The single most common problem couples have in bed, according to a relationship therapist

It can be a deal-breaker.

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It can be a deal-breaker.
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Flickr/西文 Simon

  • The most common problem couples face in bed is mismatched sex drives.
  • That’s according to Rachel Sussman, a marriage counselor in New York City.
  • Sussman said it’s best to find someone whose sex drive more or less matches yours, but if the difference has evolved over time, there are some potential solutions.

If you’re coming to see Rachel Sussman about a problem with your sex life, she can guess pretty quickly what it is.

Sussman is a relationship expert and marriage counselor in New York City; she’s counseled couples who are unsure how to pursue an open relationship and couples who aren’t having sex at all.

But the most common issue she sees in this area, Sussman told me, is couples with mismatched sex drives.

Typically, she said, one person wants to have sex more often than the other, who’s either happy with the amount of sex they’re having or wants even less. (Though Sussman said the men she sees in her practice typically have higher sex drives, she’s also seen many heterosexual couples in which the man has the lower sex drive.)

It’s not so hard to understand how this happens. “All human beings are separate and different,” Sussman said, “so it’s very normal that a couple has different sex drives.”

But Sussman’s interested to know whether the couple always had different sex drives. So she’ll ask the couple about their early days of dating. Was there a mismatch early on or did it happen over time? If it turns out the differences have emerged more recently, she’ll try to uncover the root cause(s).

Sussman’s clients are hardly the only people to place a high value on sexual compatibility: A 2015 study on relationship deal-breakers, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that a third of men and women say they’d consider ending a committed relationship because their partner had a low sex drive.

One potential solution is to engage in other kinds of affectionate touch

As is the case with most relationship problems, there are no easy solutions here.

Sussman usually takes a two-pronged approach. She’ll work with the person whose sex drive is lower to see if there’s anything they can do to increase it. She’ll also work with the person whose sex drive is higher to be patient with their partner and to manage their expectations around sex.

Sometimes “the person with the higher sex drive takes on a predator-like role and that’s not healthy,” Sussman said.

She might even give the couple “exercises”: For example, they have to try snuggling and the partner with the higher sex drive has to resist the urge to initiate sex.

Similarly, in a blog post for Psychology Today, Michele Weiner-Davis, the director of the The Divorce Busting Center, recommends that the partner with the higher sex drive “touch affectionately without thinking sex is imminent.” The point here is “to break out of old unproductive patterns,” i.e. seeing hugging or kissing as a means to an end.

In another blog post for Psychology Today, clinical psychologist Seth Meyers tells couples to “broaden your range of activities that the two of you consider sexual,” including light touching and massage.

Ultimately, a couple with different sex drives isn’t doomed to break up.

Still, Sussman said that if you’re single or dating, you should prioritize finding someone who has a similar sex drive. “The more a couple has something in common,” she said, “the greater likelihood that the relationship is going to be a healthy one. Having two people with a high sex drive is something in common. You have something in common: You both really love sex.”