Here's how to regain romantic rhythm with your partner when sexual drive and interest get out of whack.
It's common for longtime partners to fall into romantic ruts. "You don't stay newlyweds for life, and there are times when romance and sex get routine and less exciting," says Dr. Sharon Bober, director of the Sexual Health Program at Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
What can you do when you and your partner are sexually out of sync? As with most things in life, if you want change, then you must be willing to change.
"This means giving your relationship the attention it needs," says Dr. Bober. "You can't leave everything on autopilot and wait for your relationship to eventually return to normal."
Ups and downs
As couples age, they also face other challenges to intimacy. For instance, sexual drive varies between the sexes and can be more unpredictable.
Women go through menopause, which affects desire and can make sex uncomfortable. Men often deal with erectile dysfunction, which leads to worry about sexual performance and dampens libido.
But there are upsides to this period of life, too. The kids are out of the house, many couples are more financially secure, and they have more time to relax and enjoy each other.
The rules of attraction
Couples can get out of sexual sync when one or both partners feel that they are no longer attractive or sexually appealing, even though this is often not the case. "They may falsely believe they are not desirable and that in turn lowers their own feelings of sexuality," says Dr. Sharon Bober, director of the Sexual Health Program at Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Make a regular effort to compliment your partner both physically and emotionally, and show that you still want a connection.
Making a new recipe
While erectile dysfunction medication and lubricants can help overcome some of the physical barriers to sex, older couples need to work together to correct an out-of-sync love life.
"There are many strategies that can help get intimacy back in rhythm," says Dr. Bober. "But it's like a recipe with multiple ingredients. They work best together."
Here are some of her suggestions:
Restart the romance spark. A satisfying sex life begins outside the bedroom. "Don't think of your partner as a roommate, but someone you want to bond with," says Dr. Bober. Try something new together like a hobby or take a class or overnight trip. "Think about how you would woo your partner if you were dating for the first time," says Dr. Bober.
Plan for intimacy. If motivation is a barrier, set up a sex date. Sometimes you need to make sex happen to get back in the rhythm, similar to scheduling workouts with a trainer. "This way neither partner needs to feel pressured to initiate, but rather together you can plan for and anticipate some romance with each other," says Dr. Bober.
Find the best time. Energy levels vary throughout the day and night and per person. "Some people like morning romance, and others enjoy it in the evening," says Dr. Bober. "Couples need to communicate with each other about what time of day is best and try to find a compromise."
Don't rush it. Arousal is not as spontaneous as you age. "Put more effort into anticipation and the overall experience of giving and receiving pleasure, which gives both people time for proper arousal and avoids the stress of having to get in the mood quickly," says Dr. Bober.
Also, make foreplay central to sex. Spend more time hugging, kissing, and exploring each other's bodies. "Bring back the actions that you found exciting when dating," says Dr. Bober.
Build from desires. Before and during sex, ask your partner what feels good and what sparks interest. And then share what you like.
"This is a way to build mutual trust," says Dr. Bober. Besides the physical aspect, desires also could include actions like reading something erotic to each other or watching a sexy movie.
Dr. Bober adds that what really counts is for couples to come together and focus on mutual pleasure.
"For any couple, the key to enhancing desire is communication and connection," she says. "A little more of both is often great for boosting your sex life."
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