“Sex is even better now than it was in the beginning,” she said, standing sweetly next to her husband. Amber and I were at a marriage conference, sitting in a classroom, along with about a dozen other engaged youngsters, listening to this “old” couple (they must have been in their mid fifties) talk about what we could expect for life after marriage. They were saying that, for them, emotional and sexual intimacy had only deepened the longer they had been married.
Honestly, I was skeptical about the whole sex-gets-better-the-longer-you’re married thing, so when the guys separated into a group with the husband, I asked him point blank: “So you guys really have a better sex life now than you did when you got married?” What they were saying was nothing like the clichés that we’ve all heard about marriage: that sex becomes a chore, the romance disappears, and marriage is just a big ball and chain.
I’m remembering this because Amber and I will celebrate our sixth anniversary this weekend, and we’ve been asking ourselves: has marriage been more like the clichés, or what that couple described?
What the couple said was definitely reassuring at the time. Not that we were obsessed with having an awesome sex life thirty years into marriage, but the question of how we could keep a deep connection years into marriage haunted us when we were dating. (Okay, let’s rephrase that: it haunted Amber. I wasn’t worried about it.) We really liked spending time with each other now, and we felt a deep emotional bond now, but would it stay this way?
And, besides, there were days when it seemed that we just didn’t connect. Like when Amber would plead with me to reveal my feelings about something, and I just kind of sat there like a stone, silent and trying not to look pressured. I knew what she was thinking: what if I became even more that way in marriage? What if marriage made me think that I could stop pursuing her romantically? What if I just accepted that romantic feelings go away, and that you just have to buck up and slog through marriage? The thought terrified Amber. And now that Amber was scared, I was getting a little nervous, too.
But here was this couple in their fifties saying that their intimacy—physical and emotional— was even greater the longer they were married? In other words, maybe marriage doesn’t have to ruin relationships; maybe marriage can help a good relationship to get even better. That’s what we were shooting for, anyway, when we got married.
During our first year or so of marriage, we spent a lot of time in our tiny New York City apartment, snuggling and talking and eating homemade cinnamon buns and watching PBS documentaries. We also had thousands of dollars in debt to pay off, but we were determined to work as a team and pay it off. We worked hard at our jobs, and took on extra jobs. When we told our friends about our $150 monthly grocery budget, they laughed in our faces. But we ate a lot of baked potatoes with cheese and onions, we made our own bread, and when we did eat out, we split an entrée to lessen the expense. We were a team, and our intimacy was growing.
When I think about what intimacy has been like for us after two children, yes, I think of the alone time between the two of us cut short, yet again, by the sound of one our sweet sons refusing to stay asleep. But I also think of how at the end of the day, Amber and I recount the silly and cute things our boys have done. Like the other day, as Amber and I lay in bed, we both started giggling about Danny’s newest “joke”: “What do you call a bird with no wings? A flying turtle!” Where does the kid get this stuff from? It doesn’t even make any sense, but he’s our kid, so we laugh a little more—and our intimacy grows.
Wine gets better with age, and so can marriage. I know way more about Amber today than I did six years ago. I know that when it’s 5:30 in the evening, and she is complaining about something, that she’s really just hungry. I know that if we go more than a day without sitting down for at least a few minutes and talking about what’s going on in our hearts and heads, she really misses that. I know that she likes her a good back rub at the end of the day. I know that if I go a day without talking to her, I miss her. She is my best friend, and I know that, within the safety of our deep and trusting marital friendship, sex just keeps getting better.
Simply put, we’ve been through more of life together as a team, and like any friendship, our friendship is deeper as a result. When we do argue, we try to remember a line they had us repeat over and over to each other at that conference we attended as an engaged couple: “You are not my enemy!” We’ve come to see that it really is important to march through life as a team, and not as individuals who secretly blame each other for this or that problem. That develops resentment, and resentment is one of the greatest enemies to marital intimacy. The moment we stop forgiving and receiving correction from each other, we’re toast.
But so long as we keep doing what marriage invites us to do—to love each other through thick and thin—we’re finding that all those marriage clichés are kind of, well, cliché. Yes, marriage takes work. Yes, marriage requires that a couple suffer well together. All that is true, but so is this: a ball and a chain does not describe our marriage. We share a deeper emotional intimacy than we did six years ago. We have more trust. Our sexual intimacy is greater than ever. That couple was right: it is possible that marriage just keeps getting better.