It’s no secret that long-term, committed relationships are difficult; it takes work and dedication by both parties to make a relationship last, and sometimes this involves doing things you may not want to do to keep the spark alive. As many couples face declines in sex drive after a relationship progresses past the honeymoon phase, mismatched desires of when to get down and dirty often cause conflict, putting strains on the couple’s bond. A new studypublished in The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, however, suggests aiming to please, even when you may not be in the mood, may have serious benefits for a relationship.

Having a new relationship is one of the biggest turn-ons, yet as you become comfortable with one another and settle into your nightly routine of Netflix binges followed by an early bedtime, that flame you had ignited in your first few weeks together may start to fizzle. Researchers say what often occurs thereafter is “sexual interdependence dilemmas,” a term to describe when one partner’s sexual desires are not in sync with the other’s. Usually, this means that one partner wants to have sex more often, while the other is not as often in the mood.

In some cases, when one partner experiences a higher sex drive than the other, their relationship may begin to suffer, as the partner desiring more sex begins to feel rejected. The partner with the lower sex drive tends to suffer as well, often feeling obligated to engage in sex, or guilty that they are not satisfying their partner’s needs. Researchers, however, found that this situation was often avoided when the partner with the lower sex drive had “high sexual communal orientation.” This means that the lower libido individual was often willing to engage in sex with their partner even if they weren’t feeling particularly in the mood. These individuals were also highly motivated by satisfying their partner’s needs, contributing to their greater willingness to get down to business.

Interestingly enough, partners with high sexual communal orientation usually felt the better for it after humoring their partner’s desires. These individuals frequently reported being more satisfied in their relationships if they decided to have sex, while those with low sexual communal orientation felt that their relationship suffered.

These results were reflected across the board within the three parts of this study. In the experimental aspect of the study, researchers found partners motivated by satisfying their significant-other’s needs were more likely to engage in sex when they didn’t want to, if this is what their partner wanted. They also found these people experienced more happiness with their partner thereafter.

Similarly, in the retrospective aspect of the study, participants were asked to recall a time when their partner wanted more sex than they did, which 80 percent of participants were able to do, and how they responded to this situation. Those with high sexual communal orientation once again reported they would engage in sex more frequently than not if their partner requested. They then rated their relationships during this time, as well as their sexual experiences, as more satisfying.

The third part of the study which reviewed a diary couples kept over a 21-day period suggested the same results. Researchers found that the partner with the lower sex drive but an inclination to please had entries more focused on their partner’s needs than their own. These entries also revealed that these partners often engaged in sex despite low libido, and were once again more satisfied with overall sexual experience and their relationships. Those who did not choose to engage in sex because of low sex drive did not report the same level of satisfaction.

Apparently, sometimes a little bit of selflessness in the bedroom can help a relationship out immensely. Even though a lull in sexual desire is often inevitable in long-term relationships, showing your partner you appreciate them by meeting their needs can be both beneficial in the moment, as well as down the line. This, of course, in no way means you should sacrifice your needs entirely; lasting relationships have healthy sex lives, but healthy sex lives dictate both partners consent to the experience without force.

Source: Day L, Muise A, Joel S, et al. To do it or not to do it? How communally oriented people navigate sexual interdependence dilemmas. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2015.  

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