How do you maintain the passion – emotional and physical – that existed at the start of your relationship with your partner? For most, there is an inevitable decline in the initial rush of attraction that brings two people together.
Time moves along and familiarity may not bring contempt, but it can bring a host of other things: habitual patterns, tiredness from the demands of a busy life, and a move away from the early courtship behavior that bonded you as a couple.
For men and women raising children, climbing the career ladder or pursuing higher education, the sheer number of details to be handled can fill the day to the top, with no time left over for “working on” a relationship.
For women in midlife who may be entering - or smack in the middle of - menopause, there are now physical changes that can make the topic of physical intimacy more daunting. For both men and women, changing bodies add a layer of complexity to the best of relationships.
While these scenarios are normal and happen to most of us, if left unattended by unaware partners, it can strain the relationship, relegating sex to the dusty fringes of life.
What steps can we take that can help a valued relationship become even better? Serious relationship issues may require professional counseling, but for those whose love life and romance have simply been on the back burner for too long, our experts have some ideas.
Fran Fisher, PhD, is a certified sexuality counselor who works with Sutter Medical Group’s Integrative Medicine Program in Sacramento.Opens new window She notes that the most common issues she sees in her practice are not physical problems but emotional and relationship issues.
The biggest complaint is infrequent sexual connections, mostly due to lack of intimacy. Either partner can experience a lack of desire, often as a result of a breakdown in the relationship. This can lead to anger or hostility from the partner who feels rejected and lonely. “No one is happy once this spiral begins,” notes Dr. Fisher.
There are also frequent issues of confusion over what “intimacy” really is, and problems with the pace of life impacting sex – distraction from jobs, children, activities, money issues, etc.
Sacramento internist Maxine Barish-Wreden, M.D., encourages couples to look at the big picture of what they want from their intimate relationships.
“How do you want to re-create your relationship and enhance romance in your lives?” she asks.
“If sex is an important piece of that equation, create a deliberate intention to cultivate a rewarding sex life, starting with self-talk. Notice the language that you use,” says Barish-Wreden. “What we tell ourselves over and over is what we create. So if we’re telling ourselves that we’re too tired and too stressed to have sex, that’s what we create.”
Instead, visualize a great sexual relationship. What would that look like? As a starting point, Barish-Wreden advises couples to schedule time together doing what they love.
“What can you move towards or bring into your life that creates more joy; connects you with your senses; and connects you with your partner?” she says. “It’s those moments when we’re in the flow – together - that naturally lead to and enhance our physical intimacy.”
Dr. Fisher also loves the quote from John Gottman, PhD: “Happily married couples aren't smarter, richer or more psychologically astute than others. But in their day-to-day lives, they have hit upon a dynamic that keeps their negative thoughts and feelings about each other (which all couples have) from overwhelming their positive ones. They have what I call an Emotionally Intelligent Marriage."
Sounds great, right? But how do you get from a place of disconnection to one of greater connection and positivity? Dr. Fran has four exercises she recommends to her clients that can help. They require you, and your partner, to be willing to do something different and bear with the discomfort for awhile, as you break old habits and try on some new ones. Check out the Couples’ Exercises for Building Intimacy.