3 steps to a more passionate marriage
How to bring passion back into your marriage and keep love and intimacy alive
Getting passion back
Julie and her husband, John, have been together for 15 years. “At first, we were happy and had a great sex life. But after two kids, it feels like we’re just partners in raising them and accumulating what we want: a nice house, cars, vacations. It doesn’t feel like we’re romantic anymore. When we’re stressed, we take it out on each other, but save our best moods for our kids and friends. We can go days without touching, and weeks without sex. We love each other, but how can we get back to how we once felt?”
One of the biggest myths about marriage is that the thrill can’t last forever. It can last. We simply need to cultivate passion, just as we cultivate our skills in parenting and our careers. I’ve come up with a “Passion Prescription” that Julie and her husband can follow. Here’s what I advised for them for the first three weeks. But you can try it, too. Stick to it for at least three months to get the full benefits-and a revitalized relationship.
Understanding the elements of passion
It’s essential to understand the elements that comprise passion. This gives us the power to create it in our marriage, rather than wait for it to happen (and complain when it doesn’t). I created The Passion Triangles as a tool for couples I treat: When all three sides are strong, passion flares.
There are two Passion Triangles. The first is made up of intimacy, thrill and sensuality. The base is intimacy-the emotional closeness, special bond, and vulnerabilities we share. The next side is thrill-the excitement we felt when we were first dating. The third side is sensuality-from holding hands to hot sex.
I asked Julie to rate these three characteristics in her marriage. She rated John and herself high on intimacy, low on sensuality (infrequent sex, but good when they have it) and non-existent on thrill. “I don’t see how I can ever feel excited about him again,” she worried. “As for John, he has agreed to do whatever he needs to do, but I think all he really wants is more sex.”
The second Passion Triangle deals with the way we connect. “There are three ways we communicate with our partner,” I explained to Julie. “We use our speech, body or mind. For example, we can feel intimacy in a whispered ‘I love you,’ or by thinking about how kind and funny our partner is.” Many couples rely on a few predictable types of contact. And predictable is not an element of passion.
It is important that Julie and John find new ways to connect. In order to create passion, they need to build both triangles-which work together. I sent Julie home with exercises to share with John.
Intimacy is the foundation of the first Passion Triangle for a reason. Passion is both emotional and physical, with a touch of the soul thrown in. Without trust, communication and the willingness to be vulnerable (which equals intimacy), deep passion cannot exist. You can have hot sex with a stranger, but not hot passion. In order to help Julie and John deepen their intimacy, I had them do the following exercises.
Watch what you say-and how you say it
Julie and John can become verbally critical and nasty with each other, saving kinder talk for their kids and friends. This week they worked on being very careful of their words and tone toward each other.
Make an effort to embrace eachother
It is important to create intimacy with touch. Instead of calling “Have a nice day” on the way out the door, this week Julie and John practiced a three-breath-long hug when they parted and when they first came back together. They embraced, chest-to-chest, and synchronized deep breathing. No words; just intimate body connection.
Appreciate one another
I had John and Julie begin a daily appreciation practice. Each evening, they shared three things they appreciated about the other person. This helps to teach them to focus on the lovely things about their mate, instead of grabbing on to the annoyances and disappointments.
“This was harder than we thought it would be,” said Julie at the end of the first week. “At first it felt so awkward to hug silently. Then I thought, Wow, we used to hug and hold each other so naturally when we were dating and falling in love, and now I’m self-conscious? Now I love connecting that way when one of us walks in the door. We take those few moments to be just ‘us,’ before we launch into the chaos of the kids and dinner.”
Thrill is the most elusive element of the triangle. After the first couple of years of marriage, it doesn’t seem to happen anymore. We need to cultivate thrill moment by moment. I wanted to show Julie and John how to approach each other with curiosity again. I had them add these exercises to the ongoing intimacy exercises from Week 1.
Don’t assume you know everything about your partner
Remember your first dates with your spouse? You were so excited to learn all about him. Yet over time, you become bored, and feel you know everything there is to know. I had Julie and John go out for dinner and ask each other 10 questions. For example, “Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?”, “What is one thing you would like to try sexually that you’ve never told me?” and “Tell me about your first kiss.” They created questions of their own as well.
Get excited to see eachother
If there is one family member who is thrilled every time he sees you, it’s the family dog. I had Julie and John do my dog-thrill exercise every time one of them came in the door. They had to act like a dog whose beloved owner is home: jumping, panting and doing a joyful dance. Don’t knock it; it works! You’ll be laughing and feeling light-hearted-a perfect state from which to move into that hug from Week 1.
Think positive thoughts about your partner
Feeling a sense of thrill is psychological. I challenged Julie and John to really examine their thought processes in a typical day, even taking a few notes. When were they allowing negative thoughts about their partner to take root in their minds? Were they spinning stories of “woe is me” instead of “I am so lucky to have this person in my life”?
“This week was difficult. I’m not sure we’re getting it yet,” said Julie at the end of Week 2. “The dog thing, however, was hilarious; John even grabbed a slipper in his mouth and shook it back and forth! I kind of get what you meant there. I laughed and felt happy to be home, and the petty irritations lessened. As for the rest, we’re working on it.” I told Julie they are doing great; it can take months to realize where you’ve lost that thrill, and then to create new patterns.
Sensuality, the third side of the triangle, is about becoming a fantastic lover, not just physically but with your speech, body and mind. True sensuality encompasses everything from eye contact that lights you up and turns you on, to crazy chandelier-swinging lovemaking. The aspects that are lacking for most couples are variety, creativity and a broader spectrum of sensual activities. I needed to help Julie and John find new ways to be sensual outside of the bedroom as well as jump-start a stalled sex life within it.
Send sexy notes
I asked them to exchange lust notes: sending a sexy email, or whispering something loving or sexy to each other when the kids’ backs were turned. Foreplay can begin hours before the lights go down.
I told them to banish the PJs and sleep naked. And I had them really attend to touching each other throughout the day; her hand on his knee as he drives, his fingers caressing her wrist at the dinner table. ?I also had them schedule sex twice a week, minimum. Yep. Just do it.
Get in the mood
Great sex is all in your head. Really. Getting “in the mood” is the key to wonderful lovemaking. I asked them to write down at least 10 things that turn them on, and share those ideas with each other.
Keep working on it
At the end of the third week, Julie reported that she and John were “trying hard, and noticing some positive changes. It feels a little artificial but as though we are on the right track.” They had sex twice this week. She admitted it was fun, and that she felt “a little more into sex” simply because they were being sexual. “We’re touching more; I’m feeling closer to him. We find writing the love notes embarrassing, but despite the fact that I make fun of it, it is actually really sweet to read what he thinks of me.”
I reassured Julie that they are doing great. I wouldn’t expect a true blossoming of passion yet; it takes repetition and consistent effort over months to get lasting results.
The thrill can last forever; it just needs a little help.