As a sexuality counselor, I have found that the four words women hate to hear most after they’ve finally fallen into bed are: “Honey, are you awake?”
When women hear this sexual innuendo, they tell me they’d rather do just about anything than have sex -- wash the kitchen floor, walk the dog, cook for the entire command. The thought of having sex feels like one more thing on their “to do” list. After a demanding day at work, the struggle with the kids, the pile of housework, it is not surprising so many military spouses feel like they have nothing left to give their servicemember.
There are plenty of reasons this may be happening in a marriage. I think it is important for military couples to take a hard look at the top three factors that make sex less attractive for military couples: stress, kids and difficulty communicating about sex with your partner.
Stress of all kinds is a sex-killer. Problems with the way your unit or division is run, money problems, physical health problems or emotional problems like depression or PTSD are rough on individuals and the person who loves them most. Under these circumstances, the thought of having sex with your partner seems as likely or important as climbing Everest. When you and/or your partner are doing your best to cope with serious problems, having sex is often the last thing on your mind.
Second, kids have taken over the family in modern America. These days, kids’ needs, desires and demands are front and center, even in civilian families. With their demanding jobs, military members can feel like they don’t get enough time with their kids, which can lead to spending too much time, attention and money on them when they are home.
Military spouses can also feel like they have to be both parents to kids when their service member is deployed. Spouses think their kids aren’t getting "enough" so they give and give until the only one not getting enough is that spouse at home. The irony is that while mothers, in particular, feel certain that meeting their kids’ needs with immediacy and sincerity is a good thing, it often has a negative effect on their marriage and eventually on family life altogether.
Third, loving partners often have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye about the importance of sex in their lives. Partners often have different drives when it comes to sex. It is hard to believe that something so joyous about being married can turn into a battleground with couples becoming opponents instead of lovers.
So, why is having sex so important in a military marriage? Because sex is a strong adhesive and it doesn’t have to be perfect for each person to be valuable and have a positive effect. Even when stress levels are high and life isn’t easy, the physical closeness we experience with sex is beneficial. It reminds us that we’re not alone in our lives and that we have one another for support and comfort. Here are some suggestions to make having sex more appealing and more possible:
1. Have sex once a week. Set a goal to have sex at least once a week (or more). Sex is good medicine for marriages. Remember, this doesn’t have to mean intercourse and award-winning orgasms for both of you. There are plenty of other things couples can do together that count; touching one another, touching yourself in your partner's loving embrace or simply lying together without your clothes on and kissing passionately are some examples.
2. Go off duty by 8:00 p.m. two nights per week. No answering messages, caring for kids or household chores. Even if everything isn’t finished, turn your attention toward your partner. No exceptions, unless someone is sick. Undivided attention is a very strong aphrodisiac.
3. Marriage comes first. Kids come second. This isn’t true all the time, of course. But if military marriages are strong, then military families are strong. And the impact on our children is a positive one. When couples are demonstrative, it’s evidence for kids that the adults in charge love and want one another and it makes them feel secure. This is a win-win for everyone and will make family life easier.
4. Get away overnight once a month. This is a hard one for military couples who don’t have family nearby. You have to plan this in advance and I recommend doing it in three-month blocks. If you can’t afford to travel, create a network of other military parents or friends who can watch your kid(s) while you’re at home alone together. Then, you can do the same for them. Just a night in your own house with no demands is a wonderful break.
5. Be generous, kind and polite to your partner. Good etiquette is important and helps us stay interested in having sex with one another. There is evidence that housework can also make a difference when it comes to sex.
6. Write about sex. You can write notes and letters to explain how you feel and ask for what you need. Sometimes a Post-it note can make all the difference.
7. Take your time. Remember, women don’t get physically turned-on the way men do. Be patient and don’t give-up. Give yourself 10-20 minutes of being affectionate and loving before you start to feel aroused in your body. Sex is an important part of your military marriage. Take the time you need to have the marriage you want.
Evelyn Resh is a certified sexuality counselor with The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. She is also a certified nurse-midwife with over 20 years of experience as an integrative health and sexuality practitioner.
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