Restoring Sexual Intimacy

Good Communication Can Restore Good Sex

By Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

What if you want sex more often than your mate? Or vice versa? Too often the “deprived” partner will blame the other. Avoid making this mistake. By calling your beloved “selfish,” “cold,” or “frigid,” you will only create more distance and worsen the situation.

Pretending that no problem exists will also hurt your relationship. It is much more helpful to accept what you are feeling and then to express yourself constructively.

Talk with your partner at a time when the two of you agree to h:ave the conversation. It should happen when both of you are calm. Listen with your full attention, without interrupting.  Use I-statements, such as “I’m feeling rejected”  (or hurt, unloved, pressured, or another emotion).

For many people, owning a feeling is much harder than casting blame. But it is worth the effort. You will begin to restore emotional intimacy by expressing yourself positively and respectfully. If you are already having a weekly Marriage Meeting, you can fit this conversation into the meeting’s prescribed agenda. My book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love, tells step by step how to hold these meetings, with guidelines, a simple agenda, and positive communication techniques.

Respond to your partner sensitively by reflecting back what you hear being said. Ask if your understanding is accurate. If not, let your partner explain further until you are able to show that you understand. Each of you will value knowing that you can trust the other to listen to, respect, and accept your true feelings, wants, and needs.

The biggest sexual organ is the brain, according to Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, authors of the widely acclaimed, research based book, Human Sexual Response In 1966.

Upsetting thoughts and feelings cause a body to tense up. When one partner feels stressed, whether about the marital relationship, work, family, or something else, it will be difficult for the person to get “in the mood.”

Let’s say that a wife is already tense, and that’s why she has been resisting her husband’s overtures. Rather than criticize her, a smart husband will help her to relax, by how he talks to her and touches her. “Nonsexual touching” is especially important to women. To just be held, with no expectation for sex at the time, can nurture both partners and go a long way toward restoring trust and intimacy. Sometimes giving your partner space, some alone time, may be most helpful.

Sexual relationships can be complicated. It makes sense to find out what’s getting in the way of more fulfillment. Perhaps a partner doesn’t want sex because she is not having orgasms. Ideally, she will be honest about this and figure out what is needed, on her own or in a discussion with her partner.

In some situations it’s simply a matter needing more sex education People who do not understand a basic male-female difference in sexual response sometimes blame each other. A woman typically needs more time to relax and become physically turned on than a man does. John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars; Women Are from Venus, explains that women are more like ovens because that they take longer to warm up before sex and longer to cool down after it than men.

But assuming that you both are healthy, orgasmic, and understand this difference in male-female sexuality, then what do you do to get your sexual relationship back on track?

  1. Express your disappointment with the situation constructively, again remembering to use I-statements, like, “I’m feeling hurt and unloved since so much time has gone by since we’ve had sex.” If you’re not used to speaking so directly, do it anyway.
  2. Notice what your partner is communicating. Listen without interrupting or judging.
  3. If your partner’s response is not constructive, ask whether something that’s happening    either inside or outside of the bedroom might be affecting their mood.

If this conversation feels too risky to conduct on your own, do it with a therapist who can guide you both to a good discussion in a safe environment.

Your partner might say she feels stressed about something at work or at home. She might say that she misses the romantic gestures you used to make, or that she would like to feel more cared for by you in general. If she says she’s not receiving enough foreplay, she should be encouraged to say specifically what she would like to happen.

Neither partner should expect a mate to mysteriously know what the other one wants and needs. The key is to communicate constructively and honestly–even about sex — and especially about sex.



  1. Connie says:

    Interesting topic! There is a seldom mentioned sexual intimacy challenge that many couples face in middle age: ED. While the cause can be treated medically, the months leading up to that first doctor visit can strain a marriage. One spouse feels undesirable and the other feels inadequate. Oftentimes, they cannot discuss it openly. Men feel emasculated when having to admit to being unable to perform.

    • Thank you for commenting, Connie. You sensitively portray how the emotional strain can effect both partners when sexual problems exist. My article focused on couples who are healthy physically but need to recognize and deal with emotional factors that are interfering with a mutually satisfying sex life. However medical issues do become more frequent in middle age that may interfere with sexual performance. For example, after prostate surgery erectile dysfunction is frequently reported. In such situations, it can be very helpful to talk openly with with a knowledgeable physician and/or professional counselor or therapist who can help people to get past feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy and to learn how to again experience sexual fulfillment as a couple.

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