SWM041 – How do you stay interested long term?

Jay Dee

SWM041 – How do you stay interested long term?

Apr 14, 2019

Are there things you have to do to keep interest in your spouse? Here are 7 tips to help you stay interested and renew attraction in your spouse.

Are there things you have to do to stay interested in your spouse for the long haul?  Here are 7 tips to help you stay interested and renew attraction in your spouse.

How do you keep interest in your spouse through a long term relationship? Are there things you have to do to stay interested? This question came in through our anonymous Have A Question page and I thought I’d answer it in a separate post as I think many people have similar struggles.

How do you stay interested in your spouse long term? I’m 28 and my wife is 25 and we’ve been married 3 years and have a couple kids, and its just really hard to get excited physically about sex. We’re both a little overweight. Its not my drive though, when I’m at the office every female that walks by sends my drive into orbit. Is this normal or is there something you have to do to be happily married forever?

Is this normal?  Unfortunately, yes, fairly normal.  Is it okay?  No.

That’s the problem with asking what’s “normal” in a predominantly non-Christian and sinful world.

So, first off, as someone in our supporters’ forum said, there’s a big difference between the biblical concept of love and what our society says love is.

Our society says love is a feeling, that feelings can’t be controlled, and that you ultimately have to “follow your heart”.  In other words: you are controlled by your emotions, which you can’t change.

The Biblical concept of love is completely different.  We are to master our emotions, use them to guide, but not control us.  We are to control them.  As well, love is not an emotion, but a choice.  We choose to love, who to love, and how we love them.  Most marriage vows include the promise to love.  

So, we don’t have to be slaves to our emotions or attractions.  We can choose to love and who to love.  And when that happens, you find that physical appearance has very little to do with sexual attraction. It doesn’t matter that you both are a little overweight.  This survey I did showed that about 96% of husbands and 93% of wives said they’re as attracted to or more attracted to their spouse now as when they first met.  That ranges from marriages that are weeks old to marriages that are half a century old, ones that had medical issues and some that didn’t.  Some had children, some didn’t.  It didn’t make much of a difference.  

The difference:  The choice to love.  Those that choose not to love don’t tend to stay married, or they live our their marriage in a sort of living hell.  So, what do you do.  I found this quote recently while writing a sermon that I preached a few weeks ago in my home church:

I have received a letter from your husband. I would say that there is only one thing for which a husband may lawfully separate from his wife or a wife from her husband, and that is adultery.

If your dispositions are not congenial, would it not be for the glory of God for you to change these dispositions?

A husband and wife should cultivate respect and affection for each other. They should guard the spirit, the words, and the actions so that nothing will be said or done to irritate or annoy. Each is to have a care for the other, doing all in their power to strengthen their mutual affection.

I tell you both to seek the Lord. In love and kindness do your duty one to the other. The husband should cultivate industrious habits, doing his best to support his family. This will lead his wife to have respect for him.

Ellen White, The Adventist Home, page 345

In other words, put your energy into cultivating your marriage.  Some might say that your looking at other women is a “The grass is always greener on the other side” sort of scenario, but I prefer the adage “The grass is always greener where you water it”.

So, here are some tips from our supporters’ forum on how to stay interested:

1 – Focus on your spouse

Drink water from your own cistern,
And running water from your own well.
Should your fountains be dispersed abroad,
Streams of water in the streets?
Let them be only your own,
And not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed,
And rejoice with the wife of your youth.
As a loving deer and a graceful doe,
Let her breasts satisfy you at all times;
And always be enraptured with her love.
For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman,
And be embraced in the arms of a seductress?
For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord,
And He ponders all his paths.

Proverbs 5:15-21

It’s not wrong to notice other people are attractive.  You can’t control that.  Everyone is tempted.  Even Jesus was tempted.  It’s how we respond to that temptation that’s important.  Do not give it a foothold in your mind.  If you start dwelling on the others – well, that’s on you.  At that point you’re already starting into marital unfaithfulness territory.  Actually, scratch that.  I’ll go so far as to say at that point you’re already committing adultery.  

I think we need to stop sugar coating these things and at the same time recognize just how sinful we all are.  If we all admit that we violate our marriage vows on a daily basis in a hundred different ways whether it be not focusing on our spouse, or choosing not to love them, or withholding ourselves, be it physically or emotionally, then maybe we can simultaneously hold ourselves more accountable and have more compassion and forgiveness for others.  I’m tired of people arbitrarily deciding what is and isn’t being unfaithful based on what they don’t want to be held accountable for. *end of rant*

So, focus on your spouse.  When someone else tempts you, think of them.  Something positive, not “I wish my spouse looked that good”. That’s not productive.  Teach your brain to redirect your attention back to the one you vowed to love and devote all your romantic attention to.  It works; neuroplasticity (the ability for our brains to reprogram and rewire themselves) is amazing, but it takes time to build new neural pathways.

