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Keeping your marriage hot

June 17, 1999|By KATE COLEMAN

Have you ever seen a movie where a husband and wife are involved in a hot romance ... with each other?

Movies portray romantic love - that wonderful, dizzy, highly charged feeling you have at the beginning of a relationship.

[cont. from lifestyle]

But most of the time it's between a man and a woman who aren't married.

Our culture romanticizes romantic love, but it doesn't last. The things that got a couple involved change.

Barry McCarthy, a Washington, D.C., psychologist, says he's a movie fan, but he never realized - until one of his patients pointed it out - how marriages often lack romance on the big screen.

Romantic love passes, says McCarthy, a certified marriage and sex therapist.

"It has a half-life of two years - max," he adds.

He bases this on scientific studies, but his practical experience backs it up. He says he'd be wealthy if he had a dollar for every couple who told him their best sex was in the first six months.

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The type of love you share in a marriage will change, according to McCarthy.

What replaces romantic love? Singer-songwriter Carly Simon called it the slow and steady fire. If the relationship goes well, there will be intimacy, pleasuring and eroticism, McCarthy says. It's a nice phase, he adds.

And just how do you achieve the nice in this phase? How can you keep your marriage hot? McCarthy suggests planning quality couple time.

Our lives are busy. The sexual part of a couple's relationship falls low on the list of priorities. When it is moved to the back burner, it becomes a problem, says Sharon Kuebbing, a psychologist and certified sex therapist in practice in Frederick, Md.

Don't take it for granted. Think about it. In some ways, treat it as you did when you were courting. Continue having dates after you're married, Kuebbing advises.

Do you remember dating? Kuebbing sketches the scenario: The guy - or the girl - calls Monday or Tuesday to ask for a date for Saturday night. It comes to mind during the week, and by Friday, you're thinking about what you will wear. On Saturday evening, you lay out your clothes, take a shower and think about what you'll talk about. You think about what will make the evening interesting, what will help your date to be interested in you. Remember that?

Kuebbing asks, when do you start thinking about having a sexual encounter with your spouse?

For so many couples, sex is what happens after you pay the bills, feed the dog, put out the cat, put the kids to bed and after Jay Leno, McCarthy says. You have to be awake and alert to have a satisfying sexual relationship, he adds.

Think about your spouse before you see him, before the lights are turned out in your bedroom, Kuebbing advises. Share the planning of dates, so that one partner - usually the wife - doesn't resent being the social director, Kuebbing says. "Spend some energy."

Sexual desire and function change over time in a relationship, according to McCarthy. Understanding the changes can help a couple.

Have fun.

"People don't know how to play in our culture anymore," Kuebbing believes. When she got her doctorate about 20 years ago, her husband told her she should write a book.

She'd have to call it "Silly Sex" or "Have a Good Laugh," she says. Sex doesn't have to be dead serious. Kuebbing believes that couple life can be an arena for fun and play.

"Relationships take work," she adds, but she explains that she loves her work and means that in a positive sense. Keeping a marriage hot takes focus, time, effort and energy, she says.

What could be worth more?

related story:

-- Workshops help turn up the heat

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