Better Sex in Marriage: Trust and Vulnerability Are Key

Better sex in Marriage

What steps can a committed couple take to have better sex in marriage (or in a long-term relationship)?

This was the question that led the couples at the intimacy workshop into a two-hour discussion about how marriage impacts (for better or for worse) sexual passion and fulfillment. And the consensus for many was that marriage can either enhance or hinder sexual intimacy. Let’s find out why.

Caring about someone is a double-edged sword. On one side, the person who matters to you has the power to lift you up emotionally, to make you feel deeply about things, including making you feel secure, special and loved. These are just some of the gifts of love and being in a marriage/relationship that is working well.

The inverse, of course, is that this same person can make your life feel like an unrelenting struggle at times. Anyone in the throes of marital/relationship conflict or who is dealing with the fallout of an affair knows this first-hand. Relationship harmony isn’t a given; loyalty and commitment aren’t givens; neither are effective communication or empathic responsiveness. This is why couples must work to establish a foundation of trust—a foundation that is vital to a healthy marriage or relationship.

When trust is lacking, couples are forced to emotionally distance themselves from one another; this self-protective move is the antithesis of the emotional vulnerability that is required for meaningful intimacy (including emotional and sexual intimacy).

Sexual Intimacy Is Built Upon Trust and Emotional Vulnerability

“It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever been and probably the most vulnerable I’ll ever be. Without trust, I could never be intimate with Jesse.” ~ Rosie, describing her emotional experience during sex with her husband

As the couples in the workshop continued to share their experiences, the issue of relationship trust was repeatedly highlighted. It is trust that allows couples the freedom needed to share their bodies with one another and to open themselves up emotionally to the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure. Without trust, all the couples agreed that sex would be a mechanical, unfeeling experience with the simple goal of having an orgasm (rather than an emotional experience that arises out of sexual intimacy).

At this point I asked the group, “How do you know you can trust your spouse and allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable during sex?”

This question stirred a lively debate about the ingredients of trust. Here are a few of the highlights (as you read these, please think about what goes into establishing trust for you in your relationship):

1) Respect

The couples highlighted that respect is a critical factor in establishing trust. And the best way to show respect is through how you and your partner communicate with each other (your body language, tone of voice, the words used). Gentle, kind, and compassionate words that support one another’s dreams and goals, while acknowledging each other’s fears and struggles, go a long way in establishing trust.

2) Predictability and Consistency

Joan shared the following in her discussion about trust: “Vince is consistent in how he reacts and behaves. So I have a greater sense of security because I mostly know how he’s going to react to me and the kids…” Joan is talking about the emotional security that arises out of a sense of relationship predictability. Imagine how disconcerting it would be if you never knew how your spouse was going to respond.

3) Responsiveness

When you request something from your partner or when you share your feelings with him/her, do you anticipate that s/he will at least try to meet your needs or be open to what you are feeling? If so, it sounds like you’ve learned that your partner is responsive and will make attempts to meet your emotional needs. Can you imagine how painful it would be to mostly anticipate a lack of effort or responsiveness whenever you tried to engage your partner? Responsiveness is an important component to building trust.

The couples agreed that these three behaviors (respect; predictability/consistency; responsiveness) are essential for the emotional safety required for vulnerability and sexual intimacy.

At this point Eric spoke up and shared the following:

“Having sex with someone you really don’t care about is easy. If you don’t care about what they think or feel about you, then they can’t hurt you. It’s when love enters the picture that things get tricky and then trust starts to matter.”

Spice Up Your Marriage Action Step:

We’ve been focusing on the interplay between trust and emotional vulnerability, and how these have the potential to enhance physical and sexual intimacy (and when absent, hurt intimacy). Take a moment to reflect on the following questions:

  • How are the levels of trust in your marriage/relationship?
  • What factors are important to you in maintaining and increasing trust?
  • How would you describe the relationship of emotional vulnerability and sexual intimacy/satisfaction?

(Featured [top] image credit: “Vulnerable” by David Davila Vilanova under CC BY-SA 2.0)