Sexual Intimacy in a Marriage: Tips for Great Marital Sex

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" by John Gottman and Nan Silver. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the key to having awesome sex in a marriage? Why do married couples begin to struggle with their sex lifes?

The most common reason sexual intimacy in a marriage falls by the wayside is that couples struggle to communicate their desires to each other. Therefore, having a fulfilling marital sex life is a matter of learning to talk about sex.

Here are some helpful tips for making communication about sex easier.

Having Great Sex in a Marriage

When it comes to great marital sex, communication is the key. So, if you want to improve your sex life, you must learn to communicate about sex. In their book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman and co-author Nan Silver suggest several strategies for facilitating conversations about sex.

First, be kind. Remember that the point is to improve your sex life, not to make your partner feel bad about whatever they’re doing.

Second, develop rituals around asking for sex. Having a standardized way of asking will help you feel less vulnerable. For example, kissing your partner’s neck might indicate that you want sex; your partner might respond enthusiastically when interested but turn their head when uninterested.

Third, be considerate when refusing or when you’re being refused. If you’re doing the refusing, express that you’re still attracted to your partner. If you’re being refused, receive your partner’s decision without negative comment. 

When (and When Not) to Talk About Sex

While other authors agree that improving your communication can improve sexual intimacy in a marriage, some suggest that talking isn’t the answer. In Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Steve Harvey cautions straight women against talking to their men about dips in their sex life, as men tend to shy away from conversations about sex. So being kind and communicative may not help as much as silence in certain situations. 

Similarly, in Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel suggests that men have a tougher time talking about sex—partly because they’re socialized to not express their feelings (and presumably are thus not used to feeling vulnerable). Moreover, Perel suggests that focusing too much on talking can repress female sexuality by depriving women of the ability to communicate with their bodies—which supports Gottman and Silver’s recommendation to have a (potentially physical) ritual around asking for sex. 

In contrast, experts do recommend talking about refusing sex. Some people view a consistent refusal to have sex as a threat to their partnership—even if their partner expresses this refusal politely, and they understand logically that their partner still loves them. The one who’s refused may feel angry but repress it out of respect for their partner. But their partner nonetheless picks up on the anger and grows even less inclined to have sex. Having a conversation about your fears may reduce the tension in this scenario.
Sexual Intimacy in a Marriage: Tips for Great Marital Sex

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  • Why becoming genuine friends with your spouse is essential
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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