Just the Tip is a bi-weekly sex and relationship column from queer non-monogamous kinkster Jera Brown. Here you will find interviews with sexuality researchers and educators as well as smart and compassionate responses to anonymous questions. If you would like to be interviewed or have a sex or love question you’d like Jera to answer, email firstname.lastname@example.org DM Jera on Twitter @thejerabrown.
My partner and I are in a long-distance relationship due to his career. While we keep our emotional intimacy close through frequent contact, we sometimes don’t see each other in person for months at a time. Sometimes when he first comes home, I need time to feel comfortable before we initiate sex. He feels a little like a “stranger” almost. I used to wonder if this was normal, but I think it is in LDRs. But sometimes I worry I can’t tell if my feelings are cooling off for him. How do we keep the passion alive when we have to start over so often?
Long-distance relationships are tough. I’ve had that experience of feeling like a stranger with people I talk to or text daily. I show up at their place having talked to them on the phone an hour ago or having recently sent naked pics … you name it, and I’m instantly shy and awkward. Even though there are so many amazing ways to stay connected now, there’s something so fricking different about intimacy in person and digital intimacy.
Distance can definitely make it harder to be consistently emotionally close, which you know is what you need to be physically close. You have to work harder to maintain this. Small piece of advice: Schedule regular Skype dates so you actually see each other’s faces.
But, let’s say you are both pros at staying emotionally close across the miles and your passion is still waning because, sadly, that’s reality. I have some “tough love” advice and some sexy advice for you. Let’s start with the tough love.
I think the distance can be a scapegoat for natural changes that happen to relationships with time. You’ll find a decrease in sexual passion in most long-term relationships — long-distance or not. Your body starts secreting different hormones; you start having different issues around communication and all that other fun relationship and life business.
Yeah, being long-distance totally has an impact, but even if you lived together full-time, you might end up facing the same issues. How do we schedule consistent quality time? How do we fight the normalizing of each other’s presence — the loss of that magical new relationship energy?
I guess what I’m saying is, maybe the distance isn’t what you have to tackle. I mean, not entirely. Everybody has to work hard at staying emotionally vulnerable with their partner. And I think one answer is to just be conscious of it. This is normal relationship stuff. Are you saying the hard stuff? What you’re afraid of? What’s embarrassing? Sometimes it’s embarrassing to just admit how painful it is to miss someone. Or how much they mean to you. Sometimes it’s scary to admit what you get annoyed by.
(A couple’s therapist I once saw with one of my partners gave us advice that’s always stuck with me. The negative stuff sticks with us longer. It hits harder. So balance it out by intentionally communicating TWICE as much positive stuff. If you need to criticize your partner about something, then give him at least two compliments. That roughly balances out.)
While I don’t think most successful long-term couples maintain high levels of sexual passion for each other, that’s not to say that they don’t have fun, sexy times. It just might never be like it was in the beginning. And sexual passion can come in waves, and that’s totally fine — it doesn’t mean anything is wrong!
You wonder how to tell if your feelings are cooling off? Maybe you should be asking different questions. Maybe instead of asking whether you still want to sleep with each other, you should ask whether he’s the person you still want to turn to when something goes wrong? Is he still the first person you think to reach out to when something amazing happens?
Couples find other reasons to continue to commit to each other besides those amazing lust-filled sexathons you might’ve had in the beginning. And sometimes LDRs are even able to sustain them for longer than other relationships. Physical intimacy can turn into something rich and sweet over time, as well. You just have to be open to those changes.
And now on to the sexy advice.
Besides all that stuff about natural changes to your sex life over time, it’s not all doomed — you can work on it. A recent study found that couples who believe that sexual satisfaction isn’t a magical equation but takes real work do, indeed, have happier sex lives. One of the researchers explained, “People who believe in sexual growth not only believe they can work on their sexual problems, but they are not letting it affect their relationship satisfaction.”
How do you do this long-distance? You decide it’s a priority when your lover is around. You talk about it and don’t just expect what worked a year ago to work now. What feels good may change, especially what it takes to get reacquainted. Your interests may change. So, here’s the fun part: You might consider upping your freaky game. Want to be emotionally vulnerable? Admit the stuff you fantasize about and give your partner a judgement-free zone to do the same. Be wild, be inventive, have fun.
It doesn’t have to be BDSM or an unusual fetish. It could be a weekend in a cabin where you never put on clothes. It could be new toys or buying each other lingerie or going on a fancy date with no underwear (that works every time for me).
My last piece of advice is that you might consider some fun rituals that help take the edge off getting physically used to each other after time apart. Not ready to passionately kiss each other? Kiss each other’s foreheads. Buy new underwear to show off every time he comes home. Familiar acts might make it easier to remind both your body and heart, Oh yeah, I’ve been waiting for you.