First there’s a spark. Then that spark turns in to a flame. As the flame grows, so does the relationship between 2 people. But inevitably at some point, the passion fades to one degree or another. One or both partners might start feeling some extent of discontent, discouragement, frustration, or even start getting bored with each other.
Many things can test a marriage, but how a husband and wife deal with the sizzle turning stale can either solidify or separate their marriage.
THE FLAME WENT OUT
In almost 30 years of marriage, Star’s and my flame has been hot, cold, and everything in between. When it’s hot, passion is a significant source of fuel for our entire relationship. But when our sizzle starts turning stale, we both have to tap in to alternative fuel sources to protect us from drifting apart.
Passion largely fueled our relationship in our early years. We couldn’t wait to spend every waking minute with each other. If I’m honest, sex was a good form of conflict resolution for us. Sex made conflict magically, albeit superficially, go away.
But as our “unresolved conflict” started to build up (because it wasn’t really resolved in the first place), sex wasn’t as magical of an experience and it started to lose its effectiveness as a form of conflict resolution. Our flame was starting to go stale.
Neither one of us handled this season the right way. I wanted sex in spite of our emotional disconnection, and I looked to sex to be the foundation of our relationship. I doubled down on wanting sex from Star. But she wanted us to connect emotionally in order for us to have sex. I wanted sex more, she wanted sex less, and that combination contributed to a division between us that led us to adultery, abuse, and an almost certain divorce. We were both lonely, hurt, and had very little hope for our marriage to be restored.
Fortunately, we had friends and family around us that prayed for us, encouraged us, and insisted we go to marriage counseling. It wasn’t easy, but eventually God raised our marriage from the dead. And now, Star can’t keep her hands off me ☺, we have 6 kids, and our sex life is better than it’s ever been.
HOW TO REKINDLE THE ROMANCE
You might not have been through that extent of the flame going out in your marriage, but the following 6 principles we learned during that season to re-ignite our passion can turn any passion, at any stage, in any relationship around.
And read to the end to learn a surprising and essential ingredient that has possibly contributed to our passion (and overall relationship) more than anything else.
Sex Won’t Sustain Your Marriage
Passion isn’t bad. In fact, I would argue that passion is an important pillar in your marriage relationship. I would also say that God wants you and your spouse to have great and enjoyable sex! But passion by itself won’t sustain your marriage.
If passion is lacking, the first place to start looking for problems is outside of the bedroom (don’t worry – we’ll get to bedroom fixes in just sec). Why? Typically, but not always, couples who are experiencing physical disconnection are experiencing some degree of spiritual and emotional disconnection as well.
God desires for 2 people to first connect spiritually, then emotionally, and finally physically in the context of marriage. God’s order of relational connection is also God’s order of repairing broken relational connection. For now, take this principle to the bank: spiritual and emotional connection leads to physical connection. Start with looking at the spiritual and emotional health of your marriage before you start addressing physical issues.
In order to have an overall healthy relationship, focus on all 3 areas of connection. Think of your marriage as a 3-legged stool with each leg representing a pillar of connection (spiritual, emotional, and physical). A 3-legged stool is stable, but take one, or worse yet 2, legs away, and the stool isn’t stable at all. The same is true in marriage. Stable marriages are strong spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Don’t Always Trust Your Feelings
Feelings in and of themselves aren’t bad. God created you with emotions for a reason. And at times, we should be led by our emotions. But we also need to be careful. As real as our emotions might be, they aren’t always right. We shouldn’t act exclusively based on our emotions, and we also shouldn’t withhold action solely based on emotion.
We should always act and withhold action based on faith. Faith initiates sex even when you might not be “feeling it.” Faith also looks like abstaining from initiating sex when you know your spouse isn’t feeling it.
The heart of good sex is sacrifice (BTW…the heart of biblical love is sacrifice too). Look for ways to sacrifice sexually based on your spouse’s desire. When 2 people practice regular sacrificial love, marriage, not just sex, will drastically improve…and any missing feelings will likely follow.
There have been plenty of times when either Star or I haven’t been in the mood (her, never me ☺), and yet during and after sex the feelings of passion were oftentimes re-ignited.
Don’t rely exclusively on feelings for passion, but take a step of faith toward what your partner desires and trust God that the feelings will follow.
Seasons Impact Sizzle
Seasons of sickness, stress, pregnancy, monthly or menopausal hormone imbalances, or other emotional irregularities can negatively impact the sizzle in your marriage. These seasons don’t necessarily mean the relationship needs to be fixed, but it does reveal that every relationship will go through seasons of varying levels of “heat” over several decades together. The couples that communicate, adapt, and serve each other in response to these seasons will typically experience more sizzle in time.
Don’t be surprised by the seasons, but serve each other through the seasons by initiating and abstaining appropriately, and pray and wait for the season to change.
“Normal” seasons are difficult to measure, but if your season of “stale sizzle” is longer than 6 months or so it might be worthwhile to reach out to a counselor or medical professional for some help.
Move Your Body
Move your body in AND outside of the bedroom. Exercise regularly and eat healthily. Research shows that healthier individuals have a higher sex drive and have better sex. And, having sex has healthy benefits. Healthy people have more and better sex, and having sex contributes to being healthy. Health and sex go together and feed off each other.
To maximize this feedback loop, try exercising together. This contributes toward individual health, emotional connection, and physical connection through sex. Maybe start with walking together. Go to the gym together. Ride bikes together or do an endurance event together (5k, 10k, triathlon). Start with something small and consistent and build on it.
