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How to Make Sex and Relationships Work When Only One of You Is Interested

Sometimes a couple's interests don't totally match up.

Whether the problem is big or small, there are many things you can do to get your sex life back on track. Your sexual well-being goes hand in hand with your overall mental, physical, and emotional health. Communicating with your partner, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, availing yourself of some of the many excellent self-help materials on the market, and just having fun can help you weather tough times. This is all fine and relatively easy to sort out within the bounds of a healthy long-term relationship, but when the different interests are of a bedroom nature the negotiations can get complicated.

Sex. The word can evoke a kaleidoscope of emotions. From love, excitement, and tenderness to longing, anxiety, and disappointment—the reactions are as varied as sexual experiences themselves. What’s more, many people will encounter all these emotions and many others in the course of a sex life spanning several decades.

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But what is sex, really?

On one level, sex is just another hormone-driven bodily function designed to perpetuate the species. Of course, that narrow view underestimates the complexity of the human sexual response. In addition to the biochemical forces at work, your experiences and expectations help shape your sexuality. Your understanding of yourself as a sexual being, your thoughts about what constitutes a satisfying sexual connection, and your relationship with your partner are key factors in your ability to develop and maintain a fulfilling sex life.

Following are some helpful tips to approach your partner in ways that will increase the likelihood that she or he will want to be close to you:

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1. Don’t take it personally

It may be a matter of a hormone deficiency or other physiological problems—or feelings the person has about himself or herself. Although it is hard to have your advances rejected repeatedly without taking it personally, you need to remind yourself that a partner’s lack of interest in sex just may not be about you, your attractiveness, or your qualities as a human being. It’s no picnic to feel disinterested in something your partner thrives on. He or she may feel inadequate, for example. The situation hurts you, but don’t underestimate how painful it is for your partner. Even if he or she acts defensively, your partner probably spends lots of time wondering why things aren’t easier between you. Try to be understanding.

2. Find the right time to talk

There are two types of sexual conversations: the ones you have in the bedroom and the ones you have elsewhere. It’s perfectly appropriate to tell your partner what feels good in the middle of lovemaking, but it’s best to wait until you’re in a more neutral setting to discuss larger issues, such as mismatched sexual desire or orgasm troubles. Many couples find it difficult to talk about sex even under the best of circumstances. When sexual problems occur, feelings of hurt, shame, guilt, and resentment can halt conversation altogether. Because good communication is a cornerstone of a healthy relationship, establishing a dialogue is the first step not only to a better sex life, but also to a closer emotional bond.

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3. Do something different

Without knowing you, I can say with some certainty that your “more of the same” behavior has been to pursue your partner for . And if this has become a heated, ongoing issue, you’ve probably gotten into roles with each other: You pursue him or her for sex, and he or she declines. And the more you push, the more your partner feels pressured or angry and pulls away. It’s time to try a new approach.

First, back off for a while. No matter how attracted you might be to your partner or how ready you might be to make love, for a certain period of time you should commit to not approaching him or her. Do not initiate sex for a while and see what happens. Also, stop talking about sex and focus on yourself for a change. Sometimes the lower-sexed person simply needs more time to allow his or her batteries to recharge. When the tug of war has ended, he or she might feel more amorous. It’s worth a shot.

4. Focus on what works

Have there been times in your marriage when your sex life was more passionate? (Yes, I know, in the very beginning—newness makes hormones run amuck. But that is not the case any longer.) Examine your marriage beyond the very beginning. Ask yourself, “What was different about the times when my spouse was more interested in sex?” See if any of those conditions are reproducible. Then reproduce them.

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5. Touch affectionately without thinking sex is imminent

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Women often complain that their husbands never touch them unless they want sex. This turns them off. If, as the man, you are the more highly-sexed partner, it will serve you well to remember this about your wife. She might want you to hug, cuddle, hold hands, sit next to her on the couch, or kiss her in ways that are affectionate but not sexual. Lots of women say that men are incapable of hugging without their hands sliding slowly down their bodies. Since many women have a strong need for affection without sexual overtones, they get annoyed when every touch becomes a means of foreplay. When you start doing the things that touch her soul, she will be more inclined to do the things that touch your body.

6. Respect your partner’s sexual prerequisites

When a partner with low sexual desire tells his or her spouse about the conditions that need to be in place in order to engage in or enjoy sex, the higher-sexed spouse often does not understand or accept the requests at face value. For example, if a wife tells her husband that she prefers making love at night rather than in the morning, the husband might think she is just making up excuses. If a husband tells his wife that he feels more turned on after they take a shower or when the kids are asleep, she may think he is just putting things off so that sex never happens. But the truth is these may not just be excuses. You may have a hard time believing this because you are ready to go at the drop of a hat, but your spouse may really need things to be a certain way in order to feel relaxed, comfortable, and turned on.

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As much as possible, try to honor these requests and not discredit your partner when he or she confides in you about them. Take them at face value, and try to create the kind of atmosphere that is most likely to be conducive to your partner desiring sex.

7. Ask them to talk about their sexual desires

Everyone, and I mean everyone has sexual fantasies, desires, and probably a little kink or two, too. But how often are we legitimately asked: “What are your sexual fantasies?” Not enough. In asking that question to your partner, you’ll be amazed by what might come pouring out of the floodgates.

8. Introduce them to erotica

On the flip side of porn is erotica. Erotica is different from porn in that it tantalizes and teases without giving it all away. It’s also really hot; maybe hotter than porn, depending on your tastes. If your partner has yet to experience the glory that is erotica, then they’re about to have their mind blown. Erotica, especially written erotica, can put things in your imagination that porn just can’t.

9. Invite them to step out of their comfort zone

What constitutes “comfort zone,” is different for everyone. While one’s comfort zone might be challenged by having sex with the lights on, another person’s comfort zone might be broken by an all-night orgy. That being said, it’s up to you to gauge what would count for your partner as stepping outside of their comfort zone. You don’t want to push them, but rather invite them, while explaining this is part of the sexual interest expansion project.

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10. Accept a gift of love

Sometimes, as things improve and your spouse tries to be more caring about your needs, he or she might decide to become intimate with you even though sex might not be a burning desire. Rather than feeling insulted or put off, you should accept this as a gift of love. In good relationships, people do things for their partners all the time that may not be exactly what they feel like doing at the moment.

11. Don’t give up

If none of your efforts seem to work, don’t give up hope. Your doctor can often determine the cause of your sexual problem and may be able to identify effective treatments. He or she can also put you in touch with a sex therapist who can help you explore issues that may be standing in the way of a fulfilling sex life.

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