We've averted a relationship crisis. How to keep it that way?
April 9, 2019 1:14 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I recently had a crucial conversation where we aired a lot of things out and have started trying to improve our relationship. Things are better now, but how do I/we keep from falling back into the habits that led us to that point in the first place? More specific (and NSFW-y) details inside.

My wife and I have always been happy with almost everything in our relationship, but our sex life had gotten to a dangerous place--somehow each of us had arrived at the idea that the other had lost interest, so sex had become a matter of the same few minutes of missionary-position routine once every three months or so. It went on for far too long. Years, even. Not going to lie. I toyed with the idea of cheating because I was just so frustrated and feeling sexless. I'm not proud of it.

Things finally came to a head in the last few months, and I knew I couldn't continue on the way things were. I went to see a therapist and talked to a couple of discreet friends, and the advice was all the same: I needed to talk to my wife. I'd known that for a while, actually. I'd just been terrified of having the conversation, and I think I needed that last little kick in the ass. A day or two ago, I managed to get enough of my spine together to finally bring the subject up. It turned out that she'd been feeling the same frustration and didn't know what to do about it either, and she also wanted some variation in what we did in the bedroom.

Long story short: things are better now. We're talking about sex things like we haven't really in a long time, and we're tentatively feeling out trying different stuff, or things we haven't done in ages. It's all been a tremendous relief for both of us, I think, to get this off our chests, and I think it's also improving the rest of the relationship--we went out for a very nice date-night-type dinner that same evening, and we're starting to look at times and destinations to have a weekend getaway somewhere like we haven't done in at least a couple of years. I've joined a gym, not just for the health and weight loss benefits, but also so sex can be better for both of us. And, uh...we've had sex twice since the talk. It's all very positive.

My question(s) to you all, then, especially to anyone else who's been in a similar situation...how do we keep this momentum up? How do we keep from sliding back into the old bad patterns that got us to the crisis point in the first place? (Do we need to, I don't know, schedule sexy times? Does that help?) How do we keep being open and talking about all of this stuff, because being this candid about sex stuff is kind of new to us both? What's the best way to bring up/introduce something new into the bedroom without putting on pressure? Are there any books you'd recommend? Should we consider counseling?

Hope me, MetaFilter. Things are better than they've been in a long time, and I want to keep going in that direction.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

Very briefly: read Come As You Are, then Oh Joy Sex Toy, then go straight to OMGyes and buy Seasons 1 & 2.
Make a date to practice all the new stuff you're learning. Calendar that shit. Have fun!
posted by aw jeez at 3:34 AM on April 9, 2019 [16 favorites]

Keep taking initiative when you feel like having sex. Don’t wait for her to initiate.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:44 AM on April 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

What aw jeez said. Also, some people are deathly afraid of scheduling sexy fun times and the result is zero sexy fine times. Personally, I think it is totally OK to mindfully make a plan to have sex with your partner presuming that your partner agrees. In my former marriage, there was less and less sex until there was zero sex. That was not much fun, as you know. Reading Come as You Are will help.

For some of us, what also helps is to have a weekly or biweekly meeting to talk about our lives together just generally. I used to do that on Sunday afternoons with my partner. It did not save my marriage but it was actually helpful because it gave us an opportunity to say what we had enjoyed during the past period, which is important, and also to say what felt a little bit problematic. That is important because in my experience, at least, we tend not to want to bring things up until they have become problems. Sometimes large problems. And that’s partly because there’s no practical mechanism for dealing with things before they become big problems.

So I suggest that you and your partner create some kind of mechanism to check in with one another on a regular basis about everything, sex included. Because the most nonthreatening time to check in about things like that is not when you are planning to have sex or when you have just had sex but when sex is not on the table at that moment.

I will also note that because I’m on my phone I cannot take up any links but there is actual science that backs the idea that taking a walk together and being side-by-side lends itself to intimacy and a more honest exchange between two people. This is been my experience. It may not be yours, but consider a weekly walk with your partner in which you both can enjoy your nature and also go over the past week or two weeks and discuss any difficulties that have cropped up, no matter how small.

I would also encourage you to have this discussion with a sense of curiosity and openness rather than fear or a sense of defensiveness. That takes practice or at least it did for me. Also be open to the idea that just discussing the issue without being obligated to solve anything whatsoever can be a useful framework. At least to start. So the goal is not to identify problems and fix them on the spot. The goal is for each of you to be able to share your perspective on how things are going in a validating, safe environment where you each can be heard without fear of criticism. Congrats on the progress you’ve made so far. Good luck, we are rooting for you!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:24 AM on April 9, 2019 [9 favorites]

Nthing reading Come As You Are, developing routines to communicate with each other, continuing to talk to your partner about what makes her feel attractive and sexy, and then practicing doing those things so it becomes normal.
posted by thelastpolarbear at 4:59 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nthing Come As You Are. I can't say how much that book helped my relationship. Please read it.

AND DO ALL THE WORKSHEETS! Do the worksheets, and talk with each other about them. This part is hard, because you have to be honest and vulnerable, but it's where you get the most value. Make it a cooperative project: pretend you are taking a class to learn a skill together, and that skill is better communication about your sexual needs. After every worksheet, talk with each other and make a plan together to put your needs into action.

And schedule that. Yes, scheduling really helps--it take the pressure off and gives you something to look forward to (n.b. this is something Emily Nagoski explains very well: why spontaneity doesn't work for a lot of people). There is no shame in scheduling sex, scheduling is how lots of efficient people get things done (including each other;)

Also, +1 to Oh Joy Sex Toy. But definitely Come As You Are.
posted by Seven Windows at 5:24 AM on April 9, 2019

Communication. Communication. Communication.

