How much sex makes you happy? Five times a week, once a week, two times a month or perhaps you are fine going abstinent for a year? (God forbid if your partner can go even for longer without).
Couples differ in physical intimacy, there’s no ‘one size fits all’, so the number of times you have sexual encounter is rather based on whether your sexual needs, and those of your partner, are being met. It is fine if you are both happy with the amount of sex you have, but what happens when one of you has a higher libido and wants to express love through sex while you would rather just have someone to cuddle with when going to bed? Well for sure, sparks can fly then, but not those of sexual nature, unfortunately.
It’s rather a myth that men want sex more than women. Women need the romance, passion, and that sex chemistry to feel that the love is alive and well. They need to be loved and cherished, and this is often achieved not just through emotional, but physical connection too. As a psychologist, working with emotional and mental health issues, over the years I’ve had quite a few female clients who have experienced marital problems as a result of differing sexual needs.
Intimacy issues are not uncommon, and they can certainly be difficult to handle or awkward to address. In fact, the lack of communication and loss of sexual intimacy appear to be the most frequent issues in marriage troubles. More often than not, these two building blocks are mutually effective in both positive and negative ways – communication affects sex, sex affects communication. If well aligned and satisfactory, they make the relationship vibrant and strong.
Getting under the sheets
Here is how one female client, Eleanor, 46, described the intimate side of her marriage:
We’ve been married for five years and for the first two years we had a passionate relationship which I think we both enjoyed. If anything we definitely had sex at least once a week. Now he just doesn’t show any interest in sex for weeks. Nowadays, he only wants to cuddle up when we go to bed. During the day, responsibilities take over and in the evenings, he would spend time watching TV, and then go to bed with his phone, rather than making love to me. He knows that I’m not really happy with it, but he’s not proactive to make some changes and get out of that routine. Maybe he’s not intentionally trying to hurt me, and maybe he doesn’t realise that he is doing damage with his seemingly self-absorbed behaviour in personal interests, responsibilities and habits to the extent that I feel he doesn’t desire me anymore. And for me it’s not just the act of sex that I am missing. Even the kissing has been restricted to a few pecks on the lips without passion. I am missing the anticipation, being desired, knowing that he wants me, having the intimacy and spontaneity, the fun that we had before. I am afraid that I might end up living in a sexless marriage with a friend when I want a lover too, where my husband thinks it’s OK to brush over this because he loves me and we’re otherwise happy. It’s just so sad because I do like him more when we are intimate. Often, I feel emotionally disconnected with repressed anger and resentment that further affects our communication and intimacy. It’s like a vicious cycle. I don’t have a problem initiating intimacy and I certainly did a number of times but as my efforts were unsuccessful I have stopped because if anything, they sometimes made things worse. I felt rejected and each time I would voice my unhappiness my husband would become upset and defensive, so I withdraw in order to avoid conflicts. We love each other and although he insists that he still finds me attractive, there are times when I feel lonely and undesirable.
And when I get that feeling…
There’s no denying that sex contributes to a long-term relationship satisfaction. A marriage with an active, fulfilling sex life is much more likely to be a happy one. Intimacy is important in maintaining relationships of all kinds. However, it is sex that makes a difference between your relationship with friends, family or your colleagues. In your marriage partner you can search for companionship, friendship, safety and security, even status, but without a passionate, physical attraction you are basically just friends.
Romance, emotion, passion, and sex – they are all important ingredients to marriage happiness. For both men and women, the intimacy and connection that sex brings help them to feel loved and in love. Sex doesn’t just elevate the emotional bond between the spouses but it is also great for the physical and mental health. I mean hey…Marvin Gaye ‘Sexual Healing’ song aside, it has been scientifically proven that considerable amounts of oxytocin ‘feel good’ or so called ‘bliss’ hormone are being released each time couples are engrossed in satisfactory lovemaking, increasing the feeling of falling in love. At the same time the levels of stress hormone cortisol go down which helps to diminish stress and anxiety.
Riding the love tide
In every relationship there are times when intimacy decreases and rises. It’s normal to have days when you or your partner feel reluctant to make love due to stress and other issues. But if you go without for too long and it only happens occasionally when you are on holiday for example, then that may be a problem.
Sweeping sexual intimacy under the carpet and ignore it can actually bring the pink elephant in the bedroom. If you are not careful it can start to drive you apart by surfacing out in other ways such as manifesting the frustration as irritation or impatience in response to unrelated, relatively minor matters that might lead to major conflicts, eventually leading to an outcome that is not desirable.
A relationship requires attention and maintenance, and the intimate bond between couples will fade if they stop caring for the physical side of their relationship. Sex is never just about sex and sex is not all about penetration, it comes in different forms, and so what we really need in a loving relationship is that feeling of closeness and attachment. Occasional sex that happens once in a month or less frequently can easily lead to emotional disconnection as going long stretches without making love stirs resentment, provokes conflicts and fosters distance that reduces your marriage to roommate status. Feeling lazy and withdrawing from sex won’t help relationship and creates massive void.
Intimacy doesn’t need to be a hard work. It can be a lot of fun if both people are committed to maintain the spark in the bedroom. Communicating your needs, trying to find a happy medium, making a more consistent effort to be affectionate and caring and open, getting out of your way to love and cherish your partner, is what takes intimacy on a different soul bonding level that makes for a happy marriage.
Zana Apostolova is an experienced psychologist and author, having spent over 20 years studying and practicing psychology and psychotherapy. She is particularly interested in anxiety disorders, depression, relationships, and weight management. Her academic and practical experience also extends to include coaching, career guidance and training & development. She is author of the self-help book Life Equilibrium.