Written by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, the Marriage in a Box blog shares insights into common relationship struggles, gives ideas for moving beyond the roadblocks, and helps you find your path to happiness – both individually and within your relationship.
It is difficult to say exactly how many of the 113 million married Americans are too exhausted or too grumpy to get it on, but some psychologists estimate that 15 to 20 percent of couples have sex no more than 10 times a year, which is how the experts define sexless marriage. (Newsweek)
In an American society where sex is in every TV show, movie, novel, magazine, social media, and discussion, it is hard to believe that more couples are not having sex on a regular basis. Is the reason a lack of desire? Lack of time?
Lack of time. Compared to past generations, modern married couples lead more hectic lives. In many marriages, both spouses work full time, share the demands of raising children, and spend more time in physical activity and social commitments. If you value something highly enough, you will make time for it. Skip the gym one night or morning or beg off on a social engagement and spend it with your spouse instead.
Lack of desire. Sex is a human need. It is a desire that must be filled. Sex is necessary to a healthy marriage relationship. Sex helps couples connect physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When one partner is unhappy with your sex life, they may feel minimized or ignored. Unhappiness can turn to anger or distance. When enough anger and alienation has built up, your marriage is headed for infidelity or divorce.
How to pump up your sexual desire
If your sexual relationship is not satisfying for both of you, you need to address it and soon. A low sex drive is not uncommon. Millions of men and women suffer from a lack of desire. A lack of desire does not mean a lack of love. It simply means that it takes a lot of patience, romance, and foreplay to get in the mood for sex. Sex is not something that can conjured up instantaneously or that can be rushed.
Talk about it. If one of you is avoiding having sex because of some unresolved difference or something lacking in your lovemaking, you need to talk about it with your partner. Talking about sex is difficult for most people, however, no resolution will come from keep it a secret. You need to learn to ask for what you want.
Flirt a little with your spouse each day. Remember when you were dating and stole little kisses or whispered in each other’s ear. Out in public, you slipped you hand in his and leaned in a little closer. Across the table at lunch, you caught each other’s eye and stopped to enjoy that lingering gaze. That flirty romance may be exactly what you need.
Create the mood. Dress a little sexy. Share a glass of wine together. Tease each other with tender strokes on the neck and down the back. Let your partner know that you are willing to have sex by not saying a word. Even if you are not yet feeling the desire, go with it and let yourself give in to the sex.
A healthy sex life take work and requires time. If you and your partner devote time and energy to building a healthy sex life, you won’t be disappointed.
Satisfaction and a sense of “US” is contingent upon the respect that spouses have and show toward one another. It is an essential part of the foundation of a healthy marriage. Respect is a recognition that each partner is an individual and has the free will to make independent decisions about what they think, say, and do.
In marriage, respect is the give and take, the willingness to talk things out and listen to each other born out of loving consideration and patience. When both partners feel accepted and respected, they have a more intimate connection to one another.
How Respect Can Break Down in a Marriage
If you or your partner is stressed with your own issues, you may become irritable and negative, and vent your frustrations on your spouse. The venting can easily erode into partners becoming increasingly negative and disrespectful to each other. An inability to resolve or manage conflicts or differences can lead to anger and frustration, which can start the same cycle of negative interactions and result in the loss of respect.
When respect breaks down in the marriage, one partner exerts their dominance of the other with selfish demands and decision making. The result is:
- Poor Communication
- Reduced intimacy and Rejection
- Reduced desire for sex or lovemaking with their spouse.
Once respect has broken down in the marriage How can you get it back?
Eliminate the Negative and Rebuild the Positive.
When couples lack Mutuality, Reciprocity, Accommodation, and Acceptance, there is a power imbalance, a dominant and a submissive spouse, which creates a lack of respect.
- Mutuality. Everything you do as a couple needs to be good for both of you. You need to use collaboration and cooperation in your relationship to make decisions. Consider how your decisions will affect or benefit each other.
- Reciprocity. There are two of you in this marriage so there must be a give and take on both of your parts. Support your partner by pitching in when you know they are having a particularly stressful time. Sacrifice some of your activities to do something with the whole family.
- Accommodation. Let each other know what your expectations are and do your best to adjust to each other. Be more sensitive to each other’s feelings.
