Dr. Jess on Sex: Secrets to a healthy marriage

Three local couples share their recipes for intimacy in decades-long relationships

What’s the secret to a happy, lasting marriage? We asked three couples whose marriages are thriving. 

Midtown residents Jamie, 49, and Naomi, 48, first met in their teens and have been together for three decades. “We draw from both our mutual strengths and differences.” They attribute their happy union to a foundation of respect and emphasize that you can’t treat a marriage like a friendship. “You need an intimate, romantic, special type of connection.”

But how do they foster that special connection year after year? They prioritize being a couple as opposed to simply functioning as co-parents. It’s not uncommon for the intimate component of a relationship to subside over time — especially once you have kids — so it’s essential to engage in activities that allow you to shine in non-parenting roles.

“There has to be time apart from the family where you can interact as a couple. We have lots of family time, but we also spend time together just the two of us. We go for walks and talk about everyday stuff and specific issues. We also exercise together at boot camps and spin classes.”

Corktown residents Jim, 52, and Shellie, 52, agree. They met 23 years ago while working at the AGO. 

“Every day is different. Sometimes we’re together a lot; other times, we barely see each other for extended periods.” This balance of time allows couples to grow individually and as a team. It also creates anticipation, excitement and new revelations, which foster chemistry similar to early dating. When you meet someone new, the chemical changes in the body and the brain. Once your love interest becomes familiar, excitement chemicals are eclipsed by those associated with attachment. Spending time apart reintroduces mystery, curiosity and desire into familiar relationships. 

Jim and Shellie also look for new, practical “ways to enjoy the world together” (e.g., exploring new neighbourhoods, cities and restaurants) while honouring traditions (visiting New York and listening to Leonard Cohen). This balance of predictability and novelty is essential to a relationship. 

Uptowners Chris, 54, and Jon, 50, have a different approach: they plan almost everything. They schedule dates, chores, time with family, conflict resolution sessions (sometimes with a therapist) and even sex. They stick to their plans with few exceptions, and they credit their planning for 27 years of love. 

“We’re very busy, and Jon travels for work,” explains Chris. “So the schedule ensures we don’t go too long without connecting. It’s easy to say that you’re too tired for a conversation or for sex, but committing to a schedule helps. I know that I have to plan to have the energy for him at the end of the day and he does the same.” 

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