Tag Archives: improving intimacy in marriage

How to Improve and Increase Sex in Your Marriage

“Keeping the Spark Alive” Series

There are many ways to maintain romantic sparks, but many of us are clearly not making time or effort for romance.

I recently reviewed some ongoing survey results at the Crucible Institute, founded by David Schnarch, PhD, author of Passionate Marriage. (The web site offers relationship advice to awaken your passion and feelings of intimacy.) The incomplete survey—which already includes thousands of participants—reported that 12 percent of those surveyed in relationships had not had sex in the last year. More than 20 percent more only had sex a few times in the last year. It’s not that married couples should reach a certain magic number per week, but these statistics show many couples are having major problems in the area of sharing sexuality.

How do we keep from becoming merely roommates, or liven things up if you could use a little romantic boost?

Fill the Emotional Needs Bucket
Reuters reported early this month that three out of ten people surveyed who were in a relationship more than five years say they never receive any compliments from their partners. Recalling that it takes five positive interactions for every one interaction to maintain a positive relationship, couples are certainly missing out on a lot of positivity. (Read the details of the 5:1 ratio.)

Find something each day for which you can genuinely compliment your spouse—whether it’s something they’ve done well at work or at home, a physical quality you appreciate, or another trait you find endearing. Keep in mind, men as well as women like to hear that you are physically attracted to them. While women may receive compliments about their hair or dress, men aren’t likely to get this kind of feedback from friends or coworkers. (That would be a little awkward to hear, “Dude, love that tie, where did you get it?” from another guy.)

Having plenty of physical touch throughout the day, spending 15 minutes each day connecting with one another, and listening to one another will go a long way toward filling each other’s emotional buckets. Be open about your fears and desires, and talk about your dreams for the future.

Fill the Physical Needs Bucket
The obstacle that I hear about most often for romance is being too tired—or even chronically exhausted. Women’s Day reported this month that 41 percent of married women would choose an extra hour of sleep over sex with their husband. (Not so surprising, is it?) With so many dual-career families, child rearing responsibilities, sports and extracurricular activities for older children, daily chores and more, it’s not surprising so many people are drained. Sleep difficulties, especially as we age, can add to the challenge of feeling rested. Couples who go to bed at different times can create additional challenges, because the sleeping partner is not likely to want to wake up for romance once they are asleep.

Suki Hanfling, certified sex therapist, says in the Women’s Day article, if you’ve been dragging all day, “waiting until bedtime to have sex almost guarantees no nookie.” She suggests choosing a time when you’re more awake, such as in the mornings or on the weekend after a nap. Yes, you may even have to schedule sex to make sure it happens.

If your partner is the one who is over-tired, and you are hoping to increase the amount of hanky-panky, figure out a way for him or her to get a nap. If one of you is chronically exhausted, it’s time to consider revamping your responsibilities or visiting the doctor. Avoid telling yourselves that “these are the difficult years when we have young children, and it will get better when the kids get older.” While that may be true to some extent, you need to prioritize your sex lives now, before you lose touch with one another.

Hanfling suggests you don’t have to be turned on to do the deed. A Penn State survey showed even women who had lost their desire said that when they did have sex, they enjoyed it. “Be open to each other’s advances and communicate, in a loving way, what feels good.”

The Woman’s Day article, Put the Spark Back Into Your Marriage at Any Age, has a lot of helpful advice from several experts for couples as they age.

Prioritize–Reignite or Keep Fire Burning
I think it’s important to mention that it’s generally easier to keep your romantic flames burning (or at least flickering) than it is to reignite them once the fire has gone cold. That is not to say that it’s impossible, but you may need to give yourselves more time to get back in the groove. Some couples may need outside assistance to help them reconnect if sex has been long absent from their marriage.

If you’re looking to open up communication about intimacy, I recommend reading Hot Monogamy together and taking the surveys together. At a minimum, start the conversation (without blame) about how you miss being with your partner the way you used to be.

What will it take for you to keep the romantic sparks going in your marriage, or to reignite them if they’ve gone out? Are you and your partner open to reevaluating your priorities and lives to make sure there’s some time for intimacy?

Related Link:
Help for the Sex-Starved Wife, this Time Magazine interview with Michele Weiner-Davis shares invaluable information for women who have a higher sex drive than their husbands.

