11 Secrets to a Happy Marriage From a Top Relationship Therapist
Hint: Most of them have to do with sex.
Ever wonder what the secret to a happy and healthy marriage is? According to Jean-Claude Chalmet, a leading psychotherapist, a lot of it has to do with sex and intimacy. The London based relationship expert reveals 11 secrets to a happy marriage in a new piece for The Times.
Chalmet maintains that sex doesn't have to be "earth-shattering" all the time. "Couples who have successful sex lives understand that not every encounter is a chandelier-shaker," he says. It's okay if the act feels routine or unexceptional. "It's more important to actually have the sex — it's the cement between the bricks of your relationship," he adds. It also doesn't matter the type of sex you have, "it's the closeness, the fact that it bonds you, that's important. It shows you care, and want to take care of each other."
Another secret is to continue flirting, no matter how long you have been together. "Giving each other the gift of attention that makes you both feel special and seen is important. The happy couples I encounter still flirt — even if they've been together for decades," he says. Flirting is a " playful, private language" that "connects two people in a way that is both light-hearted and profound," he says. "Flirting doesn't have to lead to something sexual, the point is that it might, which can add a charge of erotic potential to the dullest of days. Good sex starts long before we get to the bedroom."
Dr. Chalmet also recommends having sex first thing in the morning. "It's tempting to reach for your phone first thing, but the morning is the best time for sex, especially once you are past the child-rearing stage of life," he says, citing a new British survey finding that two thirds of people felt sex had "maximum benefit" in the morning — at 7.30am. He notes that "we're likely to be at our friskiest in the morning" because the "sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone peak around this time."
Dr. Chalmet stresses the importance of not letting yourself go. "In my clinic I see couples where one partner makes the effort to be attractive, and the other, not so much. It's unreasonable to expect your partner to feel passionate about you when you can't be bothered with yourself. It's a form of social disrespect. We should want to make ourselves attractive to our partner and we should want to feel good about ourselves," he says. "Couples still having great married sex don't neglect themselves physically and may have invested in nose-hair clippers." He also notes that you "can't pretend that appearance is irrelevant when it comes to attraction" but also issues the disclaimer that it doesn't have to do with your weight or body shape, "unless it affects your mojo."
Quality is better than quantity when it comes to sex, Dr. Chalmet says. "All loving, successful long-term relationships have phases when sex is infrequent. But if sex is thrilling and satisfying and bonding when you do have it, you quickly forget the lean times. Quantity is an odd yardstick by which to measure your sex life," he explains. He also points out that "good married sex" is the result of couples being open with each other. "It's vulnerability and intimacy or the lack of it in a relationship that makes sex great or terrible. If couples communicate, sex is good, and in-between times are fine too because they remain intimate in other ways. It's only when sex is unsatisfactory and couples fester instead of talking that the sexless times last."
Dr. Chalmet also encourages hand holding and non-sexual physical contact. "We can all spare a few minutes to connect with our partner," he says, explaining that twenty seconds after hugging bodies produce oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone," which "softens us, makes us feel bonded and allows us to be closer," he said. "It's easy to fall out of the habit of holding hands, or stroking your partner's arm, or kissing when you part. These gestures feel superfluous, but in fact they are crucial. We don't always realise that we need this kind of touch, but hugs and kisses add to our wellbeing and relationship satisfaction. At least one research study (published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships) has shown that couples who touch each other more, and are happy with the amount of touch they are receiving, are usually more sexually satisfied and happier in their relationship."
Sex doesn't have to be spontaneous, Dr. Chalmet says. "If you wait till you're both in the mood, there's a strong chance you'll have precious little sex. Better to agree to your close encounters in advance," he explains. While this doesn't have to be a timetable, it can be a suggestion, for later or tomorrow. "Or send a message and let the idea percolate," he says. "It's a myth that desire is more spontaneous than reactive. Especially in long-term relationships, it rarely springs stone cold out of nowhere and we're far more likely to feel in the mood once we're anticipating sex." He explains that by scheduling sex you are prioritizing it. "What I regularly see in my clinic with long-term couples is that the woman has stopped wanting sex and the man feels this has nothing to do with him. If both partners see it as their responsibility to make sex enjoyable, they'll both want to put that 'X' in the diary."
Dr. Chalmet stresses the importance of creating favorable conditions for intimacy, "and it takes effort because there are endless distractions, and sometimes we want solitude," he says. "To foster closeness, an energy-lite strategy for weary long-term couples is to spend more time in bed together. Synchronize your bedtime and make it earlier than normal. Don't leap out of bed first thing to exercise. Even if you're on your phones to begin with, you might move closer to share a cat video (or whatever it takes). Lying in bed together, with not much on, just chatting, even if only for a few minutes, makes you feel relaxed and warm towards one another."
Don't expect your partner to be the only one to initiate sex. "Unless the sex is mechanical, conveyor-belt stuff, in which case no wonder his partner isn't making overtures, this shouldn't be the case. We should all be in charge of our own pleasure, and making the first move if you are in the mood rather than waiting to be asked is part of that. What if your partner doesn't ask, because they think you won't fancy it? We move perilously close to mind-reading territory. Then, because mind-reading doesn't work, no one gets what they want," he says.
If your partner doesn't want to have sex, learn how to manage rejection. "You've suggested sex, and your partner says no because they're tired, or stressed, or don't feel like it. Unless there's something else going on — and most of us know when that is — take them at their word that it isn't personal. Be gracious," he says. "Remind yourself that while no one loves rejection, everyone experiences it. Anyone who sulks if their partner isn't in the mood makes it less likely they'll get a yes this week or the next. No one likes to be guilt-tripped or made to feel that they owe their partner sex."
Finally, Dr. Chalmet points out that there is no shame in seeking outside help. "If you aren't having sex, and it is because of your partner, I advocate brutal honesty. The conversation will be painful, but things could get better. However, a little help from a good therapist can be invaluable if you feel stuck — or if you fear that broaching a sensitive topic will get you nowhere, or make matters worse," he says. "Your relationship doesn't have to be in complete meltdown before you engage a professional to help you to break unhelpful patterns and better understand each other."