If your sex life feels like it's fizzling, marriage problems could be to blame. Find out why everything from who wants more sex to who does the dishes can affect intimacy.
Having trouble in the bedroom? You might start by examining your overall relationship. Fights surrounding finances, kids, work, and housework can take the sizzle out of your sex life.
“A relationship flourishes in enriched soil,” says Aline P. Zoldbrod, PhD, a Boston-based certified sex therapist and a member of the faculty of the University of Michigan Sexual Health Certificate Program. But if you uproot your marriage and repot it in sand by not making time for each other or spending too much time fighting, it runs the risk of wilting away.
Marriage problems may seem insurmountable when you’re right in the middle of them, but you may be surprised by the impact small changes in your relationship can have. Here are 7 ways to make your relationship — and your sex life — better.
Bad Sex Reason No. 1: Being Disconnected
This is one of the most common problems Zoldbrod sees among married couples, and it results from living a harried lifestyle in which most days revolve around juggling obligations and couples don’t have enough time for each other.
“Between work obligations and kid obligations, the only ‘we’ time couples have together feels more like a corporate board meeting than an intimate conversation between friends or lovers,” Zoldbrod says. “In an un-emotional climate like this, deeply satisfying sex is impossible.”
What needs to happen to resolve this marriage problem: Make time to do exciting things together. Hire babysitters, take a weekend away without the kids, or get tickets to an interesting place or event.
Think of the financial cost as an investment in your relationship, Zoldbrod says. That effort is what leads to connection and trust in a relationship, which in turn leads to better sex.
Bad Sex Reason No. 2: Lack of Communication
People tend to speak different “languages of love,” Zoldbrod says. One person may like to give gifts to express love, while another shares feelings. Women are better at verbalizing their feelings — some men have trouble identifying their own feelings, so they can’t possibly share them.
If your partner is speaking a different love language than you are, it’s easy to feel unloved, which can affect your desire for your partner. Talking about how you want your partner to show you love can help.
When it comes to actual sex, talking is probably one of the most powerful things you can do, Zoldbrod says. Give feedback by asking for what you want, making sounds (such as an “aaaah” or “uumm”), or by simply saying “Don’t stop.”
If you don’t like what your partner is doing, ask “Can you do [fill in what you do like] some more?” or direct your partner’s hands, Zoldbrod says.
If you both agree that you have trouble communicating, a marriage counselor or sex therapist can help zero in on your problem.
Bad Sex Reason No. 3: Fighting
Every couple fights, but experts say that you need to balance every fight you have with five positive shared experiences. The health of your relationship depends on how good you each feel about the other, so if you’re fighting a lot, you have to make sure you’re also having plenty of fun together, Zoldbrod says.
There are some issues you may never agree on, but it’s important that when you do disagree, you focus on the positives, look for common ground, and work toward finding a solution to what you’re fighting about.
Bad Sex Reason No. 4: Money Disagreements
Money issues are the biggest reason for divorce among first-time marriages, according to the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. It’s common for partners to disagree about how to spend money, but keep this in mind: One of the benefits of being married is that you and your partner are able to keep each other in check financially. Still, as with any other issue in a marriage, underlying tension about money can make its way into the bedroom.
To help resolve these disagreements, schedule time every week to talk about your finances and make all of your decisions about money together. If you’re going through a rough time financially, committing to each other and going through it together can strengthen your relationship, which will help your sex life.
Bad Sex Reason No. 5: An Imbalance of Household and Parenting Chores
Surveys have found that sharing housework and childcare ranks third as a factor for how successful a marriage will be. However, women still tend to take on most of these duties, even when they’re employed full-time. Not surprisingly, resentment over who does what at home creeps into the bedroom.
“Housework is one of the biggest libido-killers known to woman,” Zoldbrod says. Tasks at work are typically linear — if you have a report to write, you write it, and you’re done. But household chores are circular and never-ending. “As one of my friends commented, ‘It’s like shoveling water uphill,’” she says. No matter how much laundry, cleaning, and cooking you do, there’s always more to do the next day.
“One of the most sexy and endearing things a partner can do is pitch in and help with household chores,” Zoldbrod says. It’s also okay to lower your standards for cleaning and laundry. When a woman has less on her to-do list, she’s more able to relax and get in the mood for erotic pleasure, she adds.
Bad Sex Reason No. 6: A Damaged Past
Almost a third of Americans grew up in homes where they were neglected emotionally or abused physically, emotionally, or sexually, Zoldbrod says. Growing up in that type of environment changes a person’s ability to trust others, and you can’t have a satisfying sex life if you don’t trust your partner.
It’s an issue that usually surfaces once a relationship has become established, and causes distance between the two partners. In this situation, seeing a therapist might be your best option to work through the issues and learn how to gain trust in your relationship.
Bad Sex Reason No. 7: Sexual Incompatibility
Probably the most common kind of sexual incompatibility is a discrepancy in the level of desire between partners, Zoldbrod says. If you don’t have many other areas of conflict in your relationship, you may be able to come to a compromise about how often you have sex. But if the partner with the stronger sex drive sees this as a total rejection and a sign of being unloved, serious problems can arise. “If the higher-drive person is often angry and pouty, the whole relationship becomes soured,” Zoldbrod warns. Further, if the other partner responds by giving in to having sex to avoid hostility, then that partner’s sex drive is guaranteed to diminish, she adds. “My advice is to get professional help for negotiating this difference, so that your marriage stays happy and strong,” she says.
Making these needed changes to correct problems and seeing a therapist for any problems too difficult to work out on your own can lead to a better sex life and a stronger relationship overall.