One of the fabulous things about marrying your soul mate is experiencing a unique connection and level of familiarity. But when things are too comfortable in the bedroom, it can cause problems. “Before you’re married, your sex life has little competition in your relationship,” explains Debra Macleod, coauthor of Lube Jobs: A Woman’s Guide to Great Maintenance Sex. “But after you’re married, sex has to compete with conflicting schedules, money concerns, in-laws and eventually children. It takes a toll on your sex life, especially when compounded by the increase in sexual familiarity and the decrease in honeymoon hormones flowing through your veins!”
Though it’s important to recognize that your love life will change over time, there’s a lot you can do to maintain that spark. Here, tips for keeping things hot long past the honeymoon.
Several studies show that the simple act of hugging for between 30 and 60 seconds increases levels of oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and contributes to a sense of attachment, notes Ian Kerner, Ph.D., a sex therapist and author of Passionista: The Empowered Woman’s Guide to Pleasuring a Man. Kissing and holding hands reap those same unique benefits.
Though you’d think a sex expert as famous as Dr. Ruth would give advice that was, well, sexier, she says communication is the key to bedroom bliss throughout your marriage. “If you keep your needs and desires inside your heads, then the likelihood is that your sex life will slowly diminish in strength and intensity,” says Dr. Ruth. “But if you explain your likes and dislikes, then together you can create a very good, long-lasting sex life.” No one’s saying this is a topic that’s easy to discuss– even with someone as close to you as your mate—but doing so today is like an insurance policy for the future. “With a solid foundation, even if there are valleys in your sex life, such as during the years when small babies are around, you can climb back toward those peaks,” says Dr. Ruth.
Sex therapist Ian Kerner emphasizes the importance of having as much physical contact as possible on a daily basis. “It may sound obvious, but once you’re married you tend to become less lovey-dovey and more complacent as you sit side by side, tapping away on your laptops, rather than holding hands or hugging.”
After that walk down the aisle, life gets busy with daily routines and your To Do list gets more crowded, sending sex tumbling to the bottom. Worse, once you’re living together it’s easy to assume that you can have sex whenever you want, and thus you don’t make time for it. But if you don’t prioritize your love life at the beginning of your marriage, it’ll be harder to do so in the future. Kerner advises consciously making sex part of your daily schedule. For example, take a shower together each morning or go to bed half an hour earlier. If the thought of scheduling sex makes you cringe, you still should leave enough room for sparks to fly. “After all, sex can’t happen if you’re on Facebook for hours and finally collapse into bed at midnight,” says Kerner.
"Sometimes getting married takes away the thrill of feeling desperately sought after,” says sex therapist Aline Zoldbrod, Ph.D., author of Sex Smart. “And it’s not uncommon for women to find that their desire goes down at this point.” To keep your libido going strong, learn about your sexuality. Figure out how and where you like to be touched and how to communicate that to your partner. “Now that the ‘chase’ is over, you need to learn your own recipe for desire and arousal,” says Zoldbrod. “Because the more pleasurable sex is for you, the more you’ll want it.”
“Add excitement by introducing new elements,” says Macleod, who suggests sex toys, erotica, role-playing and new positions. “If you keep sex new and interesting, it will naturally rise to the top of your priority list.”
Keeping mental tabs on when, where and how you have sex can help keep the passion alive. “Ask yourself: Is it too predictable? Do you always do the same things in bed?” says Macleod. If the answer is yes, spice things up. Surprise your mate with sexy lingerie or get romantic somewhere other than the bedroom.”
Day-to-day life can get so hectic that it’s easy to live as if you’re ships passing in the night. Romantic weekend getaways can remedy this. “Before you’re married, every weekend is romantic,” notes Macleod. “Tag on a few years of marriage, however, and intimate couple time becomes harder to find than a pair of perfectly fitting jeans.” If an out-of-town adventure is too pricey, transform your bedroom into a romantic love nest with candelight and flowers. Or else, book a night at a local hotel, B&B or campground, or make it a “stay-cation” and pitch a cozy tent in your backyard. P.S. Be sure to leave those BlackBerrys and cell phones behind!
“Exhaustion is the number-one reason long-term couples become less sexually active. In fact, many couples claim that it’s fatigue, more than familiarity, that most often extinguishes their libido,” says Macleod. It becomes easier just to switch off the lights and drop off to sleep. Before you know it, you’re wondering what happened to your formerly hot sex life. Ward off this all-too-common situation and give your energy level a big boost by eating a healthy diet that limits sugar and fat and contains fresh produce, lean protein and good-for-you carbs and fats. Also, make sure to exercise regularly. “As mundane as it sounds, being active during the day will give you the stamina to stay up late at night,” says Macleod. “And what’s great about being in the early years of marriage is that the healthy habits you make now will set the pace for the rest of your life together.” Many couples find that trying to schedule exercise time together helps with motivation—you can keep each other going even during those inevitable times when you both feel too tired. It’s worth it!
Pump up the passion under the covers by doing other fun things together. “Part of what bonds people and creates sexual energy is that sense of play and newness,” says Zoldbrod. In fact, research shows that novelty stimulates the transmission of a brain chemical called dopamine, which is important for arousal and excitement, adds Kerner. Sure, you can get that feeling of novelty by trying out new positions in the bedroom, but you can also get it from watching an athletic event together, going to a play, traveling to a destination that you both decide on, spending time with friends or anything else in which the two of you share a new experience.
“It’s far easier—and more enjoyable—to keep a love life working than it is to try and fix it after it’s broken,” says Macleod, who stresses the importance and effectiveness of “maintenance sex” in long-term marriages. This is a tried-and-true way to deal with disparate sex drives and differing levels of sexual interest that occur naturally at different times, say, if one of you is feeling preoccupied by problems at work. “The less interested partner may simply agree to have sex, just to keep things going,” says Macleod. If performed with affection and received with respect and love, this kind of sex can help maintain your sexual and emotional bonds, which strengthens your marriage as a whole. Adds Macleod: “Sexual intimacy is one of the primary things that distinguishes your married relationship from all your other relationships and it deserves the attention of both partners to be sure that it stays well maintained.”