"But we kiss every morning," he says. "Yes, but not for 10 seconds," I reply.
I worry we're becoming disconnected. Our two young kids and demanding careers ensure we have a constant supply of stress and are regularly exhausted. We do love each other, but it's true: Day-to-day reality can dim the spark of even the best relationships over time.
How to ignite the fire in your relationship
I know we're not alone, and this probably explains why Carlyle Jansen's workshops are so popular. She runs them upstairs at Good For Her, her adult-toy shop in downtown Toronto.
It's an intimate space, with chairs placed in a circle facing each other. Tonight, Spicing it Up: Hot, Sexy and Sustainable Relationships is on tap and attendance is maxed at 15 people – which tonight includes five couples, holding hands.
Jansen asks everyone to share one thing that makes sex sizzle for them. Some of the answers? Eye contact, different locations, novelty (from the guys). Not being tired, lots of lead-up and confidence (from the gals). All of the answers confirm the research. The secret to amping up the romance, intimacy and passion in your life? Lots of effort.
In the beginning
Contrary to popular belief, the best-before date for sex isn't seven years – it's closer to three. "For the first two years you're with somebody, you're hopped up on the love drug, dopamine. You don't have to do anything to get aroused," says Dr. Trina Read, a Calgary sexologist and author of Till Sex Do Us Part: Make Your Married Sex Irresistible (Key Porter Books, 2009).
"Then after two years, it's a rude awakening. There's no good precedent for communication and no good sex habits (have been) formed. Sex isn't convenient. Things start unravelling. To fix it, take a realistic snapshot of your life. Are you making each other a priority? How can you keep each other top of mind?"
Page 1 of 5 – Learn how couples reconnect on page 2
A recent study at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University showed that the better the sexual communication between a couple, the more likely they were to report marital satisfaction, says Montreal sex therapist Dr. Laurie Betito. Sure, guys are usually visually stimulated. "[But] sex doesn't happen in a vacuum, at least for women. Talk openly about feelings, wants and desires."
Dr. Bianca Rucker, a sex and relationship therapist in Vancouver, assigns her clients an exercise to encourage discussion. She asks them to complete the sentences: "I appreciate..."; "I'm willing to..."; "I would like you to..."; and "I'm most drawn to you when...." "It gets them relating to each other," she says. "As well as letting their partners know what they would like." This doesn't mean it's all about what you want sexually; it's also about working on intimacy and your emotional bond with your partner.
After 14 years, lack of communication smothered the flame in George's* first marriage. He doesn't want that to happen with his second wife. "My first wife didn't say much of anything. She pushed me away. She accused me of never wanting to talk. Now I try to have my relationship antenna better tuned. I try to be open. In the past I resented any suggestion that I was doing something wrong." He doesn't just talk more, he also tries to show his new wife of a year that she's special with gestures, such as picking up her favourite coffee or, if he gets home first, making dinner.
His tips to men: "Tell her that you love her – but never during a fight, only at the end. Talk about what's bugging you. The more you bury, the harder it is later," George says. "And my advice to women: Tell us in words what you want. Don't send signals we have no ability to read. We won't figure it out."
Light a fire
You have to strike a match against a surface to light a flame. The same goes for relationships: one mate is the match and the other is the surface. The touchpoint could be a kiss on the cheek, a caress or even a text message. George kisses his wife every morning before he leaves and every evening after he gets home from work. "The kids say ‘Eww, kissing.' But that's something that fell by the wayside in my first marriage."
Page 2 of 5 – Find out how some women keep the passion alive on page 3
Keep that spark alive
Buying smartphones brought Isabella* closer to her husband. They've been married for 20 years and haven't had too many rocky patches. He used to call her at work, but she couldn't always take the calls. "When he texts me, it's fast. I can get back to him. I know he's thinking of me and he knows I'm thinking of him."
Natalie*, a mother of two who's been married for 12 years, says, "I make dirty calls [to my husband] or we'll ‘sext' each other. It may be a few texts here and there. If he's close enough, he'll come home."
For a deeper form of touch and sensuality, take a bath together, says Betito. That's something Anne* and her husband do. Married for 13 years, with three kids, they found they were exhausted all the time. Taking a bath together began as a way of taking care of each other. "You talk, you relax. There are candles and scented salts, there's quiet and there's just water," says Anne. "You can share your vulnerabilities and connect on that level. It's not about who's doing more. You feel more like partners."
