Other Husband & Wife Articles

Mars and Venus Aligned

 

Planning for the best Valentine’s Day

By Dennis Poust and Mary DeTurris Poust

We meet. We fall in love. We do everything together and everything in sync. And then, somewhere along the way, maybe after a few years of marriage, maybe after a few children, we notice that we’ve lost our communication groove and things are not quite like a storybook romance.

We thought with St. Valentine’s Day approaching, this would be a good time to look at how married couples can foster intimacy and communication long after the honeymoon is over. As you’ll see from our separate takes below, men and women often come at this topic from very different perspectives.

Dennis’ View: We’ve all heard some variation of the newlywed joke premised on the honeymooners never setting foot outside of their hotel room. The jokes may be cheesy, but there’s inarguably an element of truth to them. The human sex drive is powerful, and at no time does it seem as strong as in those first months of marriage.

This time is truly a gift for the new couple, but it is important to understand early on that such intensity is not possible to sustain. Couples must learn to allow their sexuality and their intimacy to evolve for the long haul and the changing life situations that come with age and the birth of children. Think marathon, not sprint.

I’m not saying that sex doesn’t matter. It certainly does – a lot. The marital bed should never simply be just a place to sleep. A healthy marriage must find a way to maintain a robust love life through the years. But as the initial passion subsides, other forms of intimacy must come into play, too.

It’s all about realistic expectations. Sometimes love can be expressed just as powerfully with a single kiss goodnight and falling asleep in each other’s arms as it can in a decidedly more intimate embrace. The really good news is that if you can find those more subtle forms of affection, a prolonged, strong sex life should follow naturally. And that strong sex life, in turn, will feed the subtle displays of affection as the cycle starts all over again. Kind of like photosynthesis.

But you have to work at it, with each partner willing to give a little to meet the other’s emotional and physical needs. If you can keep this cycle going, satisfaction will follow –
in every sense of the word.

Mary’s View: Balancing out the need for eros in a marriage is the equally strong need for agape, that self-giving love that separates a sacramental relationship from one based solely on physical attraction or companionship. Intimacy in marriage is all-encompassing, taking in not only the sexual aspects of the relationship but the deep soul-level bonds that are forged when two people put self-interest aside in favor of true partnership.

Of course, it’s not that simple, is it? Let’s be honest, there’s clearly a difference in the way men and women approach intimacy and communication. After all, the pop culture notion that men are from Mars and women are from Venus didn’t materialize out of nowhere.

Women, especially after having children, are more likely to look for intimacy in the little affections that are shared in day-to-day routines – the kiss on the way out the door, the hug after a bad day, the flowers for no reason at all. Men, on the other hand, may consider the sexual side of the relationship the place where real affection is shown. In other words, it’s a minefield of different perspectives, and without ongoing and open communication, it can get pretty tense.

So maintaining intimacy is about maintaining communication, and I’m not talking about conversations regarding meetings and appointments. I’m talking about heart-to-heart stuff, where you turn off the TV – gasp! – and discuss the issues that might be sapping some of the joy from your marriage. You don’t have to review your life story and everything you ever wanted from your marriage, so you men can breathe a sigh of relief. You do have to talk honestly about what each of you needs to feel loved and appreciated. And then, even if you have very different ideas about what that means, you meet in the middle and offer a little of yourself for the good of your partner.

On St. Valentine’s Day, think about adding a new twist to the usual chocolates and flowers. Perhaps you can have a long conversation over a quiet dinner, like you used to do in the “old days.” Or maybe you can begin to plan for that second honeymoon, or at least a weekend away. Keeping love alive doesn’t have to cost a lot and it doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s as simple as making time to listen to each other, not just with our ears but with our hearts.

Dennis Poust is Director of Communications for the New York State Catholic Conference. Mary DeTurris Poust, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism,” blogs at www.notstrictlyspiritual.blogspot.com. They live in upstate New York with their three children.