Overcoming sexual dysfunction doesn't have to be as daunting as it may feel. There are ways of handling the frustration without putting too much strain on your relationship. For more information, we turned to couples therapist Beth Mares, who specializes in relationships and sexuality. She helped us understand some of the most important steps couples can take to deal with sexual dysfunction.
1. Know the importance of intimacy
Couples need to understand that they won't always have the sexual drive or desires they had when they were much younger, and it is essential that they notice when intimacy starts to wane within their relationship.
"Intimacy is a very important element for helping couples bond," says Mares. "We need to experience love and physical contact in order to feel calm and connected." If you feel you and your partner are experiencing intimacy issues, know that they are worth addressing. Do not hide them out of shame or embarrassment.
2. Remember you are not alone
Though it may seem isolating, sexual dysfunction in all its forms is something that plagues countless couples. "Every couple's sex life has its ups and downs," says Mares. "The problem can be that couples don't know how to talk about sex or the issues that arise."
She notes that the societal stigma surrounding sexual dysfunction, as well as a lack of communication skills and education, can form the basis for why these issues can be so isolating for a couple.
3. Get educated
"It is certainly important for couples to not have unrealistic expectations about sex," says Mares, who also points out how essential it is for couples to realize that, as they age, their sexual desires, preferences and abilities will begin to change.
Reading about sexuality, sexual intercourse and sexual dysfunction is one way to ensure that both you and your partner are aware of the challenges you may be currently facing as well as the challenges that may lie ahead. A good place to start, she suggests, is by reading the book Women's Experience of Sex: The Facts and Feelings of Female Sexuality at Every Stage of Life (Penguin, 1985) by Sheila Kitzinger.
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4. Don't play the blame game
If the challenges being faced affect one partner in particular (as with erectile dysfunction), it is still important to face the issues as a team and deal with them together. "It is important to look at sexual dysfunction as a couple experiencing a problem, not just as one partner with an issue," says Mares. There is nothing worse than isolating the partner who is experiencing the problem. Without support and communication there is little hope for correcting the situation or moving on from it.
5. Communicate with care
Timing is everything when it comes to talking about sexual dysfunction. Don't attempt to discuss any problems with your partner after a long, stressful day at the office, or while one of you is trying to unwind in front of the television.
"One of the rules of communication with a topic such as sexual dysfunction is to go about it carefully," Mares advises. Before engaging in a discussion, ensure that both of you are calm, well rested and prepared to have a conversation that could get quite emotional, she says. If you find you are unable to make any headway, consider seeking professional help.
Sexual dysfunction is one of the hardest things to overcome in a relationship and is undoubtedly one of the most difficult issues to communicate about. However, with a little work and a lot of support and love, there is always hope that you and your partner will come to a solution that will bring happiness back into your life.
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