- Accept that you married a less than a perfect partner and you are also a less than perfect spouse. Focus on building each other up, not tearing each other down.
The key idea is for each spouse to work on changing their own behavior. Do not police or correct your spouse’s behavior. Follow the Golden Rule: Treat each other how you want to be treated.
Avoid treating each other in rude and disrespectful ways:
- Don’t engage in name calling
- Do not insult or demean your spouse
- Do not ignore or avoid our spouse
- Do not speak to each other sarcastically
Treat each other as a cherished partner:
- Speak thoughtfully and with care.
- Listen to what your partner has to say and view their opinions as worthy of consideration.
- Consult with your spouse before making decisions that affect you both.
- Take an active interest in your spouse’s life
- Negotiate and Compromise with your spouse
Couples who can establish and maintain respect enjoy high degrees of trust, security, and a sense of unity. They are less anxious, more able to express their own wants and needs, and they are more able to resolve differences in a mutually acceptable fashion.
Have you ever wondered how couples end up in divorce? It is not always because someone cheated on someone else. Marriages can become stale. Couples can get stuck repeating the daily procedures of life without interacting. Some parents become so focused on their children that they neglect their marriage in the process. Neglecting to take time to focus on your marriage, your spouse, your connection to each other is the most common reasons for divorce.
Parents need time to alone to recharge, reconnect, communicate, and focus on their romantic relationship which brought them together in the first place. You can be a desirable, interesting marriage partner AND a good parent. You don’t have to choose between being a good parent and a good partner.
Here are 5 ways to help your marriage stay strong by building in couple time.
- Schedule a talk with you kids to let them know that you value your role as a partner and parent. Children look up to their parents as role models for relationships between two people that love each other. It is important that you show your children that relationships require intentional effort to maintain harmony, happiness, and love. It is also essential that children don’t feel that you love them any less when you and your spouse decide to spend time alone together.
- Schedule Alone time with your spouse. A marriage study conducted by the University of Virginia showed that married couples who devote time together at least once per week not only have lower divorce rates, but also increased the quality of their marriage. Couples were happier, more committed to their marriage, and more stable parents.
Put a weekly date night on the calendar. Hire a babysitter for the kids or ask grandparents or relatives to watch them for a while. Take turns planning your date nights.
- Schedule time for romancing your spouse. Few marriages will last without that “spark” of romance that attracted you to each other in the first place. You need time to get your flirt on. Remember the butterflies you felt in the pit of your stomach when you anticipated going out with your “date”? See if you can’t re-create that feeling by teasing your spouse a little, sending naughty text messages, whispering in his ear as he leaves for work, or leaving a note on her bedstand, letting your spouse know how much you are looking forward to you date.
Get a hotel room for the evening or let the kids spend the night at grandma and grandpa’s house. Dress up, even if you are staying in. Take your time building the excitement of exploring every inch of your spouse’s body.
- Schedule time to talk with your spouse out of earshot of the kids. By talking privately to each other and communicating openly about how they are feeling, spouses build strong bonds that solidify their commitment to each other. This is important for the inevitable hard times that hit every marriage. When either of you are at your low point, talking can help you pull each other back up. Open communication on a regular basis will help head off misguided expectations and strengthen your bond.
Get up before the kids and have breakfast together to talk about what’s going on lately. Meet up for lunch while the kids are at school and discuss something on your mind.
- Schedule time to de-stress and recharge as a couple. Life can get stressful in a busy household. You may be working later at work. The kids’ activities may be taking more time than they used to. Keeping up with household chores and routines may be tending to take longer than normal. If married couples do not make regular time to relax and spend some unregulated time together, they will be too burned out to function well as parents.
Take a relaxing shower or bubble bath together. Give each other a massage. Cuddle up and take a nap together.
Getting creative and fostering opportunities to spend some time together as a couple will strengthen your emotional bond and create the climate for a lasting, happy marriage.
In many marriages, one spouse does the lion’s share of the work in parenting the children. Your kids are the most important job you have as a couple. Parents have the responsibility of ensuring their children turn out to be solid, upstanding, productive people.
A wedding ring does not magically make a couple happy, stable, and child ready. Raising a child is not just providing the income to feed and clothe your children. Children require a solid, intact family structure and positive parenting behaviors to have positive impact on their present and future wellbeing. Parenting is a 24-hour endeavor that takes work from both partners.
