How to keep that honeymoon feeling

Amy Muise is a social psychologist who studies how couples can maintain desire and satisfaction over the long haul. For the past four years, she has been a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto Mississauga, working in the Relationships and Well-Being lab. Muise offers Research Matters advice for keeping the spark alive.

Our romantic relationships have a profound impact on our overall health and well-being. Studies show people who are more satisfied in their relationships are happier overall and even live longer, but it can be hard for couples to keep the spark alive over time. The passion and desire of the early stages of a relationship often fade and romantic partners may find their sexual interests differ.

People motivated to meet their partner's sexual needs, without thought of reciprocation, reported better sex in one study. (wazmlu0, flickr.com)

People motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs, without thought of reciprocation, reported better sex in one study. (wazmlu0, flickr.com)

My research is about understanding how couples can navigate their sexual relationship in a way that enhances desire and satisfaction over time. My colleagues and I recently conducted a set of studies that suggest something we call “sexual communal motivation” is key.  We found people who are motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs without expecting anything in return — that is, who are high in sexual communal motivation — can reap important sexual and relationship benefits.

But what does it mean to have high sexual communal motivation? It means being motivated to be responsive to your partner’s sexual needs, which can sometimes include having sex with your partner when you are not entirely in the mood, being open-minded about your partner’s preferences, communicating with your partner about your sexual likes and dislikes, and ensuring that the sexual relationship is mutually satisfying.

We measured people’s levels of sexual communal strength by asking them to answer a series of questions on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 4 (extremely). Those questions included: How far would you be willing to go to meet your partner’s sexual needs? How high a priority for you is meeting the sexual needs of your partner? How likely are you to sacrifice your own needs to meet the sexual needs of your partner? How happy do you feel when satisfying your partner’s sexual needs?

When we asked long-term couples who had been together, on average, for 11 years, we found people who were higher in sexual communal strength felt more sexual desire for their partner and had more enjoyable sexual experiences.

More intuitively, the partners of people high in sexual communal strength also reaped important benefits. In our 21-day study of long-term couples, people with communally motivated partners reported that their partners were, in fact, highly responsive to their needs during sex and in turn, they felt more satisfied with and committed to their relationships. In another study in which we followed couples over three months, a person’s sexual communal strength predicted their partner’s satisfaction and commitment at the end of the study.

Romantic relationships are vital to our health and well-being, but maintaining desire and satisfaction can be challenging. Our research shows that having high sexual communal strength (and a like-minded partner) might be one path to reversing this trend and to better navigating sexual differences in a relationship.

 

 

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