The Biggest Lie All Couples Say About Their Sex Lives, According to a Marriage Counselor
Relationship experts say couples can help themselves by reexamining one key topic.
When it comes to something as personal as our sex lives, it can be easy to misunderstand or misinterpret the problems that we're having. A couple's bedroom issues are usually difficult to properly assess without outside professional help—and sometimes these couples aren't being honest. While each relationship is different, experts say people tend to have a commonly held misconception about intimacy that's worth correcting. Read on to discover the lie all couples say about their sex life, according to a marriage counselor—and how you can fix it.
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Couples probably don't realize they're lying when they say this.
Of all the elements that contribute to the health of a relationship, intimacy is often given extra importance. But while self-assessment is important for any couple, a surprising number of them may be focusing on the wrong things when it comes to their sex lives.
In a viral TikTok posted in August that has more than 295,000 likes, licensed marriage counselor Andrea Lystrup explains that she's worked with "hundreds of couples around intimacy." However, she says that almost all of them inadvertently speak a major mistruth.
"This is something that's so common to hear. They'll come in, they'll sit down, and they'll say, 'Our relationship is perfect, but we struggle with sex.' I'm here to tell you that's never true," she says.
A lack of intimacy could signify another serious problem in your relationship.
People who are in relationships short on intimacy might be quick to assume that the lack of lovemaking could be a standalone problem. But Lystrup says it's more likely a symptom of another issue.
"A lot of people think their relationship doesn't have any flaws because they have low conflict, they enjoy their time together, they're good friends," Lystrup explains. "And so they think that sex is the only thing they're struggling with. In reality, there are almost always deep-seated patterns that they have co-created together that are driving problems with intimacy, but they aren't consciously aware of it—but their body is."
"And that's why often the first symptom is sex because sex really relies on the wisdom of your body, which is when your body knows something's up before your brain does, and that's why sex is often the first indicator of marital problems," she adds.
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Experts say a few habits could lead to a lack of physical intimacy.
Whether it's the busy schedule brought on by a new job or the stress of a growing family, plenty of outside elements can take their toll on a relationship. But when it comes to intimacy, experts say it's often necessary to locate and focus on internal stresses that may not be immediately obvious.
"It is critical for people to express their emotions on what they are thinking and feeling as it relates to sexual intimacy," Lee Phillips, LCSW, a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist, tells Best Life. "For a relationship to thrive and to work, there must be trust, honesty, communication, and respect. When these are absent, the relationship usually ends. "
There are a few recurring problems within couples that can drive a wedge in the bedroom, including criticism, constant complaining, contempt, and a sense of superiority over one's partner, according to Phillips. It can also boil down to defensiveness and issues with accountability or stonewalling, which is when one or both partners shut themselves or the other down.
"All of these are the opposite of trust, honesty, communication, and respect," says Phillips.
There are ways to break the pattern and help bring back the spark.
While a non-existent sex life can feel like an insurmountable issue, there are ways to address the problem and bridge the gap in the bedroom—including bringing in professional help.
"When there is a constant pattern of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, it is important for the couple to see a sex therapist, where they can have a safe place to talk about their sexual intimacy problems," Phillips suggests. "They can learn the skills to feel seen and heard by each other."
Even outside the confines of a counselor's office, you can still make small changes that could help break any harmful patterns that are in place. For example, taking time to go for a walk or run errands can give you the time you need to discuss any issues. And trying a new approach to date night can also open up channels for intimacy—even if it isn't extravagant.
If you're feeling like you're on autopilot, you can schedule regular 30-minute check-ins at least once a week where you can freely discuss emotions and concerns. But Phillips also suggests finding time to express your feelings in the moment.
"Try to notice small things your partner does that you appreciate or admire," Phillips suggests. "This will make your partner feel valued and will remind you about your partner's positive traits often—a good practice to instill since our brain naturally has a negativity bias."
And ultimately, even physical displays of affection can be an effective way to get through to your partner. "Affectionate touch boosts the brain's oxytocin levels and ultimately lowers stress and anxiety," Phillips says. "Even if you're busy with work or children, it's vital to keep physical intimacy a part of the routine. Physical intimacy does not mean sex, but if you have sex, great! It can also be hugging, cuddling, or kissing—but note that it's important to talk to your partner about the kind of affectionate touch they want to avoid tension."