When it comes to how we get it on in marriage, we’ve all been seduced by a common myth. It’s the idea that problems in the bedroom are sex problems.
There are stories that tell you otherwise. They tell you that, if you just used this purple rabbit-shaped vibrator or this other cherry flavored orgasm balm, everything would magically return to those dopamine-filled early days of your relationship. You’d brush aside that pile of dirty diapers or leave the sink looking like a war zone on a Wednesday night and instead have sex late into the evening.
The message? Life problems are life problems. Sex problems are sex problems.
There’s only one problem with this idea: it doesn’t account for the research-based insight that the way you do your life together as a couple is often a mirror for the way you do sex. Put differently, sex problems are often just a reflection of life problems.
The research of University of Utah psychologist Daniel Carlson, for example, finds that couples who work as a team, dividing household labor evenly, also tend to have more and better sex. This makes sense. Bad teamwork leads to confusion, conflict, and resentment. And it’s not like all that emotional baggage disappears the moment you start taking each other’s clothes off. In fact, it’s all that emotional baggage that might be the reason you’re not taking each other’s clothes off in the first place.
So how can you solve some of the life problems that turn into problems in the bedroom? How can you experience outrageously good sex by becoming an outrageously good team? Here are four tips to keep in mind.
1. Clarify your roles
When my wife and I interviewed more than 100 people about their marriages for our new book The 80/80 Marriage, we noticed something interesting. The couples that reported the highest levels of conflict also adopted what we call the “wing it” approach to roles and responsibilities. Instead of communicating with each other about who does the dishes, picks up the kids from school, or plans vacations, these couples let historical accident and random chance determine their roles. The usual result? Conflict, drama, and resentment.
There’s a better way to divide roles in marriage. It starts with sitting down together and coming up with a more intentional structure, a structure that plays to your unique strengths and interests, while also balancing the workload. This structure helps you work together as a team and get rid of the constant energy drain that comes from role confusion.
2. Reveal your resentment
It turns out that the experience of searing resentment toward your partner is the ultimate erotic buzz kill. It’s just not very sexy to feel angry and out of synch with each other.
A better approach is to reveal your frustrations with each other from a spirit of radical generosity. This is something you can do without blame or criticism. The key is to stick to the facts of the situation and reveal your inarguable emotional experience. Instead of saying, “Your control issues around the dishwasher are driving me crazy,” a sure-fire way to start a fight, it’s saying, “I notice that when you point out the problems in my dishwashing technique, I feel irritated and lose some of my motivation to help out in the kitchen.”
3. Create space
There are two words that describe what might just be the ultimate challenge facing most modern couples: no space. The demands of work, raising little human beings, living in the midst of a pandemic, and managing a household have left many of us in a constant state of doing.
All of this busyness is at odds with the space needed for intimacy and eroticism to flourish. Amazing sex, after all, isn’t like hammering out emails so you can get to inbox 0. It’s inefficient, unproductive, spontaneous, and anything but busy.So it can be helpful to set aside dedicated time and space for getting it on. Maybe that’s a “date night.” Maybe that’s a “Party Time!” invite you put on each other’s calendar. However you choose to do it, the key is to block off time with nothing else to do.
4. Shift from individual to shared success
In our relationship, one of the most toxic sources of tension was the idea, drilled into us from an early age, that we should be amazing and do great things (as individuals, of course). This tendency to view success as an individual achievement leads to all sorts of problems in modern relationships.
It generates jealousy and competition. When your spouse gets that big promotion, they just won, and you lost. When you have to go on an important business trip, you just won, and they lost.
There’s a better way of structuring your life together. It’s shifting from the idea of success as an individual achievement to the idea of shared success – the idea that “when I win, you win” and “when you win, I win.”
This alternative mindset is the key to winning together, as a team. Paradoxically, it’s also the key to having amazing sex together, as a team. Because, let’s face it, the more you see each other as competitors or even rivals, the less likely you are to let down your guard, open up, and allow yourselves to have an amazing night of sex together.
Nate Klemp is the coauthor of the newly released The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Marriage. He is also the coauthor, with Eric Langshur, of the New York Times Bestseller Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing and is a regular contributor for Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, and Mindful. He is a founding partner at Mindful, one of the world’s largest mindfulness media and training companies.