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Over the next several weeks, I will be explaining how to use the Giver/Receiver exercise to help you master nine tenants of a healthy and happy sex life. Let’s begin where many couples struggle.

Phase 1 – Prioritizing Intimacy

People can put sex far down on the priority list. As you have kids, get busy with careers, or deal with other challenges life throws you, you often decide that sex can wait. You may feel like your partner can wait, too, especially compared to the young kids who need so much of your attention or the job demands that must be addressed. A lot of people would prefer to just get some sleep! Sex becomes something you do only when you have extra time and energy.

Early on in a relationship, sex is often automatically a top priority. It doesn’t need any forethought, planning, or convincing to make it happen. As you are getting to know your partner, falling in love, and in that discovery phase, you may have easy access to your desire for sex. It takes no work or intention. It happens with a decent frequency, and neither person has to think too much about it. As the newness wears off, you get more comfortable. Life tends to get in the way, and sex drops down the list unless you put intention into having it more often.

If sex doesn’t come easily in the beginning,you may think, “It will get better with time, I just need to deal with some other things first.” Perhaps you believe you need to let your attraction grow if you started more as friends. Or you just need to learn about each other.Whatever the underlying issue, you think that somehow it will work itself out.However, if time keeps passing without any improvement in your sex life, you may question whether you’re sexually compatible or if you should even be together.Regardless of how the sexual relationship started, without effort to make your sex life work, it can wither over time.

Nothing will change until you do something different. If you and your partner have been avoiding your sex life, then the other parts of life have taken over all your available time. If you intend to make things better, you’re going to have to prioritize intimacy. One of the most important things you can do is be intentional about intimate time with your partner.

I recommend you create an “anchor” time in which you spend anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes together every day. This can become a ritual and something to look forward to. It gives you a chance to talk and connect or just relax together and share space. It could be a time when you incorporate physical or sexual touch, too. Whether it’s over a cup of coffee in the morning, a glass of wine or a cup of tea in the evening, or walking the dog together every night, make sure you are getting some amount of uninterrupted couple time each day. If you aren’t in the same location, then make that happen by phone or video.

Date nights and trips are also wonderful opportunities to invest in your relationship. It is great to have longer couple time to go out and have fun. (Laughter does wonders!) Plan some dates, get a sitter for the kids, and make sure you’re out doing new and interesting things together if you can. Find a frequency that works for your life and your budget,but there are ways to do it cheaply. Whatever effort and money you spend to make this happen, it’s much cheaper than divorce and easier than a break up.Your investment in your relationship will pay off.

It’s also important to prioritize time and energy to be physically intimate together. One of the first obstacles you will encounter is that you must make this happen. Since you are struggling in your sex life, you (or your partner) may well have developed some avoidance when it comes to being physically involved. You may resist the idea of scheduling sex,but if you’ve been avoiding your sex life, you’re going to have to change that on purpose. And it’s not sex you’re scheduling. You’re scheduling a “trip to the playground,” like I talked about in a previous blog. No expectations and no pressure—just an outing with your partner where you can have fun. You schedule the opportunity; the rest happens as it will. You can certainly still have spontaneous encounters—that’s great—but those can be in addition to what you’ve planned.

Getting around to sex can feel like the way people often treat exercise. When you’re together for a long time, you often go through stages where it feels like work to have sex. And since you and your partner have been in a cycle of avoiding sex, it’s definitely work to tackle the things that have made you avoid it in the first place. So on top of the mental and emotional work of dealing with your issues and expectations, you’ve got to summon the energy to climb the stairs, take off your clothes, and somehow get your mind involved! If you are in a stage like that now, then go ahead treat it like exercise.

Commit to it. Make yourself show up in the right state of undress. Just get going. Don’t worry about the outcome or expectations. If you only make one lap around the track, at least you tried. In these stages, it’s about making a habit and a commitment to show up, whether intrinsically driven or not. Just like exercise, the early days of trying to change your sex life may involve some resistance. That’s when it’s important to keep showing up so you get stronger. Just like exercise, once you start making progress, good sex will energize you and make it that much easier to get engaged the next time. Eventually, it’s not going to feel like work anymore. Desire can ebb and flow, so the important thing is to adapt to those fluctuations and maintain some momentum in your intimate life.

I encourage you to decide now if you are invested in this process. Do you think it is worth the effort? Are you committed to making change? If the answers are yes, then start saying things like, “I want to do this. Can we spend the time together tonight at 8 p.m.?” Be concrete and take the initiative to suggest it (repeatedly if necessary). If both of you do this, the odds of success go way up.

Another common pitfall in prioritizing intimacy is leaving it until the end of the night or putting it after everything else on your to-do list. If you haven’t managed to create time together with your partner, sit down and strategize together about where this time is going to come from. If it hasn’t been a regular part of your life,something else is going to have to give. Try some different times of day.Schedule this in a time slot before you are exhausted.

Using the Giver/Receiver Exercise – Prioritizing Intimacy

Avoidance can be deep-rooted, and it’s going to take effort to make something happen when you’ve spent so much time avoiding your intimate life. When starting to work with the Giver/Receiver Exercise, you will likely run into the same issues of time and initiation that plague your sex life. You can use this exercise to begin creating space for intimacy in your life. As you figure out how you’re going to fit the exercise into your life, you’re shifting to make intimacy a priority. You can begin by doing the exercise in that “anchor” time of day you’ve already created. The bonus is that the exercise becomes somewhat of a placeholder for you: time that will be available for other forms of intimacy and connection once your sex life has improved and you no longer need the exercise. (However, you may want to continue doing it occasionally just as a refresher.)

Pitfall: Not Doing the Exercise

You may completely forget about the plan to do the exercise. Or you think about it but avoid bringing it up. Perhaps you notice that partner doesn’t seem interested or comfortable, so you decide not to push it. You think they should be the one to drive this, so you sit back and wait for them to step up. You take the same approach to the exercise as you do to sex, falling into the usual pattern of not tackling it head on.

Breakthrough: Holding Yourself Accountable and Getting It Done

You commit to change and determine to speak up about the exercise no matter what. You bring it up in concrete ways and with a clear request that you’d like to do it. You ask about it even if you read your partner as not wanting to do it; you allow them to make the choice about doing it with you or not. You also hold them accountable if they keep putting it off, reminding them of your mutual commitment to change.

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