Sensing change

Dr. Daley on Sex and Relationships

Dear Dr. Daley: My fiance and I have been together since we were freshmen in college, and next month we’re getting married. We’ve been living together for three years. Anyway, I recently had “the big marriage talk” with my mom, and one thing she asked me was, “How do you think your relationship will change after you’re married?” I told her I had no expectations, and she said she only asked because she was curious – she and my dad didn’t live together before they were married, and for the first year they lived together, things were really terrible. So I guess we’ll dodge all the awkward moving-in-together fights, but is there anything else we should be expecting? What will change between us? This really frightens me. I don’t want anything to change.


Does it occur to you that it is a little weird to be embarking on a new life at the same time you are hoping that nothing will change? Now if you can just figure out how to square the circle, we can put intellectual inquiry behind us for once and for all. Marriage, even if you have lived together since birth (oh dear, that’s another column), creates change. Life has a way of creating change. Maybe your sweet little wishes ought to change.

In a book entitled The Social Dimension of Sex, Roy Baumeister and Dianne Tice have a chapter called Limited Resources in Sex. I think it’s a must-read for anyone embarking on a long-term commitment that entails sexual contact. They point out among other things that when you’re not married, you have sex because you want to. Once those ancient vows are spoken, as if by magic now the universe expects you to. And this kind of expectation is a poison dart in the gut of your passion. Just ask married couples.

There are many other poison darts, sad to report, but it’s better to acknowledge them than to hope they won’t exist in your little piece of Paradise. If you’re the analytical sort, Baumeister and Tice provide helpful insights into the covariance of passion and intimacy. If you’re not so analytical, I’ll help you out with the bottom line: A stagnant level of intimacy creates a stagnant level of passion, which by some magic of chemistry creates anesthesia in the bedroom.

Couples who manage to keep sexual passion vital over the long term are either genetically endowed with a superhuman sex drive, or they know how to manipulate the intimacy variable well enough to keep interest and surprise alive.

See, Pumpkin? No Change = Boredom = No Sex (at home, anyway).

Turning away from Baumeister and Tice for the moment, I’m sure you are only wishing that the good stuff of your relationship won’t change. Did they forget to teach you in college that good change is stressful, too? Getting a better job, buying a house, spawning. There is nothing like pregnancy and childbirth for throwing sexual passion under the bus, and not all couples are able to survive the impact.

Or how about the current American subscription to evolutionary psychology? All that waist-to-hip ratio, him want childbearer, her want good provider stuff that’s now being used to explain everything from breast implants to reasons why rape is an effective reproductive strategy. Someone recently sent me a link to a LiveScience article entitled “May/December Couples Boost Human Lifespan.” If I read it right, it sounds like older men are under a moral obligation to the species to take up with younger women. (First and second wives have already played their reproductive roles – besides, they are pretty saggy.)

Not that I believe every man in America plans on pursuing two or three families, but it is an unmistakable trend and the evolutionary psychology perspective often reads like a treatise in favor of such (I’m casting about for an adjective here: ridiculous? irresponsible? laughable? tragic?) behavior.

About-To-Be-Married Girl, I suggest you rethink your position vis-a-vis change. You are about to discover that the awkward moving-in-together stuff is the least of your problems. Your mom is right (!) to open up this area for curiosity and conversation. You and your fiance ought to talk to as many married people as you can find. Premarital counseling is an option as well, but I think reports from the field should at least open up your dewy eyes. Name names about the challenges the two of you are about to face, and resolve to keep talking about them.

Then name names about the things you want never to change, like having fun, laughing together, doing things for one another every day with more happiness than complaint, keeping promises, acting respectfully toward one another, unbuttoning each other’s clothes, laundering each other’s clothes, hanging up each other’s clothes – because you want to.

About the author Dr. Nancy Daley is a licensed psychologist and adjunct assistant professor who teaches Human Sexuality at The University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to submit questions for her to answer in this column, please send them to drdaley at thatotherpaper dot com.

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Anonymous's picture

I am totally never ever getting married. No sex? Fuck that.

Anonymous's picture

Pun intended BTW