Long-term loving not without challenges

By Ginger Manley | Posted: Sunday October 5, 2014

May 2014

Dear Ginger
It has been ages since my spouse and I have had sex. I remember that we stopped when he had the flu a few years ago and then we just never started back up again. We still sleep in the same bed and we enjoy one another's company. I don't think there is "another woman" and for sure there is not "another man," but we just don't do it.  At first I thought that with the passage of time we would both get back into the mood but it has never happened and frankly, I am afraid it may never happen again. What can be the matter with us?

Dear Stella
Believe it or not this is one of the most common problems in long-term relationships, and it can be one of the most difficult to correct unless a couple gets some outside help. Often, like you have described, there is not any friction between the two partners that causes the distance, but more likely some event, like an illness or surgery or even a prolonged separation to care for a family member and the "OFF" switch gets tripped. Daily avoidance turns into weeks then months and even years of nobody taking the initiative to get things going again and pretty soon it's easier to keep things distant than to make changes.

For people younger than fifty, there remains some degree of "raging hormones" that trip the "ON" switch, if it gets turned off. In those of us past the half-century mark this reflexive sex drive may not always be present, so the role of being intentional and invitational is much more necessary as we age.

This situation was portrayed perfectly in the movie "Hope Springs" a few years ago. When I watched the portrayals by the characters Arnold and Kay I was reminded of the countless stories people have told me of their struggles to restart sex when there has been a long break. In the movie, the couple uses their defense mechanisms of anger, sarcasm, and withdrawing (Arnold) and minimization, intellectualism, and codependency (Kay) to create and maintain distance.

With the help of the therapist, each one becomes more authentic and vulnerable until finally they break through the wall they had let develop and begin to enjoy one another in many ways, both new and remembered. I highly recommend that all couples struggling with this issue watch the movie together and talk to one another afterwards.

Therapists are fond of saying, "If nothing changes, nothing changes." The act of writing me tells me you are already being intentional about changing the situation, Stella. 

Here's what's needed--
1) Write down and then say aloud to yourself what you are missing and what you wish to change--"I miss the fun times we had when we used to make love." "I miss having him caress my body and me caressing his." "I miss feeling him inside me." When you are sure enough of yourself about the missing parts, give voice to your wish for change. "I wish we would kiss deeply and with passion, like I remember we did back when." "I wish we could dance naked in our bedroom." "I wish we could spend one hour of one day being each other's lovers."

2) Invite him to talk with you about what you want to change--"Could we spend thirty minutes talking about something that's been on my mind?" "Would you be open to hearing my thoughts on something that's important to me?"

3) Choose one aspect you think you are most likely to find agreement about--"It's been awhile since we have been intimate with each other and I'm feeling a little out of sorts about that. I'm wondering if you feel the same way." "I think we have let some barriers creep into our intimate life with each other and I'd like your help to remove them." "I've noticed it's been quite awhile since we have had sex, which bothers me, and I wonder if it bothers you, too."

4) When you invite him to respond, make sure you listen to him. He may be on the same page you are or he may have a completely different take. Could be he's worried about performance issues or maybe he just doesn't feel the urgency of biological sex drive anymore and has not considered being intentional. Try to see everything he tells you in a positive way--it's easy to feel criticized in this kind of conversation, so tell yourself his words are about him and not you (even if there is some finger-pointing going on.) Thank him for participating with you and ask him to join in helping you solve the problem.

If you get stuck on any of these steps or if you feel you need guidance from an uninvolved third party, please get help from a qualified counselor or therapist. You can find listings of certified sex counselors and therapist at www.aasect.org. Please let me know how things are progressing, Stella. You both deserve to welcome sexual happiness back into your lives.


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