How is your parenting going?
Are you leaving the heavy lifting to your spouse?
Do you expect your spouse to meet the kids’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs?
In a marriage, both parents need to pool their time, money and energy and make their children more of the focus of their home. If you are not used to being the one that tends to the children, start by asking your spouse, “How can I help?” When you get home from work, take some time to decompress and then offer to:
- Entertain the kids while dinner cooks, or
- Takeover “bath time” with the kids, or
- Help the kids with homework.
Both parents can bond with each other and the kids by:
- Teaching your kids household chores like making beds, folding laundry, picking up and putting away toys, taking out trash, washing dishes.
- Family yard work like raking leaves, pulling weeds, or planting or watering flowers.
- Playing games, sports, on playgrounds
- Working together in community projects
- Reading stories at bedtime
How much time do you spend with your kids?
Parenting does not come with a handbook. You don’t require special training. However, you may not know where to start. Most parenting behaviors are intuitive. Children do best in a stable family environment where well-adjusted parents have established consistent routines for the home. Think about what you wanted from your parents when you were a child.
- Unconditional Love. Children need to know that you love each other, and you love them no matter what the circumstances are. You children are watching how you treat your spouse and will someday model that same behavior in their relationships. Do openly hug and kiss? Do you speak affectionately to your spouse? Children need frequent hugs, kisses, and words of encouragement also.
- Talk with Your Kids. You can learn a lot about your child by spending time in conversation with them. Ask them questions on their level. What did you do today? How did your day at school go? What is your favorite princess? Who is your favorite superhero? Not only will you learn what your child is interested in, you will likely be entertained. “Dad, did you know they have lions, tigers, and “Pippohotamuses” at the zoo?”
- Teaching basic life skills. Children are not born knowing how to eat properly, clean their clothes, clean up their rooms, do their homework, and help around the house. It is the parent’s job to train and teach their children. Parents model and talk to their children about appropriate life skills. “Hold you fork lie a big boy.” “Hey, come and help me take out the trash.” “I want to show you how to wash dishes so you can start helping out around the house.”
- Get actively involved with your kids. Get involved in community activities such as soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics, or other sports, Take part in academic science fairs, debate clubs, or international days in local schools and other academic institutions. Volunteer for family projects to help the needy in the community. Remember that adage, “the family that plays together, stays together?” It’s true.
Overall, intact families, where both spouses share the parenting, tend to be more stable. Parents tend to be more involved in their children’s lives and are more highly invested in their children’s success.
“Dad, can I go spend the night at Jerry’s house?”, asks your eleven-year-old-son. “I don’t know Jerry or his parents, so I think you need to stay home tonight.” “Oh, honey, I know Jerry’s mother and they don’t live far. I think it would be alright to let him go.”, says your wife.
Does this sound familiar? Does your spouse frequently contradict you in front of the kids? Do you and your spouse argue over parenting decisions often? If you and your spouse constantly disagree on how to parent your children, resort to undermining each other’s authority, and contradicting each other’s words to your children, your marriage is in trouble.
The result of fighting over parenting is that your children end up confused about who to listen to. Each of you become ineffective parents. Your marital relationship suffers. At some point, you have got to get on the same page.
In every marriage, there will be disagreements over parenting. How you handle those disagreements makes all the difference. You need to learn how to resolve disagreements productively, calmly, and out of hearing range of the children.
Here are 5 ways to Avoid Parenting Fights
- Back Each Other Up
You and your spouse need to present yourselves as a unified team to your child, or it will undermine your authority as parents. Make it a rule that if one parent disciplines a child, the other parent must back it up, even if the other parent disagrees with the punishment. Later, you and your spouse can talk about alternate ways to handle discipline.
- Address disagreements with your spouse in private.
Every time you argue with your spouse over parenting, the focus shifts away from your child’s behavior. The more this goes on, the more your child learns that they can get around your decision by playing you against your spouse. Keep the focus on your child whenever your child is present.
