For decades, Cosmopolitan magazine has been telling us that we are one mind-blowing move, one piece of lingerie, one new position away from the sex we long for. It’s easy to buy into that idea — I know I have. It’s certainly easier to believe that for the price of a lacy bra, I can have the deeply connected sex life I desire.
What happens when the door is closed and the lights are low, but there are shadows of doubt lingering at the corners of the bed? The ghosts of fear and shame make us want to hide inside our minds instead of being fully present under the covers. Instead of giving ourselves fully to one another, we become preoccupied with the way our bodies look and move and sound. We wonder, Am I doing this right?
A happy marriage proverbially depends on true love, but that kind of love is only possible when two people freely and wholly give themselves to one another. Who doesn’t want true love and happiness? I know I do. It’s just that all these messy human parts keep getting in the way.
The only way to improve things in the bedroom is to communicate with honesty and candor. That’s not easy to do — it takes practice and vulnerability — but is worth the risk because that kind of communication improves everything in marriage.
Your desire for intimacy is good and true and beautiful — it’s leading you to the mystery of self-gift that drives marriage. Here are some ways to approach that mystery and desire in conversation with your spouse.
Open up about wants and needs
When I asked people what’s working for them in their sex life, their number one answer was “be willing to talk about your wants and needs.” It’s normal for our wants and needs and level of desire to change in different seasons of life. Spouses need to stay in tune with one another through those changes.
A friend of mine shared something I think is really important. She said that when you communicate your wants and needs, everyone wins. Everyone wins. It’s easy to feel like communicating your desires is awkward or selfish or not worth it, but that’s not true. Not only is it okay — regular communication about what you want and need is essential to creating a more connected sex life. And wouldn’t you know it — that kind of communication is essential to a more connected life outside of the bedroom, too.
It’s important to set the right context for this kind of communication, though. Trying to raise this topic in the moment is not only a mood-killer, but it also invites all kinds of pressure and subtext into the situation, which can be difficult to recover from.
Physically intimate moments in a marriage unfold best when both spouses feel fully known and understood, so set the groundwork to be on the same page with each other before you climb into bed.
You might think about setting a regular time to check-in about your sex life — once a month on a date night, for example. Somehow, it’s easier to begin the conversation if you have an agreed-upon time when you know you’ll talk about it. It also helps to take the conversation out of the bedroom — the talking about it is work, so keep that space reserved for play.
Making time for sex
There’s a common misconception that spontaneous desire is not only ideal, but should be the norm. Research shows that this idea is both untrue and harmful for our relationships.
Especially for women, desire begins in the mind. I’ve heard it said that everything is foreplay — or could be if we pay attention. Small romantic gestures, secret touches, and thoughtful texts all fan the flames of desire into life. There is nothing wrong with putting sex on the calendar — and then setting reminders on our phones to do those small gestures that make a big difference to keep the connection fresh.
The Gottman Card Decks
The Gottman Institute provides a research-based approach to relationships and they have created an app of “card decks” to help couples connect. There’s a “Date Questions” deck that asks questions like, “What is something small that really makes your day?” And there’s a “describe your perfect sandwich” prompt.
There are also three “salsa” decks, ranging from “mild” to “hot” — salsa being a stand-in for physical intimacy. A mild prompt might be to “go out to the movies, hold hands, and kiss in the theater;” whereas a hot prompt could be to “challenge yourselves to have sex in every room of your house.” What’s nice about this app, aside from it being research-based, is that it does a lot of the thinking for you. You just have to be open to the challenge.
As we say about marriage, husband and wife “become one flesh.” We don’t say the two shall become one mind, or the two shall become one heart. We say the two shall become one flesh, though personally, I’d be more comfortable with the other two — the flesh is messy and raw and awkward. The mind and heart are easier to protect than the naked body.
The sex we desire — the kind that leaves us satisfied in every sense of the word — isn’t an abstract ideal. It’s available to us, but only in the bodies we have — in all their imperfect glory. True intimacy is a practice of communion through communication with a language we speak in words and with our bodies.