Read Refinding Intimacy from Anonymous8′s blog about the dry spells that most couples go through. Guest poster Julie Sibert says, “After all, it’s not ‘sex’ that mows the yard, signs the permission slips or feeds the dog.  Sex seems like such a ‘negotiable’ – and everything else that ‘has to be done’ screams a bit louder.  The irony to it all is that nurtured sexual intimacy actually better equips a couple to ‘do life together.’”

Photo credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Super Bowl or Sex—Which Would You Choose?

If you’re feeling down that you can’t send your sports-fanatic husband to the Super Bowl this year, there’s a 65% chance he would enjoy something else even better—one night of mind-blowing sex, says a recent survey. Which would you choose?

Mary Jo Rapini details some other interesting facts about sports fans here, including that 38% of respondents have better sex when their favorite sports team wins, and 9% have withheld sex after their favorite team lost. (That’s some serious pouting.)

Some of you are outside the U.S. and may  not share Americans’ obsession with the Super Bowl. But you can compare it to your biggest sporting event or public event in your country.

The point is that a lot of people take their sports very seriously, and even if you’re not such a sports fan, at least for the Super Bowl, join in the excitement. Host a party. Fix some great snacks. Watch the entertaining commercials. Cheer on your sweetheart’s favorite team. And even if they lose, a private after-party may make you both feel better.

Speaking of mind-blowing sex, Rapini says an even better idea is to build mind-blowing intimacy in your marriage. This means being present to one another inside and outside of the bedroom and learning how to truly connect.

You only have a few days to plan for the Super Bowl fun. How will you celebrate? While I usually like to have a small party and a big pot of chili, we will be celebrating my grandmother’s 90th birthday this year with extended family. Sometimes football isn’t as important as life.

Another event that is just around the corner is Valentine’s Day. Are you celebrating? Do you shun the holiday because it’s overly commercial? Make sure your sweetheart agrees, or there may be hurt feelings. If you want to send your mate a thoughtful card on February 11th instead, be my guest, but don’t miss out on an opportunity to celebrate this year! Read Celebrate in Your Own Way. I find most of us need reminders and deadlines, or we forget to go out and find a meaningful gift or write a note of gratitude. If you say “we celebrate every day together,” make sure you’re being honest. Each month, continue to look for opportunities to celebrate in your unique way.

Special Offer from Power of Two Online: Remember reading about Power of Two online tools to boost your marriage? (Read Web-Based Marriage Training Tool is Affordable and Private.) You might have planned to join, but then forgot. Well, PO2 has a special pre-Valentine’s Day challenge. Join before Friday, try it out, and they will buy you and your sweetie two tickets to the movies if you choose to keep the account after your free trial period. Read the details here

 Photo credit: Petar Ishmeriev/PhotoXpress.com

Choose Exciting over Pleasant Activities to Boost Marriage

Exciting activities improve marital satisfaction much more than pleasant activities. A new study by the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory of New York State University showed that a group of couples who spent two hours each week engaging in a new, exciting activity gave a dramatic boost to their marital satisfaction. A second group who engaged in highly pleasant, but only moderately exciting, activities, showed no significant change in their perceived marriage quality.

I found the results interesting, because I would have expected at least some reported improvement in both groups. However, I’m not surprised the first group with their novel experiences created stronger results. This is because previous research has focused on the hormone oxytocin that is released when a couple falls in love, has sex, or shares novel, exciting experiences together. This hormone helps a couple bond and feel all lovey-dovey. In addition, if you are learning about or experiencing something new together, you are united in your goal of accomplishment. It can be exhilarating to enjoy a new experience or learn something challenging together.

As many married couples find it difficult to keep their passion alive, the study is a great reminder to focus at least some of our attention on how to keep things exciting. It can be a bit daunting, however, for those of us who don’t spend much time climbing mountains or exploring underwater caves. So, it’s important to find something you both would find enjoyable, new and exciting.

The study authors had couples make a list of things they would like to do that are exciting. This is a perfect starting point for you. Make a list, and rate each activity 1-10 for pleasantness and excitement. Find something that you both find moderately pleasant but high on the excitement scale.

