Adding Oomph to Your Love Life
No matter how long you’ve been in a relationship, chances are you can look back at its beginnings and reminisce about how simple things were then. You and your partner were in tune, romantically and mentally, and it was easy to pinpoint exactly which characteristics drew you to him or her in the first place. Some couples are fortunate enough to maintain that synchronicity throughout their lives, but, for the rest of us, relationships sometimes require a little tuning up—whether you’re five years in or 50.
What Went Wrong?
Typically, one of the first aspects to suffer—and one that can be the most difficult to address—is a couple’s love life. Whether it’s the cause or effect of other issues, it’s often at the root of any relationship’s dissonance, especially for couples who have been together for many years.
Several factors can contribute, says Dr. Nilsa Rivera, a licensed psychiatrist based in Naples who specializes in couples therapy. “When people get older, a lot of times there are changes in their health due to, say, heart disease, which has a lot to do with libido and sexual energy,” she says. “Sometimes people are on medications that make them unable to sustain intimacy—much to their embarrassment—which may start a cycle of depression or anticipatory anxiety and lead to bigger problems in terms of sexual energy.” People with diabetes, too, can suffer from neuropathy, or a loss of sensation and blood flow, which can influence their ability to perform sexually.
Or it may be unrelated to health issues. A waning sex life also can be the result of unaddressed animosity that came earlier in the relationship, such as a previous affair, poor management of finances or a decision to move. But, Rivera says, spicing up a love life is an irrelevant issue until prior resentments are addressed. “All these things have to be [dealt with] first in order to develop intimacy,” she says.
Tackling The Issues
Regardless of its cause, tension in the bedroom can create lasting psychological effects. “If a couple has been together for 30 or 50 years, the husband or wife—whoever is the unaffected party—learns to accept their (partner’s issues),” Rivera says. “They graciously say, ‘It’s OK, honey. This is part of our life.’ But the affected person may feel anxious, depressed or even suicidal. They give up because they perceive themselves as sexual beings, and now that they can’t perform sexually, they feel as if their life is somehow compromised, despite all the facts to the contrary.”
So what can be done? Dr. Pamela Smith, a Naples-based licensed marriage and family therapist, begins by bringing couples back to the early stages of their relationships. “I ask them what they used to do when they didn’t feel they were out of balance in the area of romance,” she says. “What’s changed? If whatever they did before worked, why not do it again?”
Rivera’s strategy is similar: She helps her clients figure out what aspects about each other sparked the initial attraction—whether it was his blue eyes or her sharp sense of humor.
Simply setting aside time for one another can be a surprisingly easy fix as well, Smith says. “I find that some planning in the romance department goes a long way. My clients take out their smart phones when we are trying to schedule the next appointment, and they can’t find a time when they are both free. With this being the norm today, how can we find any time that the moons align to find time to relax and connect with the one we love?”
Rivera advises doing some soul-searching about what you’re looking for in your partner. “If you prefer your spouse to perform certain acts in bed, start a discussion before you get to that point. You have to take some ownership of the responsibility,” she says. As a final resort, medications may help, though Rivera says she is cautious about recommending prescriptions, especially to an older population who may already be taking a large amount of pills and for whom there may be negative side effects. However, if the root of the problem is something easily remedied by medication, such as migraines, for example, that may be just the thing that’s needed to allow a patient the freedom to feel more comfortable engaging in intimacy. A trip to a urologist can be beneficial as well for any mechanical implications. In any case, she stresses, help is always available; it’s just a matter of seeking it.
The Basis of A Strong Partnership
“An important piece of a relationship is feeling wanted,” Smith says. “Romance is a way for partners to express their wanting of the other. This transcends the sexual encounter and demonstrates to the other that they are valued and accepted.” Several clinical studies have shown that positive, loving connections with others help people cope with the stress of life’s challenges and traumas. For couples, those connections are built upon a foundation of feeling that they can depend on one another.
And, says Smith, creating that foundation may be less complicated than you’d think. “Making yourself available is key,” she says. “It’s amazing how a call out of the blue [can make a difference]. ‘How is your day going?’ ‘How about meeting me for a walk on the beach?’ Everyone has different things that turn them on. When was the last time you asked your partner, ‘What can I do to make your day?’”