What To Do When The Chemistry Is Lacking

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today’s topic: deciding how important sex is in your relationship when the sex is bad.

Q: I’ve been with my partner for close to three years. Our relationship is amazing in every way except for the sex, which has always been lack-luster. It’s not that it’s horrible, but there have never been fireworks. I can really see myself being with this person for the rest of my life if things in the bedroom were even marginally better. I don’t want to throw away an otherwise perfect relationship just because of sex. What do I do?

A: Thanks for reaching out. You’re in an unbelievably tricky position right now, so I admire you for your honesty and your desire to seek some outside advice. I know it’s tempting to think of sex as just this “one little thing” getting in the way of perfection, but sex can be one of the most important parts of a relationship. For some couples, it might be as much of a game-changer as one partner wanting to have kids and the other wanting to remain childless. To figure out whether or not your relationship’s lack of passion is a deal-breaker, here are six important questions to ask yourself:

1. “How important is sex to me?”

You reached out to ask for advice, so I’m guessing that you value your sex life to some extent. Still, this is a crucial question anyone in your situation should think about. For some people, sex is not a vital part of a relationship. Others might be sad that their sexual connection isn’t fantastic, but satisfied enough with the rest of their relationship to be willing to forego an exciting sex life.

2. “Is my partner unhappy too?”

This question will help you hone in on whether this is a sexual compatibility issue or not. If you’re unhappy with your sex life, but your partner thinks everything’s fine, it’s probably a sign that the two of you aren’t a great fit for each other. It’s going to be hard to work on improving your sex life since your partner won’t feel particularly motivated. On the other hand, if you’re both unsatisfied with your sex life, you may be able to work together to improve it.

If you don’t know what your partner’s answer to this question would be, you should ask directly. Try not to talk about your feelings initially, so you can get a more honest response out of your partner (in other words, don’t approach your partner by saying, “I’m really unhappy with our sex life. Are you unhappy too?”). Say something neutral like, “how have you been feeling about our sex life?” or “how would you describe our sex life to another person?”

3. “Is my partner willing to put in effort?”

Your sex life with any partner is going to go through its fair share of ups and downs. A lot of people think that you shouldn’t have to work at having a good sex life, but that’s simply not true. If you want to be able to spend decades of your life sleeping with the same person, you have to be willing to talk about sex openly, share your desires, try new things, prioritize intimacy, read books, go to workshops, and/or work with a sex therapist. You and your partner haven’t been able to find your groove so far, but I doubt you’ve eliminated all of those options.

4. “Am I?”

You also have to be honest about your own intentions. Are you willing to try working on improving your sexual connection? As much as you love your partner, your answer may still be “no”. Some people hang around in unfulfilling relationships for so long that they lose hope that things can ever change. Or perhaps you never felt enough of a spark to begin with. It’s important to be brutally honest with yourself here.

5. “Could we open our relationship?”

We ask a lot out of our relationships in these modern times! We want someone to be our best friend, our constant companion, our co-parent, our security blanket, and our passionate lover. That’s a tall order for one person! That’s one of the reasons why a lot of people have started experimenting with open relationships. Proponents of non-monogamy feel that getting different needs met by different people helps take the pressure off of our relationships. It might not be worth throwing away an otherwise great relationship if you can get your sexual needs met by another person. Non-monogamy comes with its own set of complications, but it’s definitely an option worth looking into.

6. “Could I live the rest of my life like this?”

If, for one reason or another, you don’t have hope that things will improve, you have to think about what it would be like to stay in this situation for the long-haul. If you’re truly honest with yourself, what would it feel like to be 50, 60, even 70, looking back on a lifetime of not having a great sexual connection with your partner? Would it feel like a worthy sacrifice? Or decades of missed opportunities?

Again, I know you’re in a tough situation, and I sympathize with you! At the end of the day, you’re the only one who can answer these tough questions. If your answers are less optimistic than you had hoped, I personally think it’s better to be honest with yourself and walk away now than to prolong the heartache and spend years of your life feeling disconnected. Wishing you the best of luck!

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