Written by: Shan Merchant, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
As a busy couples therapist, one of the first questions I ask a new couple is "How's your sex life"? This isn't a casual inquiry; it's a deliberate probe into your overall relationship health. It gives me some big clues toward the deeper issues you might be facing – be it a communication breakdown, lingering conflict and resentment, or a sense of emotional distance. While it's important to know that sex in long-term relationships ebbs and flows, and it's normal for many couples to have dry seasons, if there's a consistent lack of sex in a relationship that's causing strain, it's time to take action. If you were one of my couples, and your goal was to return fun and loving sex to your relationship
Here are 13 approaches that I would guide you through to address the lack of sex in your relationship
1. Start talking
Many couples aren't having the sex they really want but aren't talking about it. This often leads to boredom, anger and disappointment, or blame, and ultimately the disappearance of sex in a relationship. As Dr Pat Love points out, there’s an unspoken contract many couples have, and it goes something like this: "I expect you to be monogamous, but don't expect me to meet your sexual needs".
You'd think sex would get easier to talk about the longer you're together, wouldn't you? But the fact is that sex is often the topic that people feel the most vulnerable about, and therefore avoid talking about it entirely. It's a whole new realm of vulnerability that many people find difficult to enter into. Opening up about one's desires, fantasies, turn-ons, turn-offs, or fears can make an individual feel exposed, uneasy and fearful of judgement.
So, they clam up.
However, this is exactly the opposite of what needs to happen. But to talk about the sex you want, along with your fears and concerns, the conversation needs to be honest and free of criticism, shame, and blame.
This is a rare thing in a long-term relationship!
In long-term relationships, couples often find themselves shutting down the wilder part of themselves and having predictable sex. Same day, same time, same position each week. They stick to a well-trodden path which, over time, becomes a trap. Gradually what was once new and exciting becomes monotonous and lifeless. We fear what will happen if we honestly tell our partner we want something different, or that "that thing you used to do that I loved now makes my toes curl". Perhaps you didn't speak up about what you wanted from the very beginning. Many people fear honest, direct conversations about this, because they worry they'll hurt their partner's feelings, cause insecurities or create tension, which then might damage your connection.
Depending on the overall health of your relationship, there could be a lot of built-up resentment and unaddressed wounds that are causing sexlessness in your relationship. A study by psychologists Bob and Susan Berkowitz revealed that anger is one of the top 5 reasons for spouses not being sexual in their relationships. You may have tried in the past to talk about what you'd like sexually in your relationship but were met with defensiveness, sarcasm, or rejection from your partner. This is why the deeper issues at play, such as feeling criticised or controlled, undervalued and insignificant, must be addressed first.
2. Make a commitment to each other
It's important that you both begin by making a commitment to each other which says: "Our sex life is important and valuable, and I'm willing to put in time and effort to grow or heal this area of our relationship." You must be on the same page with this! If one of you is not willing, other conversations may need to be had, such as: "Do we both still want to remain in this relationship?"
There may be times in your relationship when sex takes a back seat. Perhaps you're grieving the loss of a parent, dealing with cancer or a health crisis, suffering from depression or anxiety or overloaded at work. Reaffirm your commitment to each other by recognising that sex is only one facet of your bond. Explore new ways to connect, such as cuddling or holding hands, which both maintain a sense of closeness without the pressure of sex. When you navigate times like this with empathy and patience, it not only strengthens your bond but can deepen appreciation for each other, laying a solid foundation for the return of a healthy sexual relationship when circumstances allow.
3. Clear the resentments
Built-up resentment and anger are the number one passion killer for all the couples I meet. How could you possibly expect to have a thriving sex life if you secretly doubt that your partner even likes you? Open, honest, safe dialogue between partners is crucial to address the wider areas of your relationship. This might involve discussing disappointments, misunderstandings, or unmet expectations between you. Or you might have a chronic dynamic in your relationship, such as criticising, blaming or sarcasm, which has eroded all emotional safety. Aim for your relationship to be a soft place and a haven, rather than a spiky, hard-edged place, and your sexual connection will have a basis on which to flourish.
Couples therapy is a safe place for you to work through your relationship issues, particularly if you need support in clarifying what the root causes of your lack of sex are. In my couples practice I coach you into having safe conversations that are free of blame and criticism, which is a pattern many couples get stuck in. This helps each person feel heard and understood in a way that hasn't been possible at home.
4. One month: Go "Zero Negative"
When negativity is present in your relationship, it kills desire because there is little or no emotional safety. When you sense you have no emotional safety, your body goes into fight or flight mode. You view each other as a threat, so the part of your brain called the amygdala 'switches off' your libido to help you fight the threat.
Restoring emotional safety should be the No.1 goal of any couple in this situation – this is what I tell all my couples to focus on. How do you restore emotional safety? Eliminate negativity from your relationship. And I don't mean your partner's negativity. The only person in the world that you have control over is yourself. So, start there. Take an honest view of your behaviour and your energy and own your 50% contribution to the negativity that exists in your relationship.