One of our supporters suggested making a list of things you like about your spouse, and then tell her one thing every day.  Our brains are wired in such a way that we tend to believe the things we say.  So, if you are verbally saying the things you are attracted about, your brain will focus on that attraction.

2 – Find other ways to build intimacy

Marriages are holistic relationships. That is, every part of the relationship interacts and affects every other part.  So, if your sexual intimacy and desire is waning for your spouse, there’s a good chance the rest of it is going as well.

The corollary of this is that if you improve intimacy in other areas, your sexual intimacy, and subsequent attraction, will also improve.

So if you want to improve your sexual attraction, find other ways to connect more to improve other types of attraction.

Play games, talk, go out, read a book together and discuss it – maybe pick a book on marriage.  Find a new hobby together, start walking every evening and talk.  Find things to experience life together.  To live more connected and intertwined lives rather than parallel housemate lives.  Start texting everyday just to see how they are doing and let them know you love them.

Don’t know what to talk about?  Check out Keelie and Austin’s conversation starters book.

And this next point relates, but I want to separate it.

3 – Pray together every day

Two people cannot grow closer to God and further apart from each other.  It's simply not possible.

This accomplishes two goals. First, praying together is a way of building spiritual intimacy, which will impact other forms of intimacy by that same holistic property of marriage.

But it also has the effect of drawing you closer to God, and two people cannot each grow closer to God and further apart.  It’s not possible.  

As well, you can pray for your marriage together, which both reminds you daily that you want to work on it, as well as building community with your spouse and a shared goal, getting daily encouragement and validation that your spouse is always working on their end.

Also, pray by yourself for your marriage.  I don’t think God minds if we stack up requests like that.  Ask for God to change you heart, to give opportunities to grow.  Then get ready, because prayers like that tend to have uncomfortable (but good) consequences.

4 – Talk about sex

Having young kids is hard.  We’re just starting to get out of that phase after being in it for 13 years.  For over 10 years, Christina was either pregnant or breastfeeding.  And for a decade, we’ve been getting up every night with a kid.  Actually, we still do as one of ours has nearly nightly asthma attacks.  We don’t remember what a solid night’s sleep is anymore.

So sex can definitely start to be put on the backburner in favour of things like housework, childcare or sleep.  It’s not a problem so long as you are communicating about it and on the same page.  What unfortunately tends to happen is that sex gets backburnered without discussion, and one spouse is not okay with it and it starts a rift that continues to grow as long as it’s not addressed effectively.

One of our supporters suggested having a conversation that starts like this:

I want us to have a great sex life. I want us to remember we are husband and wife before we are parents. I want you to know I love you as my wife, not only as the mother of my children.

For reference, she has 5 children as well and has been married 20 years.

5 – Actively maintain positive sentiment override

Negative sentiment override is when you start to attribute negative motivations to anything someone does or says.  Like they could ask something like “Could you take out the garbage?” and you immediately assume they’re making a comment about how you haven’t done it yet.  Maybe they get up and leave the room to get a glass of water, and you assume they’ve left because they’re angry.

Negative sentiment override is a dangerous place to be at in a marriage.  The good news is, there’s positive sentiment override as well, and you can practice it.

Positive sentiment override is attributing positive motivations to anything someone says or does.  In this case, your spouse.  So, when they do or say something, you look for reasons it shows you they love you.

It goes hand in hand with:

6 – Look for things to be grateful for

In relationships, and in marriages in particular, we tend to grow accustomed to certain things and take them for granted.  For example, my wife comes to bed naked every night.  That doesn’t mean we have sex every night, but we have some naked cuddle time every night at least.  Then she gets dressed and we go to sleep.

Now, it would be easy for me to get used to it and not appreciate that she does this.  It’s half habit for her, but I know she still actively makes the choice to get naked before getting into the bed and I know she does it for me.  I actively choose to be grateful for it.  I recognize it’s “work” she puts into our relationship every night, because she knows it’s important for me.

To be honest, I probably need to express that gratitude more, but the first step that I’m trying to get at today is that you internally need to feel that gratitude first, and that simple internal recognition helps improve your feelings and interest in your spouse.

