How to stay in love and lust after all these years

How to stay in love and lust after all these years

Not enough sex: it’s the most common problem for long-term couples. Psychotherapist Jean-Claude Chalmet explains how to get back into the habit


Most long-term couples seem to wish that they had more and better sex — so what’s stopping them? As a therapist, I see high levels of sexual dissatisfaction among couples in my clinic. Too often it is lazy, lacklustre or non-existent. Even when couples have regular sex, for many it’s functional and uninspiring.

Many of the people I see cite lack of time, children or work pressures. These excuses seem valid, but the real reasons that our sex lives are unsatisfying are far more complex. We’re not bothering to fuel lust by giving our partner love and attention. Often we’re not really communicating our needs. Happily, it’s always possible to rekindle hot and frequent passion with your partner. Here are a few tips.

Forget romantic weekends and sexy underwear 
Don’t waste your time with lingerie, massage oil and trips to Paris if there are unspoken resentments because you’ll just take those resentments with you. Sex is the cement between the bricks of a relationship, but if the bricks are made of sand, your walls will crumble. The most satisfying sex happens when we’re connected.

Most sex lives disappear because we resent not being understood, cared for or appreciated. But few of us discuss the best way to deal with disagreements. We don’t say: “If I’m in a dark mood, leave me alone, let me come to you.” We leave too much to chance, which builds discontent. My advice is to talk frankly but kindly if you want a good sex life.

Don’t judge if your partner wants to experiment
How can you share your desires and dare to be vulnerable if there’s a chance you’ll be met with stony silence or — worse — laughter?

Ten years in, your spouse may be surprised when you confess to a particular fetish. Their impulse might be to tease you, but in a loving relationship you should receive a kind response. If both of you feel comfortable, it can be bonding to experiment.

If the other person reacts unkindly, you have a real problem that needs to be addressed before anything else. They’re clearly not interested in your welfare, otherwise they would treat you better. Sex can’t heal that — you would just end up carrying all that hurt into the bedroom.

Make an effort
Ideally we’d be wild and willing in the bedroom, and great friends outside it. When I say this to couples in my therapy room it sometimes provokes discomfort, but why do we have so much sex at first compared with later in relationships? Because at first we try hard to please in all ways, including sex; we’re more engaged, funnier, more entertaining. We made an effort.

It’s entirely possible to return to that, or get close to it, but not if we’re lazy. Married men, especially, think that they don’t have to try hard to get sex. They believe that a perfunctory effort is all it takes — a bouquet is often a sign of sexual intent. Flowers are lovely if the relationship is rosy, but sometimes they’re an insult.

Give time, thought and attention instead. Sex starts in the mind.

Don’t sulk if your partner doesn’t feel like sex
We’re not trained to talk about sex, but we must talk about wanting — and not wanting — it. If your partner makes a move and you roll over and silently turn your back, that’s hurtful. Instead, try saying: “I love you, but I don’t feel like it at all tonight — do you mind?” In such a conversation true intimacy lies.

Because we struggle to talk about sex, we may sulk or pester if our partner isn’t up for it. That’s off-putting. As is avoiding sex by faking exhaustion and pretending to be asleep. Don’t challenge your partner in the bedroom, or after a failed attempt. Pick a good moment and ask: “Were you really asleep last night? To me it didn’t seem so, but I accept that you didn’t feel like it.” They’re more likely to open up than if you’re accusing and furious.

It’s not true that women don’t want as much sex as men
Some men still think that women don’t want as much sex as men. Women do want sex, they just don’t want bad sex. For some men sex amounts to humping away for six minutes, then rolling off and falling asleep. Women don’t want to feel like the receptacle in a perfunctory exercise. You need to feel connected to have good sex.

Couples I counsel often say that the spark has gone. It can be rekindled if they’re willing to examine how it got lost. For love and lust to endure, you need to be present emotionally, physically and intellectually. If she feels like a waitress at the banquet of his life, or he feels like he’s only the hunter-gatherer who provides, you need to be able to talk about it.