What I mean by 'negativity' in your relationship is all the little and big ways you hurt your partner. All the things you do that create disconnection between you. The looks, the words, the gestures, the touches – they all matter. So going "Zero Negative" means stopping ANY behaviour which is negative – a tone of voice, an eye roll, a shrug, a turning away, a sarcastic mumble. Blaming, shaming, criticising, putting down your partner, dismissing them, hard gazes, huffing, sighing, etc.
I set the couples I work with a 30-day Zero Negativity challenge. Tick off each day on the calendar that you succeed, and watch affection slowly return.
5. Start sharing appreciation
In my couples therapy practice I encourage all my couples to have a consistent practice of sharing appreciations with each other. I can't stress enough how crucial this is in restoring day-to-day positivity to your relationship. You will palpably feel the softness returning when you do this as regularly as I recommend.
Feeling appreciated, valued, and acknowledged by your partner creates a sense of emotional closeness, which is a building block for tenderness, affection, and sex. Try it and prepare to be amazed!
John Gottman writes about the 'magic ratio' in a relationship being 5:1 – meaning that for every negative interaction, you need five positive interactions to balance it out and have a stable, happy marriage.
6. Affection and non-sexual touch
For couples wanting to fix a lack of sex in a relationship, the presence of non-sexual touch is very important. A good ratio to aim for is around 10:1 – i.e., for each time you have sex you should have had at least 10 different experiences of non-sexual, affectionate touch.
Human touch releases oxytocin, often referred to as the "bonding hormone" or "love hormone". This neurochemical is associated with feelings of trust, connection, and affection. Research tells us that engaging in non-sexual affectionate touch, such as holding hands, cuddling, or gentle caresses, triggers the release of oxytocin, creating a sense of emotional warmth and closeness between partners.
Non-sexual touch also serves as a powerful form of communication. It conveys care, reassurance, and a sense of presence, addressing emotional needs that may be contributing to the lack of sexual intimacy. In times of stress or tension, a comforting touch can communicate support and understanding when words may fall short.
When I'm working with couples who have not had sex for months or years, I encourage them to start gradually with non-sexual, affectionate touch, like a hug. It can often be scary, suffocating or just feel completely alien for some partners if this phase starts too quickly. Sometimes a partner can fear that any touch will lead to the pressure of sex when they haven't wanted it in the past or been criticised for saying no.
Our goal is for closeness, warmth, and intimacy to grow slowly in a natural way. So, I encourage partners to engage in small acts of physical affection that do not lead to sex, such as holding hands, cuddling on the sofa at night, a hug at bedtime with eye contact. If eye contact has also been lost (meaning you don't even look at each other anymore, you are like two ships passing in the night) we start there first – engaging in conversation, showing interest in each other, and holding eye contact. This all builds intimacy.
7. Talk, listen and show interest in each other
It's important to create intimacy outside the bedroom to rekindle the spark within it. Asking questions, listening, and showing interest in each other's hobbies, passions, and daily life is a way to show that you value and care for your partner as an individual. We need to know our partner cares about us, likes us and enjoys our company. Prioritising quality time together undistracted by phones, devices, TV, work, or even children if you can, is crucial to bridging the emotional distance that often leads to a lack of sexual connection. It's not just about being in the same space, but about engaging in meaningful activities that foster a sense of closeness.
Individuality and separateness are also very important to cultivate in your relationship. Keep your own identity intact – pursue your interests and have your own thing going on. It's not just about being interesting; it's about staying true to who you are. Having your own life outside the relationship keeps things intriguing and sparks attraction and desire.
8. Set goals in your sex life
I set fortnightly goals for my couples who are working on improving their sex life. Agreeing on sexual goals isn't about turning your love life into a corporate strategy, but it's about making sure you and your partner are on the same page and committed to keeping the flame alive. It's about accountability and recognising that a healthy sex life requires intentional effort. Each goal is hyper-specific and time-limited, so that it's achievable, and we review how they are going every two weeks. For example, one goal might be to "hug you each night at bedtime, look you in the eyes and tell you that you are my priority". Another goal for a different couple might be to have a sex date once a week.
8. Schedule time to have sex
So, here's the deal: a lot of couples think scheduling sex will kill the romance. They want their bedroom adventures to be spontaneous, illicit, and feel as exciting as when they were first dating. But let's be real – life, work, and young children – often get in the way. Unless you're intentional about sex, it's among the first casualties.
Couples who have thriving and long-lasting sexual relationships put sex on the calendar. It's not about some dull routine; it's about prioritising what matters. Physical intimacy triggers the release of hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine, contributing to feelings of closeness and pleasure. Regular sexual activity can create a positive feedback loop where the more you engage in it, the more you desire it.
When a couple schedules sex, it's also a loud and clear message: "You matter to me, and so does our sex life." And let me set the record straight – scheduling sex doesn't mean it's a snooze-fest or the same old routine. No, no. You can inject some excitement into it – try out new stuff, take turns setting the mood, suggest wild positions, or dive into a bit of roleplay or fantasy exploration. In the end, it's about saying, "I'm making time for us. Our connection matters."
