I’ve been married 7 years and that “7-Year Itch” is starting to feel like a real thing. Jule, what’s your advice on keeping the passion alive and well in a marriage?”
Dear Itchy and Scratchy,
Ah, the 7-year itch that Calamine lotion just doesn’t cover. How do you keep the passion alive after years of living together, years of making decisions together, of bickering, of co-existing, not just as man and wife/partners, but let's be honest, as roommates too?
I remember before I got married, a personal trainer in the city telling me that she wouldn’t brush her teeth in front of her husband. She thought it was gross and that he shouldn’t see her with toothpaste around her mouth, spitting into a sink. That has stuck in my head for nearly 20 years. Not because I care personally if Bazz sees me foaming at the mouth, but because I find it so interesting that everyone has their own idea of what keeps the spark alive; even something as specific as brushing your teeth can be a deal killer for some.
And, of course, I can only speak of mine. Marriages are, after all, as specific as children in their individual needs. What one child requires, another might not, and from my perspective, this is the same for marriage as well. What feeds mine, yours might reject.
That said, as I “tuh tuh tuh” all over my dining room while I type to you “Itchy and Scratchy,” for me, there is no greater igniter than laughter. There is no stronger aphrodisiac than making my husband roar with laughter and watching him light up when he returns the favor. “See!” he’ll say after he has said something that has made me laugh, “you're not the only funny one around here.” This is usually followed by pulling me into him for a kiss that makes our boys roll their eyes and pretend to vomit.
My very glamorous, very beautiful, and very married (quite a few times) 96-year-old “Gammy” told me to always brush my hair and put on lipstick right before Bazz is about to walk in the door every evening. I think about this a lot, mostly because 9 times outta 10 I fail miserably at this small task. It didn’t save Gammy from divorce (several times), but it might have safeguarded the passion in her many relationships. While some might think of this as old fashioned, or even sexist, the idea of giving a shit that we appeal to our mate physically makes a whole lotta sense, no?
15 years later, Bazz still walks into our bathroom as we get ready for a Saturday night out, and while I carefully apply eyeliner, he will patiently wait for me to lift my head from the mirror and ask, “How do I look?” I love that. It matters to him what I think. He wants to appeal to me. Spark.
One of my closest childhood friend’s moms once told me when I was just 16 years old, “Never stop dating your husband. Perch on his lap, flirt. Never stop being his girlfriend.” She’s a fucking genius. She’s also been married for over 40 years and has one of the best examples of a marriage that I have personally witnessed. She never lost sight of the importance of being in love with her husband. She never stopped dating him, even after two kids, many grandchildren, and over 4 decades of life together. They look at each other through rose colored glasses. They choose to do so.
For me, the kind of marriage that I always wanted to have has been cobbled together like a Chinese menu over our shared years. Many things I learned not to do (and I try not to repeat) from my own parents who divorced when I was 20, other things I try to emulate from relationships that I have deep admiration for.
Do we fight? Of course! Can I annoy him? Yep! Do I on occasion fantasize about gouging his eyeballs out of his head with a dull rusty spoon? You betcha! But I try not to forget that this is the person who captured my heart when he captured my mother’s early on in our courtship, who stood outside my apartment after our first date and kissed me for over 4 hours, sliding his hand gently around my throat to the back of my neck in a way that still, to this day, makes my knees go weak.
He’s the man who stayed with me for a week straight post C-section in the hospital and placed a chocolate each night on my pillow to make it feel more like a second honeymoon, then tucked himself in next to me in a cot and held my hand over the arm rail of my hospital bed as we fell asleep together, our newborn son sleeping at the foot of our beds in his bassinet.
We have roared with laughter together after he slid full speed through puppy diarrhea on hardwood floors. We’ve also mourned hard together, leaning into one another out of sheer exhaustion from one of the most searingly raw, painful times of our lives after my mother’s suicide.
Barry says to me often, “please just be nice to me” and when he says that, I see our own boys. I think about how I want their partners to treat them, how I want them to experience love, marriage and life with someone who they love and I look at my husband through more tender eyes.
We are a bit older now, a little saggier, and even though I roll my eyes and pretend to be annoyed when he goes to pinch my somewhat lower ass as I pass by him in our kitchen, I thank G-d for it, I giggle, and the match is lit.
Illustrations by @courtneycoloring