Disagree on the important stuff—whether you want to have a family, how to spend your money, and where you see yourselves in the future—and your relationship might not make it.
But sex is also pretty damn vital to your relationship. And as the years pass, how often you have it can ebb and flow. So what happens if you’re not on the same page about that?
It’s normal—and even if one of you would prefer to have it more, having less sex might not be the deal-breaker you think.
In fact, a survey of over 5,000 people from Open University in the U.K. discovered that sexual intimacy, desire, and frequency of sex do tend to fluctuate over the years in a long-term relationship. Generally, men wanted more sex than women.
About 30 percent of women without children said their partner wants to have sex more than they do, while only 17 percent of men said the same. The difference became even more pronounced when kids were added to the mix, with 40 percent of mothers saying their partner wanted more sex, compared to just 10 percent of fathers.
But here’s the interesting thing: Having sex less often wasn’t linked to lower levels of relationship or partner satisfaction, the research found.
That could be because people in the study were committed to being together and were willing to make things work, explains study author Jacqui Gabb, Ph.D. Happy couples recognized that their ebbs and flows in the sack weren’t a life sentence—they believed it could change. And instead of ruminating over the sex drop, they found creative ways to sidestep it.
How’d they do it? Below, the successful strategies that emerged from the research—and how to employ them if your sex lives aren’t quite synced up.
Related: How to Talk About Sex With Your Wife
Tip to Try When Your Sex Drive Differs: Laugh
In happy couples, sex was really important, but it wasn’t everything, notes Gabb.
If you’re looking at a dip in sex drive as an issue that will always remain, it raises the pressure to do something about it immediately. But happy couples found ways to put it aside instead of thinking it to death.
Not ruminating on the issue helps takes the pressure off, Gabb says.
Try laughing instead. “If you laugh about something together, there’s this sense of being in it together,” she says. Not only are you easing the tension on the issue at hand, but laughter boosts intimacy outside of the bedroom, too. In fact, some studies find people are more likely to open up when they’re laughing.
Added bonus: Make her laugh could turn her on, too. Previous research published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology finds women are more likely to initiate sex with a funny partner.
Tip to Try When Your Sex Drive Differs: Date Her
Even if she doesn’t want to get busy under the sheets, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t want you close.
So plan date nights, weekend trips, or even an evening walk with your partner, and make cuddling and kissing a priority. Nonsexual closeness is important in relationships, too, and can build other forms of intimacy, says Gabb.
Building intimacy in these ways can flow over into the bedroom, too, says Gabb, because you’re focusing on one another. Enhancing intimacy by ‘touching base’ can help you feel more connected and committed, she notes.
Tip to Try When Your Sex Drive Differs: Have a ‘Sex Bed’
In the study, kids falling asleep in the bed or a partner snoring were listed as some of the common barriers to a bustling sex life. One way to fight back: separate beds.
But before you assume that’s the opposite of sexy, think about it this way: Getting shuteye away from your partner can allow for a better night’s sleep, which might make the two of you more likely to be up for sex at other times. This can also make sex seem more like a date—which can help keep sex on the calendar.
If your children sleep with you, choosing another bed in the house for sex can re-introduce intimacy, too, Gabb notes. We won’t tell the guests.
Tip to Try When Your Sex Drive Differs: Find Your Independence
Another tactic happy couples used: Living apart, but together.
Sounds confusing, but it doesn’t have to be as extreme as actually maintaining a separate living arrangement from your other half.
Happy couples who lived together focused on their lives away from each other, notes Gabb. “When you live together, you share everything. A lot of couples were talking about the need to be apart.”
Gabb says: “The adage that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ or at least boredom was not particularly prevalent in our data.” But, she notes, happy couples reported feeling more ‘themselves’ when they took time to focus on themselves every now and then.
A man cave in your home, a guy’s night once a week, or finally signing up for those boxing classes can be the escape you—and your sex life—need.
Tip to Try When Your Sex Drive Differs: Be Thoughtful
Thoughtful gestures—picking up her favorite candy on the way home from work or taking the dog for a walk in the rain so she doesn’t have to—go a long way in feeding into a relationship, says Gabb.
“Sexual relationships benefit when positive relationship behaviors are taking place because the relationship as a whole feels more nourished and appreciated,” she says. “That can feed into greater sexual intimacy.”