Close the sex gap

Men's Health |

Small differences between the two of you can grow into giant chasms.

Her need to socialise makes her vivacious, not overwhelming. Her massive salary is a nice change of pace, not a threat. And her closeness with her family makes her sweet and loyal, not overly dependent. But eventually the sex-cation ends, and those differences may begin to seem less charming and more distracting – or even destructive. “Opposites do attract, but they don’t always last,” says clinical psychologist Dr Michael Broder, author of Can Your Relationship Be Saved? (R178

Researchers say the best way to manage such disparities is to confront them head-on and negotiate compromises. “Successful couples know how to use their opposite traits to their mutual advantage,” Broder says. “If each partner can honour the other for what he or she does best, then between the two of them, they can do a lot more together.” Use our expert advice to help ensure that your differences don’t drive you both crazy – or apart.

You’ve overdosed on her family

If it seems as if every weekend involves her siblings and parents, that might be normal. The issue isn’t frequency, but purpose. “The healthy attitude is to consider your spouse your new family, with your extended family taking on a secondary role,” Broder says. So in a functional relationship, you garner emotional support from each other first and the parents second. As long as you’re the first person she calls to share good or bad news, excessive family time may be an irritation, but it’s not a problem.

Your move

Manage your own extended family time commitments, not hers. Instead of asking her to limit her time with her mother or guilting her into accompanying you every time you see yours, work out a schedule that includes solo visits as well as joint outings, Broder says. “Just say, ‘I’d rather not visit your mother every time you do, if that’d be okay. How about every third time instead?’” Frame your argument this way: you don’t need to have the same bond with her family that she does, and just because your bond with her family is less strong it doesn’t mean hers has to be.

One is a wallflower, the other isn’t

Different socialising styles can breed resentment. One of you feels rejected, left stranded by the buffet table, while the other feels restricted, limited to small gatherings. But it’s not all bad news: differences in extroversion actually mean greater satisfaction in long-term relationships, according to research in the journal Psychology and Ageing. Study author Dr Michelle Shiota speculates that it’s because your needs change as you grow – in young relationships, you’re looking for fun and excitement; in an older relationship, you’re seeking a life partner to help you with day-to-day duties. Ultimately, it’s easier to split duties when you each have your own niche. “Each partner assumes control over what he or she is good at,” Shiota says. One of you might excel at financial planning, while the other navigates holidays with friends with logistics with ease.

Your move

Negotiate a social game plan. As much as the introvert might want to, he or she can’t bow out of every social activity. Try this partygoing strategy: spend the first 20 minutes of a party together. That way the extrovert can help the introvert make connections, suggests psychotherapist Dr Tina Tessina, author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (R114 “The couple also needs a signal for when it’s time to leave, and they should reunite for the last 15 minutes so they leave as a cohesive unit,” she says.

Your holiday styles clash

While travelling is full of excitement, anticipation and the culmination of shared dreams, there is also the potential for arguments and drama – lost luggage, delayed flights, unmet expectations. If you then add the stress of different enjoyment agendas, it can be a bit of a bumpy ride. “Make sure you are on the same page when you are holiday planning,” says Cape Town-based travel consultant Vanessa Frankal of Vtravel. “So much unnecessary tension can be averted if you plan a trip that appeals to both of you.”

Your move

Pick a combination destination
– a Thai beach resort boasting a golf course or a Bali hotel near the shops and the surf. Try break from habitual holiday destinations to keep things exciting. “I recently went on a cruise on a whim, convinced I’d be bored stiff being in my thirties,” says Frankal. “Yet I was instantly hooked on the luxury and variety onboard coupled with the ability to travel as a backpacker when we docked. It was an ideal combination for me.” Remember the trip is a break for you and your partner, so it’s important to satisfy both of your needs. Keep an open mind, explore all avenues and approach your local travel agent.

Your libidos don’t match

Sometimes, yes, it’s you with the headache – or the soccer game, or the Xbox session. “It’s more common than you’d think for a man to have lower libido than his wife or girlfriend,” says psychologist Dr Linda De Villers, author of Love Skills: A Fun, Upbeat Guide
to Sex-cessful Relationships (R374 But because this dynamic contradicts the stereotype of the ever-ready male, it can cause serious love drama. “The person with lower libido can feel pressured and guilty,”
De Villers says, “and the person with higher sex drive can worry that the partner isn’t attracted to them anymore.”

Your move Explain yourself.

Lack of sex makes women feel distressed, according to a Kinsey Institute study. But lack of emotional connection is more upsetting. Clarify that your disinterest has nothing to do with her, says De Villers. If you’re simply tired or preoccupied, say so – and promise you’ll be thrilled to hook up with her the next night. Then assume the Big Spoon position. When the next night rolls around, initiate the encounter yourself.

One of you makes more money

He-cession and women’s advancement aside, however, the average man still brings home more money than the average woman does. “If you both work, a difference in income can mean struggling about who pays for what, or whose income determines your lifestyle,” says Tessina. “The traditional view of relationships assumes that all money should be pooled, but it isn’t always that simple.”

Your move

Communicate – and set multiple budgets. Unless you have a direct conversation about your lifestyle and finances, someone will feel resentful. The person paying more money might feel they’re putting in too much, and the person who makes less might feel that they’re being railroaded into an uncomfortable lifestyle. “Separating your money can make things run more smoothly because you don’t wind up struggling for
control,” Tessina says. Discuss a plan that works best for both of you, whether that’s splitting expenses evenly or working out a percentage share if your incomes are vastly dissimilar, she says.

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