Hi Yana,

My partner and I get into the habit of not having sex. We have a bunch of kids, full-time jobs, and all of that. It causes emotional tension to build and then we use that as an excuse to not sexually connect.

We fall into a very platonic state. However, I’m super sexual. Is there an answer to finding ways to overcome the constant struggle of life and keep our sexual connection strong?

P.S. We’ve tried scheduling sex.


A Different Kind of Grinding

Dear Grinding,

I love that you list this as a habit because, for many partners, this is exactly what this kind of sexual (or, non-sexual) pattern can become — habitual. Especially when you’re swept up in the daily grind of morning routine, the workday, post-work routine and all that rarely goes according to plan with children and just being a human being — phew! — sometimes it’s a miracle that anyone has time for sex at all!

Breaking this habit can be an issue of prioritizing time for connection (regardless of if the sex “works out” or not) and being transparent about the emotional barriers to sexual connection (and sometimes forging ahead, consensually, anyway).

Habits can be experienced as a passive, easier way of doing things: it just takes too much effort to do things a different way, a routine is easier to coast through than a new path, or the habit just simply ruffles less feathers. To break a sexual habit, we must take action (and usually, various actions). And, crucially, we must be okay with our actionable experiments flopping without taking this as a reason to quit the whole habit-breaking project. This is a popular reason why “scheduling sex” doesn’t work for some people, because it didn’t work once and therefore the assumption is it’ll never work ever.

Instead, if you schedule sex and then at your scheduled sex time, one of you has a migraine and the other just got some stressful work news, don’t just peel off in your different directions again. Instead, use your scheduled sex time as time to connect with each other — whether that’s getting some TLC from your partner for that migraine or listening to your partner vent to about work stress. Better, do these activities in the context of physical connection such as laying in bed naked and just talking, taking a soothing shower together, or trading massage. Don’t take the stance that if sex isn’t happening, then that block of time just gets thrown back into the daily grind of chores, emails, and mindless scrolling.

Have transparent discussions about the common chicken-or-the-egg dilemma of which comes first — emotional connection leading to sexual connection? Or sexual connection and release leading to the dropping of emotional walls and therefore emotional connection?

People are often taught that you must feel emotionally at-ease with your partner in order to want to have sex with them. Women in particular are taught that withholding sex until emotional needs have been met is a necessary bargaining strategy (a problematic message, to say the least within this column’s wordcount).

Instead, talk about how you each wants to navigate your sexual desires for each other even when emotional tensions are higher than usual (different from emotional abuse, mind you — experiencing passing emotionally tense times is very normal in lots of healthy relationships). Give yourselves permission to feel lust alongside of or before emotions have been perfectly tended to. As working parents and long-term partners, waiting for the perfectly aligned conditions for sex to happen likely means far less sex. As long as you’re communicating openly about all of this and not assuming that having sex means that all of your emotional tensions can now be swept under the rug, unaddressed, this is a totally fine sexual stance to take.

It requires effort and sometimes multiple efforts to hoist yourselves out of a rut but instead of getting discouraged, get back on the horse or, ya know, whatever it is you’re trying to get back on over there in your sex life. You may find, as most people do, that once the habit has been broken even just one time, it’s much easier to break in the future.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.