Now, you might say “but my spouse doesn’t come to bed naked”, and then you’ve missed the point.  The point is, I’d almost guarantee your spouse does things regularly for you that maybe you aren’t appreciating.  If she isn’t, then there are two possibilities:

  1. She’s not doing anything for you, in which case, you probably need professional help.
  2. More likely, you’re actively hardening your heart towards her so you won’t see them and that’s on you.

7 – Have more sex

This may be counter-intuitive, but our bodies are designed to want more sex the more we have sex.  I’m going to step on some toes here, but I think that’s another reason why solo masturbation is problematic even if you’re single – you’re gearing your body up for sex that shouldn’t be happening yet.

As well, our bodies are also designed that we bond to the person we have sex with – which is why pre-marital sex is problematic.  Having sex makes chemical changes to our brain to make more positive attributions to our partner.  Oxytocin makes us feel more bonded, dopamine makes us feel like we’re “winning”, vasopressin makes us want to protect the relationship.

There was a study done (I don’t remember who did it) that people in happy relationships objectively rate the attractiveness of their partner higher and the attractiveness of other potential partners lower.  When we’re having frequent sex with our spouse, our brain is less likely to focus on other people.

If need be, start scheduling sex, and make sex good for both spouses, whatever that means for you.  For some that means everyone has at least one orgasm, for others it means something else.  Talk about it and figure out what good, satisfying sex means for you.

So, there you go, some ideas on how to stay interested long term.  My wife and I are approaching our 18th anniversary, and I’d say I’m just as interested, if not more so as the years go by.  As we grow closer, I’m finding new depths to her personality and our relationship that are intriguing and exciting.  

Monogamy doesn’t need to result in monotony, quite the opposite in fact.  It can get more interesting and exciting as you grow closer together and build more trust and respect, leading to a willingness to be more vulnerable and to know and be more fully known by your spouse.

That is the adventure that awaits Christian marriages.

Looking for help?

5 thoughts on “SWM041 – How do you stay interested long term?”

  1. Alex says:

    This is a tough one. My wife and I have been married 18 years and we have kids and our sex today is better than ever. It doesn’t hurt that we are both in great physical shape (for men, this helps prevent ED) and she happens to be a very beautiful 45-year-old woman. I do desire her a lot but I also can’t help but feel sexual attraction to other women, too. I’m sure she also feels sexual attraction to other men. This is what makes us human. But we don’t do anything with that desire as far as with others and instead keep it all in our bedroom where we give ourselves to each other and no one else. Again, she is very physically beautiful and is blessed where guys like to see a woman blessed so eyeball attraction, as I call it, has never been an issue and never will be, which does help with the quality of our sex life (it also really turns me on when other guys are checking out my wife–she also likes it). If you lost physical attraction for your spouse, it would be hard–I can only imagine. Another thing is that our sex life has evolved quite a bit over the years and especially in the past 3 or 4 years as we’ve really pushed what we thought were boundaries. It’s gotten downright kinky and I think that’s OK so long as it’s just the two of us. We basically will try anything and have tried almost everything in the book and we’ve found some of it is great and some of it not so much. But it keeps things interesting.

    Bottom line: I think the key to a healthy sex life in marriage is to be fully tapped into each other’s desires. Requires vulnerability.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I really don’t get it. I’ve been married for 26 years. Sex has never been this important to us. We are very happy and committed. We have three beautiful and almost grown children. When I read this blog it seems like so much rides on sex that I almost feel guilty that that’s not the case for my wife and me. If we never had sex again I’d love her as much or more than ever. Can’t we get beyond the physical to a more spiritual connection? Sex seems to dominate so much head space. If we give up sex, would that not free up more time and energy for prayer, exercise (which it seems like we all need more of), community and family service etc? I’m sorry but it just seems like sex is a bit of an obsession to me when I read these posts. Am I the only one who reads your posts to feel this way? I can and do feel connected to my wife in any number of ways but when I read this site I get the sense that if we don’t have regular and passionate sex something is missing. Maybe my attitude or perspective is more representative of the majority of people who don’t visit the site. I don’t know. Anyway I don’t want to be argumentative for it’s own sake but felt the need to express myself. I look forward to your reply.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Hi there,

      So, I have the advantage of being able to read back through all the comments you’ve left over the years. You’ve been commenting for about three years now, and based on your questions, it makes me think that you feel convicted that something is missing, but it seems overtime your stance has shifted from “I think something is missing” to “I feel a general lack of excitement about sex, how do I get that” to “maybe this isn’t a big deal” to “I think you guys are all too focused on sex”, which seems a bit like you’ve given up one trying to solve something you’re convicted about, and now are shifting to demonizing it so you don’t feel guilty for ignoring your conviction.

