When couples seeking to boost intimacy only look to the physical aspect of their sex lives, they are missing the big picture.
When something is wrong in our lives, our focus often narrows to a particular part of the problem, rather than looking at the broader context that might be contributing to the problem flourishing.
This is in no way a critique of how we operate most of the time.
We all do this. Symptoms call out for attention.
For instance, when you have a headache, your first reaction is likely to do something to get rid of the pain (via medicine, massage, compress). Even if you see your doctor for help, the odds are you may not receive an holistic approach right off the bat.
Your doctor may not start by asking about your diet or sleep or work habits that might explain the headaches. Rather, you’re both focused on the symptom and how to get rid of it.
We have the same tendency in our relationships (“Make the negative thing go away, and give me more of the positive!”). If your sexual intimacy is not where/how you want it to be, you’re likely looking at the sex only.
But let’s step back, get a broader perspective, and think about your marriage or relationship more holistically (or “whole-istically”).
Four Tips for Re-Igniting Sexual Interest
1) Create a Stress-Free Zone
Let’s face it, life is stressful. There’s no escaping this fact. You can learn how to better manage stress, but you can’t escape it entirely.
Therefore, it stands to reason that you and your mate will at times be discussing stressful issues, whether they’re issues about the relationship itself or about life maintenance. However, when stress and stress-focused discussions predominate, sexual desire tends to wane.
So if you’re usually having discussions with your partner that feel fueled by something stressful, make it a point to discuss things that don’t involve stress too. This doesn’t mean ignoring or denying stressful issues—it means making the time and space for non-stress-focused discussions as well. (“Okay, after we get the kids to bed we’ll talk about refinancing the house until 10:00, but after that, we’ll put a bookmark in it and talk about anything that doesn’t have to do with money.”)
It may feel unnatural at first (partly because stress tends to build a momentum of its own and therefore spill an avalanche over everything in its path), but with practice it will start to feel much more natural.
2) Create Small Connecting Moments
Too often, people think pro-intimacy behavior must be large and dramatic (“We’ll re-connect when we can take that cruise”). The problem with this is that it postpones connection to some hazy point in the future, and often that “big” thing doesn’t happen for a long while, or doesn’t happen at all.
Also, it’s just not true that the big moments are the ones that define a relationship! It’s the small, everyday moments that bring you and your partner closer together (or, if those moments are used to distance yourselves from each other, those same moments will build a wall between you).
In essence, those day-to-day opportunities for connection, even when they have nothing to do with sex, are the ones that build the foundation for a better sex life between the two of you.
3) Reconnect with Your Own Sensuality
It’s hard to feel sexual if you never feel sensual. What do I mean by this?
Feeling sensual is just like it sounds: being attuned to your senses.
And the way to connect to your senses is, quite literally, to start noticing them. Start paying attention to them. Stop rushing through your morning coffee and notice the aroma and complex flavor. Even if you have to drink your coffee on the go as you commute to work, you can slow down your mind and use your mind to notice.
Slow down and savor the little things whenever you can. With practice, you’ll see that you can savor even what you used to call the “mundane” aspects of life (the feel of sudsy dishwater on your hands, for instance).
Becoming aware of your sense experiences on a regular basis will naturally make you more sensual. And becoming more sensual will naturally heighten your sexual experiences, since you’ll be aware of your bodily sensations on a richer, more gratifying level.
4) Plan for It
So much of life (work, home, and social) involves planning. We know that, and we don’t resist it. We plan. (You would never think of telling a friend, “Oh, just show up at the café whatever time on whatever day—I’m sure one of these days we’ll show up at the same time and therefore can have that lunch together we’ve been looking forward to.”)
But when it comes to our sex life, we often resist planning.
Somehow we think if intimate moments don’t just spontaneously occur, we’re doing something wrong. But that’s not true.
So whether it’s a traditional “date night” that you and your mate arrange when you can get a sitter, or whether it’s a no-pressure, let’s-see-where-this-goes night at home with no TV, plan for (and protect) some one-on-one time with your partner.
Intimacy in marriage can’t flourish if you don’t give it the space to grow.
Sex is rarely just about sex. So many of our emotional issues and vulnerabilities are intwined with sexuality. Sexual intimacy offers a powerful way to express the love we feel for one another but it can also become a battleground of misunderstandings, feelings of rejection, and ultimately, disconnection from one another.
So when “Let’s have sex, it’s been too long” is the motivating force to nurture the sexual connection in your marriage, don’t forget the powerful emotions and underlying issues that come with sex. In short, be sensitive to each other, be kind, and have fun.
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro
(Featured images courtesy of David Castillo Dominici & Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)