Like many married couples, Nicole and Arthur Johnson had an active sex life in the BC years-as in, "before children." Whether they went out to dinner or spent hours in bed, their time together was intimate and enjoyed by both of them. But the birth of two children in three years has put limits on their quality time. Going out-even for a cup of coffee-often means lining up a sitter in advance.
The physical and emotional demands of motherhood were factors in the decision Nicole, 35, made to set aside her career as an attorney in order to stay home with the children. Now she's battling the pressure she feels to find a job that complements her new priorities. Initially, her decision to quit her job was fine with Arthur, 35, a Silicon Valley executive. But after almost a year of living off a single paycheck, he's grown frustrated.
Between his stressful days at work and their conflicts over money, not to mention their shifts in roles and responsibilities, the intimacy the couple once shared has waned. Nicole and Arthur both want to recapture that closeness, but neither knows where to begin to resolve their issues. Determined to rekindle the romance and passion they had when they first fell in love, the couple agreed to attend a Sexuality and Vitality workshop at the Miraval spa and resort in Catalina, Arizona.
When you hear about a couple hardly having sex, you automatically assume that they can't stand each other or that someone's cheating. You figure they have to be in an awful, awful marriage, but that's not us at all. I love my husband, and I know he loves me. It has just been exceptionally difficult to find the time to be intimate. We tried planning 'date nights,' and that worked for a while. But then it kind of fell by the wayside because it takes so much coordinating. My parents live close by, but they work. It's not fair to dump the kids on them all the time. I've read about how this type of thing happens to lots of busy couples nowadays, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. On those rare occasions when we do have sex, it's wonderful. And we both think, Wow, we should do this more often.
"Between dealing with the kids and the house and trying to find a job that offers a more flexible schedule, my days are full. When by some miracle the kids fall asleep without coaxing and we have some time to ourselves, Arthur starts an argument about money. He acts as though I'm breaking the bank for making household purchases he feels we don't need.
"I resent Arthur's frustration, and he resents mine. There are times when I get so angry I don't even want him to touch me. That's a bad place to be in your marriage."
I'd like to see us get along better. Nicole and I need more couple time, which I think would eventually translate into more intimacy. That's the difficult part. I commute almost two hours a day to and from work. When I get home, I want to spend some time with the kids. Then there are E-mails I need to follow up on for work in addition to a business I'm working on.
"Nicole wants me to do more romantic things, like bring her flowers and gaze into her eyes. But I think she could be more romantic as well; she could initiate sex more often.
"Typically arguments start when I open a credit-card bill. She spends too much, yet gets mad when I question what she's bought. It's my goal to retire at 55, and we're way off course.
"It's important to me that our financial goals are in sync. Our family has to be the top priority. I can't understand why she isn't searching harder for a job that suits both her and her schedule with the kids. She said she wanted to take a year off after our second daughter was born. But the year is almost up, and she's no closer to figuring out a career path than she was ten months ago. My mother has always worked. We have couple friends; the wives work. I feel as if I'm working really hard to pull it all together for our family, so when it comes to our time alone, I am just too drained."
AN EXPERT'S OPINION
ESSENCE whisked Arthur and Nicole off to Miraval, Life in Balance, a sprawling Arizona spa and resort, to attend the four-day workshop Partners, Pleasure, Passion: A Couple's Retreat, which aims to help couples enhance their sexual intimacy. There David Taylor, M.D., worked with the Johnsons. He shares advice to help them, and couples in a similar situation, put the passion back into their relationship:
When I talked with Nicole and Arthur before the workshop, their perceptions of why they've lost intimacy centered on his belief that she doesn't understand how important his work is, their lack of time together and their mutual money challenges. It's been my experience that the surface problems are not the real issue at all. My advice to them:
• Recapture the passion. When couples first fall in love, there's an incredible flow of energy. They often don't realize that this flow doesn't have to stop when life changes or disagreements get in the way. Couples have to learn how to regenerate that energy. If you wait to be spontaneous, you'll get distracted by all the stuff you have to do, like taking care of the kids and going to work. By putting your relationship last, you'll become depleted as a couple. It's like making withdrawals from an account and not replenishing it.
• Move beyond your conflicts. Pushing each other's buttons is not necessarily a bad thing-as long as the couple can use it to work through their problems instead of intensifying them. Those conflicts can be transformed into opportunities to better understand each other and deepen your connection.
• Stay connected to support each other. It's difficult for a woman to feel radiant and beautiful if she doesn't feel confident about her partner's unconditional love and support. She won't feel safe enough to reveal her vulnerable side. Too often guys get so lost in themselves or their work that they aren't willing to do what's necessary to make their woman feel special.
• Practice, practice, practice. Nicole and Arthur must ask themselves some hard questions and be honest about the answers: "Do they need to learn more about improving sexual technique?" "Do they need to schedule massages for each other?" "Should they open their hearts more to each other?" "Do they need to get the TV out of their bedroom?" The idea is to come up with responses that will satisfy them both.
David Taylor, M.D., is associate director of Sexuality and Vitality Programs at Miraval and coauthor of Your Long Erotic Weekend (Plume).