      You once wrote:

      Sure I’d love to have sex more frequently but I would much rather put up with a little imbalance in desired frequency and a bit of hunger on my part in exchange for knowing that she really really wants sex when we do have it.

      That desire for more seems to have waned, perhaps because you’ve decided to take a passive role in the physical part of the relationship by allowing your wife to dictate when sex happens. Sexual desire has sort of a “use it or lose it” mechanism for those with lower libido. So, maybe you’ve been losing it so long, now you don’t see a need for it. Maybe you’re trying to convince yourself that you don’t want or need it because the idea of bringing it up and possibly being rejected, or feeling like your spouse is giving you pity sex is too uncomfortable.

      Or maybe it’s just that you never (or at least in recent memory) had an excitement about sex, and that lack of excitement makes you feel uncomfortable, which leads to avoiding sex, or at least just letting it happen when your wife wants it.

      And that would make perfect sense, because, frankly, as I go through the comments you’ve left, I’ve been unable to give a satisfying answer. I don’t know why sex isn’t exciting for you or your wife, despite trying different activities and foreplay methods. I don’t know why there’s a lack of enthusiasm on both sides. I don’t know why your date nights end up being both of you just checking your watches for when it will end. I don’t have an answer for, because I’ve never experienced this.

      My guess is that a lack of desire for intimacy in the bedroom is stemming from a lack of intimacy in general, but I will take some time today to ask around and see if I can get some other answers and possibilities for you. I’m sure someone else must have felt this way and overcome it.

      I would be curious to know if you ever felt an excitement for sex, and if so, what changed? Did you lose an excitement for your spouse?

      As for the rest, well, when I started this blog, it was called Sex Within Marriage, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years writing about sex, because, well, that was something we were struggling with in our marriage, and I found many others were struggling with as well. Even though we’ve expanded to tackle other forms of intimacy, and broadened the context a bit, sex within marriage is still the topic I get a lot of questions about, and so I spend a lot of time answering them.

      That doesn’t mean sex is the end all and be all of marriage. It’s just that this is the place where people go to get answers about sex. If all you visit in a city is mechanic shops, you’d think everyone in the city was obsessed with their cars. As Jesus said:

      It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. – Mark 2:17a

      Basically, sex is dominating the headspace here, because it’s already dominating the headspace in my reader’s lives. If you have a broken leg, it’s hard to think of much beyond the broken leg.

      Now, are you the only one who feels this way when you read my posts? Probably not. I’m willing to bet some don’t understand the context. I think some feel convicted that sex isn’t getting enough focus in their marriages and are looking for a reason to discount what I write about.

      I think some probably just don’t understand what the big deal is because everything is fine in their physical relationship – and that’s fine. It’s along the same lines of “why would I go see a doctor if I’m not sick”. I don’t follow blogs on cerebral palsy, because I don’t have it.

      If we give up sex, would that not free up more time and energy for prayer, exercise (which it seems like we all need more of), community and family service etc?

      Time, maybe, energy – I doubt it.

      If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:5

      I’d say cutting sex out of your marriage would be failing to manage your own family. I get the impression that you know something is off (why else follow this blog for nearly 3 years), but don’t know how to deal with it and now are avoiding the issue entire. I think if you managed to fix this issue, you’d find you have a lot more energy and excitement about life in general which you could then extend into there areas and see more traction. I’d guess that this “ennui” about sex extends into the rest of life as well.

      Anyways, as promised, I’ll ask around about gaining an excitement for sex and see if I can dig up anything beyond the typical “spice things up” tips and tricks. As you said, you want excitement, not “freshness”.

      I am curious though: do you pray with your wife regularly?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Good insight Jay. You’re right, I did and still do want more frequent and intense sex. Having said that, my more recent comment was an attempt to find others who have just graciously accepted the reality of a relatively sexless marriage. I’m just curious about that. It’s not an aspect I read much about in this blog. I get the message that I shouldn’t just graciously accept; that I should continue to push to improve our life in this area. And yes I was projecting when I made the comment about dominating head space. I’m tired of the topic taking up so much of my own headspace so my comments were a plea to find others who have chosen gracious acceptance as an option and to hear about how that worked for them.

    Yes our marriage started like most – lots of frequent and exciting sex. And yes I still get very excited about the idea of hot sex.

    No we don’t pray together.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      So, what’s stopping you from starting to pray together? What do you have to lose?

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