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.
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
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:
- She’s not doing anything for you, in which case, you probably need professional help.
- 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.