You're both tired. The kids are light sleepers. You're not happy with your weight. You're stressed out over deadline pressures at work. There are many reasons people in long-term relationships find themselves reaching for the pillow or the remote control instead of their partner's body after the sun goes down.
But a healthy sex life is a key part of an intimate relationship, and neglecting it can push the two of you further apart.
Problem No. 1: Same Old, Same Old
The Solution: Spice It Up
"When you're in a long-term relationship, you get into a routine," says ob-gyn Renee Horowitz, founder of the Center for Sexual Wellness in Michigan. "There's biological evidence that novel experiences cause the release of dopamine in the brain." Dopamine is a chemical messenger that affects the pleasure center in your brain. "That's why it's so much easier," Horowitz says, "to get excited in a new relationship -- everything is novel, and your brain responds accordingly."
Obviously, you can't switch partners every time the excitement wanes. But you can change up some of the other factors. "Try a different place, a different time, a different position," Horowitz says. Have a morning quickie. Try sex in the shower or in a different room in the house.
Problem No. 2: Too Much to Do, Too Tired
The Solution: Take a Romantic Break
All couples are tired at the end of a long day. And it’s hard to have energy for romance by the time you get everyone to bed and deal with chores. But that can be changed.
"You have to prioritize what's important," sex educator Sadie Allison, whose best-selling books include Ride ‘Em Cowgirl! and Tickle Your Fancy, says."Tired as you might be, it's OK to just make it a quickie sometimes. Sex is so important to the overall health of your relationship."
Instead of waiting until it's time to put out the lights, take a break for a romantic encounter before you start the evening's chores, Allison says. "Make space and time where you can escape, and get creative." She says it isn't going to happen spontaneously. "You have to find the time and make a date."
Problem No. 3: 'Who Are You?'
The Solution: Rediscover Each Other -- Without Pressure
If you haven't had sex for some time, a come-on from your partner can feel very artificial and forced. It helps to reconnect in a non-sexual way first, says psychotherapist Christina Steinorth. "If you haven't had any kind of quality time together, you're not going to feel sexual," she says.
Steinorth says it’s important to mix it up: Forgo the old “dinner and a movie” cliché in favor of something new, and make it a priority on your calendar. "Schedule time each week for date night. [Try a] shared experience: biking, bowling, something silly. Plan a trip to the farmer's market and a stop for a cup of coffee every Sunday morning. Let it become a habit," Steinorth says, "and you'll feel reconnected. The desire will just grow from there."
A quick sexual encounter may regain its excitement once you’ve reconnected. "When the relationship's alive like that, the 10-minute ‘let's sneak off and do it' quickie works great," Steinorth says. "It's like your little secret and helps further build the bond between you. But that bond has to be there in the first place."
Problem No. 4: You Don't Like Your Body
The Solution: Focus on What You Do Like
"Ultimately, low self-image comes down to not being in love with yourself," Allison says. "And if you don't love yourself, you're not going to share yourself with someone else. Short of therapy for poor self-esteem, you can try finding things about yourself that you do like and focus on those sexually."
Or focus on your partner's body instead of your own. "What do you love about the person you're with? What about his or her body arouses you?" Allison asks. That way you can shift the focus from your own insecurities to what makes being together fun.
Problem No. 5: Sex Hurts
The Solution: Don't Suffer in Silence
Sometimes it's not that you're not feeling in the mood; it's that your body isn't cooperating because sex is painful. This can be a big issue for women approaching menopause, and you might be too embarrassed to tell your partner.
"As we age," Horowitz says, "estrogen levels decrease, and this affects a lot of organs, including the vagina. When tissues atrophy and thin out, losing some of their blood supply, intercourse becomes more painful.”
Fortunately, there are remedies for painful sex. For many patients, Horowitz prescribes a vaginal estrogen. Vaginal lubricants are also available over the counter. But check with your doctor if the pain continues. That way your doctor can rule out other, possibly more serious conditions that might be causing it.
Problem No. 6: You're Still Not in the Mood
The Solution: Find the Cause
A dwindling libido may be more than just a sign of aging. It may be a sign of another health problem. For example, depression, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances can all contribute to sexual dysfunction. In men, not being able to get an erection can be an early warning sign of diabetes or heart disease. And some medications, including antidepressants and blood pressure drugs, can lower your sex drive.
Behavioral issues can also interfere with your ability to have sex. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can put a damper on sexual response. Even the way you exercise can be a factor. For instance, too much time on the bike can lead to problems in bed. That's because the pressure put on the pudendal nerve and artery can decrease the blood supply to that region.
There are remedies for these problems. Share your concerns with your health care provider, who can help you explore what alternatives you have.
Also, make sure you're getting enough sleep. Feeling well-rested can help.
No matter what the reason for your diminished desire, getting back on track with your partner sexually is going to take some effort. "Sex takes work, and you have to focus on it just like everything in your relationship," Horowitz says. "There isn't a magic pill."