While things are warming up outside, what's happening between the sheets with your spouse? If you're very satisfied, fantastic! You should examine why that's so & continue doing what's working for the two of you. But if you're not happy with your sex life, now's a great time to make positive changes. Where to start?
Begin with examining your total relationship. Is your sex life acting like the 'canary in a coal mine' for your marriage? If so, then your sex life will improve along with any positive changes in the general health of your marriage. And you CAN improve your marriage. You can start with a 3-step program to reset your marriage. You can check out recommended reads. You can browse through the blog categories in the side panel and read relevant posts. You most certainly can keep reading this one.
Generally speaking, a marriage will be positive when both partners are simultaneously responsive to the needs of each other. If either partner feels neglected or abused in any fashion, the marriage will not thrive. As a result, the sex life in this marriage will also not be strong. It may even peter out altogether.
Here's an example. Melanie was growing ever more frustrated with her husband Josh because he would demand that she account for all of the money she spent while he was free to spend as he wished for himself. It shouldn't be surprising to learn that Melanie started declining Josh's overtures for intimacy. She didn't feel amorous at all to a man who would treat himself more nicely than he treated her.
One day, Josh came home and announced that it was time for a new car, setting off an emotional avalanche: "I need something that says who I am." "That's it!" Melanie snapped. "I have to count pennies so as not to offend you and you want new wheels to show the world what a 'successful' guy you are!? How about I paint 'selfish #@#*' on that new car of yours!" Josh stormed out of the house convinced, his wife had become evil. He mumbled, "I do so much for her. I saw signs of that temper. What a mistake marrying her."
Melanie was mumbling to herself, too. "Our son Bobby needs braces. What am I supposed to do? Take money out of the food budget? Why did I marry that fool?"
This couple seriously needs help. They're heading for a divorce. Oh, and for their sex life? As of now, forget about it. Melanie is too hurt and angry to care about this while Josh has noticed that the new department secretary has been quite friendly lately. He will probably start directing his charm her way. Big trouble. Remember, this was a couple who loved each other and began their marriage planning on spending their lives together. For too many couples, this 'slow death' of their marriage is all too common. They need to reach an agreement on basic ground rules and take steps to rebuild their relationship. It CAN be done and starts with identifying problem areas in the marriage.
Let's say that another couple is not undergoing this extreme challenge to their sex life, but nonetheless, they want to improve it. So they decide to go to their local bookstore and peruse the section on sexuality. Perhaps they can find a book that will give them some ideas that will rekindle their erotic connection.
What do they find? Well, there are books designed for gymnasts and contortionists who can twist themselves pretty much inside out. Then there are books describing the joys of pain. "Ouch!" Sandra says to Don. "Do you want me to tie you up, dress like a hooker and threaten you?" Don, who is about 60 pounds overweight and yet much slimmer than Sandra says, "Well, I'd like you to wear some sexy lingerie now and then. But I don't want you hurting me and I sure won't hurt you."
Today, there are a variety of books on sexual pleasuring, featuring couples demonstrating various alternative sexual and sensual acts that are more reasonable for Sandra and Don to try and enjoy. But since Sandra doesn't want Don to look at these slimmer women, they agree that she'll read the book and share the details with him. Don isn't too keen on Sandra seeing the more muscular men, either, but he's thrilled they'll be warming up their marriage and offers to give her some space while getting the car. Sandra goes to the cash. Placing the book on the counter is intimidating for her. The young, 102-pound cashier tries to be professional but something in her eyes is giving Sandra the impression that she is being judged. It's a good thing that Don went to fetch the car and isn't standing beside her while she blushes in embarrassment.
Ironically, the cashier, a part-time employee who is studying social work, grew up in a house where there was very little love expressed. She hasn't really learned yet how to create a loving relationship herself. So, while the idea of an obese couple trying to enhance their lovemaking may seem amusing to her, Sandra and Don are actually way ahead in terms of having a satisfying sex life.
OK. You may think that I've digressed from the topic of how to improve your sex life but, actually, there are a lot of points to make. Here are a few:
- Loving sex requires loved partners.
- Our body image and overall health affect our lovemaking.
- You don't have to feel intimidated trying something new because there are always stranger practices being suggested by book companies and websites trying to resell the same ideas in new packaging.
- Don't assume that the young and slim are enjoying a better sex life. Age and attractiveness are not the determinants of a long-term, satisfying sexual relationship.
With that said, there are many reasons why a couple's sex life may not be what they would prefer. I'll start addressing the first issue presented below in this post and will continue to explore other challenges in the rest of this 6-part series aiming to help you build a warm and loving marriage by addressing the issues that pull connected couples apart.
