Dear Dr. Diana,
My husband and I have been married for 13 years. Neither of us have the old spark anymore. He’s comfortable this way and says it’s “normal” after a while. But I am very unhappy. I’ve been thinking of asking for a trial separation to test the waters to see if I can find greater happiness elsewhere. We have a nice life together but I know if someone came along, I’d be vulnerable. I don’t want to have an affair. Should I leave or convince my husband that we need to change things together? Or is he right that this is just the way marriage is after a while and I should try to just be content with the way things are?
— FrustratedDear Frustrated,
It’s true that keeping the magic alive in a long-term marriage is challenging. But it is possible — it just requires some elbow grease and the right ingredients. A willingness to keep learning about each other and growing individually can be an aphrodisiac.
So, where do you think the old spark went? Rarely are intimacy issues within a couple as simple as they may seem. Sometimes people lapse into patterns of relating with each other that are alienating versus promoting closeness. Old hurts and resentments can build up and people create walls to insulate themselves; then they feel numb toward each other. When one loses that sense of closeness and comfort with their partner, one of the first places it shows up is a drop in sexual desire.
Before even considering accepting that this is just the way things are going to be, you should rule out a few things.
1). Rule out the possibility of medical issues affecting either one of you. A thorough physical exam with blood work can help evaluate whether hormone imbalances, depression, stress, or other health issues are affecting either or your libido.
2). Consider honestly, how much effort have you and your husband really put into trying to keep the spark alive (or in this case, wake it up).
3) Try couples counseling. I’m partial to an approach called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. But in picking a good counselor for yourself, whatever their approach, they have to make sure they have a systematic approach that makes sense to you and that you have good chemistry with the therapist.
It’s true that intimacy tends to change in long-term marriages. But it doesn’t have to die off. People settle into patterns of relating with each other that are often not conducive to romance or closeness. Do you think that has happened with you and your husband? The myth that good marriages should not require hard work is just that, a myth. To have a long-term loving, passionate marriage requires ongoing careful attention to each other’s emotions and needs. Each partner needs to know that their feelings matter to the other and that they are wanted.
Ideally, you will explore the suggestions above before throwing in the towel or looking elsewhere. If your marriage doesn’t improve after working hard on it and exploring all options, you will most likely have your answer.
•Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson, Ph.D.
•The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver, Ph.D.
This is an advice column and is not meant to be a substitute for therapy.
Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Rancho Santa Fe. Specializing in marriage counseling, stepfamilies, and personality testing, she does private counseling as well as marriage enrichment retreats. (858) 259-0146 www.cottageclinic.net
•Jessica Buss, Ph.D. is a licensed psychological assistant working under the supervision of Dr. Weiss-Wisdom She works with adolescents, couples, and does biofeedback for stress reduction, anxiety, and emotional regulation. She has a sliding scale.
Our next Hold Me Tight Marriage Retreat is be Feb. 1-3, 2013 and April 26-28, 2013 at the Cottage Clinic in Rancho Santa Fe, Ca. 92067