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Sexually Incompatible and In Love

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Question: Sexually Incompatible and In Love
My story is tragic. I’m madly in love and we are completely incompatible in the bedroom. Is there a way to fix sexual incompatibility?
Answer:

If we were having a conversation, I’d start by asking you what makes you say that you and your partner are sexually incompatible. It’s not like this doesn’t happen. People may be compatible as friends and even share intimate connections that feel physical or sensual. But they may not have that spark sexually, or more to the point, they may have it but not with each other.

If you find yourself in this situation, in love and sexually incompatible, you can explore some things. They won’t necessarily work or change things, but if you haven’t tried them yet, and the relationship is good, why not exhaust a few more possibilities. Here are my suggestions.

Approach Without Blame
This has to be the first step. You need to find a way to talk with your partner about this without blaming each other and without making one of your sexualities the “right” one and the other the “wrong” one. It may be painful, but the fact is that you may just want such fundamentally different things sexually that it isn’t going to work. This doesn’t make either of you to blame or a bad person. Because it’s painful, it can be easy to go into these conversations feeling defensive and/or wanting to attack. If you’re going to get into it productively, you need to establish some ground rules and work hard on the sexual communication.

Unpack Sexual Compatibility for Yourself
This gets to my first question, what do you mean when you say you’re sexually incompatible? What does your partner mean when they say it? Start with yourself and try to get specific about the aspects of sexual compatibility you think are missing. Taking a step back to think about your own sexual history might also be helpful in this process.

Talk and Get Support
Once you’ve got something to share, you can start a new conversation with your partner. If possible, going together to talk with a counselor or sex therapist may be helpful. Particularly with issues that are so complicated and can be so emotional, having a third person in the room can really help make communication more productive.

Trying to Change
Getting out of old sexual patterns can be tough, and if you’ve developed a story about the two of you being incompatible it will take time to write a new story. It may not seem like the fairytale relationship, but I know of least three coping strategies that couples use to deal with sexual imbalances that they don’t want to end their relationships. They include:

  • Doing It For Them. We all do things for partners because we want to please them. And as long as you aren’t doing something against your will or that feels bad for yourself, being sexual together even when you feel ambivalent can be one way of moving toward a different sexual relationship. Saying yes when you feel maybe is fine. Saying yes when you feel no usually isn’t.

  • Compromising. Not unlike the first point, making compromises is part of any relationship, and compromising on sex shouldn’t be off the table simply because its sex. You always need to feel fine about the compromises you’re making. But the idea of compromise that is stopping you, know it’s fine to take another look.

  • Finding the Third Option. The best option is one that neither of you initially thought of. Often when we have conflict we take a position and dig our heels in. Between two people there is always a third option, and finding it means unclenching your fist and opening your mind to creative possibilities.

There are no quick fixes to the issues you're dealing with. Unfortunately, most of us are not raised with a lot of creative options around alternative relationships. We're told to be monogamous and be happy. If that doesn't happen, we can feel alone. The irony is that it's something most people struggle with. One final suggestion: If you're looking for a new way to think about your relationship, read Esther Perel's Mating In Captivity.

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