Intimacy in marriage is often left undiscussed, or is nervously joked about, “Oh, we never have sex, but who does?” Many couples will experience at least one prolonged period of time in which physical intimacy is not part of the equation. Perhaps it’s due to a difficult pregnancy or postpartum recovery, time apart caused by work schedules, other health concerns, or general marital discord. Whatever the cause, once a couple has resolved the issue, it’s not always easy to just pick back up where you left off. In fact, it can feel more awkward than the first time you had sex with each other because this area of your marriage may be difficult to talk.
So, how do you cross the chasm between you and begin again? Here are a few ideas I share with my clients:
1. Acknowledge the awkwardness
This means you need to talk about it, as openly as possible. The proverbial elephant in the room isn’t going to go away, so you might as well acknowledge it’s there. Here are some suggestions to do just that:
Talk about what it has been like to be without physical intimacy, why you would like it again, and what aspects about it you enjoy.
Discuss whatever apprehension you might be feeling such as possible pain, body image issues, fears of repeating negative patterns and so on.
Be a curious listener and really give your partner space to share their feelings and experiences regarding sex.
Keep the conversation as positive as possible and keep in mind you are trying to move forward.
Stick to the topic and keep it short.You don’t have to discuss everything in one conversation.
If you need more guidance in having these kinds of conversations there are loads of books,classes, workshops, and couples’ counseling to assist you.
2. Schedule it
Before you call me completely unromantic, finish reading this section. Initiation any kind of physical intimacy can be extremely intimidating if there is a history of rejection or if it’s unclear one partner is physically and emotionally ready. Often, the anxiety around initiating sex can be so high that the individuals involved would rather keep living without it than experience the pain of being told, “No,” again and again.
Scheduling a time for sex takes initiation off the table. For example, let’s say Kim and Mark have decided they are going to be intimate Saturday morning. This means that starting Thursday each of them would begin to mentally and emotionally prepare. Perhaps the flirting goes up, which will only heighten anticipation. Maybe they each make sure they’re showered and their schedules are cleared to allow for a relaxing morning. By setting aside a time, you actually improve your chances of success.
3. Go slowly
As anxious as you may be to get back to sex, remember to take the time necessary to ensure both of you feel as good and positive as possible. Think back to when you were dating. Maybe you enjoyed a good foot rub, or neck massage. Maybe you loved gazing into one another’s eyes while holding hands. There was time for kissing and cuddling. All those things can and should be brought into this experience again.
If you’ve scheduled your time, there should be no rush. By allowing each other the space needed to feel comfortable, stopping and talking about concerns if needed, and making real connection—mental, emotional, spiritual and physical—your goal of creating a long-lasting and mutually satisfying sex life is more possible than if you just got right to sex itself without a lot of thought.
4. Create an atmosphere
Physical intimacy is sensory at its most basic level. It is sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Is your room clean? Are you clean? Did you check your breath? Have some mints or mouthwash handy. Also, adding a bit of her favorite cologne or his favorite perfume will help remind you of good times together.
Research has shown time after time the power music has over our moods. Put on some music you both like. Turn down the lighting and/or light a few candles to create a romantic climate. Again, married couples can get lazy and forget how important some of these very simple things are to experiencing a great time together.
5. Sex isn’t the only form of physical intimacy
Couples who have experienced a period without sex or otherwise often experience an overall lack of affection itself. It’s important to acknowledge this and look for ways to improve. I’ve had many women in my office complaining that if they even touch their partners that it’s automatically intrepretated that they want to have sex because it has been so long.
Both men and women enjoy touch — a welcome home hug after work, cuddling on the couch, holding hands when walking into a restaurant. If the only time you’re being affectionate is in the bedroom the likelihood of maintaining a prolonged and mutually satisfying sexual relationship goes down. Look for ways to engage with each other outside the bedroom and you’ll be more satisfied within it.
Breathe easy, this is normal
Many couples I see just want to know if they’re “normal.” But what is normal? Normal is what works for you and your relationship. Normal is having to negotiate the ups and downs of marriage including health concerns, pregnancies, and so on. Not to be a downer, but there will probably be very few times in which you’re totally in sync as a couple sexually. The “norm” is to have to work together to find solutions and compromises. To find things that work for you and your relationship. Working together on challenges serves to strengthen your overall relationship. And the next time you experience something difficult, because you will, you can look back and realize you don’t need to panic because you’ve already learned how to weather difficult times.
At the same time, sex is a wonderful and awful part of marriage. It can be the cause of pleasure and happiness and the cause of the greatest pain and heartache. Being in a relationship is not for the faint of heart, but it will cause the greatest growth. I encourage you all to carry on the best way you can.