Netflix viewers have been set alight by a raunchy new series called Sex/Life. It explores the torment of a young mother who finds herself fantasising about the fruity sexual freedom of her single years — and questioning the validity of her happy but sexually mundane married life.
The programme has shot to No 1 on the site, resonating with midlife women wondering how different life might be if they too had access to the high-octane couplings of their earlier years.
This is one of the big relationship questions Dr Gary Lewandowski raises in an exciting new book called Stronger Than You Think. With 20 years’ experience as a relationship scientist, the award-winning psychology professor has identified key relationship misconceptions that could spell doom for your marriage. He also offers nuggets of research-backed advice about how to fix them. ‘No relationship will ever be perfect,’ he says. ‘Your partner won’t always be nice, happy, funny or attractive, and they can’t entirely avoid being annoying or grumpy.’
Sex, says Dr Lewandowski, is a thorny and ever-present issue. ‘Those of us who worry we’re not having enough sex are focusing on the wrong thing. It can be hard to shake off the feeling that if you’re really in love you should always want sex, and it should be amazing. But that’s only true in a perfect world and who lives there?’
We need to avoid comparing our sex life to those heady early days and learn to be easier on each other.
‘In relationships, we miss many of the positive signs,’ he says, ‘and we are generally tougher on our partners than they deserve. If you want to stay together, it pays to keep an eye out for “blind spots”. These might be key questions you’re not asking, signals you’re missing, qualities you’re overvaluing or indicators you’re misinterpreting.’
Want to reignite the passion and build your relationship up instead of incrementally tearing it down? Read on to find out how to demolish eight myths undermining your marriage . . .
Netflix viewers have been set alight by a raunchy new series called Sex/Life (pictured)
TRUE LOVE MEANS LOTS OF SEX
Most relationships kick off with lots of sex but things inevitably dwindle and problems can arise if you can’t shake the feeling that true love means endlessly amazing and frequent love-making. The truth is that passionate love has a short shelf life and lots of sex isn’t always a sign of a great relationship. Research shows when people feel their relationship is vulnerable, they increase sexual activity. So trying to have more sex to mend your relationship could do more harm than good.
FIX: Make a pact to have sex once a week. Studies show couples who do so are happier than those who have sex less frequently, and, usefully, more than once a week doesn’t appear to carry any noticeable relationship benefits.
If that seems a step too far, be consoled that just being ‘nice’ could represent an alternative. Researchers found long-term couples link marital satisfaction not with how much sex they have, but with how they treat each other.
IT’S ALL ABOUT YOUR LOOKS
although an attractive partner might rate high on your relationship wish list, it is not the best route to a long and happy union. Studies show you are far better off focusing on personality.
FIX: Find the good in your partner, then exaggerate it. No need to stick firmly to the truth because research shows a relationship can grow stronger if you upgrade your partner’s attributes — a little self-deception allows us to hold on to positive illusions and enhances relationship quality. This gives your partner a choice: reveal themselves as a fraud or live up to your high regard.
The show (pictured) explores the torment of a young mother who finds herself fantasising about the fruity sexual freedom of her single years — and questioning the validity of her happy but sexually mundane married life
REAL LOVE SHOULD BE EFFORTLESS
We all want the perfect Hollywood love story, but that’s difficult to achieve and the futile quest can blind you to an otherwise fabulous relationship. Research shows when a partner fails to live up to some aspirational ideal, we become unhappy and less willing to invest in the relationship.
FIX: Ditch the ideals and drop the quest for perfection. To better appreciate what you’ve got, keep a daily diary of how you feel about your relationship, giving it a ten-point fulfilment scale (1: Not at all; 10: Completely).
Now take the marriage makeover quiz. . .
Sit down with a pen and paper and answer the following questions separately, then discuss. Give yourself a mark between one and five for each question. One being strongly disagree, five being strongly agree.
How good is the sex?
1. When having sex, we try to mix up what we do to keep things interesting.
2. We like to try new things sexually to make our sex life more exciting.
3. We try to inject novelty into our sex life by trying new positions and places to have sex.
n Those who agree more with each of the items have more sexual novelty in their relationships, which equates to higher sexual satisfaction.
How equal is your relationship?
