Building a Passionate Marriage: One Wife’s Perspective

Building a Passionate Marriage

Amanda and her two roommates from college, despite living in different parts of the country, make it a point to spend one weekend a year to catch up on each other’s lives and nurture their friendship of more than 20 years. They talk about all sorts of things, and inevitably their conversation will get around to their relationships at some point. Their last visit was no exception. Amanda, married to Bryce for 15 years, has clocked the most marriage miles of the group. But as healthy women in their 40s in long-term relationships, they could all relate to what she had to say about sex and the struggles on building a passionate marriage.

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“I was flipping through a magazine in my dentist’s waiting room last week,” Amanda said, picking at her appetizer, “and an article caught my eye. At first I was interested in it, but eventually it made me mad.” She told her friends that the article stated that 1/3 of women report a waning or diminished sexual appetite. “I wasn’t arguing with that number,” she said, “I was just irritated that it didn’t underscore and celebrate the fact that 2/3 of women are still hungry for sex, me included. And I have a clear sense of what turns me on and what kills the moment for me. So rather than only report bleak statistics, I wish they’d interview women like us.”

That got the discussion going, and the women continued it through the appetizer, entrée, and dessert, careful to discreetly pause the conversation while the server was at the table.

Ramping Up Sexual Desire: What turns you on?

Sexual Build-up

“For me, foreplay starts way before the sex starts,” Amanda said. “Flirting, innuendo, building anticipation, teasing…all that drives me wild. Seduction is an art. I want Bryce to seduce me, to make me want to have sex! It’s all about the lead-up.” She went on to say that she didn’t want to become passive when it came to foreplay, but neither did she want to be the one to initiate sex every time. “Bryce being turned on is a big turn-on for me. So when he moves into seduction mode, I get very excited, knowing that he wants me. Sometimes I think that puts a lot of pressure on him. But we talked about it, and I discovered he had been holding back at times, thinking he should let me have space, thinking he wanted sex too often for my taste, and there I was, wishing he’d sweep me off my feet with his desire.”

And then she laughed. “And man, was it hard to get him to talk about it! He looked like a startled hare hoping to find a burrow to duck into. His expression said, Wait, are we really gonna talk about this? But after the talk, he admitted it was the best thing we ever did for our sex life, just naming things so openly and non-judgmentally. We lined up our expectations and preferences and found out there was more in common than we thought. Plus, the talking about it itself was kind of hot.” She winked at her friends.

Laughter as an aphrodisiac

“I don’t know about you ladies,” Amanda said, “but laughing can be a big aphrodisiac for me. So when Bryce sends me funny texts with a hint (or maybe more than a hint) of sexual innuendo, I can get as turned on as if he was right there in front of me.” Her friends agreed, talking about some funny (or unfunny) partners in their pasts, as well as ones who weren’t naturally witty but made an effort to get them to laugh. “Humor is sexy,” Amanda said, “and utilizing humor can be very erotic, even when the topic discussed isn’t overtly sexual. It helps desire to build up for me.”

Emotional Connection

“Another turn-on for me is feeling connected emotionally throughout the day. Getting emails or voice messages from Bryce while we’re both at work that tell me that he’s thinking about me…those can go a long, long way not only in making me feel connected to him and keeping him in my consciousness, but also to making me want to rip his clothes off when the day is over and we’re finally together.” Communication is important, all three women agreed, and sometimes, during the progression of a typical day—complete with lots of necessary, work-related tasks—less can be more. I miss you and can’t wait to be with you can re-establish a bond that fuels intimacy and nurtures the promise of a physical union when the time is right.

