All marriages change over time as the excitement and romantic charge of early days mellow into a more companionable and intimate relationship and as the responsibilities and complexities of making a living and raising a family overtake the simplicity of dating. “Early in a relationship a couple is in a cocoon, focused entirely on each other, with sexual energy in high gear,” says relationship specialist Dr. Larisa Wainer of Morris Psychological Group. “The mistake many couples make is expecting that strong sexual connection to continue – automatically – and endure throughout their marriage. Sex is important to the long-term success of their relationship but what’s important to remember is that passion and sexual attraction will fade if not nurtured and made a priority among the pressures and stresses of daily life.”
Maintaining a strong sexual connection over time doesn’t require hefty chunks of money and time to plan romantic weekend getaways, expensive dinner dates or lavish gifts. But it does take effort and commitment from both partners. In a 2013 study, psychologists at the University of Toronto determined that the most important factor in keeping the sexual spark alive in long-term relationships is for each partner to put the other’s needs first. “Making your partner’s happiness more important than your own – both in and outside the bedroom – results in a great deal of satisfaction for both people,” says Dr. Wainer, “and that bodes well for the success of the relationship over time. With that as the first principle to keep in mind, there are also things a couple can do – and keep on doing – that will keep the home fires burning.”
Tips for Keeping the Spark Alive
- Reach out and touch:Hug in the kitchen, hold his hand on the street, put an arm around her on the couch, cuddle for five minutes before going to sleep at night and before getting out of bed in the morning… Touching reduces stress and increases feelings of trust and well-being.
- Plan ahead: Spontaneity has its charms but may not always work in the real world. Planning a sexual encounter in advance lets anticipation build. Bring home flowers, ditch the sweatpants, turn off the TV, turn on music, shower together, break out the lingerie.
- Say “thank you”: Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt as much as it breeds taking someone for granted. Be grateful, even for the most ordinary and trivial actions. The more often you express gratitude, the more you will be conscious of the hundreds of small acts of affection and consideration that pass between you and your partner.
- Talk about sex: The key to a long-lasting and satisfactory sex life is to let your partner know what you like, what turns you on, what your fantasies are, what new things you’d like to try.
- Fight fair: Disagreements happen. And it’s better to address them than let them fester. Arguing productively means listening carefully, respecting your partner’s opinion no matter how vehemently you disagree, and sticking to the subject at hand, not straying to personal attacks along the lines of “you always” or “you never.”
“Sex helps partners maintain a strong connection over time,” says Dr. Wainer. “A good sex life is one of the keys to keeping a marriage going strong. But it doesn’t thrive in a vacuum. How you treat each other outside the bedroom is as important as what goes on in it. Whatever else is going on your busy lives, you must make time for each other. Your partner must know that he or she is a priority in your life, not just an item on a to-do list. Be realistic about the changes that will occur over the years. But if you never forget who comes first in your life, your relationship will flourish and endure.”