Nora loved her husband of 30 years and considered herself happily married. And yet she wished the sex was more frequent and passionate. She had tried a few tricks to spice things up over the years. There was the lingerie phase and after that the sex toy phase. She even tried to develop a taste for porn so she and her husband could watch it together. For awhile, things would improve and she was sure she had found the solution. But a few weeks or months later, things would be back to the same boring routine. What could she do to rebirth the romance in her marriage?
Beverly was on her second marriage. After fifteen years, she was watching this relationship devolve into the same frustrating patterns she saw in her first marriage. Her husband no longer seemed all that interested in what she had to say. He had a habit of watching a lot of television every night after work and he would often have two or three drinks as well, falling asleep in front of the TV without once asking her about her day. Beverly was feeling very lonely even though her husband was home every night and they still slept in the same bed. He still wanted to have sex about once a week but it seemed he had forgotten what foreplay is. After five or ten minutes of kissing and fondling, he would try to stick “it” in her. Intercourse never lasted more than five minutes and he fell asleep right afterwards. She hadn’t had an orgasm in so long she couldn’t remember what it felt like. But more than anything, she wanted to talk, to connect, to feel something besides lonely. When were they going to talk about anything? How could Beverly hope to get out of this soul killing routine?
Jim and Samantha had never married but they had shared a home for over ten years. When they first met, they never ran out of things to talk about. Just the sound of each other’s voices would often light a romantic fire it seemed could never die. And now, after only a decade together, they didn’t have much to say to each other. They were spending more and more time hanging out with their respective friends and coming home later and later. When in bed together, they would text friends and ignore each other. This was not how they envisioned sharing their lives but it seemed they were too busy to share much besides the household chores and the bills. It was beginning to feel like they were just roommates. What happened to that fire that could never die?
Do you relate to any of these stories? My clients bring me heartbreaking stories like these every week. They are usually at their wits end, depressed, confused, angry and sad. They still lovetheir partner and want to find a way to make it work but so far nothing they have tried has worked. Wisely, they decide to ask a professional for a fresh perspective instead of simply enduring the unacceptable or terminating the relationship.
Couples who are willing to learn new habits and embrace change have the highest success rate. Affixing blame, defending one’s behavior and attempting to change and/or control one’s partner is the pattern which is least likely to result in a positive outcome.
Simple does not translate to easy, mind you. So while the steps I outline below are simple, they are anything but easy to implement. So much cultural and familial training and habituation have shaped the way we relate to others, it really is only with professional guidance that you can expect these steps to transform you relationship in a meaningful way. Be sure to enlist the assistance of a coach or therapist so that your relationship realizes measurable progress.
Here then, are the Seven Simple Steps (NOT Easy!) to Save Your Relationship:
1. Sweat the Small Stuff: Couples often suppress their true feelings and this is one very effective way to kill your relationship and your sex life. Sure you can avoid conflict this way for a few years, but after a decade of being less than honest about your true feelings, you will be numb and wonder what happened to the spark between you. The key is to stop complaining about your partner’s behavior and start communicating your feelings.
2. Balance your Criticisms with Appreciations: Couples who spend more time appreciating each other than criticizing each other are more likely to stay together according to marital expert, Dr. Gottman. (www.gottman.com) Keep track of how often you say something critical of your partner, and yes, “helpful” advice can be a form of criticism. Notice how often you praise and complement your partner. Replace the negative with the positive and watch how much warmer things will become at home.
3. Use Sensate Focus to Get Out of Sexual Ruts: Developed by Masters and Johnson in the 70’s, Sensate Focus is used to reset your libido and your sexual response. Rather than reinforce the sexual habits you and your partner have no doubt fallen into, Sensate Focus invites you to reconnect with sex in a fresh new way. The result for many couples is that they feel like teenagers again, titillated and excited by every little hug, glance, kiss, squeeze and cuddle.
4. There are NO facts – Only Feelings: When I am working in my professional capacity and engaging the skills I am specialized and certified in, dealing in facts make perfect sense. But when I am with my partner I don’t know a damned thing. Seriously, if I feel the need to express my perceptions, I preface my communication with: “It is my perception that . . . ” Refraining from the temptation to “win” an argument, I focus on expressing my feelings and connecting empathically to my partner’s feelings. Employing I-feel-statements, active listening and empathic validation of feelings has the power to connect you to your partner in a deep and meaningful way. You can literally feel your two hearts open to the love you very likely have been craving all your life.
5. Learn How to Express Your Anger in a Healthy Way:Anger management techniques could save your sex life. When you suppress your anger it has no place to go but in and that usually results in feelings of being depressed or numb. In fact, most of us try to control our anger in an attempt to make sure we don’t engage in destructive behaviors. But if you hold your anger inside long enough, you may explode and do something you regret, anyway. Whether you are holding your anger in or letting it fly toward anyone who pisses you off, you probably won’t exude the kind of safety which invites your partner to be vulnerable. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between dangerous outbursts or silent rage. You can learn to manage your anger in a healthy and positive way. Anger management training can teach you how and an unexpected side benefit is the positive way in can impact your sex life.
6. Be Willing to Get Help for Addictive Patterns: Most of us are familiar with alcoholism and drug addiction. We know we are not addicted in that sense so we may falsely believe we don’t have a problem with addiction. But you might be surprised how powerfully little “habits” can impact both emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy. When our relationship becomes less satisfying due to loneliness, boredom, frustration and even apathy, we are more likely to escape into other distractions which can quickly become addictive. Some things to look for are overeating, having more than one or two drinks, relying upon too many pain pills or pot, watching hours of television instead of conversing with your partner, compulsively shopping and masturbating to online porn instead of making love to your partner.
7. Develop Your Spiritual Life: Believe it or not your sex life can serve as a Doorway to the Divine. Learn more about ancient sacred sexual techniques and tantra. Incorporate conscious breathing and certain meditation practices into your sexual landscape to enhance your intimacy and add a spiritually connected dimension to your lovemaking.