Keep talking!!!
posted by kbbbo at 6:15 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

- regular date night. Not a presumption that there will be sex at the end of it but just regular connection time.
- skin to skin cuddle time with NO presumption of sex
- try having sex at different times of the day. A big issue may be that your energy levels are different at different times.
- focus on building intimacy, which means getting to know someone in a loving way and letting them know you in that loving way. Try the 36 questions to fall in love or other “love” things like the 5 love languages.

I am speaking from experience: sometimes after a dryspell and the initial “yay! We are having sex again!” the pressure really mounts to keep having sex. This is why I am emphasizing a focus on building loving intimacy, emotional, mental, and physical.
posted by CMcG at 6:59 AM on April 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

David Schnarch in Passionate Marriage suggests many intimacy building acts like, if you don’t already, try kissing with your eyes open. Or exercises such as holding each other comfortably until both people are fully relaxed (not moving to sex, but being comfortably held and holding each other) - and many more.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:07 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Communication. Communication. Communication.

Keep talking!!!

And not just about sex - it applies to so many areas couples get hung up on. Silence is a breeding ground for frustration, resentment, and jumping to conclusions.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:23 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nthing everyone else's recommendations to schedule. We are busy people with lots of distractions, and if you don't hold space - literally block off the window of time - the space fairy isn't going to show up and cut the power so you have no choice. Pre-plan windows for intimate time, marriage-talk-time, AND domestic administration time (along with all the physical and emotional labor that's not evenly distributed in most marriages and never will be unless effort is made, you have to meet at some point to put the meetings on the calendar).

Things don't build up for years if you're meeting monthly and weekly to work on them. Avoid thinking of anything as a "fix" so much as a practice, like exercise or meditation or financial management or landscaping. It's a thing you do ongoing.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:49 AM on April 9, 2019

The Guide to Getting it On is really good too.

Some suggestions for things you can do, in addition to date night: talk about what you like physically - and it doesn't have to be around sex. Start with "I like having x done to me" or "I like it when you do x" where x could be even "simple" stuff like: kissing, stroking my hair, massages, cuddles... I also suggest showering/bathing together, giving each other massages, erotic massages, kissing each other all over, just making out, etc. All that "simple" stuff I just love, and it's really fun too. And that's how I approach sex - it's fun. So is being physical with each other, whether it's sweet and sensual, or playful, like wrestling (gently) or pillow fights, etc. Or maybe you guys are into being really rough, I have no idea.

I think you have to let go of whatever's holding you back from having these discussions, whether it's shame, conservative upbringing, lack of knowledge, etc. If it's trauma, then yes, see a professional to process that. Just start exploring what's out there - Dan Savage's column is good, as is r/sex on reddit. With the latter, I really like hearing people's experiences in their own explorations of sex. I'm always thinking, "that sounds fun, I want to try that" etc.
posted by foxjacket at 10:41 AM on April 9, 2019

It sounds like each of you were responding to a scenario you had made up in your own respective heads, without confirming the accuracy of that scenario, because you were concerned that the conversation would be worse. And now you know that this was incorrect! But that doesn’t mean it’s not scary to have those conversations.

I would say, regularly check in with your spouse to confirm your willingness to have hard, scary conversations. Something like “hey, beloved. I never want to resent you; I never want you to resent me. I would rather be uncomfortable while discussing something, than not discussing it because I am scared. There is no problem I can think of that I would not be motivated to solve, if not solving it meant compromising our happiness as individuals or as a couple. I do not want to be comfortably ignorant at the expense of your happiness. If my actions indicate otherwise, feel free to call them out.”
posted by KathrynT at 12:16 PM on April 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

I agree that this wasn't a sex life issue, it's an overall communication issue.

Put less focus on scheduling sex and more on scheduling a chunk of time each week to check in and chat about how things have been going. "How was your day" chitchat each evening was nice, but tends to be an outlet for immediate feelings, not a good way to bring up the deeper things that have been percolating over the course of several days.

You and your wife could benefit from making time to talk where there's enough room for silence and contemplation. It can help to have a short list of topics to touch on each time (sex life, mutual support, future plans, etc) to make sure things don't get left in the dark for too long, but don't make it a full-out agenda, there should be room to bring up anything that's on your mind.

I also support the idea of making a point to cuddle naked (or minimally clothed) as often as possible. I'm remembering a comment from long ago (but can't find it in my favorites right now) about a couple who were struggling in the bedroom, so they made a conscious effort for a period of time to go to bed early for naked cuddles but were specifically in the mindset that it was not for sex. It was to be close and enjoy each other. Sex required enthusiastic consent from both parties and often ended up happening, but that was never the goal.

But, really, it's about communication. Not just talking to each other, but communicating.
posted by itesser at 12:20 PM on April 9, 2019

Before I experienced "scheduled sexy times," I didn't think much of the concept.

It was fantastic.
posted by Caxton1476 at 6:02 PM on April 9, 2019

Stay on top of personal grooming and hygiene! Putting in extra effort in that domain feels better and helps one look and smell more attractive to a partner.

Back when couples were dating, both parties probably showered and brushed teeth before dates, managed body hair in whatever way, wore flattering clothing, etc.

Once people are cohabitating, it's easy to get lazy about showering, tooth brushing, wearing flattering and recently-laundered clothing, and other basics of looking and smelling nice. But it's worth the extra effort- and shows respect both to self and partner- to clean up a little.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:37 PM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just want to say thank you to the OP for sharing your story. You are completely not alone in your struggles. We have much of the same in our own relationship. I will take all the advice offered in this thread and also find ways to apply it for good, not evil.
posted by Libelula y colibri at 10:31 AM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older Life after 2 decades on birth control pills   |   Small lifelogging camera with good battery life. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.