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«660 Mason Ridge Center Dr. St. Louis, Missouri 63141-8557 1-800-876-9880 • Lover 6BE89 Uncover the Within Rediscovering Intimacy in ...»

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660 Mason Ridge Center Dr.

St. Louis, Missouri 63141-8557

1-800-876-9880 • www.lhm.org






Rediscovering Intimacy in Your Marriage

by Melanie Wilson, Ph.D.

Sometimes I wish my marriage had the passion and romance of a Hollywood movie. What woman doesn’t want to

be spoiled with a new wardrobe like Richard Gere gave Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman? Or to have her man gently

wash her hair like Robert Redford did for Meryl Streep in Out of Africa? Who wouldn’t be thrilled to share a kiss as passionate as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s in Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail?

I’d like to get diamonds and roses and a surprise dinner at an exclusive restaurant. Instead, my “romantic moment” is usually a grocery-store greeting card and dinner at a fast-food restaurant.

I have sometimes felt disappointed, angry, and hopeless because my marriage didn’t measure up to the movie ideal.

But ten years of marriage and experience counseling dozens of engaged and married couples have convinced me that while romantic movies are fun, the perfect relationships they portray have little to do with real life.

As a newlywed, I was more interested in being loved than in giving love to my husband. I spent many frustrating years trying to get my husband to love me like I thought Richard Gere, Robert Redford, or Tom Hanks would love their wives. Slowly I discovered a more satisfying love than even these Hollywood hunks could provide, and it inspired me to be the best lover I could be.

As my focus shifted from getting to giving, I discovered more intimacy and passion in my marriage.

Our marriages will never be as ideal as the ones on the big screen, but I’ve found that it’s possible to star in my own wonderful romance by creating a romantic setting, seeking to be an admirable leading lady, and putting my trust in the director of marriage.

Create a Romantic Setting Clean Up!

Every good love story requires a romantic setting. The most intimate scene in a romantic movie usually takes place in a beautiful room with a comfortable, neatly made bed surrounded by the glow of candlelight or a crackling fire. Not many great love stories take place among stacks of laundry, an unmade bed, and a heap of clutter!

What setting is essential to your love story? Is there a space in your home that can make or break a romantic mood? When my husband and I were first married, our bedroom was a wreck. I tried to keep the rest of the house clean by cramming everything into our room, and never made the bed or hung up my clothes unless we were having company. When my husband tripped over laundry baskets and complained of stubbed toes, I realized this was getting in the way of intimacy.

I found it hard to relax and enjoy our time together, too, because I felt guilty about the mess. Worrying about clutter distracted me from feeling romantic.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my lack of concern with the state of our bedroom—our private space in a household with three children—suggested that I didn’t care much about the state of our marriage either. I had counseled enough unhappy divorced people to know that I didn’t want to join their ranks. My marriage was a top priority in my life, and I wanted our bedroom to show it!

One simple step I took to uncover the lover within me was to make sure my husband and I could enjoy a romantic setting. Marriage experts suggest that the bedroom should be reserved for sleeping, dressing, and sex. Removing desks, televisions, and other distractions might make it easier to talk and touch when you’re together. Our bedroom is now the cleanest room in our house because I spend just fifteen minutes a day decluttering it. I make the bed and put laundry away each morning and regularly deep clean. My husband no longer complains of stubbed toes and we enjoy spending more time in the bedroom, our haven from the cares and concerns of the world.

For me, keeping the bedroom clean is essential to the freedom necessary for intimacy. Determine what space in your home is important to set the mood or to show respect for your mate and take care of it.

W HOT TIP: If you need help conquering clutter, check out www.FLYLADY.net.

Change Relationships that Interfere My favorite part of a romantic movie is when the two lovers embrace and share their first kiss. The camera moves in close to capture every expression, and the magic continues as long as someone else doesn’t interrupt.

Relationships with other people are important, but must not intrude upon intimacy with your husband. That doesn’t just mean other men. Even a female friend or family member who requires too much of your time or is not supportive of your marriage can be one too many actors on the stage. I had no intention of letting anyone get between my husband and me, and I was sure it could never happen to us! My husband and I used to belong to separate gyms, and whenever I worked out, I visited with an attractive man who complimented me on my appearance—something my husband rarely did. One evening, he offered to take me out for a bite to eat.

At first I thought, “What harm would it do? We’re just friends.” Then suddenly I felt terrified of where this flirtation was going. I refused the invitation, went home, and started talking with my husband about what was missing in our marriage. My husband agreed to give me more praise, and I agreed to avoid temptations like the one I’d just barely avoided. I joined my husband’s gym soon thereafter.

If you or your mate have allowed someone else to get between you, it can be difficult to let that relationship go.

In counseling couples that are dealing with infidelity, I often hear the unfaithful party argue that a continued friendship with a lover won’t hurt the marriage. I disagree. Couples that completely end such relationships are the most likely to survive.

Another important choice is to preserve the time you have with your spouse, especially if that time is limited. I enjoy chatting with my girlfriends in the evenings, but that is often time my husband hopes to spend with me.

Limiting the time I spend chatting with friends tells my husband he is the most important friend I have. Spending too much time sharing intimate details of your marriage with coworkers or extended family can also interrupt intimacy. If any relationship poses a serious threat to your marriage, seek the help of a marital therapist.

Find Time to Be Alone Sometimes children can interfere with the intimacy of marriage, too. I adore my four children and believe they are one of the greatest blessings of marriage. Even so, research of couples with children consistently shows that marital satisfaction decreases after the birth of the first child and does not rebound until after the children have left home.

