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Can a Marriage Based on Friendship
Turn Passionate?

QUESTION: My husband of nearly 11 years and I have three children. Our oldest was born before I met him, but I love the boy as if he were my own. Our other two are separated in age equally by about two years.

Our relationship was slow to develop because we were both separated from our previous spouses and were not real anxious to start anything new. Our sex life didn't get off the ground for about six months. Since that time, it has not grown to anything spectacular. It has, on occasion, been exciting and fulfilling, but not on a continuous basis. Throughout the marriage, if we made love more than one time a month it was a rarity.

My husband was in the Navy when we met, and retired about three years ago. Homecomings were occasionally nice, but for the most part, just a one-time, short period of lovemaking. Since he got out -- he's been working as well as going to night school up to three times a week -- our lovemaking has slowed down to almost nothing. Our last two excursions were a year apart.

I would be thrilled to resolve this and develop a healthier relationship. Can you recommend which direction to take? I don't really want to separate, but...

ANSWER: Most marriages suffer decreases in sexuality following the transition to parenthood. The two of you may have predicated your relationship on the development of parenting, at which you have obviously excelled! It is no easy task to blend families, and the two of you have beat the odds for successful remarriage -- which primarily depends on a healthy stepparent-stepchild relationship to succeed. Now, you fear that sexual passion has not just been "ignored" in your relationship but is disappearing altogether.

It is not too late to turn your attentions to the development of passion in your marriage. Your sex life has been "exciting and fulfilling" at times. What contributed to this satisfaction when it occurred? Talk with your spouse about what causes each of you and the two of you to become sexually charged. It may well be possible to create more of what has been positive between you, if the two of you are motivated to do so!

Talk with your husband about your concerns for the marriage. It may be the case that he is feeling similarly. Or he may feel quite differently, but be unaware of your feelings and needs in the marriage. Since your initial courtship was always subject to the restraints of parenthood, it is not unlikely that the usual "wanton abandonment" so necessary for sexual development in relationship had no chance to blossom. Yet, occasionally you experience this spark! What does your relationship need in order to fan the flame?

Open a dialogue about the sexual part of your relationship. Do not threaten the marriage as a means of expressing your distress. Instead, begin at the beginning by exploring the nature of your sexual relationship, including the "ups and downs" of your sexual intimacy, and sharing your own sexual development from childhood/adolescence to the period of time that you both met. Maggie Scarf's book, "Intimate Partners," contains information on sexuality in marriage, including the subject "The Art of Making Long and Unhurried Love."

Clearly the initial foundation of your marriage was based on friendship and parenting. Sex, for one reason or another, has always taken a back seat to other dimensions of your relationship. Yet the "thrill" you anticipate if you succeed at kindling the lovemaking in your marriage reflects the bonding present between you and your partner. It is unlikely that your potential for passionate lovemaking will reach greater depths than what can be found in the intimacy you share with your spouse.

With the establishment of your family in place, it is time to turn your attentions to having the "romantic courtship" that did not occur in the early years. Create romance together. A weekend away with no children in tow may allow you the space and time to abandon responsibility and free up your passion for one another.

Nurturing the development of sexual intimacy in your relationship may lead you into areas that the two of you have never before traveled. Do not shy away from this voyage. Take it slowly and gently, but focus your intent to clearly create an atmosphere for increased lovemaking. This couples' journey may allow you to explore deeper levels of intimacy than ever before.

Your emerging sexual needs cry out for developing the passionate dimension of marriage. Do not throw out the baby with the bath water. Instead, light candles and invite your husband to bathe with you!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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