During my time as a couples therapist, the most common complaint I’ve heard is about a decrease in sexual intimacy and differences in the degree of sexual desire between partners. This lack of passion in an intimate relationship can cause partners to believe that they have fallen out of love. For instance, Karen, 48, spoke to me about her disappointment and lack of sexual desire with her husband, Todd, 49, over the last several years of their ten year marriage.
Karen reflects: “We have not had sex in months and when we do, it feels forced. Todd approaches me about twice a month, but I just don’t feel sexy with him anymore. We also argue more and cuddle less. I guess you could say that the love and passion has dissolved between us.”
According to experts, the most common reason couples fall out of love and divorce is because of a pursuer-distancer pattern that develops over time. Dr. Sue Johnson identifies the pattern of demand-withdraw as the “Protest Polka” and says it’s one of three “Demon Dialogues.” She explains that when one partner becomes critical and aggressive the other often becomes defensive and distant.
Foster Emotional Attunement
Instead, couples who want to rekindle their passion and love need to “turn towards” each other. In The Science of Trust, Dr. Gottman explains that practicing emotional attunement can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means “turning toward” one another by showing empathy, and not being defensive. In other words, both partners need to talk about their feelings in terms of positive need, instead of what they do not need. The speaker is really saying. “Here’s what I feel, and what I need from you.”
For instance, if Karen and Todd work on increasing their emotional attunement by being vulnerable and seeking to listen and understand each other, rather than being emotionally distant or getting defensive, they will probably feel more sexually and emotionally connected. One way to do this is to have a stress-reducing two hour time together a few times a week when they unplug from electronic devices, do an activity they both enjoy, and practice “turning toward” one another rather than “turning away” from each other.
Ignite Sexual Passion
During the early phase of a relationship, many couples barely come up for air due to the excitement of falling in love. Unfortunately, this blissful state does not last forever. Scientists have found that oxytocin (a bonding hormone) is released during the initial stage of infatuation – which causes couples to feel euphoric and turned on by physical affection – such as touching and holding hands. Oxytocin works like a drug, giving us immediate rewards and binding us to our lover.
Author Teresa Atkin advises couples to rewire their brains to experience feelings of pleasure so they can experience emotional and sexual closeness. She reminds us that the human brain, while wonderfully complex, does not always work in our best interest and we need to rewire it in order to experience pleasurable feelings. She writes, “Research shows that we get a healthy shot of dopamine (the feel good hormone) when we are seeking reward, and when there is something new to experience. Also excitement is transferable, so the heightened arousal that follows say, a roller coaster ride, can be used to rev up your sex life.”
6 Ways to enhance sexual intimacy and fall back in love:
- Get in touch with your pattern of relating. This include ways you might be denying your partner or coming on too strong sexually. Avoid criticizing each other and stop the “blame game.” Mix things up to end the power struggle. For example, the pursuer can try being shy and quietly seductive – perhaps encouraging the distancer to move toward him/her.
- Break the pursuer-distancer pattern. Distancers need to practice initiating sex more often and pursuers need to find ways to tell their partner “you’re sexy,” while avoiding critique after sex.
- Increase physical affection. According to Kory Floyd, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging, and touching releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) causing a calming sensation. Studies show it’s released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones – lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Dr. Michael Stysma recommends couples double the length of time they spend kissing, hugging, and touching each other if they want to improve their marriage.
- Vary the kind of sex you have: (gentle, loving-tender sex; intimate sex; highly erotic sex, etc.). Break up the routine and try new things as your sexual needs change.
- Make sex a priority and set the mood for intimacy before TV or work dulls your passion. A light meal and your favorite music and wine can set the stage for great sex.
- Separate sex from routine. Try a variety of activities that bring you both pleasure. Avoid discussing problems, household tasks, and your children if you want to bring back the sexual chemistry with your partner. Have fun courting and practice flirting with him or her. Don’t forget to cuddle on the couch and surprise your partner with a kiss.
Finally, simply increasing affectionate touch between you and your partner is likely to enhance the quality of your marriage, according to experts. It can also reduce your stress level so you feel happier, more loving, and satisfied with your partner. Even if you’re not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection (cuddling, kissing, a gentle hug, etc.) can help you to sustain a more sexually intimate relationship.
Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry