Here’s the deal, if you’re in a traditional committed relationship or marriage, you should be the only other person meeting your partner’s sexual needs—ahem, Ashley Madison, no thank you!
But how often should you be having sex in order to feel happy? What’s considered “normal?”
The answer is surprisingly less than you think. The “more sex the better” belief was shot down in late 2015 when research findings showed that sex only once per week resulted in the same degree of happiness as having sex multiple times per week.
This is good news for partners with differing sex drives, and provides even more reason to stop comparing yourself to your frisky friends!
Lead researcher Amy Muise and her colleagues have been at the forefront of some other exciting research about sex and desire in committed relationships.
Much of their research has looked at a term called sexual communal strength, which refers to people who are highly motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs without expecting anything in return—sounds like a selfless lover to me!
In multiple studies, Muise found that people who are high in sexual communal strength have partners who are more satisfied with and committed to their relationships, and they perceive their partners as more responsive to their needs during sex.
This makes sense. If your partner is all about pleasing you, you’d probably be pretty happy about that, and this satisfaction can extend into other areas of the relationship.
Typically, couples that are very active in the bedroom also feel connected on an intimate, emotional level.
It works in a cyclical nature, similar to the chicken or the egg question. Which comes first in your relationship—sex or emotional intimacy?
This answer likely depends on your love language and how you prefer to connect and receive love from your partner. Either way, research shows us that meeting your partner’s sexual needs increases relationship satisfaction and commitment.
But what happens when you have a lower sex drive than your partner? Many couples don’t align perfectly on how frequently they like to have sex.
In a follow-up study, Muise and colleagues explored how partners make bedroom decisions when their desires conflict. As predicted, those people high in sexual communal strength were more motivated and willing to have sex, even if their own mojo was low—wow, what a trouper!
This desire to pursue their partner’s interests instead of their own led to reports of greater sexual and relationship satisfaction for both partners.
This all sounds great in theory, but in reality, sometimes you’re not in the mood. So even though you just learned that you can increase relationship happiness through weekly sex and selfless giving, it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you just don’t feel like it.
The answer is not “suck it up" and sleep together! There is a right way and wrong way to respond to your partner around differing sexual needs. The keyword being respond, rather than ignore or shut down.
In fact, Muise and her colleagues found that people high in the communal approach are also more understanding about when their partner is not in the mood. This is associated with better sexual experiences and feeling happier in the relationship in general.
What this means is that communicating about when you’re not in the mood is just as important as doing the deed itself.
Since people high in sexual communal strength are clearly doing things right in their love lives, the next logical question to ask is whether it’s possible to increase your own communal strength?
To this point, Muise says, “Trying to take a partner's perspective to truly understand their sexual desires and interests, as well as communicating your own desires and interests can help foster communal strength.”
How can you do this? Instead of rejecting your partner by pretending to be asleep in bed, or saying you’re too tired, acknowledge his or her advances.
Ignoring your partner can lead to defensiveness and has actually been shown to result in early divorce in married couples.
Try responding with a statement such as, “I appreciate that you’re making an effort to connect. I’m just exhausted and need to get some sleep. Let’s make some special time tomorrow. I love you so much.”
Or, if you’re the person approaching, it can be helpful to directly ask your partner what you could do to help him or her get in the mood.
Recognizing your partner’s needs, even if you’re not complying with them, is an important step in fostering better communication and intimacy.
The take home message? On days when you’re not between the sheets, reap greater relational happiness and connection by communicating about each other’s sexual needs.
As a significant other, it’s your job to turn towards your loved one when he or she wants to share things—sexual or non-sexual. That’s foundational to a happy long-term relationship.
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