That feeling when you hear yourself using the same agitated tone with your partner that you used with your little brother as a kid. Or, when a week goes by and you realise your only physical contact has been the kind of sanitary pecks you exchange with your in-laws. We’re calling it ‘familialisation’ – the phenomenon of significant others starting to see themselves as relatives rather than as a couple – and it’s one of the biggest problems that sex and relationships counsellors encounter in their practices, says therapist Ian Kerner.
Don’t go into panic mode: even the steadiest romances shapeshift over the years. Try this five-step plan to once again see your sweet, kind, responsible bill-payer as the hot piece you fell for in the first place.
STEP 1 Take a breather
“One of the first things I’ll do with a new couple is see how tightly they are enmeshed,” says sex therapist Holly Richmond. “Is there enough autonomy in the relationship?”
She finds the friskiest couples are the ones where each person has their own hobbies, friends and lives – those who give each other space so that their partner can seem sexy and new again. Tap into that effect by planning regular mini separations, with minimal check-ins, like evenings with friends every week. (If you can, try a solo weekend away, too.)
“You’re cultivating longing,” Richmond explains, and a little mystery.
STEP 2 Resexualise yourself
It’s essential to reawaken your own sexuality before you can feel your partner’s again.
“I find that if couples are not having sex, they are also not masturbating much, they’re not watching porn, they’re not doing the things they used to do as individuals to keep their sex drive alive,” says Richmond.
This only deepens the problem because feeling sexual begets sex. She recommends starting with anything that makes you feel beautiful and present in your own sexuality – whether it’s a dance class, new undies or blow-dry – as well as tuning in to Violet Blue, a podcaster who reads erotica.
STEP 3 Get physical outside the bedroom
Tiny effort, big pay-off: if you can tweak your interactions from being primarily familial (we see you, token cheek peck) to more affectionate and sensual, you’ll cultivate a newly charged energy. “Be proactive in transforming mundane activities to generate a little more arousal,” Richmond says. If your partner is watching television, bend down and kiss them on the neck, or slowly run your fingers through their hair. Grab their butt while they’re washing the dishes. It’s the element of surprise that helps to recapture eroticism,” Richmond explains. Makes sense
STEP 4 Dump the stress from dirty talk
“I want you ... to do the laundry.” Few of us have the skills to talk about sex, even within our relationships, Kerner says. But think of it like learning any language: you have to start with the basics and be willing to feel a little silly. He suggests creating a code word (say, ‘scrabble’) so that you can hint at sex in public or in front of the kids (“Wanna play scrabble later?”). Sometimes you don’t even need words – emojis were born for this purpose (hey, eggplant). Or, surprise bae with a cheeky flash. A lighthearted approach will help you discuss more kinky stuff later on.
STEP 5 Make a ‘yes’ (and a ‘not so much’) list
Chores. Bills. A screaming toddler. What? Those things don’t make you want to jump each other’s bones?
“If you are in a relationship where your partner is more like your roommate, then your number of sexual inhibitors is greater than the number of exciters,” says Kerner.
An inhibitor, essentially, is a turn-off, and an exciter is a turn-on. Kerner asks couples to each observe and write down what makes them feel sexual and what shuts them off. Exciters can be directly related to your partner, like the sight of their bare back, or indirect, like your mood after the gym. While making a list of your turn-offs might sound like a boner killer, it may open your SO’s eyes to things they never knew were inhibitors for you (like, how it’s hard for you to get down when there’s housework to do). Identifying what gets both of you going will work as a turn-on in its own right. How’s that for some homework?