You might consider:
• Travel to a new, exciting destination
• Learning a new language together
• An outdoor activity, such as zip lining, biking in a challenging terrain, training together for a mini marathon.
• Taking a cooking or dancing class
• Getting a couples massage
• Talking about, and experimenting with new techniques in the bedroom (or buying an enticing, sexy new garment)
• Going to a rock concert or venue you wouldn’t normally attend
• Surprise each other occasionally with a gift or a date night
• Go on a marriage retreat or a weekend getaway
• Brainstorm ideas that fit your interests and area of the world—scuba diving, hiking in the mountains, skiing, camping—but only activities that are NEW for you, not what you find yourself doing over and over again.
• Learning a new skill together—photography, pottery making (remember that scene in Ghost?!), a musical instrument, race car driving, flying an airplane

Married life doesn’t have to be dull. What makes affairs exciting is the notion of getting to know someone attractive and new, going to new places, trying new activities, and having new sexual experiences. Have an affair with your own spouse, and experience these exhilarating feelings in the safety of your own marriage. Maybe you do your hair differently, or put at attractive outfit together. Then, go do something really fun together, and enjoy the boost in your marriage. There’s no excuse for saying married life is boring.

What’s the most exciting thing you have done lately as a couple?

Interesting Links:

Bikinis or briefs? Read a new study that proves bad underwear can ruin your day. Really. So, choose your panties carefully, and it may improve your life and make you feel sexier and more confident. Your hubby may also appreciate this.

Divorce’s Impact on Teens. More than half of American teens (55%) do NOT live with their married mother and father. Using United States Census Bureau data from 2008, a study revealed that 62 percent of Asian-American teens live in two-parent households, compared to 54 percent of whites, 41 percent of multiracial background, 40 percent of Hispanics, 24 percent of American Indians or Alaskan Natives, and 17 percent of African-Americans.

Walk through effects of Divorce. A new program in Britain—the country with the highest divorce rates in Europe—suggests that couples on the brink of divorce confront the realities how divorce would impact their family before taking the next step. It’s based on an educational program in Norway that has been effective at keeping families together.

Do you believe in soul mates? This marital therapist at Psychology Today does not, and says the idea alone contributes to relationship failures. She says too many people leave their marriage then they decide they have finally met their “true” soul mate, who ends up not being so ideal in the end.

Photo credit: © Maxim Petrichuk/PhotoXpress.com

Three Steps to Great Sex

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

 

Thanks to Julie Sibert for today’s fabulous Guest Post:

My husband and I learned early in our relationship two vital pieces of information – he doesn’t like to be hungry and I don’t like to be cold.

Armed with these tidbits of wisdom, we have dodged more discord than I can recount. I would never initiate a lengthy conversation 45 minutes before dinner, when insanity from low blood sugar has settled into my husband’s brain.  Likewise, my beloved knows full well that if we were ever to buy a new car, I would look at no other option beyond the seat warmer.  Literally, this is what the salesperson’s voice would sound like to me: “Blah, blah, blah. Seat warmer. Blah, blah, blah.”

Obviously, it wasn’t too hard for us to weave this information into our marital fabric.  But not all pertinent information comes so easy, does it? Like how to have great sex.

When we were first married, we were pretty clueless as to how to sexually satisfy each other (naked and in love, mind you, but clueless nonetheless). It’s not that we didn’t know what sex was.  We both had had sex before we met each other.  We just had never had sex with each other until our wedding night.

We weren’t naïve about this lack of knowledge.  On our wedding night, we closed the door of our hotel room well aware that we were about to embark on some awkwardness.  Not all couples, though, have such an “eyes wide open” approach.

I am convinced that one of the most perpetuated fallacies ever to befall married couples is that amazing sexual intimacy is natural – that it won’t take effort, time, communication, and lots of trial and error (with a fair amount of humor as well).

So many couples journey years (and even decades) of married life never really experiencing great sex.  Some of you reading this right now are well acquainted with that scenario. It drapes across your marriage bed with heaviness. For you, sexual intimacy has been boring at best, and mere obligation at worse. Maybe it’s even caused overwhelming tension in your marriage.

By “great” sex, I’m not just talking about orgasm, fun and passion.  All very nice elements, I might add.  I’m referring instead to really knowing each other sexually – knowing how to turn each other on and experience mysterious oneness. It’s about more than intercourse. It is instead about the little nuances, touches, techniques, intentions and words that add up to sacred sexual knowledge about each other.