- Listen to Your Spouse’s Opinion
This is not a competition. The goal is not to win the argument. The goal is to arrive at the best decision for your child and maintain harmony in your marriage. Say your 15-year-old daughter is invited to a party at a friend’s house. Your spouse is not comfortable with her going because they don’t trust the friend’s parents to supervise the party. You don’t want your daughter to be “labeled” by friends. Your spouse says, “I feel strongly about this, and I need you to support me on this. I don’t want our daughter to be put in harm’s way.” While you may not agree with your spouse, try to see their side of things, and agree to support them.
- Don’t Throw Your Spouse under the Bus
If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on a parenting issue, do not tell your child that “Your Father says NO” or “Your Mother Does Not Want You to Go.” You are setting your spouse up as the Bad Guy or the Witch, while you appear to be their friend. You are avoiding hostility from your child at the expense of your spouse. Before you say anything to your child regarding a decision, discuss it thoroughly with your spouse and agree that while you don’t agree with their position, you will go along with their decision. Don’t break your rule of unity.
- Discuss Parenting Issues Calmly.
A discussion is two people exchanging ideas and listening to one another calmly and respectfully. If the conversation escalates into sarcasm, put-downs, yelling, or fighting, take a time-out from each other. Ask your spouse if you can discuss this later when you are both calm.
Remember that this is your family. Practice listening to each other’s point of view without interruption or reacting. Just listen. Then ask questions of each other. And talk about why this issue is important. Try to understand each other’s point of view and find common ground. Then ask each other “What can we do to compromise?”
Do you and your Spouse set goals together? Most people would answer “Yes.” Most couples plan for retirement and large expenditures. Some have a bucket list of places they want to see before they die. Just about everyone sets personal goal in their New Year’s resolutions. However, do you and your partner set relationship goals?
Your marriage is one of the biggest events in your life. It is the foundation of everything you do as a couple and the center of your happiness or misery. So, why would you leave something so important to the winds of fate? If you don’t have a plan for your marriage, then you may not be on the same page.
Couples function better when they are on the same page, working toward the same goals. At the very least, you and your partner should spend some time each year, looking at where you have been, where you are, and where you want to go.
How to Set goals Together
- Look at all the areas of your life as a couple and choose 3 or 4 that you both want to work on over the next 12 months.
Areas can be anything, such as Money, Parenting, Home Projects, Couple Time, Friendships with other couples, Faith, Sex Life, Leisure time together, etc.
- For the three or four areas you chose to work on, think of two specific, measurable goals you can work on. Suppose you chose Parenting as one of your areas. You might feel that one of you does more of the parenting than the other. So, a goal could be “working together as a parenting team.”
5 Reasons to work together on goals
- Partnership - By working together as a team to reach a common goal, your relationship is instantly strengthened. Stronger teamwork = stronger foundation.
- Support- Committing to change of any kind includes both struggles and obstacles. Having a partner to help you face and overcome each challenge is a huge advantage.
- Soundboard- As you embark on this journey together, you will continue to learn together. Sharing ideas and tips for what works and what doesn’t will help you stimulate each other’s minds.
- Accountability- Having someone in your corner will hold you responsible for staying on track. They’ll also have your back, which is simply the best feeling there is.
- Celebration- Both of you celebrating both of your accomplishments together brings you closer together as a couple.
When you both make it a priority to work on relationship goals together, your marriage becomes stronger, and you deepen your connection to each other.
An indispensable ingredient in building and maintaining a healthy marriage is trust.
Trust is the act of placing complete confidence in and being able to depend on someone. It is the foundation of every relationship from which a strong connection and intimacy can be built. Without trust a relationship can’t grow and progress to a deeper level.
Spouses must feel comfortable enough and safe enough to open up and be vulnerable to each other for intimacy to occur. Truly knowing someone and allowing them to know you build acceptance and love. True long-lasting love requires total trust.
Here are a few tips on how to build trust between you and your partner or earn trust back if your relationship has suffered from broken trust issues.
- Talk things out.
Communication is an important factor in building trust between partners in a relationship. When you live with someone, you can sense when something is wrong. If you sense something is wrong, ask your partner to talk about the issue. Even if the issue is an incidence of broken trust, listen to your partner and try to understand their feelings.
Validate their feelings, admit where you messed up, and talk about a better way to handle the issue in the future. Sitting on problems and brooding just keeps the anger continuously just below the surface. To build or rebuild trust in a relationship, both partners must be able to communicate about their problems to move forward.
