We all know that relationships are hard; they require us to put our best foot forward each day.
Relationships also require us to have realistic expectations about what we can hope to get in return for our efforts. Because when our efforts match our expectations, there is equilibrium in the relationship — a balance that is a win-win for both partners.
But, what happens when one partner holds unrealistic expectations of the other? When they seemingly ignore or just aren’t capable of understanding that the relationship should resemble a tennis match, and not a baseball game in which one player is pitching to another without getting anything in return? This type of lopsidedness can occur in other parts of your relationship as well — like in sex and intimacy.
And, when that happens, it’s possible that sexual narcissism is going on.
Sexual narcissism in and of itself wouldn’t be such a problem – other than it’s not the most equitable way to relate intimately to one another. But, what the authors of this study1 discovered is that when one partner is showing signs of sexual narcissism, then the seeds may be planted for infidelity down the road.
What Exactly is Sexual Narcissism?
According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, the term sexual narcissism best describes someone who has develop a one-sided view of their sexual entitlements and thus their behavior in the bedroom.
You may ask yourself…
Does my partner demand sex despite my reluctance?
Does my partner make me feel guilty if I’m not in the mood?
If I don’t give in, does my partner get angry?
Do they think they are so good that once they start I will ‘get in the mood’?
Well, if any of the above is happening in your relationship, then they are clues that your partner feels a sense of sexual entitlement and is potentially a sexual narcissist. And this type of behavior is a red flag.
But, don’t throw in the towel just yet.
Now that we know what may be going on in your relationship, there is something we can do about it – I’ll get to more about that later.
But First, Why is Sexual Narcissism Such a Big Problem?
If your partner has a one-sided sense of sexual entitlement, then – according to the authors – that trait could lead to infidelity and spell disaster for your relationship. Given that infidelity is the most commonly cited reason for divorce, 2 addressing sexual narcissism could be a good use of your time.
So, if you suspect that your partner is a sexual narcissist, what can you do about it? How can you avoid an outcome that leads to infidelity and divorce? Well, first pat yourself on the back for trusting your intuition! This is important because addressing sexual narcissism isn’t going to be easy and it takes a lot of courage to do something about it.
Now that you’ve decided to take action to address the unbalance in your sexual intimacy with your partner, you need a plan – and tools to execute that plan. It’s time to get on the same page with your partner.
You may be wondering how to you do that?
Five Ways to Rebuild Equilibrium in Your Relationship
1. Place your focus on building a solid relationship.
Since our relationship is inextricably tied to our own emotional well-being, then building a solid one is helpful for both partners. When a relationship is healthy, then both partners are less likely to step outside of it. Which makes sense: when things are going well in our lives, we don’t turn towards negative coping strategies (like infidelity) to sooth our emotional well-being and make us feel better.
2. Remember when your relationship was balanced.
Both you AND your partner need to see that there was a time when you WERE in sexual equilibrium. Assuming you and your partner committed to a long-term relationship with one another, then there was hopefully a time when you two ‘clicked’ — when you were on the same page. If that was the case, then you can get back there. To do that, start by asking each other
- What you liked about your intimacy when you first got together?
- What made you a ‘good fit’ for one another?
- What other things did you like about each other back then?
By asking these questions, you’ll reconnect with your past successes as a couple. And your past successes hold the all-important clues to getting back on the same page.
3. Move away from labels.
If you only talk about your present-day problems – like your dissimilarities in intimacy – then you risk painting one another into a corner that neither of you can ever get out of. If your partner is labelled a sexual narcissist, how are they supposed to be anything else? How do they take that first step towards improving their relationship with you? By helping your partner be something other than a sexual narcissist, by extending an olive branch, you help them lower their guard. That’s important because if they hear themselves being called a sexual narcissist, their guard is all you’re going to get. However, by giving them an olive branch, I’m not implying that you should let them off the hook. They are still not justified in their one-sided behavior and they still need to take responsibility for their actions. I’m simply saying that by focusing on how you and your partner come together as a couple, you will do more to help one another overcome sexual narcissism than anything anyone else will tell you to do.
4. Talk about the positivity that already exists in your relationship.
This step is essential – talking about the good and not just the bad. Think about it. The fact that your partner is willing to talk about his/her sexuality should be considered a win – a huge win, in fact. On top of that, simply by talking about the strengths of your relationship with your partner, you will create more empathy and understanding for one another. In fact, this is what the authors of the original study believe will lower the association between sexual entitlement and infidelity: increasing the empathy and understanding in the relationship.
And, to that end, my top three ways to start a conversation that will help both parties feel safe and open to share, rather than getting defensive, is to start by asking yourselves:
- What is going well in our relationship?
- What makes us such a great couple?
- How do we manage to ‘know’ one another so well?
See where I’m going? I’m asking you what works well in your relationship, and I do that because there is immense power in seeing the good.
5. Allow time to create room for growth – as a couple.
By being patient and allowing one another the time to fulfill our needs, we create room for our partner to help us if we struggle with intimacy in our relationship. Of course, there will be times that we have needs that go unfulfilled or we’ll struggle with our own decreased sex-drive. But, when we take our time by going slow and talking with our partner about what they do well, how they help, and how we are on the ‘same page’ we start playing tennis.
And, when we’re playing tennis, we’re not sitting on the sidelines and watching the innings go by!
Instead, we start hitting the ball back and forth and figuring out what works for both of us in the bedroom, and what doesn’t. And, when we do that, we’re not watching the game unfold from the bleachers while our partner is exercising their muscles without us. We’re not playing baseball. Instead, we’re playing tennis.
And, while you may go back and forth a while until you get the hang of talking about how you meet each other’s needs instead of falling short, at least you’ll be playing a game that just two people play together. And for most of us in committed relationships, two-player games are the whole point of it.
- McNulty, J. K., & Widman, L. (2014). Sexual narcissism and infidelity in early marriage. Archives of sexual behavior, 43(7), 1315-25.
- Amato, P. R., & Previti, D. (2003). People’s reasons for divorcing: Gender, social class, the life course, and adjustment. Journal of family issues, 24(5), 602-626.