Do you genuinely know what it takes to bring your spouse to the edge of intense pleasure, and then lovingly and powerfully push them right over that edge into unabashed ecstasy?   Do you know how to allow your spouse the privilege of doing this to you? Both are essential sides to the same coin.

While the reasons that thwart great sex are many (and some quite serious), for some couples it is more of a matter of indifference. Sex just fell by the wayside, lost beneath the responsibilities of paying the Visa bill, keeping milk in the fridge and washing soccer uniforms. Life happened, and sex disappeared faster than baby socks in a clothes dryer. Or maybe you never nurtured intimacy in the first place. Hot newlywed sex? Pure myth for many people.

If you can identify with any of this, you’re not alone. It’s not that you don’t love your spouse or value your marriage.  It’s not that you’re opposed to sex.  It’s just that sex falls way down on the list (somewhere between organize your 7,000 digital photos and clean the basement floor drain).  In other words, you never get to it. Or you make love so rarely that the likelihood of really knowing each other is…well… highly unlikely.

Are you ready to change those patterns in your sexual intimacy?

Here are three tips to move sex out of the “ho-hum” category and into the “wow!” category:

1. Call it like it is. If your intimacy has stalled or is non-existent (or is just plain boring), then get courageous and draw this into the light. A conversation starter can be as simple as this: “I know sex hasn’t been the greatest for us, and I am wondering what together we can do about that.”  If it causes you too much anxiety to start a verbal conversation, consider writing your spouse a note. At any rate, take a step to lovingly express that you want sex to be a priority.

2. Start with your hands.  For all the focus put on our genital regions, I think there is a lot to be said for the role our hands play.  Touch is powerful.  If you and your spouse have just been going through the motions – quickly getting to the main attraction of intercourse – you are missing out on a full-body experience.  Learn to caress each other. Vary the firmness of your touch, and take your time.  Some areas of particular arousal can be the neck, ears, head, upper arms, inner thighs, chest, behind the knees and across the lower back. Extreme sexual pleasure is built upon a foundation of being aroused.  Touch isn’t just the opening act; touch is the headliner, too.

3.  Try at least one new thing. I’ve never been a big fan of “variety for variety’s sake.” I am, though, a fervent champion of variety that endears a husband and wife to each other sexually.  A married couple is afforded tremendous freedom to pleasure each other sexually, so break out of routines and learn new ways to please each other.  Try at least one new thing (new position, oral sex, making love in a different room, etc.)  Sure, it will feel awkward at first, but together you can discover depths of pleasure you may have never known.

My last suggestion is this: resist the urge to give up too soon. Within sexual intimacy, we are at our most vulnerable emotionally, physically and spiritually. When we feel vulnerable, we are more likely to retreat if things start to feel difficult.  If you do that, though, you won’t break through to information that could significantly improve your marriage. You do want that kind of breakthrough, right?

Sure, my husband knows I don’t like to be cold. And I know he doesn’t like to be hungry. As beneficial as that information has been, it pales to what we know about each other sexually.

I’d love to write more.  But I need to go push a certain someone over an edge.  If you know what I mean.

Julie Sibert writes and speaks about sexual intimacy in marriage.  You can follow her blog at www.IntimacyInMarriage.com. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, their two boys and one rambunctious German Shorthair Pointer puppy. © 2011 by Julie Sibert. 

Photo Credit: @PhotoXpress.com

Researchers Share How to Improve Sex Life

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series Post 3

Most of the readers of this blog already have the top two ingredients for good sex (according to researchers)—love and commitment.

The Archives of Sexual Behavior released the findings, based on a study of 544 sexually active college students. (So, we’re not talking about married couples here.) Read a summary in Discovery News. The motivations for having sex that were most highly correlated with sexual satisfaction were love and commitment. So, if you and your mate have those two things, consider yourself fortunate.

OK, maybe you have love and commitment, but you still see room for improvement in your sex life. The Journal of Sexual Medicine has some advice for you, which was shared in USA Weekend. (Is it me, or are there a lot of scientific journals focused on sex? It’s apparently a popular field of study.) Scientists reviewed the results of a clinical trial in which women were given erectile-dysfunction pills or a placebo. While the pill was deemed ineffective, more than one-third of the placebo group said their sex lives significantly improved after taking what they thought was medication. The placebo, it turns out, was quite effective. Why?

