One of the consistent themes of this site is that a lasting, fulfilling and spiritually rewarding marriage is not about finding the right person, but about being the right person. We have also embraced, since day one, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which lays out the Church’s position on the importance/sanctity of physical intimacy in a loving sacramental marriage. Yet, it has become something of a running gag in American society that couples continue to have serious, relationship-threatening issues about sex, regardless of whether the marriage was blessed by a priest, or whether the couple is even married at all.
Focusing on married couples, it’s no big revelation to assert that sex is complicated. Ignoring for the moment (mostly male-specific) concerns such as frequency and variety, the reality for most couples is that both spouses work and must deal with work-related issues including fatigue, overnight travel, stress, shift work, and being connected to their jobs 24/7 by text and email. Add a few kids, with their homework, social and extra-curricular activities. Some couples must care for elderly parents or relatives. Money is often a source of conflict. Throw in time spent with friends, the pursuit of separate hobbies and interests, housework, yard work and even time devoted to church ministries, and it’s a wonder most couples are having any sex at all.
Though there are no easy answers for much of this, there are a number of things spouses can do to improve the overall quality of their relationship and, by extension, their sex life. Some of you may recall a book popular back in the 80’s called The Five Minute Salesman, the main premise of which was that in order to get what you (the salesman) want, you must help the customer get what he or she wants. Here are some examples we hope may be useful to you and your spouse:
- We have occasionally expressed an idea here suggesting that rather than seeking a 50/50 sharing of marital responsibilities (which inevitably leads to some form of score-keeping) we, as spouses, should be willing to give 60% in exchange for 40%. Going the extra mile, without seeking praise or recognition, will almost always enhance our esteem in the eyes of our spouse, in some cases making us appear more desirable.
- Take the time to pay attention and learn what he or she likes. This lies at the heart of Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages, which expounds on the idea that all of us have a love language we prefer when receiving love and another, possibly different, language we prefer when giving or showing love. Guys, if your wife’s preference for receiving love is words of affirmation or spending time together, a bunch of flowers from Kroger is unlikely to flip her switch. Both of you need to figure out how the other likes to be shown love; if you can’t do it on your own, read the book together. I’ve observed that many of us are not loved in the way we want. If this describes the two of you, you can fix it.
- Worship together. If you share the same faith, attending church together is a high quality hour, feeding both your soul and your relationship. If you attend different churches, try to arrange your attendance so that neither of you must take your small children to church. (If you want to do so, that’s different.) Facilitating a peaceful hour apart is another act of love. Finally, if one of you does not attend church on a regular basis, that spouse can volunteer to get up early and look after the children while your spouse goes to church. In any case, there are plenty of ways to show you love your spouse connected to the observance of your faith.
- Cook for each other, or cook together. The drudgery of getting dinner on the table during the weekday scrum can be offset by serving her breakfast in bed on Saturday morning or cooking up something fun together when the opportunity arises. Try a new dish. One of you can chef while the other preps. And you never know where a late dinner after the kids are asleep might lead.
- Talk to each other. Statistics suggest that the average married couple spends seven (7) minutes a day talking with each other. If your busy lives make you feel like “ships passing in the night,” commit to finding 15 minutes a day, just the two of you, talking about stuff other than work, the kids or money. Recall when you were courting how you could literally spend hours like this. Now that you’re married, you need this time to maintain your connectedness. Even if it means waking up 15 minutes earlier than normal, this is time well-spent.
- Observe the power of random acts of kindness. Taking her car out on Sunday afternoon for a fill-up and a wash means she can go to work on Monday with a shiny ride and a full tank. If he’s been out of town for a few days and gets home later in the evening, a hot meal and a beer, served in some sexy pajamas, might fulfill his every (unspoken) wish. The key here is to do whatever it is without being asked. Complying with a request is one thing; showing kindness on your own initiative is something else.
- TOE time refers to what we call the Touch of Eden. During TOE time, spouses get naked, get in bed, and simply hold each other close, without any sexual agenda. Spending 15 minutes like this helps spouses reconnect in an intimate way, without any pressure. It is not meant to be a prelude to sex, but allows room for the agenda to be amended by majority vote. Sorry guys–she holds the tiebreaker!
- Pay attention to your personal hygiene. When you find an opportunity for a physical encounter, make sure you are clean, that you smell good, that you’ve shaved, that your breath is, um, unobjectionable; in short, send the message that this is a special moment and that you want to make it as pleasant as possible for your partner. [These may not be universally shared. I read recently of a note Napoleon sent to Josephine in which he wrote, “I will arrive on Saturday, Do not bathe.” Different strokes…] A little background music, some candlelight and his favorite scent can put an exclamation point on things.
If you and your spouse have some different suggestions, please share them. God tells us that the marital bed is a sacred place, and we honor Him when we approach it as such. In the 21st century, we may miss the spontaneity that accompanied such encounters when we were first married. Maintaining a healthy physical relationship in a world spinning a million miles an hour takes commitment, planning and thoughtfulness. Being the right person for each other can only help.