"Why is it so hard to touch the one you love?”
When you’ve been married 30 years, like Kay and Arnold in the summer movie Hope Springs, you might well understand the question above. If you still love your partner, but have been sleeping in separate rooms for years due to snoring and back pains, it’s easy to lose your sexual spark. When you get each other a new cable subscription for your wedding anniversary, you might be taking each other for granted. And when your morning routine consists of the wife preparing and serving an egg, slice of bacon, and bacon to a gruff husband who blows her off to read the newspaper, it’s downright hard to make intimacy change.
This is the life of Kay and Arnold who are experiencing what MANY long term couples experience: a total loss of intimacy. In the United States we learn to romanticize monogamous long-term marriage and presume the fireworks will always be there when we stay in love. But the version of intimacy that is so easy and exciting at the start of a relationship transforms, and it may require a lot of work and mindfulness to avoid a descent into roommate coexistence.
Kay, however, desires the return of intimacy and proposes a week-long couples retreat in the remote and romantic Great Hope Springs. Arnold is as reluctant a client as I’ve ever seen and is, quite frankly, a pain in the ass. Eventually he joins the adventure. The counselor’s approach to couples counseling, mixed with individual counseling, and homework assignments at night, was quite similar to how I would have approached it (except for occasional Hollywood flair). Each spouse slowly unfolds a history of hurt, resentments, misunderstanding, and disappointment, thereby allowing for a new foundation of trust and hope.
Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell were so nuanced in their portrayal of an anguished couple and marriage counselor, I squirmed with discomfort in my theater seat. It is just plain awkward to watch a couple with two grown children and years of marriage under their belt to struggle learning how to cuddle again, let alone discuss oral sex or try a blow job. Gratefully there were also many comedic moments in their genuine and naïve attempts to reconnect.
We tend to assume that sex is an easy topic, but it is so infused with the host of human emotions, along with expectations, gender differences, desire discrepancies, false assumptions, and lack of sex education. This is how a couple can get to the point of being afraid to even cuddle. But any pattern that was created in a relationship can be altered and recreated. If both partners are willing to work hard, they can breathe new appreciation and passion into even an old relationship.
A piece of advice from me? Never forget that your partner is extraordinary. This will help you continue to appreciate them and treat your partner in special ways that are meaningful to them. And if you want to feel validated in the woes of your long-term relationship, see Hope Springs for a burst of inspiration.
(Originally posted as part of Pacific San Diego Magazine's Love & Sex Blog.)
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sociologist, Sex Therapist, Sexuality Speaker, Sexologist