First, participants were all highly motivated to improve their sex lives. Second, they were asked to have sex at least three times a month during the study and fill out questionnaires. Perhaps placing their attention on their sex lives, along with their desire to improve that area of their lives was responsible for the improvement, suggest researchers. The bottom line is that if you want to improve your sex life, give it your attention and focus.

I’m sure some readers are saying, “I want a better sex life, but my partner doesn’t give it the same priority.” This is a sensitive subject to be sure, and one about which we could have experts commenting for many months. The Generous Husband offered some New Year’s suggestions for men who are hoping to have “more sex in 2011” with their wives. Paul Byerly suggests that making too big a deal out of it may imply that all you care about is sex—and may appear manipulative. Instead, he suggests discussing your sex lives at a carefully chosen time—not when your mate is tired or busy. Approach it in a gentle and positive manner, such as, “I want sex to be even better for both of us.” Getting the topic out there may help open the door for future discussions. You might offer a few suggestions if your partner is open to discuss, but work on the issue gradually, so as not to overwhelm your partner. Focus on helping your spouse enjoy sex more, and you will likely improve their interest in it, he says. Ask your partner what would make sex more enjoyable for them, what would make the bedroom more pleasant, etc.

In addition–and this should not be an after-thought–women (and many men) want to feel loved, touched and appreciated outside the bedroom to encourage more romantic thoughts and ideas. A spouse who is not feeling the love during the day will probably not be “in the mood” that evening.

Whether you’re both in the mood or not, sometimes you need to prioritize sex to keep your marriage strong. In addition, there are many physical health benefits to sex, including stress relief, burning calories, promoting cardiovascular health and reducing prostate cancer risk. Read the details here.

Do you think this research gives you any new, useful information, or is it just confirming what you already knew?

Related Links:

If you find your life is just so busy and chaotic, you don’t have much time for a sex life, consider this Wall Street Journal article in which a woman describes taking time away from her job not for her children or aging parents, but to “extend the honeymoon period” in her marriage. It also suggests some less-dramatic solutions, such as coming home 15 minutes early each day to gain 1.25 hours with your spouse a week.

Interesting quote from sexpert Ian Kerner on CNN this week: “I don’t care what anybody says, real sex with a real person is better than porn any day of the week.  At Good in Bed, we believe that porn is the equivalent of professional wrestling: phony and superficial. It’s like subsisting on a junk-food diet of Gummi bears and Gatorade when you could be having a gourmet meal.” Kerner says the increasing prevalence of porn has created a phenomenon called Sexual Attention Deficit Disorder, in which men become bored or unable to focus on real sex with a real woman. Hmmm, that is SADD.

Photo credit: ©Dmitri  Mlkitenko/PhotoXpress.com

Improve Sexual Sparks with Better Body Image

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series Post 2

Couples face many obstacles to maintaining sexual compatibility and satisfaction. Some find the challenges too daunting and give up on this vital part of marriage, because they believe their spouse will never understand their needs and desires.

However, there are many resources that can help you each see things a little more as your partner does, giving you a glimpse at what it takes to improve your intimacy. Many obstacles seem out of your control, but in fact, you can do a lot to encourage your spouse. For example, if your spouse suffers from a poor body image, this can put a wet blanket on your sex lives.

It’s interesting that research shows most men have a very positive body image—even when they’ve gained a little weight over the years. Women, on the other hand, overwhelmingly obsess about every dimple and compare the shape of their hips and breasts to the world’s top supermodels. A constant barrage of media advertising “perfect” bodies and “how to achieve the perfect body” exacerbates the problem. The fact that many women bear children and have subsequent body changes is also a factor. However, the issue of negative body image can affect both men and women.

Case in point, Scott Means at Journey to Surrender did a terrific post recently on Shame and Intimacy in Physical Appearance. He writes about the shame he felt with his body image battle as he turned 50 and had gained some extra weight. It was the first time he had felt shame with regard to his appearance, and it impacted him every time he looked in the mirror. He didn’t want to undress in front of his wife, and he thought about it when they were intimate.

Scott concluded that his negative self-image was negatively impacting his marriage and suggested that individuals with self-image problems are less able to receive affection, may even doubt their spouse’s love, will be less bold sexually, and will have less interest in sex. In the worst cases, the person may give up on their appearance or lose interest in sex altogether.