- Don’t keep secrets from each other; be transparent.
Building trust in a relationship between you and your partner requires transparency. No withheld honesty or secrets. If you are trying to rebuild trust in your marriage, it is essential to be open and honest in everything you say and do. When you have spent too much money or run up credit card debt, don’t attempt to hide that from your spouse. If you keep secrets or tell lies to your partner, you are knowingly deceiving them. Continuous deception will erode the trust in your relationship.
- Don’t make promises you cannot keep.
Just like you cannot spend money you do not have, you can’t make promises that you don’t have the ability to keep. Keep your words and your promises! If you promised your partner that you are going to do something, make sure you do it. Trust will grow when what you say consistently matches what you do.
- Don’t take your marriage for granted.
A marriage is a partnership. Both partners need to feel free to share their feelings and needs. Sometimes one partner may be struggling with an issue unrelated to the marriage. They may need to talk to someone they trust, or they may just need some space to figure things out. Gently let them know that you are there for them to talk to or just lean on.
Trust often results from consistency. We tend to have the most trust in people who are there for us consistently through good times and bad. Regularly showing someone that you’re there for them lets them know you care about them and is an effective way to build trust.
- Admit your mistakes and say you’re sorry
When you attempt to hide your mistakes, people know that you are being dishonest. By being open, you show your vulnerable side, and this helps build trust with other people.
This is because they perceive you to be more like them. Everyone makes mistakes.
How you handle the mistakes you make is the true measure of character. Being willing to own up to your mistakes and apologize to your partner lets them know that you value them and your marriage. Admitting you made a mistake is a true sign of maturity and one of the essential building blocks of trust.
Building trust in a marriage doesn’t happen instantly. It takes time, patience, and effort. You build trust by sincere and honest communication, being consistently dependable in word and deeds, and being willing to admit your mistakes, apologize, and move forward.
Everything in our society today seems to focus on “individualism”. Government is focused on protecting the equality of individuals. Business produces products based on individual consumer needs and preferences. Relationships are based on how individuals feel and what they want. Marriage, however, is based on a couple’s commitment to maintain and grow their relationship through their lifetimes.
When both partners are not committed to the marriage, the relationship leads to sadness, frustration, and eventually divorce.
Commitment to your marriage is a choice that must be made daily. When you stop trying to draw closer in your marriage, you begin drifting away. A committed marriage requires intentional action to maintain and grow the relationship. When your marriage hits a rough patch, you may need to make some sacrifices and take some steps to do what it takes to make the marriage work.
Three active steps you can take to make a commitment to your marriage are:
- Honor your marriage vows, even when things get tough.
- Do you take this man (or this woman to Have and to hold from this day forward? You chose your spouse because you wanted to spend the rest of your life with them.
- For Better or for worse, not just when times are good. You agreed that you would help your partner weather the bad times in life.
- For richer and for poorer, you accepted the fact that there may be times when you may have to reign in your spending, ration your existing resources, and forego some things until finances improve.
- In sickness and in health, you will devote yourself to nurture and care for your spouse throughout their lifetime.
- Share in each other’s joys and withstand life’s pressures and disappointments.
- Surround yourself with people that support you and your spouse and want to see your marriage succeed.
- Change the “Me” to “We” to bind and secure your marriage for a lifetime.
- Marriage requires Teamwork. Make sure that you share the chores and errands, childcare, and family support.
- Communicate Openly, Manage finances jointly, and plan for your future together.
- Don’t focus only on your hopes, dreams, and wants. Think about and plan for what is best for you and your spouse as a couple.
- Build lasting Trust through loyalty and fidelity to protect and preserve the relationship.
- Be the person your partner can count on to talk when they need to talk, and not do anything to hurt or betray them.
- Be each other’s cheerleader by building each other up and focusing on the positives in your relationship.
- Don’t let attractions to others or vices replace your attraction to your spouse. Protect yourself from distractions like pornography and temptations like office flirtations.
- Actively keep the romance and intimacy alive in your marriage by flirting, spending time alone with your spouse, and date nights.
Your willingness to sacrifice your personal interest for your marriage is the essence of commitment and the one that is going to make your marriage a success.