Yesterday I started a four part series reflecting on 25 things I have learned as I approach my 25th anniversary.For what it’s worth, I haven’t planned these all out. I am just thinking of them day by day…so I hope I can come up with 25. I’ve been mulling my five things over in my head throughout the day, so the topics I have come up with are two of the biggest problem areas in marriage: sex and money. Got your attention?
So here’s how this is going to play out. I don’t think one can have a discussion of a happy, “successful” (whatever that means) marriage without talking about sex. While I am going to speaking in generalities, my mother-in-law reads my blog (Hi Evelyn!) and occasionally some of my real-life colleagues do too. Under the right conditions, I would have this conversation in real life, but only with friends of the same sex. So if you are someone else that I encounter in real life, esp. of the XY chromosomal arrangement, let’s not make eye contact and let’s do pretend this didn’t happen, okay? :-) Now that we got that out of the way, onward!
11. Sex gets better with each passing year. When I got married at the tender age of 22 years, I assumed that Robert and I were at our sexual prime–young, healthy, madly in love, and simmering in mass quantities of hormones. Not that I ever considered middle-aged sex, but if I had I guess I would have assumed that it happened rarely or that it was boring and dutiful. However, now that we are knocking at the door of our 50s, I can say that it is so much better than in our 20s. I have had many friends agree.
Robert and I have talked about why this is. I think it all goes back to communication, shared history, and trust. Sex should be a physical way of communicating love. Inherently, the act of sex requires a certain vulnerability and trust. It is a baring of the body and the soul and a means of physically, emotionally, and spiritually becoming one with another. It is not to be taken lightly. As the years of marriage pass, Robert has shown himself to be trustworthy in a million different ways large and small. He has cared for me in times of emotional brokenness and in sickness. He has seen me at my very worst and still loved me. Because of this shared history and good communication skills about problems, feelings, hurts, joys, dreams, and sex, I can trust him implicitly with my body and my soul. Plus, in 25 years with the same person, well…practice makes perfect.
I’m looking forward to the next 25 years, because I’m guessing that the 70+ year old crowd really has it going on.
13. Libido ebbs and flows, but sexual intimacy has to remain a priority. No doubt that there are those seasons in life when we can’t keep our hands off each other and there are some other times when illness, stress, or life circumstances make sex a distant memory for a period of time. I can easily remember being a young mother with a preschooler who needed boo-boos kissed and wanted to climb in my lap to read books, while also breastfeeding an infant every 3 hours and bouncing him on my hip in between. With two little humans in constant contact with my body all day long (a phenomenon of breastfeeding moms called being “touched out”), the last thing I wanted was one more human who wanted to touch me or needed something physically from me. However, at those times it is so important to communicate and talk. There is also a time just to rally.
Society and popular culture tend to portray low libido as a female problem. However, I have had more than a few friends who have dealt with it with their husbands too. Sometimes it is a matter of priority (i.e., workaholics who spent more emotional energy on their job than their wives) and other times it has been physical, like low testosterone. Often for women it is a medical issue too, including thyroid problems and poor sex drive related to hormonal birth control. Once medical issues have been ruled out or managed, the more complicated issues need to be addressed. This may include a lack of emotional connection, a need for more sleep, one of the partners feeling unappreciated or disrespected, unresolved hurt, and even past sexual abuse. The only way this issues will be resolved is through good communication and openness, as well as professional counseling in some cases.
For us, it has been important first of all to be aware that there are just some natural cycles in libido for both of us and to realize that we may need to adjust expectations when the other person is going through a particularly busy season at work or hasn’t been feeling well. There are also times to be honest and say “I’m not feeling it right now,” but understanding that intimacy can be the glue to marriage and sometimes you have to either rally or be an agreeable and willing, although maybe not a particularly…ummm…active participant. And there are times to be patient and wait it out. However, ignoring a long stretch of low libido is not an option—it has to be discussed so that one spouse is not feeling hurt, unloved, and rejected unintentionally.
13. Sex begets sex. Another thing I have learned is that during those low times, which will come, if I put on my game face and go for it, that usually my sex drive comes around as well. I think this situational low libido can be fairly common for women, but we shouldn’t just write it off and say “Well, that’s just the way it is. I can’t help it.” It certainly shouldn’t be accepted as the status quo.
I recently saw something that a friend had posted on Facebook, an advice column from mothering.com about a young mother’s lack of sex drive. Part of the post was “…I could live without sex. I am exhausted and just want to sleep or be by myself. How can I get my husband to understand I’m just now interested in sex right now?…” Signed: Lost Libido and OK with it. The advice columnist went on to offer possible reasons for low libido and strategies for dealing with it. What was shocking about this article was how many women commented something to the effect of “This woman said she was okay with her low libido. She wasn’t looking for advice. Why can’t her husband just accept that?” Well, because sexual intimacy is really a non-negotiable in marriage. Unless there is some physical reason that a couple can’t have a sexual relationship or they have mutually agreed not to for some reason, then sex is a very reasonable expectation. This is the whole reason for consummating a marriage and why an annulment can be sought pre-consummation, but divorce is necessary afterward. Sexual intimacy “seals the deal” of the marriage vows. It is an ongoing physical means of expressing love, being emotionally connected, as well as being stress-relieving, playful, and fun. There are spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits to both partners in a marriage relationship when there is an active and regular sex life and it is not something that should be neglected. Sex is a key component of marriage, not an afterthought or a luxury.
14. Marriage means joint bank accounts. Occasionally I hear of married couple of have separate bank accounts. Aside from not understanding how that works in a practical manner (who pays what and how is that decided?), it misses the mark of marriage in my opinion. Marriage is the intersection of two lives becoming one. In everything. No holds barred. Pooling together finances and sharing mutual access to money requires trust and vulnerability too. The breadwinner has to trust that the one who isn’t bringing as much money is going to handle the finances equitably and well. Also, the breadwinner can’t lord the salary differential over the partner. All income gets put in one pot that both partners have equal access to. Not only does it require trust, but also communication about how money is handled, beliefs and feelings about money, and what financial security and expectations mean for each person.
15. Both of us keep our hands in the finances and no one person holds the purse strings. For us, what makes our finances work fairly smoothly is a similar attitude about money, similar financial upbringing, and the fact that we work together to manage our finances.
Fortunately we were both raised by parents who taught us that debt was undesirable, paying cash was best, and we both saw modest, thoughtful handling of finances modeled by our parents. We have been able to pay for all of our graduate schooling (masters and doctorates for both of us) with no debt or loans by living below our means. We buy used cars and if we don’t pay cash, we pay off the loan quickly. After a several year period of owning all vehicles free and clear, we currently have a small loan on our new-to-me car. We have been in our current house not quite 8 years and owe less than half of the asking price because we pay well over our mortgage each month. We should own our house free and clear in about 7-10 years. We are able to do this because of similar convictions about how to spend our money. We tithe first and foremost then give to other needs and charitable organizations that we feel strongly about. We divide and conquer ongoing bill management. Robert does our taxes, pays the mortgage and car payment, and the one credit card that we use for rewards (paid off monthly). He also handles all of our retirement accounts. I deal with all medical bills and insurance issues including car and life insurance, pay utilities, and pay other incidental bills as well as weekly grocery shopping. We discuss all large purchases and must agree. For us a “large purchase” usually means >$50, which is likely laughable to most. However, it works for us and we are able to keep a good handle of our money this way and it decreases impulse purchases as well as trying to reassign wants into needs.
And that’s enough for tonight. Tune in for 5 more tomorrow…
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