It’s often said, “Show me your calendar, and I’ll tell you what is important to you.”
There are a lot of things we say are important to us but end up taking a back seat to busyness and the distractions that clamor for our attention. Intimacy in marriage is usually one of them.
In his classic book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey explains the difference between what is urgent and what is important. Something is urgent when it requires your immediate attention: a text message, an overflowing toilet, a baby crying.
What is important contributes to our long-term goals. Most things that are important are not usually urgent. Regular conversations with your children, exercise, going to church. You can go months without doing these things before you experience the fall out.
We make significant changes in our lives when we prioritize the important over the urgent. And something will always be more urgent than building sexual intimacy.
You may have found this website because neglecting your sex life has led to a crisis in your marriage. You’ve put aside the important work of building intimacy for so long that you no longer have feelings for your spouse or know how to enjoy intimate connection together. In order to invest time in sexual intimacy, you will have to be stubbornly intentional about carving out time and energy.
We are creatures of habit. One of the ways that I’ve learned to prioritize relationships is to establish routines (a regular time and place) to work on them. I have a time and a place where I regularly spend time with God. I have a time and a place to connect with friends and family members who are important to me. I have a time and a place to work. The same needs to be true about building intimacy in my marriage. Without a time and a place, Mike and I will neglect intimacy without even realizing it.
Prioritize time for sex.
How often should you be having sex? That’s a very personal question that should be navigated by a husband and wife based on a variety of factors like season of life, sex drive, emotional health of the marriage, and physical limitations. There is no right answer, but couples who report higher levels of satisfaction usually have sex at least once per week.
That said, the number of times you have sex may be less important than the effort you put toward establishing sexual intimacy as a couple. In some seasons, talking about sex and working through the difficult issues is far more important than having intercourse. Yet, there is still that very practical question: how do we make time for sex? For many couples, their sexual intimacy is subpar for no other reason than they don’t prioritize it. They have sex on the rare occasions when they both have time and energy, the kids are asleep, and they have nothing better to do.
Although it may sound very unromantic, couples that prioritize sexual intimacy plan for it. Planning for sex allows you to prepare for and look forward to your time together. It also takes the pressure off the higher desire person always having to initiate.
As awkward as it might sound, begin with a conversation about how often each of you would like sex. There is a good chance you and your spouse have a different answer to this question. Work toward a realistic expectation that respects both of you.
Next, talk about how that practically is going to happen. You might choose to designate a standing date within your regular schedule, go through your calendars every week and carve out time to be together, or communicate day to day with each other using a system that works for you.
Prioritize time to connect.
There is a lot more to building intimacy than just planning time to have sex.
Sex is the celebration of your marriage. The rest of what you do ensures that you still feel like celebrating! When will you navigate conflict, update each other on important things that happen during the day, and make business decisions as a couple?
In their book Vertical Marriage, Dave and Ann Wilson give a realistic, very doable template for how to stay connected emotionally with your spouse outside of the bedroom. They recommend 15 minutes a day, one date a week, and one extended weekend a year, alone with your spouse.
You might be thinking, that’s impossible with all we have going on. My mom gave me a piece of wisdom many years ago that still echoes in my thinking. “When you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else.” If Mike and I don’t have time to regularly talk and connect, we’ve said yes to other things that are taking away that freedom.
I recently met with a couple who has three young children. Both the husband and wife have demanding jobs. At the end of the day, they fall into bed exhausted. They were sharing with me how much they miss connecting with each other. What they had said yes to limited their capacity to say yes to their marriage. If you find yourself in this situation, something has to change. You and your spouse can coast on fumes for a short period of time, but it will eventually catch up with you.
Prioritize time to play.
The daily routine and stress of life seems to squeeze out the freedom to laugh, explore new things, and discover new things as a couple. Once you graduate from elementary school, there is no more daily “recess.” Instead of playing, we usually resort to entertainment when we are not working. While entertainment isn’t all bad, it sets us up as spectators rather than active participants in life. To relearn to play as a couple, you’re likely going to have to get away from your normal routine and usual spaces.
The research shows that trying something new, like going to a new city, eating at a new restaurant, or trying a new activity, stimulates those happy brain chemicals like dopamine and adrenaline. When you try new things, you are also far more likely to be present with one another rather than zoning out. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate vacation. It can be as simple as trying a new hobby together.
Some of my favorite times with Mike have been exploring new places and activities like SUP boarding, adventure racing, going to the orchestra, playing pickleball, hiking mountains, white water rafting, and camping. Our adventures haven’t always turned out like we’d hoped, but they created great memories that we still talk and laugh about. What we like to do may not be your cup of tea. Come up with your own adventure list!
Building sexual intimacy will always be in competition with the little things that distract you or interrupt your plans. Don’t let the urgent crowd out what’s important to you and your marriage.
If you enjoyed this blog, keep learning! Here are some other resources you may like:
- Why Does Sex Matter in Marriage? Parts 1 & 2 (Juli’s blog)
- Stop “Hooking Up” in Your Marriage (Juli’s blog)
- Java #365: How to Create a Language that Brings Meaning to Your Lovemaking
- Java #371: Schedule Sex & Dry Cleaning in the Same Conversation? It Works
- Check out Juli’s newest book, God, Sex & Your Marriage