The full results of one of the largest studies to date on sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships were published in the Journal of Sex Research recently. It turns out that sex and communication are key to successful relationships and that couples who communicate about their sex lives are both more sexually satisfied and happier. This comes as no surprise.
With over 10 years working with hundreds of couples whose relationships have broken down, sexual disconnection is one of the biggest underlying causes. Often, I'm the first person they've told, because the couple can't communicate their frustrations to each other, and telling outsiders is embarrassing.
However, whilst open channels of communication about our sexual needs and desires is important, that's not the whole picture. Communication, on all fronts is at the core of any long lasting relationship. Relationships usually break down because communication breaks down. Couples stop talking, stop discussing their highs and lows, their hopes and concerns, and instead become distant, drifting apart until there's too much of a gap to reconcile. Communication builds trust, intimacy, and closeness, both inside and outside the bedroom.
The research shows that the most important thing, by far, is that couples tell each other, "I love you." That's fundamental. Couples need to make each other feel loved and interesting, laugh and share confidences and kindnesses with each other. They need to share what is most genuine and real about what they feel, in a loving way. That's what generates the rosy glow that opens the bedroom door. Good, loving communication leads to good sex, and vice versa. Ayesha's advice for a happy, satisfied relationship:
- Find someone who has the same sex-drive as you -- be that high or low -- and is as passionate about you as you are about him or her. One partner wanting more when the other loses interest is one of the biggest catalysts for break-up, and it happens easily in a long marriage. Few things are more likely to trigger resentment and bad temper or infidelity than sexual rejection and frustration. Regular sex, however, keeps people together.
- When that fails, make the effort! You can't expect to have the same wild sex life as when you first met -- but both you and your partner have to put in the time to keep your love life alive. Sexual frustration leads to resentment and alienation in the home and temptation outside it. Sex releases love hormones that bond you to your partner and make you feel close to each other. Prioritizing work or children over sex leads to breakdowns which can damage both. Put down the laptop, stick the kids in front of a video and go and spend some time in the bedroom. Don't get out of the habit. Don't be lazy about sex. Just do it.
- Be willing to listen -- and learn -- always be willing to listen and take the time to understand what your partner wants and needs. Do your best to avoid things escalating into cruel words and regrettable actions and give each other space when needed. Be kind. Try to sit down and express what you feel to each other in an unemotional way. Take turns, and say everything, honestly. Try to put yourself in your partner's shoes and see it from their point of view. To understand is to forgive.
- Know how to resolve disputes -- have good strategies for building bridges when you've argued. Be willing to say sorry or reach out your hand. Not that arguments are bad -- sometimes they're necessary to maintain an open dialogue with your spouse. My husband calls our arguments his regular "feedback" from me! Honesty is really the best policy -- I think that some couples hide things to avoid conflict. But being honest -- whether about facts or feelings -- will help avoid unnecessary conflict in the long run
- Keep connecting -- try, sometimes, to access the deeper level. Look at your partner, look into their eyes, and see them with all their hopes and fears and vulnerabilities, all their desire to be loved and understood, however that's been turned hard or angry, and just give them that love and understanding. It can be transformational.