Counselling Directory has seen a surge in searches for ways to improve sexual intimacy in long-term relationships over the past two years. Here, psychosexual counsellor Charlene Douglas shares her advice for reconnecting with your significant other
Writing for Happiful has many upsides, and the most significant for me is the ability to talk to mental health professionals and pose the questions we know our readers are asking and worrying about. Quite often, these queries resonate personally too, and it’s reassuring to know that no single problem is unique.
One topic that’s attracted a huge amount of queries on our Happiful family site Counselling Directory, since the first lockdown in 2020, is the loss or lack of sexual intimacy in long-term relationships. It seems that the pandemic prompted a seismic shift in the way many of us relate to our partners, and the fall out continues to impact how we live together, and express love and desire to each other.
Sound familiar? It does to me. My partner and I were suddenly together 24/7 for months on end, after previously spending a healthy amount of time apart. On top of that, we were both impacted by the uncertainty about what the future held – mentally, financially, and in terms of our physical health. As a result, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was snuggle down with him and whisper sweet nothings. And maybe, as a result of that shared experience, we’ve both fallen out of the habit of making intimate time together a priority.
Psychodynamic and psychosexual counsellor Charlene Douglas, AKA ‘The Intimacy Coach’, is all too aware of the strain the past few years has had on many couples, as well as the toll day-to-day life can take on our romantic connections. She’s keen to empower couples to prioritise each other and their sexual reconnection, if that’s what both individuals want. It’s not always easy, she admits, but it is more than possible if the will is there.
The first challenge, Charlene notes, is one of creating space for simply thinking about intimacy.
“It’s difficult to move away from our busy lives to be really intentional about our sexual and intimate worlds,”
“We tell ourselves that there’s no time and we have other things to do, but you have to spend time with yourself to work out what you need, what you don’t, what you enjoy and, again, what you don’t,”she says honestly.
Tackling the lack of sexual connection
While carving out time to reflect on what we really want from our relationships is the best thing we can do to make change, it can also be hard when you’re stuck in a rut or feel challenged when trying to articulate your needs. This is where a professional like Charlene can make all the difference, by facilitating the conversation, and promoting a sense of curiosity.
Addressing why sex may have stopped in a relationship, Charlene says, starts with open and consistent communication between partners.
“You have to clear up some of the emotional issues that are going on for you both. I could suggest activities for clients such as massages, and ways to make time and space for intimacy, but if they don’t feel emotionally safe with each other – for example if one partner has been really critical or judgemental outside of the bedroom – then those activities may not have the desired effect,” Charlene says.
Taking a step back, and reflecting on the positive and negative behaviours that make up your dynamic, is crucial. “It’s important for you to consider what it is about your partner that you really like, and what you enjoy in terms of the things they do and say. Then, what are some of the things that really don’t do it for you, make you feel uncomfortable, uneasy, or less than. It’s some of those things that can be the blocks to intimacy.”
Prioritising your partnership
There are so many classes and events that offer an opportunity to get hands-on and learn a new skill. Taking part in these together can be fun, and stimulate fresh conversation. Think cookery classes, pottery afternoons, paint parties, and beyond.
Be inquisitive about improving your relationship. Try something new, like listening to audio erotica together, or download the free Kama app and try some of the practices at a time when you both feel open to it (such as the sound bath to activate desire and arousal). Be sure to check-in with your partner that they’re comfortable.
You’ll know what your partner likes to do to relax. So, take it in turns to give each other a ‘pamper time’. Whether that’s running a candlelit bath for them, or giving them a couple of uninterrupted hours to watch their favourite drama alone, acknowledging that they need personal downtime, and honouring that, shows respect and care. That’s pretty sexy.
Going it alone, together
“Couples therapy isn’t for everyone,” Charlene admits. “If you choose not to go down that route, then you really have to put in the work. Do your research, go to reliable sources online, and find out more information about building a more positive relationship.
“Connect with your partner and have those conversations that might be a bit uncomfortable,” she continues. “There are lots of relationship and sex quiz cards that you can buy, that will help to generate those conversations that can be difficult to start without a prompt.”
And finally, Charlene insists, you have to make time for your relationship, and spend quality time with your partner.
“It might be date night every Friday night, and you alternate who arranges it. Make it fun and interactive, it doesn’t always have to be heavy, with you sitting in a restaurant talking about the negatives in your relationship. Do something fun, go dancing, or make something. Build your emotional intimacy, as well as your physical intimacy.”
If you're ready to work with a couples counsellor, learn more and find a counsellor at Counselling Directory.