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How to Fan the Flames of Desire

You meet that special someone. You talk, you date, oh and did I mention that you two have amazing chemistry in the bedroom! As time goes by though, that chemistry seems to fizzle and what was once amazing is now…well…a little boring. This is actually quite common. As relationships progress, the sexual desire and satisfaction tends to decrease over time. How can you make sure that the sexual desire in your relationship doesn’t fall by the wayside?

In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my colleagues and I found that one way to prevent the usual decrease in sexual desire is to adopt approach-oriented goals as opposed to avoidance-oriented goals in your relationship. Approach goals are focused on obtaining the good result. For example, having sex “to express love for your partner” is an approach sexual goal whereas having sex “to prevent angering or upsetting your partner” is an avoidance sexual goal. Similarly, wanting to “deepen my relationship with my romantic partner” is an approach relationship goal whereas wanting to “make sure nothing bad happens to my relationship” is an avoidance relationship goal. In other words, approach goals want something good to happen and avoidance goals don’t want anything bad to happen.

Everyone has their own unique style for both of these dimensions. For example, it’s possible to be high in approach goals AND high in avoidance goals. Research has shown that people who are high in approach and low in avoidance tend to feel better about themselves and their relationship. That is, people who engage with others in order to improve their relationship and do not feel like they have to act in certain ways just to keep bad things from happening—these are the people who are happiest with themselves and their relationships. People who are highly engaged with others out of a sense of enjoyment and growth, these are the most satisfied persons.

And now, as a result of this new research we have done, there is compelling evidence that shows these dimensions impact our sexual relationships as well. And most encouragingly, our findings give us some very useful information on which people have the most rewarding sex lives.

How can these goals affect our sexual desire? Well, in our research, we found that people who think of their relationship in terms of approach-oriented goals (such as we described above) were able to extend the good times and weather the bad times. Everyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows that there are good days and bad days; sometimes life brings difficult times, sometimes we just don’t feel as engaged with our partner as other times. And these ups and downs inevitably take their toll on our sex life.

If it is one of those days when your partner is really getting on your nerves, usually the last thing you want to do is have sex. However, highly approach-oriented people tend to not let these bad days affect their sexual desire nearly as much as other people. People who enjoy reaching out to others in order strengthen their relationship have much more resilient sex lives. Even during hard times, they continue to enjoy the unique bond that sex brings to a relationship. Additionally, there are some days when you and your partner just “click” and these times usually come with heightened sexual urges. Again, highly approach-oriented people are more likely to take advantage of these good days and feel even greater sexual desire.

Although the entire study was much more involved than what I am presenting here, the take home message is fairly direct and easy to understand. While we may not all be approach oriented persons at our basic core, we all can take the time to reach out to others with a positive and caring intention. We can plan a day at the beach with our partner or even just take the time to get together for lunch just to show each other we really do care. And in demonstrating to each other our enjoyment in the other’s happiness and satisfaction, we are building the kind of relationship where a dynamic sex life will flourish.

Impett, E., Strachman, A., Finkel, E., & Gable., S. (in press). Maintaining sexual desire and sexual satisfaction: The importance of approach relationship goals. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology.

So take a moment and think about the goals in your relationship and sex life. Most people never have and you may be surprised by what you see. Are you approach oriented or avoidance oriented and is it different in your relationship than in your sex life? Take this short survey to find out, and leave us a comment to let us know!

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