From me to we
The idea of making time for each other as a couple comes up constantly, whether in therapy or as dialogue in a romantic comedy. In the movie Couples Retreat, Dave (played by Vince Vaughn) is a hardworking husband with two young kids. He doesn't think his marriage is in trouble until a therapist tells him and his wife Ronnie (played by Malin Åkerman) so: "All this about ‘mine and his, mine and his' – where's the ‘us' in this journey? There's no ‘us,' there's no ‘we.' You could be perfect strangers."
But planning "couple time" doesn't necessarily mean you have to plan elaborate date nights, says Natalie. Sometimes she spends just 20 minutes with her husband after the kids go to bed, talking about their day. "We sit down and look each other in the eye. We make a conscious effort."
Isabella says she has a good relationship with her husband because they always make time for each other. Friday is date night. They stay home, order pizza, and talk and relax together with wine and candlelight.
Page 3 of 5 – Recreate unforgettable moments with these tips on page 4
The dating game
Remember when you couldn't wait to see each other? Try to recapture the spirit of those times, says Rucker. "Look at activities you used to do [for ideas]. Do something together. What are common interests?"
Anne and her husband like to play tourists in their own city. "We'll pick a neighbourhood and explore. It brings back the feeling of what it was like when we were dating. We're learning something new, seeing something different together. These shared experiences are fodder for the future."
When you try new things it releases dopamine – the neurotransmitter that gives you a lover's high – says Read. "Not only do you have something to share afterward, hopefully it's creating a different place for couples to touch each other. Hugging and kissing gives an oxytocin rush, so it makes us feel closer to our partner."
Full steam ahead
"People don't like to hear this: Plan for sex," says Betito. "People assume only spontaneous sex is good sex. It's not. It's a question of saying, ‘Let's make this happen.' Figure out ways that sex can become an event."
Read agrees. She set herself a six-month sex challenge (you can read about it on her website, havesexafterkids.com). If you don't put any thought into it, "you'll do the same old thing – that leads to boredom," she says. Anticipation "puts you in a good state of arousal."
Take turns planning the nights. Jansen suggests creating scenarios together. "Where does it start? In the bedroom? Shower? Car? What mood is involved? Serious, playful, nurturing, intimate, adventurous, silly, teasing? And what two things do you want to have happen?" Put the scenarios in a cookie jar, pull one out and surprise your partner. "You're not limited by it, but it's a start."
Page 4 of 5 – Make passion a shared desire with ideas on page 5
Fun and games
"Get out of your rut," says Read. "Get out of your house. While we're inside, we have routines and rituals." Maybe it's a weekend away or something as simple as going for a walk.
Keep it fun. Keep it fresh. Keep it interesting. "If I'm taking a shower, I'll say, ‘Honey, I have something to show you,'" says Isabella. "Or I'll jump on top of him on the bed and say, ‘I'm here. Let's do it.'" Natalie locks the bedroom door, lights candles, gets massage oil and picks up sex-enhancing tools.
Betito has a different idea: "I will prohibit couples from having sex." Yes, prohibit. "Sometimes it's too easy. It's over in three minutes. Making out goes out the window. In the beginning, that was the most sensual. Then move to genital exploration and learning your partner's erogenous zones. They have to tell you, ‘This feels good; do it harder, do it faster.' They want it then."
She also recommends visiting adult-toy shops. "We find more couples are going than singles," Betito says. Judging by attendance at Jansen's workshop, it's true. Many of the attendees are women who are in relationships.
In the workshop, Jansen talks about using both high-tech toys, to heighten pleasure, and low-tech ones, to heighten senses. (Think about what you could do with a blindfold, a feather and a long, beaded necklace.)
Read loves the board game Embrace. "You have to talk and open up. For the gals there's the talking and for the guys there's the doing. It raises the sensuality and intimacy. It brings something different to the bedroom but it's fun, as well."
Ultimately, it's about exploring, says Rucker. "Use your imagination. It doesn't have to be kinky, just a bit different."
*Names have been changed.
|This story was originally titled "Spousal Arousal" in the February 2011 issue. |
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