As a couple's therapist, my social acquaintances are always asking my opinion on their relationships. While ethically I cannot give advice outside of the scope of my practice, we are still able to have some fun and light conversations about the state of relationships in general. I am always curious as to what keeps couples together, and will ask my social group what successes they have had with their own partners. The other day I was talking with a woman I know fairly well (we'll call her Mary), and asked her what has kept her 25 year marriage going. Mary 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". Mary 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"? Mary 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. Mary 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 I am really curious as to 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 Mary and her husband.
- 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. Mary 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 or scheduling in place for it to occur. By discussing it openly and honestly they were able to come up with a plan that worked for them.
- Compromise - typically, as 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- Mary 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 that they would 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.
- 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 maintain and grow our primary relationships. This includes social events, volunteer services, family and friends and work responsibilities that may interfere with our giving of time to our relationships. Mary 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". Replacing these thoughts you would have evenings to look forward to, already planned and anticipated. Sound good? Most couples would think so - oops, I'm sorry I'm out of time right now- it's our night "on".