This originally appeared on iVillage. Republished here with permission.
Giving up on the idea of “keeping our average up for the sake of our relationship” is the greatest thing we ever did.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional. This is not advice. This is me talking about my experiences, what works and what doesn’t for me and my family, in our situation.
What works for us may not work for you—because we are different, which is cool. If you want to tell me why I am wrong, or right, or kind of wrong or right, or what works for you, I welcome your feedback.
Disclaimer #2: You may want to ask your children who can read to leave the room. If it wasn’t clear in the title, this post mentions the existence of sex. Or the nonexistence. Or the sporadic existence.
Disclaimer #3: Mom. Just stop. Really. Let’s not make this awkward. I know that you know that I have had sex at least twice in my life.
Let’s just leave it there. You can continue reading this if you really want to, just please tell me you stopped at the third disclaimer.
OK. With all of that out of the way, let’s just get right to it. Stevie and I gave up on sex and it is the greatest thing we’ve ever done for our marriage. Period. Exclamation point. Here’s what happened.
When we were young and kid-less, sex came easy. We could bump into each other on the way to the bathroom and WHOA look at that. Sex. Bam. Hello sex. Where did you come from?
Then we got married and had a kid. Then we had another kid.
I remember a while ago someone explained to me why Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense program didn’t work. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, in 1983 Ronald Reagan announced that we were going to develop the technology to shoot ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) out of the air.
There were political and financial reasons it didn’t work out, but the main reason why it was a complete failure boiled down to this: Trying to hit a tiny object traveling at hundreds of miles an hour with another tiny object traveling in the opposite direction at hundreds of miles an hour is really really fucking hard to do.
I tell you this, not because I am stalling, but because I firmly believe that there has never been a more apt metaphor for navigating the perilous waters of post-kids sex than Ronald Reagan’s failed “Star Wars” missile defense system.
After kids, our sex drives, that before had been uncomplicated in their simplicity, had morphed into tiny missiles, lovingly aimed at one another yet doomed by mathematical uncertainty, atmospheric anomalies, and unforeseen circumstances to narrowly miss each other over and over, travel off into the distance, and explode by themselves in the lonely sky.
I got frustrated. I took it personally. Stevie got frustrated. She took it personally. There is so much pressure surrounding physical intimacy. We are told that if we don’t have enough sex, our relationships will fail. If we don’t have enough sex, our partners will find it elsewhere.
If we don’t have enough sex, something is wrong with us. We took that “knowledge” to bed with us every night, along with our fatigue, along with our personal insecurities, along with any small inconsequential resentment that comes along with the stress of being married and having kids.
Then, with the lights off, we’d lay there silently weighing on one hand how tired we were, and on the other what the consequences to our relationship would be if we continued to go without sex. Eventually one of us would say this:
“We should probably have sex.”
It had turned into a chore. And then, when the chore didn’t get done, it turned into a fight. The worst part of this was that the fighting and the anxiety about not having sex certainly didn’t lead to more sex. Quite the opposite.
We still loved each other. We still were attracted to each other. We just couldn’t find a way to get our missiles to hit each other in mid-air while traveling hundreds of miles an hour. I blame Ronald Reagan.
And then one night I said it. “Let’s give up on sex. Seriously. Let’s just give up on it.” Stevie immediately and understandably took offense. Probably because I said it the way someone might say “I give up on you,” before throwing their hands up in the air and walking away. But, despite my frustration, that isn’t how I meant it.
“So you just want to give up on sex? Like forever?”
“That’s not what I mean!”
“Then what do you mean?”
“I don’t know what I mean. I mean, I know, but I don’t. You know?”
This is how our most productive fights start, with the two of us acknowledging that we have no clue what we are talking about, but agreeing to talk about it anyway.
I won’t write out the complete dialogue of our conversation about our sex life, but here is where we ended up after about an hour of passionately trying to explain things we had no idea how to explain.
We felt pressured to have sex. That pressure was making it difficult, not only to have sex, but to communicate in other areas of our life. We needed to change something. We decided to give up on sex.
Not give up on having sex. That is silly. We would give up on sex being the answer. We would give up on sex being the glue that holds our marriage together. Eww. I should have picked a different metaphor. I digress.
We decided that for us, the most important part of “physical intimacy” is NOT the word “physical.” We both agreed to focus on the “intimate” part, and not the “physical” part.
There are plenty of ways to be intimate with someone before the physical part even takes place.
We put our phones away. We made sure to make time for each other. We had conversations. We flirted. There was no pressure. Sex was not on the schedule. We were on the schedule. And then, something amazing happened.
Every once in a while, the kids were in bed before 10pm, the house was relatively clean, our flirting had hit the right degree and our love and kindness to each other had followed us to bed. One thing lead to another. It worked. Our missiles collided. Reagan would be proud!
Giving up on the idea of “keeping our average up for the sake of our relationship” is the greatest thing we ever did. Now, the times that my wife and I are “together” are because we have been intimate in all sorts of non-physical ways all day, or all week, or all month.
And yeah, on rare, busy occasions we might go a week or even a month without sex, but we never go 24 hours without being “intimate.” And for us, for now, that is more than enough.
John Kinnear is a father and part-time blogger in Sandy, Utah. He writes Ask Your Dad Blog, works, and tries to be the best dad he can be to his new son and two-year-old daughter. You can also find him desperately trying to be funny on Facebook and Twitter.