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Sex: How It Changes Through Each Stage of Relationships

New clients often come into our offices saying, “I’ve fallen out of love,” or “We’re having intimacy problems,” or “The sex is not like it used to be.”  Feeling like this is a disappointment, indeed.  This often makes people view themselves as having a bad relationship or having chosen the wrong partner when that is not the case at all.  A changing sexual connection is a normal part of all relationships.  That intense heat and passion doesn’t last.  How could it?  We’d never get anything productive done!

More seriously, the reason that the passion doesn’t last is because it’s partly ignited by the exploration of this new person.  Over time, the mystery of who this person is (their scent, their preferences, their reactions) gets answered.  This leaves us with familiarity, and familiarity is NOT as erotic as newness.  If couples don’t know this is the normal course of all committed relationships (and that it’s signaling that it’s time to create new ways of relating) they find themselves unhappy.

In session, we teach the Stages of Relationships – a concept from Harville Hendrix, PhD, who developed Imago Relationship Therapy.  These stages are Romantic Love, the Power Struggle, Re-committment, Doing the Work and Awakening. They are characterized by the following:

  • Romantic Love – freely receiving and giving love because we feel accepted and desired by this new person; each person shows his/her best self
  • Power Struggle or Difficult Stage – we now know each other’s shortcomings, some of which drive us crazy; we are challenged to work together despite differences; we must deal with unpleasantness; we often demand the partner make changes; this stage is colored by blame and criticism
  • Re-committment – deciding to stay together and try to work it out
  • Doing the Work – fueled by curiousity about oneself; learning and using communication tools; moderating one’s affect (emotions); choosing reactions that enhance the relationship
  • Awakening and Real Love – stage of personal growth; a deep and true love based on knowing your partner fully AND still accepting them; being accepted for who you are as well.

So, how does sexual connection change throughout these stages?  Here are the stages again, but this time let’s look at how they affect the sexual side:

  • Romantic Love – exploring this new person; lowered inhibitions add to more sexual expression and responsiveness; fueled by pheromones
  • Power Struggle or Difficult Stage – familiarity; same positions, same place and time; decreased desire; demanding the partner change either by reigniting their passionate side or cooling off their passionate side
  • Re-committment – deciding to stay together and redefine sex and intimacy
  • Doing the Work – learning to communicate needs and preferences; expand your definition of sex beyond intercourse; learning to love your body & its imperfections
  • Awakening and Real Love – sexual attraction based on self and sexual confidence; intimacy based on allowing one’s true self, feelings, and preferences to be seen

IT’S NORMAL for your sex life with your partner to ebb and flow throughout the relationship.  In fact, it’s an opportunity for the two of you to evolve and grow together.  As a result, your bond is strengthened and deepened.  Is it easy?  No.  It takes a good deal of introspection, moderating your emotions, controlling your impulsive reactions, and understanding/empathizing with one another.  Is it worth all that work?  Most definitely.

Navigating through the Power Struggle/Difficult Stage can be so challenging without support and good information about relationships.  Maybe you’ve tried counseling before with little to no results.  Maybe you ended up more frustrated or things improved a little, but only temporarily.  The therapists at Couples Therapy Center of NJ can help.   We’re all specialists in the area of intimate relationships.  We can give you the support, new perspective, and tools you need to have more love and excitement in your relationship. Can’t get your partner to come in with you?  No problem!  We see individuals, too. Call us at 908-246-3074 or email GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com now to schedule your appointment.  Don’t wait any longer.  Start making positive changes today.

Meredith Keller's Book

Relationship Essentials

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