One of the pitfalls of being a couple’s therapist is that my friends frequently ask my opinion about their relationships. While I can’t ethically counsel them, we still have some pretty interesting chats about the state of relationships in general. I’m always curious about tips and ideas keep couples happy, healthy and together, so I’ll ask my friends what successes they have had with their own partners. The other day I was talking with someone (I’ll call her Molly) and asked what has kept her 25-year marriage going. Molly replied that she was a bit embarrassed to tell me this, but as I was a couple’s expert, she knew I would “get it”. Molly told me that she and her husband practice what they called “Night On, Night Off”.
Well, I have heard many things from clients over the years, but what on earth is “night on, night off”? Molly explained that she and her husband had created a plan where they have sex on the nights on, but not on the nights off.
Now I’m really intrigued- sex every other night? For over 20 years? Most of my clients have sex far less frequently than that- which causes tremendous problems in their relationships. Molly has children, a career, a home and a husband- how does she have enough energy to keep up with this plan?
After questioning her more- because now I’m REALLY curious how this works- I found that she has been doing “night on, night off” for most of her relationship. After five years of marriage and two kids, she and her husband found themselves with a sex life that was lacking, too many fights and too little communication. Rather than continue with the unsatisfactory relationship, they decided to do something about it.
So, what are the main principles behind the success of this “Night On, Night Off”? Over the years I have developed what I call the 5C Reconnection plan-a plan that has proven to work with hundreds of couples in re-establishing intimacy and connection. Here are 3 of the components of the plan, successfully illustrated by Molly and her husband.
1. Communications- when a problem, issue or concern arises, instead of sweeping it under the rug you sit down and talk about it. Sound simple? It should be, but it’s hard to put into practice. Finding the time and space to talk on a regular basis is crucial to keeping the connection going. Molly and her husband sat down after months of sexual confusion and frustration to determine what the problem was- and what it wasn’t. They had the love, desire and motivation to connect sexually, but not the commitment, energy or scheduling for it to happen. By discussing it openly and honestly, they were able to come up with a plan that worked for both.
2. Compromise-typically, as busy, stressed out humans we are not able to turn the sexual switch to “on” or “off” just like that. Here is where the compromise piece of this plan is in play- Molly and her husband knew that there would be evenings that were supposed to be “on”, that one of them would be exhausted, in a lousy mood, or just not physically or emotionally up to being sexual. What they had discussed and agreed on was that if that were the case, they could move the “night on” to the next night, but never go another night past that with the new schedule. This gave them both something to work with, something to look forward to and to plan for. The compromise that they both made was to put their own needs aside (temporarily and after agreed upon) in order to commit to the schedule that they had initially decided.
3. Commitment- there is a real, authentic commitment to a plan that stays in place for over 15 years. Although we pay lip service to the idea of commitment, do we practice it in our everyday lives? As a couple, commitment means saying “no” to many things we might want to do- in order to nurture and grow our relationships. This includes social events, volunteer services, family and friends and work responsibilities that may interfere with our giving of time to our partners. Molly and her husband committed to their plan and then actually did it- something that many of us fall short on. They have as busy a life as anyone, but committed to making their relationship a priority over everything else.
So, let’s think about what this would look like if we practiced night on, night off- no more mixed signals as to whether you are in the mood, no more frustrations about the frequency of your sex life, no more endless arguments about your relationship, no more wondering if this is “the night”. By replacing these thoughts you’d look forward to your evenings, that are already planned and anticipated. Sound good? I’m sorry, I must go now- it’s Night On.
If you would like more help working through your marriage commitments, please consider coming in for marriage counseling. Rescue your most important relationship today.