Seasons of the sex life
The nature of a couple’s sex life changes over time; it goes through “seasons” like the seasons of the year-spring, summer, fall, and winter.
- The honeymoon period: During the first few years of marriage, sex is full of excitement. The couple is infatuated with one another and feels so closely bonded that they are not aware of the differences between them.
When two people fall in love and engage in a sexual relationship, they begin to include their partners in their concepts of themselves. People feel like they acquire new capabilities because they have the support of close partners. “I might not be able to handle parenthood by myself, but with the help of my partner’s good parenting skills, I’ll be a good parent.” This overlap of the concepts of self and partner has been called “self-expansion.”
- After the honeymoon is over: People generally experience a high level of self-expansion at the beginning of relationships when they constantly learn new things about themselves and their partners. However, as the relationship matures, the rate of self-expansion slows, and people experience a relative decline in satisfaction. After two to three years of marriage all kinds of differences begin to surface, including different sexual preferences. The spouses are less willing to overlook these differences and must negotiate a shared sex style. Sexual satisfaction is also eroded by the arguments and conflict that inevitably crop up in marriage. Couples who deal poorly with arguments and conflicts build up a history of negative emotional interactions that can negatively affect their sex life. (This is when unmarried cohabiting couples often split up.) On the other hand, those who succeed in dealing with conflict, through mutual support and good communication, develop deep trust and closeness in their relationship. Such relationships result in greater satisfaction and long-lasting happiness that is qualitatively different from the excitement of the early stages of a relationship.
- After the first child is born: The birth of a child brings a marked reduction in the mother’s sexual desire. She is typically exhausted from caring for the child and feels her husband’s demand for sex to be selfish. The father in turn feels neglected and left out of the intense bonding that is occurring between mother and child. During this phase, which may last as long as there are young children to care for, the couple may need to schedule time for sex.
- Middle and senior years: As the man gets older and can no longer come to arousal autonomously, he may need his wife’s help. Meanwhile, the wife may enjoy sex more since the children are gone and menopause has increased her testosterone. These years are marked by increased companionship, and cooperation extends to the sexual act.
Challenges to sexual satisfaction
An unsatisfying sex life, however, is most often the number one complaint in an unhappy marriage. For this reason, it is incumbent upon couples to work on their sex lives to make sex an asset to marital harmony and not a source of marital discord.
- Simmering tensions: These can damage the couple’s sense of connection. They may use the bedroom as a battlefield, either to act out their aggression or to withhold favors.
- Unrealistic expectations: The man may think that he is supposed to always be ready and able to perform well, while the woman may have higher expectations for pleasure than her man can deliver. When they fall short, the couple becomes frustrated, thinking that “everyone else” is having better sex, when in fact these unrealistic expectations come largely from media hype in a hypersexed era.