Usually this drop in marital satisfaction is due to the fact that children require much of the time and energy we used to devote to our spouses. When I am nursing a baby all night and chasing a toddler all day, the only thing a bed sounds good for is sleep. Arranging a baby-sitter so my husband and I can reconnect sometimes seems like more trouble than it is worth. Yet study after study confirms that a strong marriage is critical to children’s emotional, social, and intellectual well-being. Noted psychologist and author Dr. James Dobson says that making marriage a top priority is the best gift we can give our children.

One reason marital satisfaction declines after the birth of children may be less time for couples to be alone together. In counseling couples, I recommend regular dates without children. People often tell me that they don’t have enough money, or can’t find anyone to watch the kids, or that they feel uncomfortable being away from the children. These are all legitimate concerns, but if you and your spouse are never alone together, you’re unlikely to uncover the lover within!

My husband and I go on dates about twice a month. Some of the best dates we’ve had, like picnicking, walking, or window-shopping, were free. We arrange child care by asking relatives, hiring teenagers, or swapping free babysitting with friends. At first, being away from our children made my husband and me nervous, and we still miss them when we’re gone. But we rediscover what we love about each other when we are alone. We want our children to know that we value our marriage, and we want them to value marriage, too. When we can’t get out of the house, we make time alone together by putting the kids to bed by 8:30 p.m. and spending the evening together at home. Some of our friends say they prefer to spend time alone together first thing in the morning. How can you and your mate find time alone together? Maybe it’s just a few minutes a day, or a couple of hours each week.

The book 52 Dates for You and Your Mate by David and Claudia Arp has some great creative dating ideas. You and your husband may wish to take turns planning dates. If you don’t know what to talk about when you’re alone, consider using the discussion starters in the Arps’ book, Ten Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage.

I also recommend that couples consider going on marriage retreats and occasional vacations without their children. My husband and I usually take one kid-free vacation a year. Even one night away from home can revitalize our love life.

W HOT TIP: Plan to catch up on sleep during the first part of a kid-free vacation.

Create a Romantic Mood Setting a romantic mood can be important to change the pace from the busy concerns of work, family, and everyday life. Think about what puts you and your husband in a relaxed, intimate, or playful mood, then see what you can do to create that in your own home.

For us, it’s the bedroom ambience. Once I’d cleaned it up, I had fun adding my own romantic touch. I used bedding in a color, style, and fabric that appeals to both my husband and me, adding lots of pillows that make the bed look inviting. A candle sits near our bed (with matches easily accessible), the sheets and pillowcases are scented with linen spray, and the lighting is soft. The lock on our door completes the mood. No matter how nice a hotel we stay in, we both agree that our bedroom is our favorite place to be.

I used to wait for my husband to create a romantic mood and got angry because he didn’t get around to it. I decided that wasn’t working, so now I enjoy creating romance whether or not my husband responds in kind.

Creating the mood isn’t just a bedtime event—my marriage and family instructor in college emphasized the importance of all-day foreplay. Hiding love notes, making a special meal, and giving unexpected kisses and hugs during the day helps both of us get into a romantic mood. There are other good ideas in the book, 1001 Ways to Be Romantic by Gregory J.P. Godek. Now, when my husband makes romantic gestures in return, I am pleasantly surprised!

W HOT TIP: Spruce up that special place in your home so that a romantic mood is always at your fingertips!

–  –  –

Cultivate Self-Confidence The lead actress in a love story is almost always physically fit, beautifully dressed, with her hair styled, and face made up. While you and I may never measure up to the leading lady standards of Hollywood, we can most certainly create our own.

Feeling attractive may take on different definitions for different people, but the common denominator is taking care of your appearance so that you can carry yourself with a confidence that translates itself into beauty. When you don’t feel good about what you weigh or how you look, passion wanes. A second step in uncovering the lover within is to feel good about how you look.

As a newlywed, I struggled to maintain my weight. I also exercised inconsistently and, as a result, was selfconscious about my appearance—especially because my husband was physically fit. My self-consciousness diminished my desire for physical intimacy and disappointed both of us. I tried every kind of diet and exercise plan I could find, but nothing worked for long. In desperation, I asked for God’s help and in time I was freed of overeating and found the self-control I needed to exercise on a regular basis. Those positive changes gave me self-confidence and increased my sexual desire—both of which made me more attractive to my husband.

After marriage, both men and women often take less care with their appearance. Early in my marriage, I often did not do my hair and makeup and I stayed in my sweat pants all day. At the time, I didn’t realize that my uncaredfor appearance communicated that I took my husband for granted. Now I style my hair, apply makeup, and wear attractive clothing every day—even if I don’t plan to leave the house.

Caring for my appearance tells my husband that I want him to notice me and to be proud that I am his wife. It’s not important that you look like a movie star, but it is essential that you feel good about your body and be able to carry yourself with confidence. If you want some practical tips on weight loss or self-control, call 1-800-876for more helpful resources.

W HOT TIP: Relieve a stressful morning routine by setting out tomorrow’s clothes each evening.

Make Time for Yourself Although the lead actress in a love scene probably has times when she is “not in the mood,” the audience never sees that. A good leading lady not only feels attractive, but is able to give herself to her role emotionally.

Since becoming a mother, I have often found it a challenge to be a passionate lover. I become tired and frustrated about not having any time for myself during the day. At these times, giving to my husband feels like just another obligation to fulfill.

I have learned that when I am too exhausted or cranky to want intimacy with my husband, I am not doing a good job of taking care of myself. Now I take frequent breaks throughout the day to do things that are relaxing for me: read magazines, surf the Net, chat with girl-friends. Attending a small-group Bible study, scrapbooking, and taking a nap while my husband watches the kids also revitalize me so I can be a better lover. It’s tempting to blame my husband when I don’t have time for myself; now I am responsible for seeing that I take this time.

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