“Couples who know each other intimately (and) are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams are couples who make it.”
According to experts, the most common reason couples lose their passion for each other and stop being sexually intimate is a pursuer-distancer pattern that develops over time. Dr. Sue Johnson identifies the pattern of demand-withdraw as the “Protest Polka” and says it is one of three “Demon Dialogues.” She explains that when one partner becomes critical and aggressive, the other often becomes defensive and distant.
Dr. John Gottman’s research on thousands of couples discovered partners that get stuck in this pattern in the first few years of marriage have more than an 80% chance of divorcing in the first four to five years.
A good sexual relationship is built on emotional intimacy and closeness.
In other words, if you’re hoping to improve your physical relationship, you need to first work on your emotional connection. Focus on meeting your partner’s needs and communicating your own needs in a loving, respectful way.
In The Science of Trust, Dr. Gottman explains that couples who want to rekindle their passion and love need to turn towards each other. Practicing emotional attunement can help you stay connected even when you disagree. This means turning toward one another by showing empathy, instead of being defensive. Both partners need to talk about their feelings in terms of positive need, instead of what they do not need.
According to Dr. Gottman, expressing a positive need is a recipe for success for both the listener and the speaker because it conveys complaints and requests without criticism and blame. Dr. Gottman says, “This requires a mental transformation from what is wrong with one’s partner to what one’s partner can do that would work. The speaker is really saying, ‘Here’s what I feel, and what I need from you.’”
During the early phase of marriage, many couples barely come up for air due to the excitement of falling in love. Unfortunately, this blissful state doesn’t last forever. Scientists have discovered that oxytocin (a bonding hormone) released during the initial stage of infatuation causes couples to feel euphoric and turned on by physical touch. It actually works like a drug, giving us immediate rewards that bind us to our lover.
Holding hands, hugs, and tender touch are great ways to affirm your love for your partner. Physical affection sets the stage for sexual touch that is focused on pleasure. Sex therapist and educator Dr. Micheal Stysma recommends that you set a goal of doubling the length of time you kiss, hug, and use sensual touch if you want to improve your marriage.
Sexual attraction is hard to maintain over time. Sex therapist Laurie Watson says, “Most sexual concerns stem from an interpersonal struggle in the marriage.”
In other words, don’t try to fix your partner. This is both impossible and unethical. Don’t play the blame game (no one wins).
Critical self-awareness and the awareness of others are very important. Here is a third suggestion:
According to Dr. John Gottman, “Masters” of relationships approach problems as a team. To do so, they must both be aware of their personal experience at the moment and motivated to work together. It is impossible to nurture healthy relational dynamics without practicing attunement.
The first step is to get in touch with yourselves. You must discover what you need and want and determine what you feel is missing from your relationship. This is self-care. You have to understand yourselves before you can understand each other.
If you cannot identify your own emotions, how are you supposed to understand them or process them or communicate about them with others? How can you expect your partner to be a source of comfort and support?
If you feel frustrated in your inability to have intimate conversations about your deepest feelings with your partner, you are not alone. Here’s a brief exercise to help you deepen the connection with yourself and with your loved ones:
If you ask questions that require only a yes or no answer, you are destroying conversations before they even have a chance to begin. You are accidentally slamming the door that you are trying to open. This door is labeled “Intimacy.” Instead of “Did you watch that movie?” ask, “What was your favorite part?” Instead of “Are you upset?” ask, “You seem upset. What’s going on?”
If you are bothered by your inability to label your emotions, stop and meditate for a moment. Clear your mind. Search for a word. When a word comes to mind and your body relaxes, you have hit the spot. Here are a few examples you can use in this activity as a starting point:
There are even more skills for building internal and external intimacy like the deepening connection in your conversations and expressing compassion and sympathy.
Here are 10 tips to bring back the passion in your marriage:
Maybe you are denying your partner or coming on too strong. Avoid criticizing each other and stop the “blame game.” Mix things up to end the power struggle. For example, distancers may want to practice initiating sex more often and pursuers try to find ways to tell their partner “you’re sexy,” in subtle ways while avoiding critique and demands for closeness.
According to author Dr. Kory Floyd, holding hands, hugging, and touching can release oxytocin causing a calming sensation. Studies show it’s also released during sexual orgasm. Additionally, physical affection reduces stress hormones – lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Our brains experience more pleasure when the anticipation of the reward goes on for some time before we receive it. So take your time during foreplay, share fantasies, change locations, and make sex more romantic.
Plan intimacy time and avoid talking about relationship problems and household chores in the bedroom. Sexual arousal plummets when we’re distracted and stressed.
Try a variety of activities that bring you both pleasure. Have fun courting and practice flirting as a way to ignite sexual desire and intimacy. Dr. Gottman says that “everything positive you do in your relationship is foreplay.”
Offer to give your partner a back or shoulder rub. People associate foreplay with sexual intercourse, but affectionate touch is a powerful way to demonstrate and rekindle passion even if you are not a touchy-feely person.
Share your innermost wishes, fantasies, and desires with your partner. If you fear emotional intimacy, consider engaging in individual or couple’s therapy.
Experiment with new ways to bring pleasure to each other. Look at sex as an opportunity to get to know your partner better over time.
Have gentle, loving-tender, intimate, and highly erotic sex. Break up the routine and try new things as sexual needs change.
Set the mood for intimacy before TV or work dulls your passion. A light meal along with your favorite music and wine can set the stage for great sex.
Even if you are not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection and emotional attunement can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond.
The good news is that allowing your partner to influence you can reignite the spark you once enjoyed. In fact, Dr. Gottman reminds us that friendship is the glue that can hold a marriage together.