I thought it was a brave post, because no one wants to admit they have insecurities. I also wanted to share it because we rarely hear this kind of honesty from men. On the other hand, I would bet the vast majority of female readers have a number of body-image issues with which they struggle.

Better Body Image

I know many of you have New Year’s resolutions to “get in shape” or “lose weight.” By all means, stick to your health plans as long as they are not obsessive. However, your size and shape should not determine how you value yourself and how you interact with the love of your life.

Why is it that some people who aren’t the best looking according to our cultural standards can feel great about their bodies, while others that look fabulous suffer from insecurities? The reason is that sex appeal and feeling sexy are 90% attitude and 10% appearance, according to Scott. He adds, “Confidence, a positive outlook and a healthy sense of self-worth can easily overshadow any perceived physical flaws you may have. Remind yourself about your best features and the things your spouse most admires. Choose to focus on these things. Believe in your inherent beauty as a person. Accept at face value the praises and admiration of your spouse …”

Dr. Patricia Love in Hot Monogamy reminds us that individuals report passion is much more important in a lover than a hot body. Lacking passion and interest in sex is a turn-off. Most spouses care much less about the shape of the body than about how their partner responds to them. Giving full attention, showing enjoyment, showing interest in sex—these are all things that heat things up and keep them hot.

Dr. Love suggests you give honest praise to your partner regularly about the things you like about their body, and about the things you value in them as a lover. These comments can substantially improve your partner’s body image and self-image as an intimate partner.

If your partner struggles with body image, please do not tell them they need to get in shape. Encourage healthy habits, but express your love and desire regardless. You may want to read my past post Loving a Woman’s Body. Also, Scott’s popular post The Body-Image Battle offers a Christian perspective on this issue to help men encourage their wives.

“If you want to fan the flames of sexual intimacy, think of yourself as the hot woman or man you want to be and act as if you are. You will be amazed at the difference it will make,” says Scott.

Do you believe body image—either by your or your spouse—affects the quality of your intimacy? Do you feel self-confident, or do you struggle with your feelings about your physical appearance? If you have overcome body-image problems, how did you do so? Are you open with your spouse about your struggles? Is your partner demeaning about your appearance? How do you handle it?

Sexy Links:

OK, since you’ve read this far, you’re not embarrassed to read discussions about sex. Which is good, because Julie Sibert doesn’t mince words in this article for The Generous Husband, Why Your Wife Thinks Sex is Gross. It might open your eyes about how sex can be more mutually enjoyable, messy and all. Julie’s blog, Intimacy in Marriage, “Encourages Christian women toward healthy sexual intimacy.”

Simple Marriage is now enrolling couples and individuals in the Blow Up My Marriage course. Check it out. Corey Allan, PhD, offers weekly online workshops that have a unique perspective.

Thanks to Paul Byerly of The Generous Husband for naming Marriage Gems a 2010 Hot Marriage Blog!

Photo: ©Sundikova/PhotoXpress.com

Is the Happy Marriage the ‘Me’ Marriage?

New research suggests a happy marriage is more about focusing on “me” than “we.” I want to share the findings and see if you agree. The gist of the research is that while many couples stay together out of obligation or commitment, they may not find their marriages satisfying and enjoyable. To make the relationship meaningful, we have to grow and expand ourselves as a result of what we learn from our partner.

Arthur Aron, professor and director of the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, studied how people use their relationships to expand themselves by accumulating knowledge and experiences. The more self-expansion individuals experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are, say researchers. They developed a questionnaire to measure self-expansion and satisfaction in relationships. For example, respondents chose higher ratings if their spouse introduced them to new experiences or taught them new things. Thus, the relationship was deemed more rewarding or satisfying.

The researchers say that focusing on improving ourselves may sound self-serving, but it enhances the relationship. Your partner becomes more important in your life as he or she helps you grow and learn, or even meet new people. By broadening our horizons, our spouse can help us broaden the way we look at ourselves, they say. Read Tara Parker-Pope’s summary of the research in the New York Times.

I’ve shared research in the past about how thinking in terms of “we” rather than “me” is beneficial to the marriage.  (Read The Power of “We” in Relationships. )There’s also a large consensus that says putting your spouse and marriage first is the way to find a lasting marriage. So, how do these apparently disparate results jibe with one another?

