While research shows that married couples have more sex and are happier than their single counterparts, it’s not uncommon to have a married couple in session express frustration about intimacy in marriage. Intimacy, which I remember hearing a professor define as “into me you see”, is about much more than the sexual relationship. Consider the following example:

A husband and wife spend an entire day together. They have brunch together, spend some time walking, playing, and talking at their favorite park, and end the day at a romantic restaurant with wine and dessert. When they return home the wife goes to the bedroom and slips into her pajamas. The husband was expecting something entirely different, feels frustrated, and retreats to the couch with a beer.

Often spouses have different ways their ‘intimacy tanks’ are filled, and the sexual drive of spouses is rarely the same. In the example above the husband has a higher sexual drive (not always the case) and by the end of the night viewed everything that happened earlier in the day as foreplay. Brunch, the park, talking, dinner, wine, enjoying each other’s company…all foreplay. The wife has a lower sexual drive (again, not always the case in marriages) and her intimacy tank is full after a day filled with her spouse’s company. She’s content to put on something more comfortable (literally) and call it a night. Usually for the spouse with a higher sexual drive, sex equals intimacy. For the spouse with the lower sexual drive, typically sex does not equal intimacy. All of the activities of the day are what fills the intimacy tank.

Intimacy is about being known. To be intimate, even within marriage, is a vulnerable thing. Sharing fears, joys, anxieties, pleasures, sadness, anger, and even excitement with another takes courage. I often encourage couples to talk more about intimacy in their marriage, including the sexual relationship. Only the topic of money causes more conflict in marriages than sex, and yet sex is probably the least discussed topic in marital relationships.

How do you do this? I just highlighted how risky it can be to be vulnerable and intimate. Start by inviting your spouse to talk more. Maybe you need a certain time and place set aside for this type of conversation. Maybe you need to put down your cell phone and turn off the tv, check that, you definitely need to put down your cell phone and turn off your tv. Also ask better questions. Stop asking your spouse yes or no questions. Stop asking “How are you?” If you ask the same questions over and over, you’ll get the same answers over and over. Instead ask questions which invite your spouse to discuss their emotions about intimacy. “What are you afraid of in our marriage?”, “When did you feel sad today?”, “When did you feel proud of yourself?”, “Tell me about a time you really enjoyed sex in our marriage.” As you both feel a little more secure, I imagine the questions can become more focused on your intimacy and sexual relationship.