Sex File: New boyfriend’s post-coital gratitude is a turn-off

My new boyfriend is lovely, but painfully polite — and his excessive consideration even extends to the bedroom. He says thank you after sex. I know he means well, but I find it terribly deflating, not to mention a huge turn-off.

I know what you mean about being thanked after sex. It has slightly transactional overtones that feel out of place in the bedroom. We thank people who serve us, or sell us things, or hold the door open for us, but we don’t tend to say thank you to the people we have sex with.

Extreme politeness can also feel like a barrier to intimacy. After all, lovers are supposed to bare all to each other, not hold back for fear of causing offence. When someone is too nice and too polite, it makes you wonder what they are hiding or holding back. It can also feel a bit dull.

It is possible that his behaviour will change over time because you have not been together long, and as he finds his feet he will relax into the relationship, which will hopefully make him more confident. As a result he may naturally stop. Try to keep an open mind because the first six months should be the zenith of your feelings for each other.

The psychologist Arthur Aron explains that the extremely high levels of satisfaction that typically occur at the beginning of a relationship are due to what he calls “expansion”.

By this, he means that the crazy, up-all-night lust and sharing of ideas and experiences that tend to define the first few months of a new relationship provide a unique opportunity for you to expand yourself.

As you reveal your innermost selves to each other, you accumulate vast amounts of new knowledge, and this helps you to grow, as individuals and as a couple.

If, instead of feeling this, you are withdrawing from the process and feeling critical about your partner, the relationship is unlikely to survive.

Although I take your point about postcoital gratitude, I do think it is worrying that at a point in your relationship when you should effectively be blind to your boyfriend’s faults, you are turned off by what is a fairly benign personality trait.

Sometimes criticising an idiosyncrasy is a defence mechanism that allows us to avoid intimacy and gives us an excuse to dump partners repeatedly before we give them a proper chance.

If this is a pattern that you recognise, it might be worth discussing it with your partner, or with a professional.

Having said all that, it’s also true that lovely boyfriends are hard to find, and gratitude is a hugely positive indicator within romantic relationships.

You may not like the way he expresses his feelings after sex, but try to appreciate the emotion, because research shows that couples who routinely express their gratitude to each other are much happier.

In her “find, remind and bind” theory, Sara Algoe, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, describes how actions that are met with appreciation create positive feelings that motivate partners to “find” ways to benefit each other.

This positive feedback loop “reminds” the couple to continue to express gratitude, and this causes an upward cycle of positive reciprocity that “binds” them closer.

If you stay together, the quality you perceive to be a flaw in your boyfriend could turn out to be his greatest asset.

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