Bring your best healthy self to the bedroom.
Talk About It
For some couples even the thought of talking about sex makes them blush. For others, this isn’t an issue at all. Wherever you (or your spouse) fall on the spectrum, you and your spouse need to talk about sex.
Talk about what you like, what you don’t like, what you want to try, what is off the table. Talk about it before, during, and after sex. As with most things in marriage, authentic and honest communication will create connection and clarity and ultimately improve your sexual relationship.
Stay Away From The Cliff
Sexual immorality can sabotage the best of marriages. I have unfortunate personal experience on both sides of this. My previous struggle with pornography almost ripped the rug out from underneath our newly restored marriage almost 26 years ago, and my wife’s affair in the first 2 years of our marriage nearly led to divorce.
Neither of us intended to go down these paths, but we were naïve and underestimated the impact of allowing a hint of sexual immorality in to our marriage. The “cliff” of sexual immorality is steep, and as you get closer to the edge of the cliff the ground is more and more unstable and can give way when you least expect, it leading you to a free fall without any branch to grab onto.
The goal shouldn’t be to see how close you can get to the edge without falling, but to stay as far away from the edge as possible to prevent any chance of the ground giving way.
Not very many people get married intending to commit adultery or to engage in sexual sin. But unless you guard you and your marriage against it, you are way more susceptible to fall than you think.
“But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality…”
If you’re already struggling with sexual sin, I want to encourage you to do something. If you don’t do anything, chances are the issue won’t go away on its own. Start with reading these 2 articles for some things to think about and some next steps to consider.
The Secret To Keeping Passion Alive
A surprising component of ensuring your passion stays hot for the lang haul is promise. Tim Keller in his book, “The Meaning Of Marriage,” said it this way, “Passion may lead you to make a wedding promise, but then that promise over the years makes the passion richer and deeper.”
Star’s and my passion for each other in the early years pales in comparison to the passion we have now. Our passionate moments in the early days were largely based on physical attraction, and there was nothing wrong with that. But the passion was shallow because it lacked the emotional depth that can only be achieved by living committed lives together over a lifetime.
Our passionate moments are now based on physical attraction AND a lifetime of shared experiences together. Times of hardship, joy, forgiveness, and confession. Our love and passion is deeper now because of the depth of our shared experiences and knowledge of each together.
Keller says it this way, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.”
Star’s and my passion was superficial in the early days of our relationship (it is with every relationship in this stage). But as we got closer to fully knowing each other over time, and simultaneously committed to fulfilling the promise we made to each other, we experienced an increasing level of love and passion for each other.
With a promise, passion grows deeper – Covenantal Love.
Without a promise, passion fades – Conditional Love.
Why Fulfilling Your Promise Is Difficult
Making a promise at the altar is easier than fulfilling a promise over a lifetime. Why? Simply because we really don’t know all that we’re promising to. Yes, we say our vows, “…for better, for worse, sickness, health, etc…,” but those are all hypothetical future situations. And if we’re honest, we’re not thinking much about those moments. We’re thinking about the reception, and more importantly, the honeymoon!
The test of fulfilling a promise to each other is when we’re confronted with the future faults, failures, and annoying habits of our spouse over the following decades. As we spend more years together, we will inevitably become more aware of each other’s negative qualities.
That’s why accepting each other is almost as important as fulfilling a promise to each other. The traditional wedding vows express it this way, “..to HAVE, and to HOLD…”. “Have” implies to receiving each other, but “Hold” implies to hanging on to, or accepting each other, when the going gets tough (better, worse, sickness, health, etc…).
A promise requires a growing level of acceptance of each other since our knowledge of each other (both good and bad) increases over time. The longer we are together, the more we know each other, and the more we need to grow in acceptance of each other. Many times that acceptance is fueled by, you guessed it…a promise. Promise fuels acceptance, and acceptance fuels passion.
The Secret To Fulfilling Your Promise
You will struggle to fulfill your promise to your spouse if you struggle with understanding, believing, and receiving the promise that was made to you by God.
As a follower of Christ, God knows you perfectly, and still willingly (not begrudgingly) fulfills His promise to love and accept you perfectly. In fact, He says that absolutely nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:37-39). He “stood at the altar” before the beginning of time and vowed to “have and to hold you, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as you live”…and in to eternity. That is good news! And it is motivating news.
When we grow in our understanding and belief of God’s promise to us, we will be more inclined to fulfill our promise to our spouse. 1 John 4:19 says it this way, “We love because He first loved us.”
The best way you can work on fulfilling your promise (and fueling the passion) to your spouse is to meditate on the height, depth, and breadth of God’s covenantal love for you.
Putting Your Promise In To Practice
So at the end of the day, even if we get everything right in the bedroom, our passion will fade to the degree we lack commitment to each other. Passion fuels a promise, and a promise fuels passion for a lifetime.
Promise to love your spouse again like you’re doing it for the very first time. Then do it again. And again. Do it regularly. Do it often. Remind yourself. Remind your spouse. Tell your kids. Tell your friends. Tell God. And most importantly, continually thank God for the promise He made to you.
Your marriage, your life, your family, and your legacy depend on it.
Hans co-founded Marriage Revolution with his wife, Star, in 2010. He counsels couples in The Woodlands, TX, speaks at marriage conferences around the country, and provides leadership and direction to Marriage Revolution.