I don’t believe they are so disparate after all. When I heard one of the researchers describe the study during a TV interview, he said the basics of a relationship—love, commitment—are primary and need to be met first. Helping one another expand our horizons does improve our satisfaction levels. However, I don’t believe it means we should focus only on ourselves. If I’m only concerned with what I’m getting from my partner, and not what I am bringing to the relationship, I don’t believe it will be very satisfying, meaningful and sustainable. When both partners are eager to share new ideas, new friends, new experiences and knowledge, the relationship will become more exciting and rewarding. In fact, we’ve long known that trying new things together keeps the love hormones (oxytocin) flowing in our relationship.

Further research found couples who were involved in new and interesting experiences together were less likely to report boredom in the relationship, and they were more likely to see their lives as overlapping rather than separate. Dr. Lewandowsky says, “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”

The helpful part of the research is that it reminds us we need to maintain individual interests and individual growth, and that sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences should be an important part of our lives as a couple. It’s important to retain our own identify and not lose ourselves while trying to meet another person’s every need. However, by focusing only on our own needs, I think we negate the purpose of marriage and reduce our opportunity for intimacy. It also may lead to the harmful conclusion that our partner is not “doing enough to make us happy.” Instead, we can ask ourselves what are we doing to make our own lives fulfilling and meaningful, and how are we sharing our lives more fully with our spouse.

How are you focusing on your own growth this year? How are you supporting your spouse in his or her efforts to grow and expand this year? How are you sharing your experiences in a meaningful way?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Achieving Intimacy in Marriage

In my reader survey, one of the most popular topics was to learn more about maintaining intimacy in marriage. Often, that’s another way of saying, “How do we keep the spark alive?” But intimacy goes much further than the physical. I’m a firm believer of understanding the importance and depth of intimacy between a husband and wife.

By achieving intimacy, I’m talking about the concept of two people learning how to be vulnerable and “known” to one another and learning how to love one another fully. A blog I read regularly is Journey to Surrender, and Scott has some very helpful things to say in his post “What is intimacy?”.

He explains the progression of intimacy from spiritual intimacy to emotional intimacy to physical intimacy (including sex and non-sexual touching). When we start at one end and work toward physical intimacy, it creates a deeper bond and often a heightened physical experience (because the mind and emotions are participating). Scott has a lot more to say on the topic and provides a definition similar to my own: “Genuine intimacy comes from being fully known and completely loved.” Basically, we are free to be ourselves, and are loved without fear of rejection or judgement. That’s the really cool part of intimacy.

In a different post, Scott reminds us of the old adage that many of us find to be true in our marriages–that women need emotional intimacy as a prerequisite for physical intimacy, and men usually prefer the opposite order. Different individuals also view their needs for intimacy differently. So, it’s certainly worth discussing with your spouse after reading Viva La Difference, which explains the fruits of selfless giving, a way for you both to get your needs met without falling into the give-to-get routine, which is at best, difficult to sustain, and at worst, a road to resentment if your needs are not perfecty met.

Next week, I’ll be discussing 13 Keys to Unlocking Intimacy in Your Marriage by Tony & Alisa DiLorenzo, who describe other types of intimacy and means to achieve it. If you’re not yet a subscriber, just enter your email address in the right hand column of my home page, and you’ll get updated automatically. (Cancel anytime with one click.)

What do you think of when you hear “intimacy”? Is it long talks over candlelit dinners, sparks flying under the sheets or sharing spiritual insights together? Is it something different? How do you achieve true intimacy in your marriage?

Pour Love on Your Spouse

 Love Everyday is on a blog tour! This week, it’s my turn to share with you the section I contributed called Pouring on Love, which offers details on how to truly invest your energy into your spouse. The e-book version offers 26 other great posts for you to enjoy.

 Last Week: In case you missed it, Television and Relationships was posted by Stu at The Marry Blogger.

What you are about to read is only one piece of a 27-page collaborative e-book written to help you learn how to make your marriage extraordinary amidst the chaos of life.  After reading this post, be sure to download a complete copy of LOVE EVERYDAY absolutely free!

