She Said He Said: Intimacy has waned with time
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
I love my wife but the space between us has been growing slowly for several years. We’re great partners in life, have made it through many ups and downs and launched two great kids into the world. But we both acknowledge that intimacy has become nearly non-existent. We’re at a loss as to what to do, especially as we deal with the physical ramifications of getting older. We plan date nights and I feel hopeful. But when we get home, we slip into the same pattern of putting on pajamas and reading or watching TV. We’ve even tried scheduling times for sex, but another priority or excuse will get in the way. It has become an awkward elephant that I think we’ve just learned to avoid, but I don’t want to accept that sex is no longer going to be part of our lives. How can we get out of this rut?
Out of Gas
Lori and Jeff: Getting older can wreak havoc on relationships. Becoming empty nesters, experiencing menopause and lower testosterone levels, shifting roles and responsibilities and simply being together for a longer period of time can lead to sexual complacency for many couples.
Lori: As awkward or uncomfortable as it can be, talking about sexual intimacy is the most important first step. There are a plethora of reasons for why a woman may be feeling resistant to engaging. And until you have a clear understanding of what is getting in the way for her, your efforts will be in vain. In my history with working with couples of your age, many women defer to menopause and the associated physical or hormonal changes for explaining their lack of interest. But this often is not the full story. If desire has dwindled or penetration has become physically painful or uncomfortable, there are a hundred other ways to connect sexually.
Many mothers have spent the last two decades in the role of caregiver, and in the process lose touch with their sensuality and sexual identity. They can unconsciously begin to define their lovability in accordance to how much they nurture others, and in this context can become disconnected from other aspects of self, including their own bodies, sensuality and pleasure. Learning to connect with each other starts with reconnecting to yourselves. Just as new empty nesters should focus on dating again to rediscover interests, hobbies and new ways to be together, the same holds true in the bedroom. Take intercourse off of the table for a while and agree to be curious and playful about how to explore each other and sexual intimacy together. If there’s still resistance, be proactive about asking what else she needs to feel safe, loved and connected with you.
Jeff: Like the physical repercussions of menopause in women, men can also experience a shift in sexual drive as testosterone levels begin to decrease after age 40. The level to which T drops and the impact it has on behavior varies greatly from person to person, but as we get older, we can rely less and less on our biology to create the urges and impulses that we used to experience in our sexual prime. This, by no means, should serve as a final curtain call to our sex lives or our sexual identities.
For men, sexual intimacy and the drive to engage in it has often been exclusively linked to these biological instincts to reproduce. If this were true, it would be inevitable that we would no longer be interested in sex as those hormones become depleted as we age. But there is an emotional side to sexual intimacy as well—a feeling of connectivity and closeness that comes with physical contact—that inaccurately gets omitted from the male experience. Take a deeper dive into understanding what makes being physically close to your wife such a unique and desirable experience. Focus less on the end result of sex and more on the process of connecting and discovering what might excite and stimulate both of you at this stage of your lives. With the appropriate shift to your mindset, you will be able to continue expressing your feelings through the realm of sexual intimacy for many years to come.
Jeff and Lori: Sex at this stage in life can require a new perspective. If the old ways of being intimate together are no longer serving you as a couple, don’t just give up. Throw out the well-worn script of foreplay to intercourse and focus on creating pleasurable experiences for, and with, each other.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit http://www.aspenrelationship.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.