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Do you get into bed long after your partner is asleep? Are you up and out of the bedroom earlier than you need to be? Do you spend long hours in front of the television or computer, busy yourself when you really could be alone with your partner, or pick a fight just when your partner wants some "alone" time with you? These are just a few things couples do to avoid intimacy, and if you were nodding yes just now, you're not alone.
I'm often asked what the typical frequency of sexual intimacy is, but given that every couple has their own set of experiences and stressors, rather than give an answer, I generally prefer to explore that person's satisfaction within their relationship. Often, but not always, the relationship in the bedroom is a reflection of other issues within the marriage.
Sexless marriages, or marriages with sexual intimacy less than 10 times a year, are found in couples of all ages and are far more common than one might think. Many couples increasingly opt for "platonic" relationships as life's stressors relegate sexual intimacy to the bottom of the "to do" list. Many couples have not been intimate for months and some for years. Whether by choice or not, many prefer to suffer in silence rather than risk asking just what went wrong and determining what they can do to change it.
Why do relationships reach an impasse and what can be done to change it? Take a minute to scan this checklist to see if your relationship suffers from any of the following:
Are you physically healthy? Have you or your partner experienced any noteworthy physical changes in the past year? Have you changed or stopped medications or started on any new ones? Do you abuse recreational drugs or alcohol? Have you new aches and pains that cause you discomfort or concern, or are physically disabling? Has your weight changed and was this by choice? Is your energy level low and if so, why? Are you tired? Do you get enough sleep? Do you go to bed early, fall asleep easily and sleep through the night? Do you get up early and is it by choice?
Are you pregnant, peri-menopausal or hormonal and if so, are you having any physical symptoms which may be getting in your way? Are you emotionally healthy? How do you feel about yourself? Are you exhibiting any symptoms of depression? Are you unduly stressed about work, children, financial concerns or anything else? Are there issues of anger, resentment, fear, jealousy, rejection, honesty, trust or lack of privacy that affect your relationship? Have you experienced abuse, trauma and other losses? Do you have mental health issues? Are you bored or easily distracted? Does your relationship feel stale or lack excitement? Is someone in the midst of an affair or emotionally unfaithful?
Are you disconnected from your partner or lack the interest or desire to focus on general or more intimate aspects of your relationship? Do you have other areas of your life that take time from your relationship and zap your desire for intimacy? Do you care about reestablishing sexual intimacy? Do you spend too many hours in front of the TV, on the computer, texting people or doing your own thing?
Do you enjoy physical intimacy? Do you find it painful? Are there problems with arousal or other aspects of sexual functioning? What would you like to change? What are the strengths in your relationship? Are you able to talk to your partner? Can you share your dreams, fantasies and deepest secrets? Can you tell each other what feels good and what doesn't, what you'd like more of and what you'd like less of? Are you shy, insecure, anxious, lack confidence, or feel inhibited? How does this affect your love life?
Now that you made it through the list, take a moment to rate both the general and sexual aspects of your relationship and have your partner do the same. Schedule a "date" - like the good old days, a time for just the two of you, out of the house and with no discussion of the kids. Use this opportunity to talk about your level of intimacy, without blame if you can, and if not, find someone who can help you begin this important discussion.
Making the effort and finding this time for each other and for physical intimacy is so essential that couples who lack this may ultimately drift away from each other. Strangely enough, the longer couples are together, the less romance and excitement they seem to have, so this has to be re-created, initially artificially, and soon thereafter because of desire. The fresh joy of being together is an essential ingredient to sustaining any good relationship.
So get rid of anything in the bedroom that speaks of modern technology. It is not your office! Chat with your physician if you think something medical is going on, deal with the emotional issues, keep fit, experiment with your partner on new ways to relate and seriously consider marital or sex therapy. A therapist can delineate the nature of the problem, work with you both as a couple or individually and help you discover a whole new and wonderful way to relate to one another.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.