I’ve gathered stories from hundreds of couples about what they’ve tried to help them get more interested in sex, spice up a lackluster sexual connection, or make time in their busy lives for sex. Now, I’m not knocking any of these or saying that every single one of them can’t produce results, at least in the immediate sense. But each has either its drawbacks or some limitation to its effectiveness. Let’s see how this matches your experience….
To go deeper together takes dedicated time.
Besides the work. And the other work. And the news. And the seasons. And all of it.
A full week of "us" hits the reset button like nothing else.
But how to get it? This post details what it took for me and my love to get a week in Paris and Amsterdam recently. It's no simple feat (and I want to acknowledge that it took not just effort but tremendous privilege, especially in this era of U.S. isolationism), but utterly worth it.
What does it take?
Presuming the liberty to cross borders and cross back again, and presuming your children are old enough to enjoy a week without you (notwithstanding a bit of missing you):
1. break the "good parents" edict.
This rule presumes that on a school break, you either get child care for your kids and work as usual, or you stay-cation or vacation with them. To go, I had to walk through the guilt of even wanting to, let alone acting on the desire to, go without them.
2. pawn YOUR PROGENY off on someone who'll forgive you.
Four factors can elicit the forgiveness you'll need: payment, reciprocity, sainthood, or grandparental adoration. You can pay a sitter to stay with them. Our kids are getting old enough that some compatible friends and I are starting to talk about trades of more than a night or two, where one couple wrangles all the kids while the other has an adventure. That's reciprocity. Some people - maybe not yet worn down by their own kids, or far enough past that stage to have recovered? - just ENJOY kids. Those are saints. Please give them my number? Finally, some grandparents just love the little buggers (and the generation in between) enough to take 'em. My parents are blessedly in this category, and 'the little buggers' is among the LEAST colorful terminology with which they've enhanced both my and my kids' vocabularies. So we put the kids on a plane to Anchorage, where Amma and Papa greeted them with open arms and took them directly to McDonald's.
3. get over what will and will not happen while you're gone.
Your kids will eat chemical-laden fast food. They will stay up past bedtime and return to you under-slept and overstimulated. They may experience carte blanche license to eat sugar and run and yell. And worst of all: they will have adventures and be gorgeous and laugh and smile and jump and YOU WILL MISS IT. I longed for the bony limbs and soft bellies of my children while I was gone. When, in the early evening our time, we'd call them in the morning their time, they didn't really have the time to talk to us... But what they did deign to say lit up their eyes, and I ached to see those sparkles in person. To leave them, you have to bear this.
4. Take the chance that you and your partner won't really enjoy being alone together for that long.
The fear of disappointment and the pressure to have an Epically Romantic week might be daunting. It was, a bit, for us. But we decided we'd refuse to be disappointed, we'd each ask for what we desired, and we'd eat amazing things (if we ever woke up from the jet lag) at the very least. Our actual experience was far better than our helpfully abysmal bottom-line expectations.
5. plan a trip that is doomed to feel "too short" and to miss some "must see" places while you're there.
Accepting that (a) we didn't have time to do either Paris or Amsterdam justice and (b) if we talked to anyone about the trip, we'd invariably hear, "I can't believe you didn't _____" helped us just GO. You, too... whether you go to the Oregon coast, the Cambodian temples, or New Orleans' JazzFest, you'll do it "wrong." Embracing that will help you go, in the first place.
6. resist the pressure to have the quantity and acrobatic quality of sex you'd have had a decade earlier.
You've had children. You had to prepare them, your home, your own luggage, and your workplace for your absence and your travels. You had to finance all this and try to plan a few details of your trip. If you didn't manage to get a Brazilian wax (or in my case, to cover the gray roots that are beginning to peek out in alarming numbers), chalk it up to the vagaries of aging. You can still do some pretty scintillating things in a foreign city where you know no one, and the memories will still bring a smile to your face, long after. Or so I've heard... And I didn't say you have to not HAVE amazing adventures... I just said you have to take the pressure off, or you won't likely go. See the difference?
