Ruben and Gloria sit in my office on opposite ends of the couch. Gloria hangs her head so that her long, thick curly hair hides the tears that want to flow. Ruben stares at the clock on the wall. He looks like he wants to be anywhere else but here. He appears annoyed but I know he’s afraid.
Ruben, 39, and Gloria, 34 have been married for 8 years and have two children: a 5-year-old boy and a 3-year-old daughter. They decided to seek marriage counseling after Gloria discovered that Ruben has been emailing a lady he had met in an on-line ‘chat room’. Gloria herself is trying to control a growing crush she has with a much younger co-worker.
Ruben and Gloria have known for months that something is missing in their relationship. They just weren’t clear on what was happening. They tried to ignore the growing distance between them. Both hoped that things would just get better in time. Now the red flags are flying too high to ignore. They know they are entering dangerous territory. Hopefully, marriage counseling will re-direct their path and lead them back to each other.
Ruben and Gloria are typical of many of the couples I see. They are thirty-something, educated; career oriented, and have one or two young toddlers. They appear to be happily married. Yet as the years pass, the distance between them seems to grow. There are family matters, children to care for, illnesses, finances, mortgage payments, job changes, and deaths along with life’s everyday challenges. When focus is predominately on outside events, couples often drift apart.
It happens slowly and insidiously. Couples who were once close, feel the passion is now gone. Sure, they have their children and their possessions in common. But what about the original bonding that brought them together in the first place? Values, goals and special feelings get buried under the grind of everyday life.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking a person outside the marriage can provide the tempting, often missed charge of 'being in love’. While it may be a short-term fix, it’s ends up being a long-term disaster. Why not fall back in love with your actual partner? Most people just need to give their marriage a ‘tune-up.’
Here are some tried an true tips I recommend to my patients on how to re-ignite your original passion:
When was the last time you sat down and really talked to your partner? I’m talking about the way you used to talk when you were first getting to know each other. Human beings grow and have new experiences on a daily basis. Make it a point to talk and listen to what your mate has to say each and every day.
Take a Genuine Interest in Each Other’s Experiences
Talk with each other, not at each other. Listen attentively without planning what you’ll say next or impatiently waiting your turn to speak. Pay attention to the tone of voice, body language and eye contact. Ask questions. Validate positive experiences. Offer support and empathy when needed.
Just the Two of You
All parents love their children but most marriage counselors agree that it is important for a husband and wife to have some ‘alone’ time. Get someone to baby-sit while the two of you go out on a date. Do something that will allow you to talk, have fun and feel close to each other. Do the things you used to do before you were married. Try something new. Be seductive and flirtatious with each other. Dress up and take the time to look your best. There is only one DON’T; avoid talking about the kids, money or work. Tonight is about the two of you.
Work on a project together. Create something. Learn a new language or musical instrument. Play games. Build something for your home. Write a book for your kids. Make a short homemade movie. Take a class. Try making a photo or video scrapbook of old family photos or video footage.
Working as a team will naturally bring you closer together. It happens at the workplace all the time. Invite this feeling of accomplishment into your own home. It really works.
Spruce Up Your Bedroom Activities
Sex is the most obvious thing we think of when we say the passion has gone out of our relationship. I don’t agree. Boredom in the bedroom is a result of non-communication and lack of intimacy. Sex becomes routine because the rest of the relationship is routine.
Intimacy is the result of feeling close to someone by sharing feelings and experiences. When couples learn how to improve their communication skills they will naturally feel more comfortable sharing their wants and needs in the bedroom. Straightforward talk will ultimately lead to more satisfying, fulfilling sex.
That being said here are some easy ways to add zing to your sex life:
Seduce and romance your partner like you did when you first met. Kiss and make out in public. Be affectionate with each other. Reminisce about your first date. Look at your wedding album. Sexy lingerie, candles, a bottle of wine, silk sheets are all good aphrodisiacs. Read erotic literature to each other in bed. Act out the parts you like best. Be spontaneous, playful and carefree.
Share Your Secret Fantasy
Allow yourselves to share your sexual fantasies or secrets no matter how outrageous or silly they may seem. Promise to be non-judgmental. Be open to play out these scenes as long as they are not uncomfortable for you.
Role-playing is liberating, offers options and taps into your creativity. It’s an amazingly effective, safe way to get variety into your sex life. Be someone else in the context of a scenario. Hero, villain, teacher, student, spy, Casanova, etc. Wear costumes, wigs and play roles that you’d find fun.
Many couples enjoy ‘picking each other up’ as strangers in a bar. They have a few drinks and go home with each other. I even know a couple that employs his wife as his ‘prostitute’. In that way he feels more comfortable relating some of his more offbeat desires. In her role as a sex worker, she feels more knowledgeably about sexual variations. She also has the authority to ‘negotiate’ and decide what acts she will or won’t perform.
It’s not too late to turn up the heat in your relationship. Don’t get caught up in the trivial pursuit of your life. Remember that you picked your partner for a reason – you felt strong, intense desire for each other. That desire is still there. It may be hidden by life’s distractions but smoldering ashes can be re-ignited with your loving energy.
This article was originally published by the 4 Therapy Network January 2006.
© 2006 Jackie A. Castro, MA, MFT