t important.” You can’t knock the impatience entirely out of their personality, but you can work on the interrupting.
Try to recognise the positive things your partner does. You can fall into the habit of expecting them to be good to you, and complaining when they’re not perfect. Take stock of the nice things they do.
The main things that kill relationships are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. Defensiveness is often a response to previous criticism, so when you’re communicating with your partner, be very careful that they don’t feel that you’re attacking their character. And vice versa: if your partner is annoyed at you for something you have done, try to hear what they are saying.
Although communication is key, sometimes you need to bite your tongue. Perhaps the way your partner makes the bed really annoys you. Is there something wrong with the bed or is it that you have a way of doing things that you prefer? Even if you don’t like how they have made the bed, they have made an effort to do it, so say thanks.
Most people hate to schedule sex, but spontaneity doesn’t always work. In the same way that you set aside time for the gym or hobbies, set aside time for sex – or, if that makes you uncomfortable, some form of physical intimacy. Say: “On Wednesday night we’re going to get into bed together and just be close, even if it’s only kissing, cuddling or massaging each other.” That can lessen the pressure to perform.
And if you’re having sexual difficulties, such as erectile dysfunction, get some professional help. Don’t think that going to a hotel for a dirty weekend will be a quick fix. If your sex life is basically good and you want to spice it up a little, then a hotel is great. But if you have got issues around sex, or more broadly in your relationship, a dirty weekend won’t help, because you need to work on those issues first.
If you’re thinking: “I’d like to have sex with other people,” think about how you can bring those desires into the relationship. It might be that there are certain things you would like to try, but don’t feel comfortable raising with your partner. Now is the time to say: “What about trying this?”
When your life is busy, and you have got burdens and commitments such as kids or elderly parents, it’s easy to put your relationship on the backburner. But that’s a mistake; it needs to be a priority. Because if your relationship is good, other things become more manageable. There is someone who has got your back, and will support you. It makes life that little bit easier. – Guardian
Miranda Christophers was speaking to Sirin Kale