Why is it that for too many couples, their bed is a place to sleep and feel lonely? Let's look at some common causes and suggest how couples can warm up their sex life and enjoy losing a little sleep.
Here are some possibilities:
- Chronic illness resulting in the inability to engage sexually.
- Too much stress in the home to allow one's husband or wife to get in the mood.
- After ignoring his wife all day, the husband thinks that foreplay consists of his unzipping his pants. For her part, the wife is too busy with other interests to give her husband any loving attention.
- Either his or her libido is very low, owing to stress or hormonal imbalances.
- Someone is unfaithful and has turned outside the marriage for emotional and/or physical intimacy.
- A partner is lost to addiction.
When a spouse is suffering from a chronic illness, they can no longer contribute as much to the couple as they once had. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, fibromyalgia, lupus and arthritis are examples of conditions that can wreak havoc on a couple's and family's routine. The healthier spouse is left with the unenviable role of trying to pick up the slack while perhaps simultaneously providing healthcare to the ill partner. Demands go up while all too often, the romantic reward goes down.
An insightful article, "7 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Strong Despite a Chronic Illness" by Karen Bruno which appeared on webmd.com, gives tips on retaining the love in a relationship that is burdened by a partner suffering from a chronic illness. I will review her suggestions, adding my own thoughts as a conclusion.
- Communication: Obviously, a couple needs to discuss their frustrations and fears. They need to recognize the practical reality of their shared life together. But dwelling on the problem can be depressing and damaging. More than one study on chronic illness has shown that when women are the ones who get sick, their partners are more likely to divorce them than the reverse. A couple must be open about the stresses the illness places on both of them and seek and utilize resources that will help individually and as a couple. Their primary care physician and trusted health sites on the internet are great places to start.
- Ease Stressful Emotions: An increase in anxiety, for both partners, is natural when dealing with a health issue. It is helpful for a couple to recognize the anxiety and develop ways of coping. I suggest that the couple examines how they had been making each other happy prior to the onset of the illness. They can then work together to modify their new routines in a way that will still provide opportunities to create happiness. Doing so will help alleviate some of their fears and reassure them that they can still find enjoyment together.
- State Your Needs: The person with the chronic illness needs to be direct about what they need and when they need it. Holding back from fear of burdening their partner will do more harm than good. When needs are openly shared, a clear plan of action can be identified for both partners, quashing the helplessness the healthier partner may feel. If and when the sufferer feels better and stronger, they should be encouraged and supported to do more for themselves, likewise reducing their sense of helplessness and dependency. Open and considerate discussion (see the 6 do's and 5 don'ts of communication) is very helpful in avoiding the buildup of resentment in either partner.
- Watch The Caregiver's Health: The spouse providing the help to their partner is at risk of burnout. Signs include changes in mood, sleep disturbance, irritability and exhaustion. Once again, it's vital that the couple plan well. For the partner providing physical and practical support, giving without thinking of oneself will not be to anyone's benefit in the long run. The healthy partner must take steps to safeguard their own physical and emotional health. Taking time for themselves, exercising and enjoying leisure activities, and connecting with friends are all important.
- Strengthen Social Connections: Although a partner's illness may introduce challenges to socializing (exhaustion from travelling to meet friends, difficulty negotiating stairs, etc.), most difficulties can be resolved or worked around, accommodating the limitations of the ill partner. Friends and family can and should be included in devising ways to get together that will encourage and support the couple to connect (for example, enjoying movie night in the couple's home, bringing along a potluck meal, with extras for leftovers).
- Address Financial Strain: Health bills, the need to redesign access in a home and loss of income can have a huge impact on a couple and family. Explore services, resources and support with your primary care physician, insurance provider, national organizations, community agencies and extended family. Where there are opportunities for practical and/or financial aid, make use of them. Check government sites for any social benefits you may be able to apply for and research which medical and non-medical expenses you can claim on your taxes to reduce your financial burden.
- Prize Each Other: It is absolutely vital that the each spouse remembers and focuses on how important they are to each other. The amount of time that they spend together lovingly supporting and encouraging each other can be a part of their unity. It can also play a role in decreasing the stress that they experience.
Remember your romantic love. Caring is one thing and is essential to a marriage. In addition, try to continue doing those things that made you feel special to be in each other's presence. What did you love about each other before the illness set in? Continue to share these things as best as possible. Then, find new ways to share and connect that further enrich your love and connection. Don't forget that being in love with each other helps to smooth a lot of the strains that a couple experiencing chronic illness endures.
The next post in this series will look at the impact of stress on our sex lives, particularly a woman's ability to sense and express her sexuality.