Know The Key to Have a Lasting Relationship

Is sex the key to a lasting relationship? It appears to be the case, according to some new research, but the full picture is complicated, and the findings raise an obvious question: What enables and sustains a couple’s long-term romantic and sexual connection to begin with?

Let’s take a look.

This study focused on recently married couples, and found links between frequency of sex and its positive impact on the relationship over time. (Previous research has also found a similar effect among older couples.) Needless to say, if both partners enjoy sex, per se, and presumably with each other, then yes, that’s likely to enhance their relationship satisfaction. But what enables that desire, in itself? We know that long-term relationships often head south over time: Diminished energy and intimacy in your relationship inevitably affects you and your partner’s sexual connection. That is, the state of your relationship will follow you into the bedroom.

So, just having sex, in the absence of a thriving relationship, is unlikely to be very pleasurable, nor will it translate into increased marital satisfaction over time; actually, it could diminish it. Mental health professionals who’ve worked with relationship issues recognize that from our patients’ experiences in therapy. True, some couples try to smooth over a flatlined or troubled relationship by trying to just have sex anyway, or by having “make-up sex” or even “angry sex” after a fight. Other couples look to recharge their sexual relationship by turning to the latest techniques or suggestions from books, workshops, or the media.

These are understandable but misguided efforts, and they reflect a broader problem: We absorb very skewed notions about sexual needs, behavior, and romantic relationships as we grow up. (I described some of the dysfunctions that result in an earlier post about the differences between “hook-up sex,” “marital sex,” and “making love.”)

But in contrast, couples’ actual experiences and some empirical research show what partners do when they are successful at sustaining positive connection, emotionally and sexually. In essence, they build and live an integrated relationship, one that combines transparency in communication, conscious mutuality in decision-making, and a commitment to create conditions for maintaining erotic energy in their physical/sexual life.

The key role these habits play becomes more evident when looking at the actual findings from the study of recently married couples. Conducted by Florida State University and published in Psychological Science, it looked at whether frequent sex might not only sustain partners’ positive connection between periods of sexual activity, but might also strengthen their long-term relationship satisfaction.

The researchers found that a single act of sex produced an “afterglow” for couples that lasted for about two days. More significantly, couples experiencing a stronger afterglow reported greater marital satisfaction four-to-six months later compared with those who reported a weaker afterglow.

According to lead author Andrea Meltzer, “Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex, and people with a stronger sexual afterglow — that is, people who report a higher level of sexual satisfaction 48 hours after sex — report higher levels of relationship satisfaction several months later.” The research was based on data from two independent, longitudinal studies of 214 couples, and is described in detail in the journal’s news release.

But the study also found that some couples didn’t experience much “afterglow” at all after sex. More significantly, all couples’ marital satisfaction declined between the beginning of the study and its follow-up, four-to-six months later — although those who reported higher initial satisfaction experienced less decline.

So decline occurred over time, regardless of the degree of “afterglow.” Actually, that’s pretty consistent with what most long-term couples experience — and lament. When your relationship declines, it affects your sex life. The researchers’ conclusion that “sex functions to keep couples pair-bonded” overlooks this reality: No sexual technique or efforts to re-energize passion will help much when your relationship’s vitality is ebbing away.

Leave a Reply