Are You Spouses or Just Roommates?

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There’s no drama, no fighting. You’ve been together for years, raised kids and pets. The love is still there, but the spark just isn’t. As months drift into years, you realize: You’re in a sexless marriage.

Most married couples don’t really know what to expect of a long-term relationship, says Diane Solee, MSW, a former marriage counselor who is the founder and director of Smartmarriages.com. She is also director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education.

“It’s so normal to hit the doldrums. In a way, you should be smug about it,” Solee tells WebMD. “You have a partner who is not bringing drama into your life. You’re not going to alcohol or dream on. And a new partner certainly isn’t the solution. Three years later, you’ll have the same sizzle-less marriage you have right now.

“The initial passion of any relationship changes after 18 months,” says Sallie Foley, MSW, director of the Center for Sexual Health at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Modern Love and Sex and Love for Grownups.

“It moves from the romantic and exciting to an attachment kind of loving, fondness,” Foley tells WebMD. “That gotta have it, gotta have it feeling is gone.”

Take stock of what you want, she advises. If you want a sex life, then commit to making it happen, Foley says. “Not everyone wants a sex life as they head into last third of life. But AARP studies show that depression and irritability. Women complain to me — I was ready to try these things, but I couldn’t get my partner to do it.”

Often, the irritability and crankiness is actually masking anxiety and depression. If your partner is downright snarly about it, then you’ve got to stand your ground. “This isn’t the kind of thing in this day and age that people live with,” she says. “Our parents or grandparents may have lived that way, but we don’t anymore.”

With therapy and the right , the irritable anxiousness and depression can disappear. If your partner won’t go to counseling, then you need to go alone, she says. “Counseling can help you figure out strategies to help yourself.”

Put Sex on the Schedule

If you’re both on the same page, it’s time you put sex on the schedule. Think of it as exercise, your regular workout — whatever time of day you choose. After all, sexual health is an important part of general health, Foley says.

“It’s a very healthy thing for a partnership, there’s no question about that,” she tells WebMD. “People who have sex tend to feel closer, more intimate.”

When you’re over 40, there’s definitely a “use it or lose it” aspect to sex, she adds. “That means you have to do it every day. You have to be committed to intimate time together. That doesn’t mean every single time you take off your clothes and have sex. But set aside time just for the two of you.”

Fall in Love Again

Outside the bedroom, you must make time for each other. “If you’re bored, you can figure your partner is probably bored, too,” says Solee. “Think what would put excitement into your life. Take responsibility for doing something about it. You really owe it to yourself.”

Take a cooking class together, take up kayaking or dancing — or sign up for a sex workshop, she advises. “Share each other’s interests. Find new interests together. Single people can follow their own interests. You don’t want to send your partner off to a class alone. Mother Nature abhors the doldrums, so don’t let someone else fill it.”

Trying something new requires a lot of focus — and that’s good for your sex life. “It’s like when you had kids, or bought your first house. People actually fall in love again.”

Between the sheets, keep things spontaneous and fun, she says. “The phone is turned off, the dog is behind the door. You get into bed with an attitude of good will. You don’t have to have an attitude of ‘complete hot.’ That’s a big misconception.”

Allow each other plenty of sensual time to get warmed up. When you’re over 40, foreplay is important in building arousal and desire. “When we’re 20, it’s all pretty straightforward — desire, arousal, orgasm. After age 40, you need to give arousal more time. You get into bed, start doing it — then you start feeling some physical arousal. That increases your desire, which increases more arousal.”

Also, your mind-set changes. “As men get older, they get more focused on eroticism,” she says. “They’re much more interested in pleasure, in having the connection. Women start asking for what they want.”

Couples should also develop a “sexual style,” Solee tells WebMD. “Most people think that if they’ve found a lover and soul mate, the sex will be great. Early marital sex is essentially sex with a stranger. This is about letting your partner know you, and getting to know them, intimately. Marital sex can be hotter if you can develop an intimate sexual style with your marriage partner.”

Vibrators and Pills

Tools and toys are important, too.

Men: Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis can be effective in men with erection problems, but if you have certain medical conditions or are taking certain medicines, you may not be able to use them.

Ladies: Don’t fret if you’re not feeling desire right away. Enjoy the process of becoming aroused. A vibrator can help with that, she advises. “After menopause, they may need a more intense vibration, at least initially, if a woman hasn’t been sexual in awhile. She may need a vibrator.”

If vaginal dryness and pain are issues, look into topical lubricants and moisturizers, Foley adds.

Many vaginal products contain estrogen (which can come in cream, vaginal ring, and vaginal tablet formulation), which helps with dryness, irritation, and muscle tone in the area. If you cannot take estrogen, products like Replens or K-Y Jelly can help with lubrication.

Try a Marriage Retreat

Keeping your marriage on track — sexually and otherwise — requires good communications skills, Solee adds. A therapist can guide you toward improving those skills, possibly recommending a marriage retreat.

“It’s not our differences that pull us apart, it’s how we handle them,” she tells WebMD. “You need to really listen to your partner in a way he knows you love and respect him. Take a marriage cruise or retreat or a wilderness workshop. Learn to disagree in ways that breed joy and intimacy.” Marriage education classes are also held in local community centers, churches, and military bases, she adds.

Some workshops are intense group therapy for couples. “Some are enrichment weekends — you learn to massage each others’ feet, or talk about sensuality. It depends on how deep your rift is, whether a therapist would recommend a lighter or deeper workshop,” Schwartz says.

Group therapy lets you see the relationship more clearly. “Often, people find it easier to give empathy to other people than to each other,” she explains. “But once empathy is in the room, it kind of fills the room. It helps you give it to each other.”

You learn from other couples in the room, Schwartz adds. “Some people give voice to something you haven’t been able to. It’s different if it doesn’t come from an authority figure. It becomes a discussion among equals. Other people can see things you may not see. If everybody looks at you and says, ‘Why are you being so hard on her?’ everything changes. You suddenly see, whoa, I am.”