Marriage isn’t always easy. Whether you are in a long-term marriage, or newly married later in life, many couples struggle with communication or get distracted by stress, social media or busy days. Even if a couple has a strong foundation of love and respect, repairing conflict can feel arduous and elusive.
As a relationship and sex therapist, I regularly see couples in my office seeking solutions for how to feel more connected. They often say they feel like they coexist as roommates. Even for couples who are less specific, I can sense the emotional and physical space in their body language and tone.
It’s helpful to recognize the danger signs that may indicate when a couple is becoming distant, and even better to have accessible tools for how to fix this when it happens.
Here are five red flags that I see often in my practice:
1. Sleeping in separate bedrooms
When couples have given up on one another, one partner often moves to a different bedroom. Sometimes this looks innocuous — a partner attributes moving to snoring or restless leg syndrome. Whether benign or not, once people get used to sleeping apart, it’s far harder to come back together. Sexual contact, and even affectionate cuddling, becomes scarcer and the connection inevitably starts to fade.
What to do: Get back in the same bedroom. If you loathe each other too much to share a bedroom, then it’s time for a therapist. If you find yourself using medical excuses, then get creative. Use earplugs, lay down a body pillow barrier after you have cuddled and kissed a good night, or go to the doctor for sleep supplements, sleep medication or a CPAP machine to address apnea. Our bodies crave contact as we sleep to solidify our partner bond. If you really must sleep separately for medical reasons, then at least do daily cuddle dates in one person’s bed.
2. Significant drop in sexual contact
When couples stop having sexual contact, their energy is typically pointed somewhere else. This can be toward work, toward themselves, toward juggling stress and fatigue, or toward someone outside of the marriage. Restarting a sex life is just as difficult as getting back in the same bedroom: We tend to avoid it because breaking the ice can feel awkward.
What to do: Break the ice anyway. You may need to approach this with baby steps if things feel really uncomfortable. Start by coming together in a relaxed way with no agenda for actual sex. Try a meditation where you face one another. Take a bath together. Cuddle in bed. Give a few pecks on the lips and focus on hugging. It may take weeks or even months for contact to build toward more intimacy, but there’s no rush. As long as you have a frequent and intentional practice that brings your bodies together for skin contact, you will be on the right track toward rebuilding.