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Sex: The Honeymoon and Beyond: Advice From a Sex Therapist

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As a board certified sexologist and a certified sex therapist, I have seen a lot of couples over the years for marriage therapy. Most of them seem surprised when they realize that they have to work hard on the erotic side of the relationship to keep it alive and sexy. Most believe that if they have a good marriage the sex will take care of itself. It doesn't.

In my 20 years of couples therapy practice I have found that partners can get along well and be good roommates, but still have a frustrating sex life. And this can be risky. Couples who are not having good sex are usually more dissatisfied with their relationships and eventually become discouraged about their future together.

There are several predictable phases that your sex life will pass through in your marriage.

Understanding them can help you work on your sex life and stay erotic for life.

In the beginning of a relationship, during the romantic phase, you each feel a new, exciting attraction for each other. There is still space between the two of you where you can long for each other and this creates a new erotic curiosity. Sex is usually spontaneous and satisfying for both of you.

Once you say "I do" and "I will" you enter into the next phase of your relationship; commitment. The sex is probably still good, and can become even better now that you know you are together forever. You may take some risks and ask for more of what you want from your partner, trying new things and finding sex more adventurous.

After a year or two, the honeymoon naturally begins to wear off. In this next phase of the relationship, you feel even more comfortable with each other. I call this "The Sweatpants Phase." Marriage feels safe and familiar; you let down your guard. You eat what you want; dress how you want, and sex becomes a comfort and a joy. You know what buttons to push, and what feels good.

Some couples may go into "maintenance sex" in this phase. Maintenance sex is sex on the same night, in the same way, with little variation. You may be too tired to change it up, or too shy to ask for what you want. You might get stuck there for a while.

Or you can begin to "work" to make your sex life more exciting. If you ignore the signs and hope sex will get better on its own, it may start to feel like sex is getting boring. This is a crucial place. Now is the time to talk about your longings and desires. If you do not, your relationship may cool down.

Remember, talking about your sex life will help you feel intimate and connected.

Couples often don't talk about their sex lives because they assume that their partners should automatically know what they want.

"If you really loved me, you would know what I want,"

Elaine told Joe, her new husband.

"If I have to tell you what I like it feels like you don't even know me or you don't care."

Joe felt perplexed.

"If you don't tell me, how will we ever learn to please each other?"

Joe is right. Teaching each other what feels good can create a life time of erotic connection. Here is a first-step exercise designed to take couples to greater intimacy. It is called "The Appreciation Exercise."

Start by facing your partner, and say,

"One thing I really appreciate about our relationship is... " and then fill in the blank.

Make sure they really hear you and take it in. Then move on to something riskier.

"One thing I really appreciate about our sex life is... " and then fill in the blank.

Then finally, take a big leap and share with your partner a fantasy;

"One thing I would like to try is... "

Whether your partner is ready to take your fantasy into action or not, the conversation has begun. Have your partner repeat back what you say to make sure they really heard you. This simple exercise will remind each of you how important you are to each other. It can also increase the heat between you, just by talking!

The first step in building a healthy and erotic sex life is remembering that you always get more of what you appreciate. Keep up the conversation and keep in mind that a connected sexual life will make both of you appreciate your marriage, and each other, for years to come.

Tammy Nelson, Ph.D. is a sex and relationship expert and the author of Getting the Sex You Want and the upcoming The New Monogamy. Dr. Tammy Nelson holds trainings and workshops for couples who want to learn how to increase intimacy and sexual happiness in their relationships. For more info go to www.drtammynelson.com.

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