Instead of following up statements like “I’ve been with my husband 25 years” with the expected tales of monotony and one spouse’s lack of interest in romance or sex, the majority of married women posting to SouthJersey.MomsLikeMe.com are anything but bored.
“Sex improves with time!” exclaimed a woman writing under the screen name Newjerzgirl. “Nine kids (later) — I am still — very much in love. Our sex life keeps getting better and better,” agreed Busymomof09, the member who married a quarter century ago.
While it can be argued the people happiest with their level of matrimonial intimacy might be those most likely to share such details with strangers, these comments, combined with interviews with South Jersey couples who have been married for decades, serve to show that adults in long-term relationships aren’t fated to lives of dreary malaise.
With some conscientious effort, it is possible, and not at all rare, to maintain an exciting romantic relationship with one’s partner well past the honeymoon phase.
“If most things in a relationship are good then sex is going to be good,” says Gary Dann, who’s been married to his wife, Carol, for 40 years.
“There’s a certain amount of spontaneity, fun, adventure and humor,” Carol says. “It’s just one more part of enjoying each other’s company.”
It becomes apparent within five minutes of meeting the Camden County couple that they genuinely like each other. They call each other by pet names, listen attentively when the other speaks, and laugh together. A lot.
“GD has a great sense of humor,” Carol says of her husband.
“And somebody has sort of a great sense of humor but they’re too involved in work so sometimes it doesn’t come out,” chimes in Gary in reference to his mate, which prompts an outburst of laughter from her.
While their obvious friendship and mutual appreciation may make it look easy for these two to maintain a healthy amount of romance in their lives, it’s not something either of them takes for granted. And perhaps that’s why they’re able to sustain it.
“We anticipate each other’s wants and needs,” Gary summarizes, before listing off examples of how they proactively and consistently nurture their relationship. “She works late a lot so I’ll get stuff out for dinner; I set the table.”
And, “Periodically he’ll get me flowers. But it will not be on Valentine’s Day and it wouldn’t be on Mother’s Day,” says Carol.
“When you talk about romance it has to start with these small things,” says George James, whose experience as a marriage counselor for Council for Relationships in Philadelphia has shown couples who retain their physical satisfaction with each other often are those who remember to make their partner feel loved and desired on a regular basis.
“If your partner likes coffee in the morning, make coffee,” he says.
Yet it’s not enough to make things for each other. Happily married couples stress that it’s critical to make time for each other, too.
“We make a point to go out to dinner alone or with friends; I guess you could call it a double date,” says Jerry Vigna, a university administrator from Cherry Hill who married his wife, Pat, 33 years ago.
And he says when it comes to spending time “under the sheets” together, the same philosophy applies. “There’s a sense of making time for it without putting oneself on a schedule,” Jerry says. “After all these years, it’s still vibrant.”
Couples who want to recapture that proverbial spark should follow the example set by the Vignas and the Danns, instructs George James: “Go on dates. Have fun. Sex can feel like a chore because (couples) don’t even know each other anymore.”
“We take a lot of vacations together, even if they’re just overnight,” Carol says. “It gives us time to regroup both as a couple and as individuals.”
Carol and Gary have the luxury of taking frequent vacations because their children, like the Vignas’, are grown. But even when their kids were small, “We got babysitters and we would go out on Saturday nights. And we took a vacation every year without them,” she says.
While acknowledging not all couples have the ability or support system for such niceties, counselors insist that cash-strapped parents can’t afford to allow a lack of money to become an excuse for neglecting together-time, even if they’ve exhausted free favors from friends.
“A date or reconnecting can be taking a walk or doing things in the backyard. It can be thinking about things you want to do in a few months,” says James. “Maybe you rent a movie at home and you can get somebody to watch the kids in another part of the house.”
Whether the issue is money, privacy or both, therapists and satisfied parents say finding innovative ways to make time for romance is an integral part of keeping one’s relationship thriving even when the presence of children erects seemingly insurmountable obstacles. “We’d go down and turn on “Sesame Street’ and tell them they could watch it as long as they wanted
– and just hope we didn’t hear any yelling and screaming,” Carol says.
By sneaking sensuality into a busy life, “sex can stay juicy and alive and a meaningful part of a relationship, but all too often it gets put by the wayside,” says Dr. Todd Pressman, a psychologist in Voorhees.
But happily married couples warn against making the opposite mistake of spending too much time together. Both the Danns and Vignas agree too much familiarity can breed the kind of contempt that can equally stifle romance. “It makes the marriage feel more like a partnership instead of two people hooked together,” Jerry articulates. “It helps us come together as two
people who know who we are.”
These may not have been the kinds of mature insights the Vignas and the Danns could have given when they were first married. But over the years, both couples have made efforts to grow closer as they grew older, and to work together to thrive in spite of common pressures that conspire to pry every couple apart.
While they recognize not all problems can be fixed with simple acts of compassion and commitment, they emphatically believe a flagging sex life acts in conjunction with a faltering marriage, and vice versa.
If one can be mended with a daily dose of attentiveness, playfulness and an unfailing prioritization of the relationship, then perhaps so can the other, no matter how long ago marriage vows were exchanged.
Married, with children?
Keeping things hot when you have kids is a major challenge.
Obviously, doubling the nanny’s pay and jetting off to Paris for a long weekend is one option, but most of us only read about Brad and Angie doing that while bored in the supermarket checkout line.
For the rest of us married humans, it takes perseverance, time management and creativity to make time for …and prioritize… intimacy of the physical variety. Oh, and variety. That, too.
Here are a few suggestions:
Trade “date nights” with another couple with kids. You babysit for them on Friday, they repay the favor on Saturday, or alternate Saturday nights.
Agree to save $60 on groceries once a month (clip coupons, eat more eggs/soup/pasta, skip the luxuries), and use the money to hire a sitter.
Reintroduce nap time. No matter the age of your little kids, everyone spends 60 minutes in their rooms, reading or doing something quiet. You “nap,” too.
Remember to be affectionate throughout the week. Kiss each other hello and goodbye. Play footsy under the dinner table. Leave little notes for each other in unexpected (but private) places.
Don’t wait for an occasion to say how you feel.
Shut off the TV, the iPod, the iPhone, the laptop and the radio, sit face-to-face and reconnect.
And, of course, save up for that long weekend in Paris.