I’ve been married to John for ten years and I’m worried because we’ve lost the passion and loving feelings we used to have. There’s something missing from our marriage and I don’t know how to get it back. Here’s the problem – we’re more like roommates than lovers. We’re hardly ever alone and when we are, we mostly talk about our kids, Jessica and Thomas, who are three and six, and we rarely discuss our relationship or have fun together.
Please help me before it’s too late. John says I’m too worried and that all couples go through dry spells in their marriage. We have sex about once a month and he says he still loves me but I’m not convinced. I seem to be the one who wants to work on improving our relationship, but lately the more I approach him, the more he withdraws. Sadly, when we talk about our problems, they seem to get worse. John says that I nag him and then gives me the silent treatment as he’s watching sports or the news. I’m desperate to save our marriage and don’t want our kids to suffer but don’t know what to do.
Rest assured – it’s common for couples who have been married for a decade and have busy lives and to drift apart emotionally and sexually. Like many couples, you and John seem to have lost the spark you once had but you can rediscover your emotional and sexual intimacy and get back on track.
During the early phase of marriage, many couples barely come up for air due to the excitement of falling in love. 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.
Unfortunately, this blissful state doesn’t last forever.
Couples who are dating or newly married, seem to intuitively adopt “rituals of connection” to stay bonded. A ritual is different than a routine because it is intentional, repeated, and brings meaning to both partners. Going for a hike is a routine but going for a daily walk with your partner is a ritual. For instance, my husband and I have a ritual of cooking together and eating dinner most nights which allows us to catch up. This is hard to do with kids under foot but you might consider adopting a ritual of a 15-minute stress reducing chat at night or a 10-minute cuddle and chat time in the morning before you launch towards your busy days.
It’s normal to feel a sense of disappointment when a pursuer-distancer pattern develops. Your struggle with John is a common one for hard-working couples balancing jobs, parenting, and intimacy. Following the tips below should help you get back on track but seeing a marriage counselor can be a boost to couples with this demand-withdraw pattern and help you both feel supported.
6 tips to help you boost emotional and sexual intimacy:
- Stop criticizing and try to understand your partner’s feelings. Avoid pointing the finger at each other and stop the “blame game.” Instead focus on active listening without distractions. Practice using “I” statements such as “When you are on your phone I feel left out” rather than a “You” statement such as “You never pay attention to me.” Attempt to have discussions at non-stressful times such as after dinner rather than when you first reunite after work.
- Break the pursuer-distancer pattern. Distancers need to practice initiating talk and sex more often (and work on communication skills) and pursuers need to find ways to tell their partner “you’re sexy,” while avoiding criticizing or blaming. A therapist can help you change this dynamic if it’s deeply ingrained.
- Resolve conflicts skillfully. Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy your marriage. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at risk of developing stagnant relationships. Take a 10-minute break if your arguments are headed and have a “recovery conversation” to discuss what happened when you are both calm.
- Increase physical affection. According to author Kory Floyd, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging, and touching can release oxytocin (the bonding hormone) and causes a calming sensation. It’s released during sexual orgasm as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones – lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Variety is the spice of life so be sure to add it to your sex life. Just like we’d get bored if we ate the same thing for dinner every night, most people thrive on variety when it comes to sexual intimacy with their spouse. So add a bit of excitement, playfulness, and mystery. Try a weekend away a few times a year and unplug so you can focus on each other.
- Carve out time to spend with your partner daily. Try a variety of activities that bring you both pleasure. Practice 1-2 daily rituals such as a daily walk around your neighborhood or going to the gym together. Strive to spend at least twenty minutes together without distractions. Even if you make time for a 10 minute check-in in the morning or at night, this will help you connect emotionally.
Many couples have discovered that talking about problems can make things worse. For your marriage or to thrive, it’s important to remain calm and not jump to conclusions or issue ultimatums. Just because your relationship is going through a dry spell, it doesn’t have to mean you are headed for divorce court. Don’t threaten to divorce because that can cause more anxiety and stress. Practicing emotional attunement while staying physically close can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means “turning toward” one another, showing empathy, and not being defensive. Even if you’re not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond.
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