We all know that in the beginning of a relationship, there is typically more spark and sexual excitement in your sex life. Most people believe that if they find the ‘right one’ that sexual desire will continue to come naturally and spontaneously. We tend to believe that sexual desire is automatic in healthy people who love each other.

However, as time goes on, we move out of the infatuation or honeymoon stage and can sometimes feel more like roommates or business partners than lovers. Desire may start to wane and be dampened by every day pressures and expectations. Stressful jobs, parenting challenges and coping with a pandemic can all have a negative impact on one’s libido. Once the desire for sex decreases for one or both partners, or if they don’t have the same level of desire at the same time, it’s easy to start to believe there’s something wrong with the relationship.

Desire discrepancy is documented as the most common sexual complaint among partners. Being less frequently active sexually as relationships go on is also the norm, at least in monogamy. Even if you met a partner with a sex drive relatively equal to your own, it could change for either one of you for various reasons within a few months to a few years.

It’s perfectly normal to go through these challenges and couples need not spiral downward in despair. When couples do recognize that they are off balance in their intimate life, here are some ways to shift the dynamic to help get back in sync.

Expand Your Definition of Sex

Couples often equate sex to being only intercourse. One of the challenges this presents is when one partner does not feel like having intercourse, that can lead to a power struggle and avoidance. Sex then becomes all or nothing. It’s important to create a dynamic that lessens the pressure and anxiety around sexual connection. Sex is not just intercourse, and not all touching can or should lead to intercourse. Learn to value emotional and sexual intimacy to expand your erotic template. If you make connection and pleasure the measure of good sex, you’re more likely to have more enjoyable, fulfilling intimate interactions.

Create a menu of intimate activities that can be pleasurable to you and your partner. Keep in mind that affection, playfulness, flirting, teasing and sensual touching are all pleasurable activities along with intercourse. Explore your partners’ entire body, from head to toe, to find erogenous zones that you may have ignored. Sharing erotic fantasies and exploring playful sexual scenarios can also help keep the sexual intimacy alive in a long term relationship.

Learn About What You Want

You may not know what you want sexually. You may feel like sex has never been about you or you’ve never had the chance to explore your own body, especially if you’re a woman. Or, you may have grown up learning that your sexual arousal and pleasure are the responsibility of your partner, which means that another human being is expected to know your body and read your mind.

If you struggle with a lack of sexual desire, you may have a hard time finding any pleasure in your body or in touch at all. If you’ve experienced sexual trauma in the past, this can block your desire to be touched or to be sexually engaged. It’s important to learn what it is you need to be turned on. Take some time alone to engage in mindful self pleasuring. Spend time exploring your entire body – not just focusing on genitals. Get in touch with what it is that turns you on and gets you to that place of arousal. You can also tune into what has turned you on in the past – images, movies, experiences, settings, behaviors- these are all parts of your erotic template and are important to know for yourself and to share with your partner.

Learn How to Communicate About Sex

Good communication is a key component of a satisfying sex life. For many people, talking about sex is difficult and uncomfortable. If you are struggling with your sex life, you often either avoid the topic or argue in circles until a fight flares up. Communicating about sex has more than one layer to it. You need the ability to talk about your sex life as a whole: its role in your life, your overall satisfaction, your expectations, your disappointments, and your contribution to the problems you’re experiencing. But you also will need, at some point, to be able to talk specifically about the act of sex itself: what you like, what you want, how things feel, and where your boundaries are. These conversations need to be specific and explicit. They don’t have to be lengthy, but you need to be able to talk to your partner clearly enough that they understand. Ask for things. Tell your partner what you’d like. Provide feedback, encouragement, and instruction. Invite the same from your partner. The more you can create a dialogue about what is working, what you want, and how to best move through sex together, the more you will be able to optimize your physical experience and create a sense of partnership and connection.