Marriage is forever. Sometimes. Sometimes not. But one thing is for certain: after a while, the sex simply goes. Whether familiarity breeds contempt or the grass is always greener, after a certain number of years, it becomes more and more difficult to keep those sexual sparks flying. Wedded sexual bliss ends for a whole host of reasons, though usually these reasons relate to broader personal problems. Financial woes, the added stress of children, visiting in-laws, a dying relative, an inconvenient illness—all of these things help to compound our hectic lives and smother a passion that at one time seemed boundless and eternal.
Although the love might still be there, it feels buried under a mound of doctor's bills, grocery receipts, household expenses. You've gone from having sex three times a day to three times a month. This might simply be the natural progression for any two people who've lived together over a period of years, yet if you're suddenly alarmed by waning sexual compatibility and longevity, it might be time to step back and reexamine why you got married to begin with and if you're partner is still right for you.
Take Joanna and Dennis, for example. They met in college and married a year later. Having been together for thirty years, Joanna, now 48, remembers their courtship fondly, the excitement of flowers and candlelit dinners, when they were young and the world was just opening up to them. Though she loves Dennis deeply, Joanna never quite thought of herself as the kind of woman capable of monogamy. When she had her first affair ten years ago, she was wracked with guilt and wasn't sure how to broach the subject with her husband.
"I just told him as honestly and kindly as I could that I was going to leave him," she said.
Dennis, who didn't see this coming at all, sat there coolly for a while, trying to gather his wits. Then, he said, "I don't want you to leave. I love you. You're my wife and we have our children and a great life, don't we? There must be a better solution than this."
And there was. The two decided to open up their marriage. For a while, this worked well. They set up rules for their assignations and though Joanna found this new marriage within her marriage more than copasetic, she felt the smallest bit of resistance from Dennis. Though he never said anything outright or to contrary, maintaining the façade of support, Joanna often wondered if Dennis were taking advantage of his newfound freedom. But this wasn't her problem.
"He's a big boy," she told me. "If he can't get laid, it's not my fault."
The problem, of course, isn't the agreement to open the marriage itself but that one person inevitably resents the choice he's made, loosing his footing to compromise, to please his partner, who couldn't possibly be pleased in the first place.
When Joanna went away to teach for a semester, she did what she always did and announced to the man she'd fixated upon that she was in an open marriage. The two took up instantly and were inseparable during her time away. What was supposed to be a mere fling, however, became something very different after Joanna returned to Dennis. They fought. They made up. They fought again. They had sex, though for Joanna it couldn't possibly compare to the sex she'd had with younger lover.
Open marriages, while seemingly healthy and supportable, often bring up far greater fears and anxieties than those they set out to quash. For Dennis, the specter of jealousy often came up, while for Joanna it was guilt. In either case, their marriage, which began with such promise, has turned sour and ugly, full of accusation and blame. Yes, sometimes marriage is forever, but if the quality of that marriage is called into question, then perhaps it's time to work on it rather than open it up to further doubt.