1. In terms of what each partner contributes versus the benefits they receive, which one of you gets the better deal? ___ Me ___ It’s equal ___ My partner
2. In terms of decision-making, who is getting the better deal?___ Me ___ It’s equal ___ My partner
3. In terms of showing affection toward each other, who is getting the better deal? ___ Me ___ It’s equal ___ My partner
At different times, one partner may give while the other takes, and vice versa. The ideal answers would be a run of ‘It’s Equal’, but that’s unrealistic. Relationship success doesn’t require every aspect of the relationship to be perfectly fair.
As long as partners feel everything balances out overall, the best change may be no change at all. Your relationship’s division of labour may not be fair, but the imbalance may be good for your relationship.
Who’s in charge?
1. Who makes most of the decisions? Me / my partner
2. Which person gets their way most often? Me / my partner
3. Which person is less emotionally involved in the relationship? Me / my partner
4. Who could find a new partner more easily if the relationship ended? Me / my partner
Add up your scores and compare them to get a sense of your relationship’s power dynamic. The ideal situation is one in which partners share power equally. But strict equality in all areas is less important than a fair overall balance.
Responding to each other’s needs
1. How happy would you be to make a sacrifice for your partner?
2. To what extent is helping your partner a priority?
3. How willing would you be to take on negative consequences to benefit your partner?
Those who score higher here tend to be more in love. High scores for both of you is linked with higher marital satisfaction.
Chart happiness, conflict, passion, compatibility and warmth towards your partner too. Looking back over your diary should allow you to see fluctuations in a more objective way and appreciate progress you might otherwise have missed.
MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN FROM VENUS
As relationship blind spots go, this is one of the most pervasive and damaging because it artificially limits a relationship’s potential and allows both partners to be absolved of responsibility for their actions. A ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘she’s such a girly girl’ mentality can hold a relationship back. You might be surprised to know that men are statistically more romantic than women. That’s a big blind spot we didn’t know existed. Men fall in love more quickly (by a large margin) and are the first to say: ‘I love you.’
So, if you make sweeping assumptions — ‘men aren’t very thoughtful’ or ‘they’re rubbish communicators’ — you could find yourself perpetually stuck with an inconsiderate male partner and the chances of your relationship reaching its fullest potential are low.
FIX: Ignore the bad stuff and appreciate all the ways you and your partner are similar (age, family values, upbringing, schooling, personality traits, favourite movies, music and sports teams) so you can celebrate similarities and relish common ground.
LOVE MEANS BEING UTTERLY SELFLESS
We all believe true love requires endless devotion and sacrifice, but if this means neglecting yourself to bolster the relationship, your martyrdom could be undermining your relationship, particularly if that selfless romantic gesture leaves smouldering resentments lurking beneath the surface.
FIX: Be more selfish. Start by refusing to accept less than you deserve and focusing on fulfilment. This means doing something NICE — that’s Novel, Interesting, Challenging and Exciting. Studies show ‘me time’ has a trickle‑down effect as long as your partner is supportive.
WE NEED TO BE TOGETHER ALWAYS
Desiring greater closeness might seem a romantic declaration of love and devotion but closeness can morph into clinginess, which can be suffocating.
FIX: Spend time apart. Even the smallest buffer gives the opportunity for you to be missed and missing someone is a positive sign of commitment in a relationship.
WE MUST NEVER ARGUE
Conflict isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity to better understand each other. A relationship without arguments could mean you are souring your relationship by tip-toeing around uncomfortable conversations and relying on strategic sighs and eye-rolls and mind-reading skills on behalf of your partner.
FIX: Argue more. This doesn’t mean seeking friction, but it does mean willingly embracing naturally arising conflict and low‑stakes disagreements. The secret to dealing with conflict is knowing you are both on the same team.
IF YOU LOVE ME, YOU’LL CHANGE
We are supposed to love each other unconditionally, so no matter how much you want to, it isn’t your job to fix your partner.
Personality becomes more entrenched over time. So if you’re hoping your partner might become more outgoing, more thoughtful, less emotional or less neurotic, it’s less likely to happen with each passing year.
FIX: Learn to love and appreciate your partner for who they are, or work with them to help sculpt their ideal self.
Adapted by LOUISE ATKINSON from Stronger Than You Think: The Ten Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship . . . And How To See Past Them by Dr Gary Lewandowski (£14.99, Orion Spring) © Gary Lewandowski 2021.
To order a copy for £13.49 (offer valid until July 22, 2021). UK P&P free on orders over £20. Visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.