2 Ways For Couples To Avoid One-Sided Desire

Do you feel like you're more 'into' your partner than they are to you? If so, here's how you can bridge the 'desire gap.'

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 17, 2024

The "desire gap" refers to differences in the level of sexual and affectionate desire between partners. This can manifest in various ways, such as one partner wanting more frequent sexual activity than the other, or differing needs for physical affection and intimacy.

While it's natural for partners to have varying levels of desire over time, strong discrepancies can create conflict if left unaddressed, as they can cause feelings of frustration, rejection, dissatisfaction and disconnection in a relationship.

A 2024 study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy examined adults' strategies for managing these discrepancies and found two that may be especially helpful.

Here are two ways to manage the desire gap, according to the study.

1. Honest And Direct Communication

Effective communication is vital in navigating desire discrepancies. In the study, over 50% of adults with a sexual desire discrepancy and more than 75% with an affectionate desire discrepancy reported using communication strategies.

"Adults reported voicing or discussing their disinterest, requesting specific physical behaviors from their partner, discussing and then choosing to not have sex, compromising, using positive support strategies, or altering their normal patterns of physical behavior to prevent discrepancies," the researchers write.

This strategy relies on respect, consent and mutual understanding. Partners can communicate to find a mutually comfortable level of affection or use positive support strategies, such as verbal affirmations, reminders of love and engaging in more affection at a later time. This can help their partner feel valued even when physical desires are not aligned. They may also slow down their physical behavior to match their partner's comfort in moments of intimacy.

"We will continue to check in as we proceed—without pressuring for more—to gauge if anything changes over time," one participant explains.

Interestingly, researchers found that participants who did not view sexual discrepancies as problematic were more likely to use communication to resolve them than those who found them problematic. This indicates that it could be important to shift one's perspective around desire to work through these discrepancies.

"We know that 'not feeling it' doesn't mean 'no longer interested' and isn't a threat. It took a long time and a lot of difficult communication to get there. Communicating desires and feelings, and being able to comfortably opt out when needed has been an immeasurable improvement," explains a 43-year-old participant from the study, highlighting the effectiveness of this strategy.

2. Exploring Alternative Forms Of Intimacy

In the study, nearly 75% of adults with a sexual desire discrepancy and 29% with an affectionate desire discrepancy chose to participate in alternative sexual or affectionate behaviors.

When desires don't align, engaging in alternative behaviors can help fulfill needs in a way that is satisfying for both partners. Many participants reported opting for non-penetrative sexual activities and focusing on enjoying each other's presence by spending time sitting near one another, cuddling or giving each other massages.

Participants also found that it is possible to maintain closeness and have one's needs met without necessarily having physical contact and by engaging in nonsexual activities and hobbies together. For affectionate discrepancies, non-human sources like cuddling pets or stuffed animals can also provide comfort.

Be Wary Of Unhelpful Strategies

Some strategies can be less effective and even be harmful. These include ignoring the discrepancy or hoping it will get better on its own. About 25% of adults with sexual desire discrepancies and 19% with affectionate discrepancies reported doing nothing about them, which can lead to negative emotional coping mechanisms like distraction, frequent suppression of desire or substance use.

Some couples give complete control over sexual and affectionate activity to the partner with either higher or lower desire, which can create imbalances and dissatisfaction over time. Further, engaging in intimate behavior without desire, either out of guilt, a desire to please or feeling pressured to is a strategy highly detrimental to one's well-being.

It's important to address these issues head-on and crucial for both partners to feel willing and enthusiastic about intimate interactions.

"Couples experiencing continued difficulties with resolving problematic sexual discrepancies may benefit from exploring mindfulness techniques to improve their ability to be in the moment, and thus communicate their needs and desires or voice their disinterest," the researchers suggest.

Patience and a willingness to work through these differences together are key to finding a resolution that works for both partners. Managing desire discrepancies requires open communication, acceptance of each other's perspectives, a willingness to explore alternative relationship-affirming behaviors and sometimes professional guidance. By addressing these issues proactively and with empathy, couples can bridge the desire gap and maintain a resilient, healthy relationship.

Curious about the level of sexual satisfaction in your relationship? Take this test to learn more: Sexual Satisfaction Index

A similar version of this article can also be found on, here.

© Psychology Solutions 2024. All Rights Reserved.