7. divert resources.
We've been over how you'll be away from your kids for this week. You'll also be spending money and life energy and (at least in our case) air miles that, obviously, could have been used elsewhere. You're trading off for a different family trip. Or delaying your vehicle replacement a year. Or something. Trade it and don't look back. Remember I told you it's worth it.
8. chance that "That Talk" will happen, with so much time together.
It's simpler, in the short term, to avoid the difficult conversations. And life conspires in agreement: it keeps us so busy and our lives so full that it makes sense we haven't really gotten to the bottom of some of our stickiest topics. But on this trip? It just might happen. Somewhere between escargots in Rue Cler and the Holland Days, or on one wildly long flight or another, you, like we did, might find yourselves talking. Like, deep-like. Here's what I'll bet: that's not a bad thing. Maybe right there, 40,000 feet in the air, surrounded by people who may or may not be sleeping, is the just-right place to have it. And if you need to pause and come back to it, there are dozens of amazing movies I know you haven't gotten to the theater to see. So take a break and come on back. I have a friend who did that.
So those are some of the things I know you have to do, let go of, and risk, to get a week away with your love. You'll come back with a new vantage on everything in your world. And maybe a baffling yet adorable tchotchke that weights seven pounds.
I never want the way I talk about the things Kurt and I do to come off like, "We're so fabulous... Do these things and you'll be so so fabulous toooooo...." But more like this: Marriage is hard. But if you choose the right person (approximately as human as you are!) and invest and invest and invest, it can be rewarding and nourishing and - somewhat regularly - hot (and still hard). That's worth going for. As long as we live,we'll never forget that night in Amsterdam, 20 years into our relationship.
Love is a habit.
It’s been said that love transforms us, remakes us. But I believe that while that first rush of euphoric “in love” intoxication transports us, what transforms us is what happens thereafter… LONG after… and EVER after.
I’m a total book nerd. When you're going to read TOGETHER to deepen your love & sex, here are my personalized recommendations.
Valentine’s Day, oh, Valentine’s Day. We love you. We hate you. All the potential… all the pressure. Especially in a long-term relationship… very few of which get through 5 or 10 or 20 Februaries without some “Ghosts of Valentines Past” haunting them and making both partners gunshy for the next.
I used to ask him, “how was your day?”
Not that helpful.
When he seemed grumpy or withdrawn, I’d ask him, “What’s going on?”
He’d feel interrogated…. No matter how gentle I’d thought I had sounded.
Picture this: you scroll through your Instagram feed, and the self-portraits are grown women, glowing in the full presence and tingling invigoration brought on by the delicious sex they’ve been having regularly… and they say a little about that. Nothing voyeuristic, mind you… Just like, “Loving the way John and I are connecting… I think it’s good for my complexion, too!”
Some women find that as they and their husbands draw closer, it seems like the closeness itself is scary for their husbands… These men wonder,
"Can I really be what you want me to be? Consistently?"
"Do I deserve the kind of love you want to give me?"
You’ve never taken a woman upstairs from the hotel bar while you were traveling on business.
I’ve never reunited with an old flame… "just this once…" in the middle of the day.
But how many betrayals have passed between us?
“So… Getting engaged? Would that mean, like… I’d give you a ring?"
I whipped my head toward him. “What? Why are you asking about that?”
“You want to get engaged before we move in together. So I wanted to see what it would take.”
Why isn't it landing?
"She always says she wants more eye contact and conversations where I’m fully present and listening deeply. But I’ve been trying to do those things, and… it’s like, she blows me off. She’s not appreciating it at all."
When you're not going on dates often enough, they're release valves for the conversations you're not having.
Kurt and I tore the roof off our house. This was five years ago now, but the memory is still vivid. We lived there the whole time, which was deeply disconcerting. But we survived to live in a home we love, one that is a perfect expression of us and the community who gather there.