Intimacy in marriage and long-term relationships ebbs and flows: Sometimes you want more sex, sometimes your partner does—and sometimes sleep trumps all. Different seasons of life have different demands and challenges, and it’s not uncommon for couples to get off their rhythm. “Part of the novelty drops out of the system and your partner is no longer shiny and new. We have to search for that and find that in our own relationships,” says Alexandra Katehakis, clinical director at the Center for Healthy Sex and author of numerous books on sex and intimacy, including Mirror of Intimacy: Daily Reflections on Emotional and Erotic Intelligence. She shares her top tips for putting the spark back in your love life.
Be playful. Part of having a healthy sex life is acknowledging that you want to have one over time, says Katehakis. That doesn’t just mean date nights and weekends away, that also means flirting and having a playful relationship with your significant other. “Goof around with each other, send notes or texts that say, ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m thinking about you,'” advises Katehakis. “Maybe they’re sexy or erotic messages, where you’re cultivating your own libido. We’re all responsible for our own orgasms.”
Get sexy. If your uniform lately has been dowdy sweats or a messy bun and no makeup, take the time to do what you know makes you feel good: shave your legs, get your hair done, put on some red lipstick. “Do the things that make you feel sexy,” says Katehakis, “so you’re bringing that energy to your partner and not expecting him to jump-start a car that hasn’t been started in a month.”
Know what you need. “If women don’t know what turns them on—and it can change over time—they can’t possibly communicate that to their partner,” says Katehakis. She suggests reading erotic books and experimenting with sex toys to see what works for you. And then communicate that to your partner. “It can feel scary or shaming,” she says, “but there’s novelty in that type of conversation. And that’s what we’re trying to do: Infuse novelty into the system.”
Embrace your changing body. As women age and have babies, things change. Your once perky butt may not be so perky anymore and finding clothes that make you feel good gets more difficult. But Katehakis says we have to embrace aging and realize that societal pressures are ridiculous. “Vogue magazine has 18 and 19-year-old girls in $1,000 outfits. Those girls cannot afford those clothes, and women who are working in high-level positions who can afford those clothes don’t always look like that anymore,” she says “I think we have to look away from how our culture skews our reality and look more at what’s really true about our own bodies and how our bodies are aging as individuals and embrace aging gracefully.”
Escape reality for a bit. It’s easy to focus so much on your children that you completely lose sight of the relationship that made those kids possible. If you’ve been feeling that lately, the answer is finding a few solid days to spend just with your partner. We’ve become so kid-centric and totally abandon the relationship that we’re in, so get some concentrated days alone. “Most people report having the best sex on vacation because there’s no stress and no pressures and you’re sleeping, so the body can relax into and be aware of sexual arousal,” says Katehakis. “Drop the kids off somewhere for a long weekend and spend some time talking, playing and do the things that are fun for you.”
Lean in. After a long day filled with meetings, whiny kids, cooking dinner and picking up after everyone else, hitting the pillow sounds 100 times more exciting than knocking boots. But Katehakis says that working to get in the mood is worth it. “It’s sort of like going to the gym,” she points out. “You don’t really want to go, you get there and you’re exhausted. Then you’re on the treadmill and after 10 minutes you get your wind and start to sweat and afterward you think, ‘Wow, I’m really glad I did that! I feel so much better!'” If you need some help getting in the mood, ask your partner for a foot rub or massage to help you relax. And if you just don’t feel up for sex, Katehakis suggests doing “things that don’t require as much from your body, like mutual masturbation or oral sex.”