People sometimes tell me they know a couple married 20 years whose sex life is still as good as it ever was.
While it’s certainly possible, I’ve also heard many of the couples I’ve counseled over the years say after five or 10 years of marriage, the passion became elusive.
When you were dating the man you ultimately married, you were both putting your best feet forward in order to be attractive to one another. Think of it this way: When you were sick or had a bad headache, you probably pretended it was no big deal. So did he.
Now, if you don't feel well, you likely don't edit out any details. When you've had an argument with a close friend, you might have told him all the details. Now when he asks how your day was, you might just say, “fine,” and leave it at that. And he might be happy to leave it at that, too.
Here are the truths about sex, as I know them, for most married couples, with some tips to re-charge your sex life:
1. Love is constant; passion needs recharging
No surprise: Everything in the universe demagnetizes when left in proximity to something of the opposite charge. Magnets do, and men and women do. Some people fall out of lust in seven days, never mind seven years or 17.
Basic animal attraction is a force of nature that seems designed to make us mate—not mate for life. Relaxing in our marriages, freeing ourselves from the pressure of trying to impress our partner, has a predictable outcome: Our partners are not impressed. The magnetic spell we once cast on them begins to lift.
2. Cozy is comfortable, but not sexy
To the extent that men and women become real to each other, they cease to be princes and princesses, gods and goddesses who inspire romantic fantasies or amorous worship. Since couples lucky enough to be emotionally genuine with one another share so many real moments, they need to pay special attention to creating magical ones—because great sex requires magic.
I’d never suggest a couple trade away their warm, safe home life for better sex. I believe you can have a close marriage and recapture a good sex life—but only once you admit that re-igniting romance takes creativity and a commitment of time and energy.
3. Put the ‘X’ back in married sex
With so much passion locked inside us, there’s a lot to unlock. It’s just a matter of finding the right key. For the overwhelming majority of couples, being married makes being passionate together more difficult, not less. Admitting this is happening is the first step toward making it stop.
You can change your sex life this week. Pick one item from this article, and try it out. Have your husband pick another for next week. You’ll be on your way to married sex that works. Trust me. Not only am I a doctor, I’ve been married for 12 years.
4. Offer up an emotionally safe way to explore one another’s fantasies
The walls separating husbands and wives romantically do not dissolve spontaneously. They have to be dismantled piece by piece – but not with a sledgehammer. You can start by inviting your husband to slowly reveal aspects of his sexuality. I recommend my patients say something relatively non-threatening like, “I had the craziest thought. Why don’t you tell me something you think would really surprise me about what you wish we could do in bed? Then I promise to tell you something I think would surprise you.” Putting it that way assures the other person that you anticipate being taken aback, and welcome it.
5. To make sex less intimidating, turn it into a game
Ask your partner to tell you three of his fantasies, and you will get to choose which one to act out. Then it’s his turn—you tell him three, and he gets to select one. If he wants to pick two from your list, and you decide to take him up on that offer, he also gets one of the two remaining fantasies on his list. Bargaining builds romantic tension. And if you’re like most married couples, being playful will be a welcome reminder of how energized the two of you once were – and could be again.
6. Give your real-life routine a rest
If you have children, your relationship is usually defined as co-parents first – not lovers.
That further sets the psychological cement that reminds us we are in a family home, not a love nest. Most couples get caught up in the nightly momentum of deciding who’s going to drive which child where, how everyone will end up getting dinner, who is going to do the laundry . . .you get the idea. It’s hard to break that momentum, switch gears, and end up in overdrive in bed.
Routine is an enemy of passion. In order to see your mate as the prince, and for him to see you as the princess, it helps to set the stage and put on the right costume. Tell him to meet you at a restaurant for a date. Dress to impress one another. Then surprise him with a key to a motel room or a secluded cottage on a beach for an overnight – no packing allowed. Even if an overnight isn’t possible, break your routine by changing your “look” to be new for one another.
Try a different style of clothing or a new hairstyle –or even a tiny tattoo on your ankle. Being “different” for him in bed doesn’t mean he won’t love you for everything you’ve always been outside the bedroom. But part of him wants to believe he just met you. And there’s nothing wrong with you wanting to meet him for the first time, too. Feel free to suggest he grow a beard, or try a different hairstyle as well.
7. A change-your-life Valentine
Not every card needs to be a syrupy expression of undying commitment. This year’s could be a clear expression that you’re committed to charging up your sex life. Make your own card, conveying one of these messages:
“This week let’s forget we’re married and pretend we’re still dating. Where should I meet you to fool around?” (Leave a blank space for his answer.)
“Valentine, I have a secret I’ve never told you about what turns me on.” (Maybe enclose a blindfold, a battery or a receipt from a bikini wax or a gift certificate for a couples’ massage.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.