Understanding sexual turn offs (aka passion-killers)

“I think it’s important to know what turns you off, too,” Amanda said once the waitress brought two extra desserts to the table and scurried off with a smirk (perhaps she’d been catching snippets of the conversation after all). Amanda spooned chocolate mousse into her mouth, closed her eyes, and moaned. “God, how did we think we could ever share this?” This got the women temporarily diverted from the topic of turn-offs to talking about how sensuous food could be, the textures and tastes and temperatures all waking up the senses in a vivid way, which got them wondering aloud if they could incorporate that in the bedroom somehow. “In a non-messy way, of course,” Amanda said, dissolving into peals of laughter. “Doing a load of laundry right after sex isn’t my idea of post-coital bliss.”

Once the friends composed themselves again, Amanda continued the discussion of what not to do in the bedroom.

The cut-and-dried approach

“I know sexual preference is personal, but for me, the biggest turn-off for me is when Bryce asks, ‘Hey, you wanna have sex?’ using the same tone of voice he asks if I want to grab something to eat.” That question focuses on the “act” of sex itself and does not show Amanda that Bryce has any desire for her directly. She would rather hear something on the order of, “I want you so bad. I don’t think I can keep my hands off you…” If she feels like she’s just a means to an end, rather than the true object of Bryce’s desire, her own sexual desire tends to retreat.

Rote sex

She also reported that mechanical sexual maneuvers are a big turn-off. “If it feels like he’s following a formula (kiss me twice, play with my nipples, and then attempt to mount me), then I feel like it’s not about me, but it’s about him warming me up fast so he can take a quick drive around the block.” Her friends laughed heartily and shared their own dislike of that cut-and-dried, romance-free approach. “There is a place for routine in a couple’s sex life,” she conceded, using her held-aloft mousse spoon to provide extra emphasis. “I mean, I like that he knows what I like and I know what he likes, but I still think it’s important to take risks in the bedroom, to explore, so that we keep things fresh between us. The unpredictable can be very hot. And formulaic laziness is not.”

Duty calls (aka sex as an obligation)

“Ooh, I’ll tell you what a major sex-kill is for me,” Amanda said, wondering if ordering a second chocolate mousse—with extra whipped cream—would be gluttonous. “Any behavior or attitude that communicates, ‘You’re my wife, we should be having sex.’ I personally don’t know any women who get aroused by the mentality that sex is now an obligation, a duty you must follow through on. Dude, married or not, put some effort into making us feel desired and wanted, or go off and masturbate and leave us alone!” Apparently Amanda, in her enthusiasm, spoke that last part louder than she meant to, since someone from a neighboring table turned around and glared at her. “Oops, sorry,” she said, collapsing into giggles once the disgruntled patron had turned back to her soup. “Gosh, doesn’t talking about sex make you feel young?” she asked her friends.

So where do we go from here? Nurturing sexual desire

The fact is, Amanda is right on several levels: sexual preferences are personal and vary from individual to individual. This is one reason why it’s important to get in touch with your own sexual needs and desires—as well as your partner’s—if you haven’t already. It’s also crucial to be open to those preferences evolving over time and to adopt a non-judgmental attitude toward yours and your partner’s fantasies. This doesn’t mean you have to go along with something that makes you feel uncomfortable, but neither should you judge or demean your partner for his/her deepest desires.

Also keep in mind that as a dynamic vehicle, sexuality in a relationship will naturally ebb and flow. This is normal. Do not immediately translate periods of lower libido for one or both of you as something inherently wrong with your marriage/relationship.

Amanda is also correct in noting that although statistics reveal a marked loss of sexual desire in many women, more women report a healthy sexual appetite. This is something to celebrate. Sometimes overly focusing on what doesn’t work can make one feel hopeless; relationships are challenging enough, without hearing the worst and then expecting the worst. Relationships do indeed take work—and the sexual aspect of a relationship is no exception—but that fact can be a source of comfort, rather than distress: it means you might have more control of the course of your relationship than you initially thought. A fulfilling sex life requires knowledge, communication, willingness, and effort. And the results will be well worth it.

Featured (top) image credit: “Good Morning” by Kerem Tapani under CC BY-ND 2.0