Not for the faint-hearted, marital intimacy involves honestly sharing your body, mind, spirit and their changing needs.

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You may think intimacy with your long-term partner should come naturally, particularly after years together.

But DC-based Sexual Solutions Coach Laura Zam observes that challenges to married intimacy tend to increase over time. These can include:

  • lack of excitement for partner
  • dissatisfaction with current sexual offerings
  • resentment

The author of “The Pleasure Plan” explains that New Relationship Energy (NRE), a term originating in polyamory culture, describes the initial stage of many relationships.

“When [NRE] newness fades, inevitable with long-term love, we are left feeling less excited and curious about our partner’s flesh, no matter how much we love them.” She recommends explicit communication to bring back desire.

Sexual, emotional and spiritual intimacy all interconnect. Improved communication in one area of your married life can have a ripple effect on your total marital happiness.

According to a 2015 review, categories of marital intimacy include:

  • sexual
  • temporal
  • emotional
  • spiritual
  • intellectual

Intimacy promotes feelings of safety and resilience. Certain habits enhance intimacy in a marriage, including:

Secret keeping and avoidance may erode intimacy. However, experts in psychology and wellness suggest that you can learn strategies to make your marriage close again.

A 2019 longitudinal study analyzed relationship quality among 1,911 married and cohabiting partners, ages 57-85.

Results showed that dissatisfaction with sexual intimacy and feelings of relationship strain resulted in compromised mental health and psychological discomfort.

Marital tension may have physical health consequences as well.

A 2021 study analyzed the C-reactive protein (CRP) among adults ages 50 and older — 2,545 divorced, and 1,949 experiencing marital discord.

Results showed elevated CRP, a sign of inflammation, in both women and men — and in both divorce cases and marriages with strife.

Estrangement from your partner, whether or not you stay married, can affect your susceptibility to chronic disease.

1. How can I restore sexual intimacy?

Certified trauma professional and sex educator Laura Zam invented “Tapas Sex” to deal with waning NRE. Tapas Sex reframes lovemaking as a series of smaller activities akin to a tapas meal.

“[This] novel sex framework moves us away from foreplay (appetizer) and penetration (main dish), which can get boring, predictable, and not equally pleasurable.”

Tell me more

Interested? You and your partner can:

  1. List activities you each love.
    • Include “big-enjoyment, no pressure” action items, like a foot massage, and “high arousal” ones, including erotica or role-play.
  2. Choose 2 or 3 items from the larger menu during a lovemaking session.
  3. Try to help each other get the attention and stimulation you need.
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Zam observes, “just opening up a conversation about mutual desires in the bedroom can sometimes air grievances enough to get on a sexy path.”

2. How important is physical affection?

Physical affection helps release oxytocin, sometimes called the “happy,” “bonding,” and “love hormone.” Oxytocin can help promote a feeling of closeness with your partner.

To increase oxytocin, you might try:

3. How do we find time for intimacy?

Laura Vanderkam, author of “Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters” (pending publication) says “it doesn’t need to be a formal date night.”

“Anything that happens three times a week is a[n intimacy] habit.”

Vanderkam suggests trying to:

  • Sit together for 20 minutes after the kids go to bed one night instead of turning on the TV first (feel free to turn on the TV after 20 minutes!)
  • Do a chore like walking the dog together once or twice.
  • Eat lunch together on a day you both will be home.

“Just planning for three interactions might help you start to feel more connected.”

4. What activities build intimacy?

The previously mentioned 2015 review suggests that appreciating beauty together feeds satisfying marriages. Consider:

  • viewing art you both love
  • growing flowers in your gardening space
  • mutually enjoying a sunset

5. What if we’ve run out of things to talk about?

Braininess can be exciting. Try exchanging thoughts on:

  • books
  • news headlines
  • work ideas

Worth trying

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6. How do we get spiritually in synch?

A 2016 cross-sectional study of 5,720 married adults ages 29-100 used questionnaires to examine the structural relationships between spiritual and marital intimacy.

The study found that when both partners believed their spirituality had meaning in their lives, they tended to report greater marital satisfaction.

(A limitation of the study was that all participants were Christian Adventists.)

Being able to disclose and respond to each other’s spiritual understandings, even different ones, helps create a shared purpose.

7. Can too much rule-following squelch intimacy?


The same study found that if one partner was too perfectionist about how spiritual expression “should be” expressed, it tended to negatively affect the relationship.

Similarly, a 2019 multimethod study of 50 long-term heterosexual and LGBTQ partnerships found that adherence to rigid external standards can inhibit sexual intimacy.

This analysis suggested a lack of normative scripts may afford LGBTQ couples more freedom than heterosexual couples to explore specific differences and possibilities within their relationships.

8. Is marital intimacy still possible for parents?

According to a 2021 study of 331 married Portuguese participants, some life phases, including having young children or teenagers, tend to compromise marital intimacy.

The study suggested that couples can sustain intimacy despite life span stressors like parenting if the following factors are in place:

9. How do we get back our emotional closeness?

Staying emotionally close in your marriage might involve the following daily choices, particularly when conflicts arise:

10. Does money affect my marital intimacy?

Many couples want to spend time together, appreciate beauty together, and new “firsts.”

But a 2021 review and analysis of current research highlights that low socioeconomic status may make these goals more challenging for some couples than others.

Acknowledging financial pressures (multiple jobs or no jobs, for example) may be more helpful than denying their effect on your time and resources, the study concludes.

There are many ways to be intimate with your spouse. The freer you can disclose what you need, the more intimate your marriage can be.

If you want marital support, online therapist recommendations for LGBTQ couples or financially challenged couples can be found here and here.