What separates a good relationship from a bad one?

July 09,2019

What differentiates a couple with an extraordinary sex life from a couple with an ordinary one?

This might sound like a ginormous question, but by the end of this month, you’re going to have the answer!

Actually, 13 answers, to be specific!

What makes a couple have a great sex life?

I was recently listening to an interview with relationship researcher John Gottman, and he mentioned the biggest survey about sexual satisfaction ever. Two Harvard- and Yale-based researchers wanted to understand what’s different about couples who say they have a great sex life, compared to couples who say they have a bad sex life. The survey was conducted on over 100,000 people across the globe. 

Gottman combined their findings with his own research, and identified 13 specific things that sexually satisfied couples do that unsatisfied ones don’t.

The amazing thing about this research is that all of these things are doable. They’re not rocket science.

So this month, I’m going to be sharing all 13 tips, plus suggestions of how you can incorporate each tip into your relationship. 

Sexual Satisfaction Secret #1: Stay good friends

Yep, even though we’re talking about sex, research found that a foundation of friendship within your relationship is necessary for a thriving sex life.

There are so many different aspects of friendship, but when I heard this tip, it made me think of how differently we treat our partner compared to the way we treat our friends. (Translation: we’re often a whole lot nicer to our friends than to our partner!)

Take a moment to ask yourself, “What makes me a good friend?” 

Then get really honest and consider if you show up in that way with your partner. 

Yesterday, I got a little annoyed with Xander because he wasn’t in a good mood during our walk with the dogs. (Because knowing that your partner is annoyed with you is a great way to improve your mood, right?!) As I write this, I’m asking myself, “How would I have treated Xander if he was my friend instead of my husband?” I’m a little embarrassed to admit I would have had a much kinder approach!

It’s little moments like that that can create goodwill between partners, and make you want to be closer together inside of the bedroom and out!

Sexual Satisfaction Secret #2: Keep playing and having fun together

Here’s the most shocking thing I heard on the podcast:

The average couple spends only 35 minutes having face-to-face conversations with each other per week. 

No, you didn’t read that wrong. That’s per WEEK!

Even worse, most of that time was spent talking about chores and logistics. (“OK, so I’m going to take Hunter to soccer practice at 3, which means you need to pick up Sophia from school at 3:30. And I need you to grab some dish soap on the way home too.”)

Even though we’re all adults with lots of responsibilities and commitments, we can’t be so serious all the time! Our relationships should be safe havens for us to be playful, silly, and downright goofy! 

What was the last genuinely fun thing you did with your partner? 

When was the last time you got out of “serious adult mode” and did something goofy?

Xander and I like to have ridiculous and elaborate conversations with our dogs Maggie and Winston. (Yes, we talk as if we are the dogs, and yes, we have different voices for each dog.) If anyone overheard one of these conversations, I’d be mortified! But it cracks us both up! 

And that playful energy (sans dog voices, of course) often follows us into the bedroom too. 

Sexual Satisfaction Secret #3: Be mindful about turning toward

This one is based on Gottman’s ideas of “bids” in a relationship. A bid is any attempt to get your partner’s attention. It’s a tiny moment of connection. 

Something as simple as “How was your day?” or “Look at the sunset!” can be a bid.

You can have three different responses to a bid:

When I heard about this concept of bids, it made so much sense to me. 

The other day, I was trying to show Xander this meme:

But he was already watching a surf competition on his phone, and didn’t really appreciate the full brilliance of this crow.

I found myself being way more frustrated about his lack of attention than seemed reasonable. Did I really care about an Edgar Allen Poe joke all that much?

But if I can see that moment as my attempt to have a tiny bit of connection with Xander, rather than just about showing him a dumb picture, my feelings make so much more sense. 

The bottom line: it doesn’t take much effort to acknowledge our partner’s attempts to connect with us. 

A simple smile, moment of eye contact, or a little kiss can go such a long way. 

And as the research shows, that tiny moment of connection can even snowball into sex!

Let me know which of these three sexual satisfaction tips is your favorite!


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I'm Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist and writer specializing in helping you have more fun in the bedroom.

I have bachelor’s degrees in human sexuality and sociology from Brown University, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. I’m also a licensed psychotherapist. I’ve been working in the sex therapy field since 2002 and have been featured by The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and many more.

If you’re interested in improving your sex life, you can work with me via my online courses or personal coaching sessions. I look forward to supporting you in creating the sex life you’ve always wanted!