What if you don’t even fancy your partner?
Both parties should ask themselves: “If my spouse was in the shape I am in, would I fancy them?” Making an effort is a courtesy to yourself and the other person. Presentation matters — aesthetics apart, it’s symbolic of many things. When we eat at a restaurant, the staff don’t dump the food on the table, they arrange it beautifully because it whets the appetite.

In certain respects we have to grow up, adapt and reconcile ourselves to reality. That said, if you’ve stopped fancying your partner because they expel gas from various orifices without apology and loll about in stained leisurewear, that’s a valid gripe.

Don’t be selfish about orgasms 
Even in midlife, some people still expect every encounter with their partner of 20 years to be top-notch. When it isn’t, they sulk, then both parties feel terrible. Meanwhile, couples who can just enjoy the closeness of lying together and fooling around, who don’t take it personally if one partner physically isn’t “feeling it”, create a relaxed, permissive atmosphere.

Humour is a great sex aid. Take turns in focusing on your partner’s orgasm — particularly if you or they are not in the mood. We’re conditioned to think that sex is all about climaxing together, but an exercise in being selfless can reboot attitudes, and melt hearts.

Flirt without expectation 
Even if you’re rushed, it only takes a moment to give a look, a whisper, a touch or a wink — to show your partner that you think they’re gorgeous, even as they dig the grot out of the plughole (perhaps especially then). While this affection and attention might spark anticipation, it should be unconditional.

Some of the women I counsel say that they stop engaging in non-sexual physical intimacy because if they do engage in it, their partner will expect sex. I suggest that they say so, tactfully. Then hug. If a man persists in always seeing a kiss as a promise of shenanigans — a really tedious, bone-headed habit — everyone ends up feeling misunderstood, misled and disgruntled.

If we crave more affection and sex, we must understand that no one is a “sure thing”. And funnily enough, if you engage in affection and flirtation for its own sake, not what it will potentially lead to, it’s more likely to result in sex.

Accord a fraction of the effort you expend on your career on your sex life 
People sacrifice years building a career, but aren’t willing to invest a fraction of this effort on their sex life. We don’t express our sexual needs or ask what our partner wants. This might entail trying a new position or watching porn together, but most couples never find out.

I say to couples: “How often do you ask, ‘Did you enjoy that? What’s your fantasy? Are you happy?’ ” Don’t guess. Don’t be someone who wines and dines clients, but doesn’t consider that this is the kind of foreplay they should be performing at home.

Don’t prioritise the children at the expense of your partner
The central point of many relationships is the organisation of the children’s lives and — certainly with the couples I see — it’s more often driven by the woman. But living vicariously through your children leaves no space for you as a couple, and definitely no space for sex. It’s a lonely, soul-crushing existence for at least one partner.

It’s a long, painful process back, but the first step is to question the situation. To say: “What about us? I’m frustrated with how things are. I feel our relationship is at risk. What can we do to rekindle the bond between us?”

An affair is not the solution
Many people think that it’s easier to start something new than to repair what they have. We want to be wanted, and an affair is the antidote if you feel rejected at home. Yet years after divorcing, many couples say that they regret it and wish that they had made more effort.

It’s risky to invest in real intimacy because we don’t know what we’ll get in return. It’s a step in the dark. But I believe that at heart we all want to forge closer relationships and, through that, better sex lives. So many couples come to my practice who have done it twice a year for 12, 15 or 17 years. I ask them, “How often do you have sex — once a year?” so that they can say: “No, no — we do it four times a year.” And they’re so happy to be doing much better than you suggested.

We don’t change by being scared or pressured. We talk. We find out why people are uncomfortable with intimacy. That takes time. Then we can slowly build trust and closeness. The most beautiful part of this is, despite everything, we are all capable of improvement.
Jean-Claude Chalmet was talking to Anna Maxted