How to Pour Love on Your Spouse

While we can’t control the amount of happiness produced in our relationships, we can control the amount of love and effort poured into them. Gaining a little more happiness is like gaining a little more money; you always want more. But giving and receiving love generates fulfillment. There are myriad ways to show love, but we know love when we see it, hear it, read it, and feel it. Love is in the details, the thoughtfulness, the caring.

When you act in a loving—even sacrificial—manner, you experience The Paradox of Giving. This is the secret your grandparents knew about:  It is in giving that we receive. The joy and love you give returns to you. Yes, it is risky to invest yourself fully. If you have chosen your partner well, the return is often much higher than expected. A couple who focuses on the other’s needs experiences joy and deep satisfaction that makes fleeting happiness look like leftover casserole—fine, but nothing to write home about.

How can you pour on love? Voraciously study your spouse. Put as much energy into that research as in your career and hobbies. Try to understand and participate in their interests as they change over time—recreational, musical, romantic, sexual and culinary interests. Ask about your partner’s hopes, preferences, desires, dislikes, and fears. Encourage their dreams. Communicate your needs and desires as well.  Be the one who knows them best, and help them to know your heart. Learn new things together. Express how important he or she is to you. Have fun together. Show at least one act of kindness each day—send a short email, cook a meal, give a backrub.

Give your respect, vulnerability, time, undivided attention, intimacy, patience, fidelity, commitment and devotion. Do it without keeping score. Do it without stopping. Do it with love.

Individual freedom and personal happiness are two of the highest American ideals. The pursuit of happiness takes up most of our time and energy, while learning to be loving is perhaps an afterthought. The success of all our relationships depends on how we love.

How do you pour love into your relationship and make your spouse feel truly cared for?

How to Talk About Sex

In Improving Sexual Communication, we broached the need to talk about sex in order to achieve a passionate sex life. Following are more details on ways couples effectively do this, and ways they can cause more harm in this area. The advice is gleaned from the highly recommended book Hot Monagamy by Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson.

The authors report that most couples talk around sex, rather than talking about it, perhaps using gestures, jokes, unclear comments or put-downs. For example, vague euphemisms about your sexual desires, such as, “You know what I like,” may be misunderstood by your spouse. Talk in clear, honest language about your likes and dislikes. Here are a few tips from the book:

  • Preconditions are one area that can require communication. One spouse may communicate that she wants a clean house, kids in bed and eight hours of sleep the previous night to feel romantic. However, such a list can cause your partner to wonder if it’s ever going to happen. Determine what your legitimate preconditions may be and which are just excuses or a demonstration of lack of interest.
  • Many people talk about sex in an impersonal way, say Robinson and Dr. Love, for instance inviting their partner to bed or asking them to turn the TV off. These are not necessarily negative comments, but a partner wants to be cherished and desired for his or her person, not just for the act. Instead of depersonalizing it, share with your partners what it is you enjoy or desire about him or her. There’s a big difference between “I want it” and “I want you.”
  • Taboo topics can even be held for couples who have been married for 20 years. Silence and a lack of sharing only create a barrier between the couple, impeding true intimacy. So, whether you are disturbed by infrequent initiation by your partner or need to discuss bodily changes, birth control or a need for variety in the bedroom, have the conversation. Most couples would prefer to talk about these topics during a non-intimate time.
  • Can you talk too much? Absolutely, “There are moments in life that defy words and command our undivided attention. That’s why we are silent during a ballet or a concert,” say the authors. Enough said.
  • Silence is not always golden. A partner who is silent about his or her sexual needs because they don’t want to upset their spouse can be creating a rift in the marriage—one that can put you at risk for an affair.
  • Gender differences can make talking about sex more difficult than you expect, since men tend to place a higher importance on independence and mastery, while women value intimacy more. So, when a woman requests more kissing and touching, a man may feel this is a criticism of past performance. Be aware of this tendency, and use praise when appropriate.
  • Criticism, harsh statements or sarcasm are not effective inside or outside of the bedroom. (This includes comments about body image.) Neither is generalizing about what your partner “always” does or doesn’t do. Instead, keep a positive and respectful tone. After all, you’re trying to spice up your love life, not weed the garden.

Is there just one area of your sexual communication that you can seek to improve upon? Will you consider being more receptive to your partner’s wishes, and more open in communicating your own? Do you find talking about sex natural or difficult?