Generally, after being married for a number of years, many couples would discover a reduction in their level of intimacy. Many couples see themselves becoming more of friends than lovers. This is especially the case when children are involved. The kids become the centre of attraction and other aspects of the marriage, including intimacy, get relegated to the background.
But this phenomenon is not restricted to couples who have children. Even among those who do not have kids, a decline in the level of intimacy is experienced after some time.
However, it is important for couples who find themselves in this situation to take practical steps to rediscover and renew the intimacy that used to be a vital aspect of their relationship.
Be more open to each other:
A sex therapist and relationship expert, Dr Tolulope Oko-Igaire, advised that couples who are experiencing a decline in their intimacy level should try to be more open to each other in order to rekindle the passion. According to her, such couples should be frank and express how they feel about each other, in order to get over the situation.
Be ready to explore:
In addition to being open to each other, couples should be ready to explore new things in order to rediscover the high level of intimacy that characterised the early days of their relationship. Getting stuck in a routine could be the reason for the decline in sexual desire in the first instance, according to experts.
“Couples should be ready to explore. They should make sure that the satisfaction of their partner is paramount. And in order to do this, they should explore and learn new things,” Oko-Igaire advised.
Understand that ‘dry’ spells are normal:
Couples also need to know that dry spells – periods without sexual intimacy – in marriage are normal. Relationship experts all agree on this point. It is rare to see a marriage that doesn’t experience dry spells for one reason or another, and they don’t necessarily mean anything is wrong, or that the marriage is in trouble. Also, a dry spell can mean different lengths of time to different couples. Some spouses might raise an eyebrow at two weeks without sexual activity, while others may have been bedroom-shy for months and now feel embarrassed to talk about it. Or maybe they have talked about it, but the sparks still aren’t flying, or the communication doesn’t feel productive, so they worry about the future of their relationship. These are all valid concerns – sex is an integral part of any marriage and should not be overlooked. But it is also important to keep things in perspective. Couples are emotional human beings with complicated lives. They have ups and downs. A sexual dry spell does not mean the bells have tolled on the marriage. In fact, after working through the issue, the marriage may come out stronger on the other side.
Don’t use sex as a tool or weapon:
While consent is always necessary for sexual encounters — including those between husband and wife — sex should never be used as a weapon. Couples who are going through a decline in intimacy levels should make sure that they are not denying their partners sex as a form of punishment, or just to get back at them for one perceived wrong or the other. Ignoring or withholding sex can lead to long-term bitterness and hurt.
Over time, those negative emotions can worsen and take an emotional toll on the marriage. So you should never leave your spouse wondering why you are not having sex. Like Oko-Igaire advised, couples should always be open to each other.
Refocus on your marriage:
This kind of emotional and physical rut can also happen if either spouse places too much attention on other corners of life, especially focusing on work or on taking care of the kids, which can lead to cutting back on time solely devoted to the husband and wife relationship.
Sometimes, couples need to put family first, and turn down certain work assignments or miss a few of their kids’ activities so as to go on a date or spend time together. Ask yourself if you truly place your marriage first, or if you have just been telling yourself that you do without following through.
Gradually rebuild your intimacy:
Nicole Prause, neuroscientist and licensed psychologist, is the founder of the start-up, Liberos, which researches the brain science involved in sex drive. She explains that sometimes in the realm of psychiatry, forgoing sex is suggested to couples, in order to rebuild the relationship using sensate focus exercises instead.
“Sensate focus exercises are used to help with a variety of sexual problems,” says Prause. “The very first rule is to take intercourse off the table and have graduated touching exercises with your partner.”
So if you’re already going through a period of abstinence, these exercises might be worth a try.
The phases are meant to gradually build or restore trust, intimacy, and pleasure between partners. Sensate focus exercises can reduce negative associations one or both spouses have to sex (for whatever reason) because they establish ground rules that foster communication, equality, kindness, and awareness. According to Prause, there is no right or wrong timeline for moving through the phases: Depending on how quickly the couple moves through the stages, they may not have intercourse for several months.
So think of a dry spell as an opportunity to re-discover each other. And once you do get to intercourse, Prause suggests that you may be better off than before. “One of the goals of the exercise is to help reduce demands when the couple does begin to have sex again,” says Prause. “Hopefully, they will recall a period of still feeling very close and intimate with each other when they were not having sex per se, and this dry spell will help them learn that sex does not need to occur in the same way at a particular time to have a strong relationship.”
Couples who play together stay together:
Growing apart can reflect a switch from interest in shared time and activities, including sexual sharing, to one or both partners turning outside the marriage for friends, fun and emotional connection. According to relationship experts, couples who effectively alternate ‘together time’ with individual activities generally thrive.
At the same time, if the hours apart involve activities that one partner disapproves of, instead of enriching the relationship, the impact of the separate time is likely to be corrosive. Marijuana smoking, high-risk sports, religious or political dedication to ideas that are not embraced by both partners, or association with friends that the partner distrusts, for instance, can open ever-widening canyons between partners.
Similarly, if times spent together evoke negative feelings like boredom or irritation, there’s likely to be trouble ahead. Couples do best if they can talk, play and make love together in ways that renew their positive connection.
Also, insufficient together time, even from purely practical reasons like excessive work hours, long commutes and distance, among others, can also lead to growing apart.
Take a fresh perspective:
The chance to start fresh shouldn’t be underestimated. While sex is an important part of the marriage sacrament that should be taken seriously, that intimacy should also be enjoyable. No matter how long they have been married, couples can enjoy the same playfulness they had during their honeymoon – it only requires a little effort. Adam Busch, who runs a dating newsletter service in Sacramento, California, believes undergoing a sexual dry spell may actually be a chance to bring back a dash of the spice from the early days together.
“Taking breaks can be good for a couple because it is another step in breaking up routine,” he says. “One of the biggest killers of any relationship is routine. When sex becomes routine, it loses the lustre that it originally had. Sometimes creating a sex break can be beneficial for building up desire, but only if the reason for the break is correctly communicated.”
Remember that your marriage is unique:
It is important for couples to remind themselves that they don’t have to follow society’s lead. They need to evaluate what makes them feel happy and fulfilled. Therefore, what is realistic for a married couple will depend upon various factors, like age, health and desire. As a result, couples should do what is realistic for them and not be concerned about what is ‘normal’ for others. Your ‘normal’ may look vastly different from another couple’s ‘normal’, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
As with most things in your marriage, you and your spouse must talk to one another and work through challenges together, whether physical, emotional or a combination of the two.