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  • Rachael Lindberg

“How can we improve romance and passion after the honeymoon phase?”

Rachael Lindberg, LPC, SXI, CCTP

Afterglow Counseling & Coaching, PLLC

rumpled white bed sheets and pillows

If there is one thing I have learned throughout my time as a couples counselor, it is that no two individuals are the same and no relationship is the same. We each have very different wants, needs, and desires, especially when it comes to physical and emotional intimacy. Our partner(s) are not clones of ourselves, so it puts a lot of pressure on them to expect that they want the exact same things as we do. Assumed expectations can lead to unmet needs and create avoidance or conflict when trying to resolve the issue. Romance and passion may cool down after the honeymoon phase, so keeping romance alive involves an intentional adaptation that facilitates a new rhythm of intimacy that meets each partner(s) desires within the sexual relationship.


Questions of compatibility often arise as a relationship begins the transition out of the Limerence Phase, also known as the Honeymoon Phase. The relationship begins to settle into stability or falls into a power struggle of differing expectations on the roles and responsibilities of each partner(s). Passion and romance begin to cool down which may lead to partners recognizing differences between their desire levels or interest in sex and intimacy. An important task of the transition out of the Limerence Phase is for the relationship to identify and define a new sexual style that they can carry into the future to improve romance following the honeymoon phase, enhance communication, and be more intentional about maintaining a sustainable pattern of intimacy even as they age. There are four common sexual styles including 1) Complementary, 2) Traditional, 3) Best Friend, and 4) Emotionally Expressive (McCarthy & McCarthy, 2015). 


The Complementary sexual style is the most common and is characterized by each partner(s) recognizing their sexual strengths and emphasizing the value of intimacy and sexuality within the relationship. Each partner(s) brings their strengths into the sexual relationship to bring his/her/their needs and desires into an “ours” to share the pleasure, which prevents a power struggle conflict on whose pleasure to prioritize. Complementary sexual styles can be susceptible to the busyness of life as we often function on autopilot, so being intentional with introducing new, exciting activities or toys/lingerie/lubricant to use every 6 months or so can help reawaken sensuality and sexuality. 


The Traditional sexual style organizes the sexual relationship in traditional male-female gender roles where the male partner is most often responsible for initiation and frequency whereas the female partner focuses on emotional intimacy and affection. The Traditional sexual style is often stable and mimics the relationship style where traditional gender roles are defined with clear expectations. A drawback of this sexual style is that it values male sexual performance which can devalue emotional connectedness and overall intimacy as the partners age. Periodically switching it up- male partner initiates an intimate date while the female partner initiates a sensual/erotic date- can help this sexual style maintain some stability and passion as the inevitable aging happens throughout life. 


The Best Friend sexual style emphasizes a secure emotional attachment over an erotic sexual relationship. This sexual style is also characterized by high levels of emotional intimacy, mutuality in their goals and expectations, loving feelings, and effective communication similar to the relationship of best friends with the added benefit of romance and a sexual relationship. However, the emotional closeness of the partner(s) can lead to deemphasized eroticism and a decrease in sexual frequency as there is the expectation of mutual wants and desires for each sexual interaction, which is unrealistic since each partner(s) has their own unique wants and desires. To prevent this from happening, each partner can initiate a “selfish” sexual interaction every 6 months to a year which encourages playfulness and respects the unique desires each partner may have. 


The Emotionally Expressive sexual style values eroticism and playfulness within the sexual relationship and often utilize the tools at their disposal to keep things interesting- role play, toys, new sexual scenarios, etc. However, this sexual style is the least secure as sex is often intertwined with emotionally negative experiences such as using sex rather than communication to resolve conflict, or vulnerable conversations occurring during or after a sexual interaction when it would have been best to discuss outside of the bedroom. To prevent this association between sex and relationship conflict, each partner should learn more effective communication skills and learn how to resolve or manage conflict outside of their sexual relationship. Sex can be a wonderful tool for connection but it doesn’t supersede verbal and relational communication skills. 


Discuss with your partner your values and desires for sexual intimacy, affectionate touch, erotic playfulness, frequency, and initiation. Does it most closely align with the Traditional or Emotionally Expressive sexual style? Complementary or Best Friend? It is important to identify and define your boundaries regarding your sexual interactions with your partner(s). Each partner should feel like they have a voice and autonomy so aligning with a particular sexual style can help reconcile the goals, hopes, and expectations for the sexual relationship. You do not have to have the same wants and desires but rather allow the sexual style to provide a guide for where you can embrace your strengths and identify your areas for growth.


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McCarthy, B. W. (2015). Discovering your couple sexual style: Sharing desire, pleasure, and satisfaction. Routledge. 


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