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Who's in the Video
David Schnarch, Ph.D. is co-director of the Marriage & Family Health Center. He is a licensed clinical psychologist, world-renown sex and marital therapist, and international best-selling author. He is a[…]

Instead of building up expectations for the evening, couples should engage in one of life’s most intimate acts: mutual gazing.

Question: Is sex the tell-all barometer for a good relationship?

David Schnarch: I think it would be easy to say that sex is a good barometer because for most people when you’re battling out the wars of personal development, the wars of do I belong to you or do I belong to me sex usually suffers, but there are people for whom they can be battling things out and sex doesn’t deteriorate one iota, but that is not really something good. These are two people who are very often so out of contact with each other and also sex isn’t connected to anything personal that they can be in the middle of World War III and when it’s time to take off their clothes they can just go ahead. I won’t say that they have a good time, but they can certainly go through the act. There are a lot of us when we’re battling out the wars of self development, sex suffers and it should. If you’re going to have sex be personal. If you’re going to have sex be related to how you feel about yourself and how you feel about each other then when you hit the wars of independence, which are built into emotionally committed relationships, yes, sex usually does suffer, but a lot of people think that that means that marriage kills sex. I think it’s just a period that people go through that nobody anticipates and you go through that. You come out the other side. You usually are a more solid, whole person who is more capable of loving on life’s terms and we often find that sex goes onto be the best of people’s lives.

Question: What are some ways to spice up a comfortable relationship?

David Schnarch: You have to learn to hold onto yourself if you want the opportunity to hold onto your partner. That’s what nobody expects. Everybody expects their partner to prop themselves up and what a lot of people don’t realize is as human beings we don’t like having sex. We constantly have to prop up. We like a partner who can stand on their own two feet as long as we can tell them when it’s time to do that, so I think one of the primary tips to give people is to help them get a much more realistic view of the pattern of marriage and that gives you hope when you’re having a difficult time. We did some very interesting research now. We’ve had over 14,000 people take a survey that we’ve been doing and it turns out that about 85% of people say that either their sex is dead, comatose and in danger of dying or at the very least needing a wakeup call. Just knowing that that’s what normal sex looks like, that there is not something wrong with you and that it’s not a biological drive or you’re going to have desire if you’re in love. That’s one thing that is real important that helps people, but then we’ve also developed different activities that people can do that also tend to rekindle passion. One of them is what we call "heads on pillows" where both partners lie on their side. You can have your clothes on or off. Each person puts their head on the pillow and you both get your heads far enough apart that your partner doesn’t look like a Cyclops and you just gaze and there is a whole lot of people that they have the feeling of "I know why you’d want to have sex with me, but after all these years why would you want to look at me, why do you still love me?" And I think that’s one of the great mysteries of love that most of us find that we don’t believe that we would be truly loved if we were truly known and that’s one of the miracles of love, to be able to lie in bed looking at each other, being in each other’s arms and to stop all the rubbing and all of the different things that people do and just take the time to be together. For a whole lot of people that’s enough to bring tears to their eyes when they realize that this is really, really personal.

Question: Do you think that Valentine’s Day has a negative psychological effect on couples?

David Schnarch: Well I think the lingerie manufacturers and the candy producers, they love the idea of Valentine’s Day and I think probably we could all use a little wakeup call one in awhile not to take our partner for granted, but for a whole lot of couples it really focuses their attention on what they don’t have. They know that they can buy all the candy. They can buy Frederick’s of Hollywood and it doesn’t instill passion. In some ways it instills anger. For a lot of people you give them a negligee and the reaction is why, you don’t like my body or you think I’m going to do something I wouldn’t do because you bought me a box of candy and there is tremendous pressure: that’s supposed to be the night everybody is supposed to have sex and some people have sex. I think a lot of people have big fights because it basically makes people realize what they don’t have, not that it has to be that way. A lot of people have the feeling of once desire or passion or love dies its dead. You can’t rekindle that and that’s the exact opposite of what we’ve found. All around the world we found that people are really hungry for something that can make sex personal, that can make love not go back to the beginning of the relationship, but to have love and passion on an entirely new basis, on the basis of you know each other and you’ve gone through difficult times. You’ve had children, which is hard or you’ve had deaths in the family or now people in economic recession. These are really tough times and this either blows people apart or it brings them together. Going through those kinds of experiences I think make people strong enough to love on life’s terms and that’s tough. 

Recorded on January 29, 2010