I like to tell my couples to view sex as a hobby. It's not a chore; it's your pleasure pursuit. Ever tried to enjoy a hobby when you're half-asleep? Yeah, not ideal. Schedule sex at a time you know you'll both enjoy it. For some couples this might be in the daytime when the energy is high, not at 10 pm when you're not running on empty after a long day. Focus on the pleasure, the connection, and, most importantly, having a great time.
9. Don't expect perfection every time
First off, ditch the fantasy of perfection. Each roll in the hay is its own unique beast, influenced by the day-to-day ups and downs of life – excitement, stress, tiredness, and the annoying external pressures life throws our way. Recognise that it's part of the deal, and that's okay. No need to put unnecessary pressure on yourself or your partner. Don't take it so seriously – have a giggle. Remember that sex at its best can be hilarious, messy, and unpredictable.
Communication plays a pivotal role. Openly discuss expectations and desires with your partner. Establishing clear and honest communication channels enables both individuals to express their needs, providing insight into what contributes to a satisfying sexual experience. By understanding each other's preferences and being receptive to feedback, couples can work together to enhance their intimate connection.
Practice self-compassion. Embrace the imperfections; they're what make the journey rich and authentic. Be kind to yourself and your partner. Recognise that those not-so-perfect moments contribute to the rich tapestry of a long-term relationship.
10. Spice up the conversation in your relationship
I think almost all people need to know they are wanted and desired by their partner. I hear this come up many times in my couples therapy room. Both men and women tell their partners variations of this: "I don't feel wanted by you. We don't hold hands, hug, talk anymore. And when we do talk it's just practical or logistics."
Spicing up your conversations is an intentional act. It involves a conscious effort to break away from the monotony of practical discussions and reintroduce the thrill of the unknown. Instead of simply coordinating schedules or discussing household responsibilities, throw in a flirtatious comment, a cheeky compliment, or a suggestive remark that hints at the more intimate dimensions of your connection. Keep the flame burning.
11. Forget about the frequency
Enough with the obsession over how many times you hit the bedroom. Instead, focus on and prioritise the satisfaction of both partners. Get talking about what you both really want need, desire, and fantasise about. Quality and fulfilment in those intimate moments should be the goal, not some arbitrary number. Success in your sex life isn't about quantity, it's about savouring the enjoyment, building up emotional connection and having gorgeously fulfilling, mutual satisfaction.
12. Laughing together
Laughing together is a powerful and underestimated factor in enhancing your sex life. First, laughter is a powerful tool for emotional bonding. Sharing moments of joy and humour helps break down emotional walls that may have developed during the sexless period. It creates a positive emotional connection, laying the foundation for rebuilding intimacy.
Secondly, laughter is a natural stress reliever. If stress has been a contributing factor to the sexless period, introducing humour and laughter can help alleviate tension and create a more relaxed environment. When couples share laughter, it triggers the release of endorphins, the body's feel-good hormones, promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels. Reduced stress levels can, in turn, make it easier to initiate and enjoy sexual experiences.
Laughter brings a sense of playfulness to your relationship. Rediscovering a lighthearted and playful approach to each other can reignite a spark that may have dimmed during the sexless period. Playfulness can create an inviting atmosphere for exploring intimacy without the pressure of performance.
Laughter also breaks down barriers and fosters communication. Couples who share a sense of humour often find it easier to communicate openly and honestly. This open communication extends to the bedroom, allowing partners to express their desires, preferences, and fantasies without fear of judgment. As a result, laughter can contribute to a more adventurous and satisfying sex life.
14. Have a date night and get dressed up for each other
Having a regular date and getting dolled up for each other might not be groundbreaking advice, but bear with me.
You don't need to be in cocktail attire 24/7; that's just exhausting. But every now and then, put in a bit of effort. I'd recommend twice per month, minimum. It's like an intimate nudge to your partner that, "Hey, I'm the same person you were crazy about when we first met." Nostalgia is a potent thing.
Getting dressed up isn't just about looking good; it's about the energy you put into it. It's a statement – a subtle, "I'm investing in us." It's not about perfection; it's about showing that you care enough to keep the flame alive. Go out, dress up, flirt, and seduce each other.
So, there you have it: I hope you try one of those 14 ways to fix a lack of sex in a relationship today and let me know how you got on. If you want to know more about how you may have ended up in a sexless relationship, check out my article, ‘What causes lack of sex in a relationship?’
Getting the help you need
If you're struggling to address the lack of sex in relationship and need support, I can help. Book a free 15-minute clarity call with me now.
Shan Merchant, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Shan is a relationship coach and couples therapist who takes professional couples from the brink of divorce to peaceful, reconnected, and unafraid of conflict in 90 days or less. Shan teaches couples a simple communication skill that takes them from the ‘Power Struggle’ to the ‘Peaceful’ stage of their relationship. Testimonials from her clients across the globe range from, “We put our wedding rings back on,” to “Things are a million times better between us.”