Will Craig, my husband of 13 years (we've been together 18 so far and so far no cheating) and I have something really great going, but, as you know if you read my life coaching blog, it wasn't always so great. We both admire our parents' marriages and don't discount how important that is. If your parents never taught you or modeled how to stay in love, you are at a disadvantage. You'll have to learn from scratch, and after you've already passed the most optimal stage at which to learn, your youth. But don't worry, because you can find new role models, and how to keep a marriage hot and solid is something you can learn even if it doesn't "come naturally."
Speaking of coming naturally (and yes the pun opportunities will continue), part of the reason people get so frustrated with keeping romance alive is because they've been conditioned by movies and common culture to believe that if you are with the "right" person, all the romance and spark should come as a matter of course. At the Handel Group® we teach a different story. Love and romance usually come easily when we're young or when the relationship is young. After that, it takes work. That shouldn't be viewed as an injustice or a burden, but rather an opportunity to grow yourself up and take charge of your life. This perspective works in a lot of different areas, not just love.
So, if you've now accepted that it's your job to keep love and intimacy alive (for your own happiness and to keep your partner from cheating) and that it's a privilege and a fun game to do so, let me give you some suggestions. There are some major reasons my husband won't cheat on me. First of all, he won't because he values fidelity and honesty and he's just a good egg. But that's a boring answer that doesn't enlighten the work aspect of relationships I mentioned above. Plus, I want to think it's something I have to do with, so here's my next cut at it:
1) He has the power to please me sexually and otherwise.
It's really important that your partner can please you and knows it. I know that seems simple and obvious, but many of you withhold your pleasure on purpose as a way to control people. We learned this at a very young age when we'd throw a tantrum to try and get candy or more time in the pool or attention from our parents. The idea is to withhold your happiness until you get what you want. Instead you get a messy, teary power struggle and you blame the other person.
For years, I used the tactic of withholding my own pleasure from my husband, and not just in the sexual arena, but in every arena. He couldn't drive right, do chores right, have conversations right or "loosen me up" in bed. How convenient that my satisfaction was all his problem and his failure. Growing up means making your happiness and pleasure YOUR problem and challenge to solve. As soon as I figured that out, life got soooo much better for me and for my husband. I am now generally pleased with my life and what's in it, because I have designed it that way. And I know that it is my job to like what my husband does. So either I get to liking it or find a great and graceful way to tweak it.
Turns out what he told me is true, I do get more bees with honey. You should try it too. Pretend it's nobody else's job to please you, only yours, and then pretend you are NOT ALLOWED to be displeased. How would you train people? What would you ask for? Whom would you thank and for what? What different choices would you make?
2) We make regular time for each other and treat it as sacred.
We have a bedtime and we honor it every night, to the minute. We both acknowledge how important regular face time is. During this time, we have a ritual with questions we ask each other that are designed to cause intimacy and reveal all parts of ourselves. I have to tell him what I am proud of in our marriage, how I succeeded that day, whom I connected with, where I played the victim and what I love about him. He has to tell me everything he doesn't want to say, whom he connected with, what bad traits came up that day, his successes and what he loves about me. We also re-assess our wedding vows and re-write them every year on our anniversary, and then we give ourselves grades on how we are doing at keeping them each week during our nightly ritual. This year I promised to listen more deeply than ever and to have my best year yet, and he promised to make eye contact and manage his time beautifully. See? We invent new and fun conversations about life, and our love, that are just ours, and that is what keeps us connected. (And now you can, too.)
3) It's safe to talk about sexuality in our house.
Sexually, he is allowed to like what he likes and so there is no sneaking. Even if I don't want to do everything he likes (and vice versa) there is no shaming about any of it. Those topics are sacred and protected. If that is not the case in your partnership, please take a good hard look at why not. What are you afraid of? What is your partner afraid of? What wounds are unhealed? I had to do plenty of work on myself to understand that I am not the same as my partner, and I don't have to be, and none of it is personal (unless it is).
4) I make him my hero.
I am now in the business of finding what I love about my partner (because I chose him!) rather than what doesn't work. I like to catch him being my hero. Whatever quality you want to see more of in your partner, start seeing it! I recommend you write down all the times you "catch" what you want to see.
5) We are involved in each other's lives.
Seems obvious, right? Do you know what your partner does with his/her time? Are you talking about it? I'd notice if Will was not home or where I expect him to be. We are intimately involved in each other's lives and we like that. You do not have to have the same preferences or spend all your time together, but please think something is fishy if there are weird gaps in communication or understanding of what your partner's life is like. Please do not persist in denial.
6) I have sex with him.
As long as we are on the obvious part of the list, here is the final, most important way to keep a hot marriage going; keep it hot! It's amazing to me how true the cliché of the sex fading with marriage has become. Cut it out!! Take a stand and lie back down in bed with that person you loved enough that you committed to him or her. Just get back on the bike and ride, it really does come back to you. Do NOT wait to be in the mood.
Well, I've given you more than enough, but I haven't nearly said it all. If you want a thorough perspective on what you can do to keep love and intimacy alive (or just Will's side of this story) come to the "Hot Monogamy" teleseminar on December 13th (or register now and listen later).