Restoring Emotional and Sexual Intimacy in Marriage

Restoring Emotional and Sexual Intimacy in Marriage June 17, 2022

In my practice, I’ve worked with many couples who complain that the spark has gone out of their marriage and they don’t connect well anymore. I explain that emotional and sexual intimacy go hand in hand and with careful attention to fostering more loving feelings, it can be restored.

Marisa puts it like this: “I love Patrick, but I’m just not in love with him anymore.” When Patrick tries to get close to me, it feels like he mostly wants sex and I’m exhausted from my long work days. If he helped out more with our three kids, that would help me feel more energized.”

Marisa explains that her feelings have been building up for years and she feels guilty because she is starting to fantasize about getting a divorce. Patrick says, “I’m shocked and feel so hurt. You have no loyalty to me – there’s no way I want a divorce.”

As Marisa and Patrick describe their typical pattern of relating during their twenty years of marriage, it amounts to Patrick seeking out Marisa for emotional and sexual intimacy and Marisa withdrawing. Patrick describes his disengagement from Marisa as a struggle. “It just feels hard to feel rejected by my wife. She says she loves me, but I don’t feel close to her.

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.

Reestablishing Emotional Intimacy

If Marisa and Patrick want to fall back in love again, they need to stop focusing on each other’s flaws and spend their energy fostering a deeper connection. In other words, stop assuming the worst of each other and put an end to demanding their partner change.

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.”

Sexual Passion Can Be Restored

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.

The struggle between Marisa and Patrick is a common one for hard-working couples balancing jobs, parenting, and intimacy.  Sex therapist Laurie Watson, author of Wanting Sex Again: How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage writes, “Most sexual concerns stem from an interpersonal struggle in the marriage.” Couples who influence each other by listening attentively and respecting each other’s needs tend to have more emotional closeness and satisfying sexual intimacy. Because they harbor less resentment and frustration, they have more loving feelings which sparks passion between them.

5 tips rev up sexual intimacy and fall back in love:

  • Avoid power struggles and stop criticism. 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.
  • Boost physical affection and double the amount of it. 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.
  • Make sex and time alone together a priority. 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.

Like Marisa and Patrick, you can spice up you sex life and restore intimacy by making your marriage a priority. It’s a good idea to make time for physical affection if you want 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 affectionate touch can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond. So, cuddle on the couch, hold hands, and take time for a six-second kiss when you reunite after a long day.

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.

Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.

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