RELIGHT YOUR FIRE
It’s simple: regular sex makes you feel happier – and your partner seem more lovable. But if the daily grind is getting in the way and lovemaking is now a chore, marital therapist Andrew G Marshall offers these tips to help you reignite your libido
Simple steps to reignite the spark in your relationship
It’s well known that sex makes us feel desired, closer to our partner and a little more forgiving of his irritating habits. But when we’re busy and tired, it’s easy to let it drop down our ‘to do’ chart — only to zoom up our list of niggles when we start worrying that we’re not putting enough effort into our love life or that everyone else is having more sex than us.
Disconcertingly, a recent book which has collated data from 100,000 people around the world claims that almost 40 per cent of couples have sex three or four times a week! As it is human nature to compare up rather than down to the 20 per cent of couples who rarely or never make love, these statistics may make you feel dissatisfied and jealous.
However, let me offer some reassurance. In my therapy room, I put out the bunting if couples are having sex twice a week, and the once-a-week Saturday night or Sunday morning sex is more common than you’d think.
Of course, you’d feel more loving if you had more sex, but what really counts is maximising the feelgood effects and feeling like lovers even when you’re not making love.
Here are my suggestions on how to achieve this…
Prolong the glow of lovemaking
All the sex manuals concentrate on foreplay but I think afterplay is equally important. By this I mean kissing, cuddling and looking into his eyes after making love. You can further encourage closeness with a little pillow talk and telling your other half what you enjoyed. It will not only make your husband feel 10 feet tall but encourage more of the same next time.
Connect by flirting
Although standard when courting, flirting often goes out the window once we’ve settled down. Sadly, lots of established couples are unsure what it involves. So let me explain.
Flirting is giving your partner a bundle of sexual energy and seeing if he returns it — hopefully with interest. It involves in-jokes, teasing and saucy texts and reveals something about your heart.
It also says, ‘I’m still attracted to you’ or, if done at a distance, ‘I’m thinking of you’ and builds up sexual tension — otherwise when you are alone together it’s like going from nought to 90 in seconds.
Remember, flirting should be fun and playful — and it’s only fun if both of you enjoy the joke and not playful if it could be interpreted as a demand for sex.
Step up the romance
It’s all about showing your partner you care, but the power of romance is increased by novelty (otherwise it becomes a duty) and therefore needs to be renewed by finding different ways and adding an element of surprise, such as meeting up for lunch on a weekday or both of you dressing up for a night in.
I also encourage couples to bring back special memories by watching a romantic movie you both enjoyed when dating or going somewhere with special past associations.
Other ideas include giving small gifts, funny cards and expressing thanks for something that could easily be taken for granted.
When couples tell me they hardly ever have sex, I find they have a narrow definition — normally some activity that ends with an orgasm. For some, it only counts if it is full intercourse. What about snuggling up together on a Sunday morning?
What about that quickie where you gave him pleasure even though you weren’t interested in going all the way yourself? In my opinion, it all counts. To help couples redefine sex, I get them to draw a bull’s eye, like a target for archery. In the centre I ask them to put what they consider their core sexual activities, in the next circle things they do occasionally (such as dressing up) and, finally, things they consider erotic (and maybe are part of their lovemaking).
I’ve had men write that they enjoy watching their wife put on her makeup. If you’re in any doubt what to include in this category, ask yourself:
‘Would it feel like cheating if he did this with another woman?’ After doing my exercise, most couples find that they’re having more sex than they thought.
Rediscover the power of touch
This is perhaps the most important ingredient for increasing the sensuality of your relationship and makes it easy to cross from the everyday world of chores and raising a family into the intimate world of sex. For example. kiss each other in the morning before leaving for work and in the evening when you return home. Lie in each other’s arms on the sofa as you watch television.
Encourage him to guide you through a door with a light touch in the small of your back or put your arm through his as you walk down the street. Otherwise you are in danger of falling into the ‘all or nothing’ trap where any touch is an invitation for sex, rather than a chance to feel connected.
Act like lovers
Rather than turning into flatmates or parents, use sexy pet names, sleep naked together and arrange nights out together or a romantic weekend away. In the survey that looked into frequency of lovemaking, three quarters of parents had never taken a holiday away without their children.
In a separate study at Harvard University, researchers found couples in love spend 75 per cent of their time looking at each other when they talk as opposed to the usual 30 to 60 per cent. So rather than shout up the stairs, speak face to face and when he’s talking to you, turn round and stop what you’re doing.
Make lovemaking memorable
Sex becomes boring or a chore when you know exactly what’s coming next. So mix things up and experiment. There are lots of different ways of kissing and different places on the body to kiss. Instead of focusing on the lips, try his neck and shoulders.
You can also change the pace of your lovemaking by stopping and make him beg for more, then speeding up again. Wake up your senses by playing romantic music or wearing a favourite perfume.
Re-create that ‘just met’ feeling
See your partner through other people’s eyes by going to his workplace and taking him out for a drink or inviting him to your conference. Anything that allows you to see each other as desirable, interesting people again. Sex needs separation as well as closeness (as we don’t desire what we already have). You’ll also find a small amount of jealousy does no harm to your sex life.
Don’t expect mind reading
You’re not the same people you were when you first met. You don’t go to the same places or eat the same food, but lots of people still have the same sex. So update each other by sharing a fantasy rather than settling into a rut.
It’s equally important not to assume you can read his mind. So ask him questions, like you used to when you were dating. Warm up with general questions, such as, ‘If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?’ and move on to sexy ones, such as, ‘What one thing would improve your love life?’
Don’t compare yourself to others
We’ve always compared ourselves with our neighbours but celebrity culture and social media has widened our reference points and made us more likely to worry we don’t measure up. Just because everybody else is trapped in the comparison culture doesn’t mean you have to follow — especially as people are notorious for lying about sex!
If you must have a yardstick, try the 2,2,6 rule that many sex therapists use: out of every 10 times that you make love, twice it will be fantastic, twice you’ll wish you hadn’t bothered and six times it will be okay. Andrew G Marshall is a marital therapist and author of I Love You But You Always Put Me Last: How To Childproof Your Marriage, Macmillan, €10.53 at Eason