Sleep Actually

My husband and I have been married for eight years. We have a 5-year-old son, and we both work full time. We used to have these amazing crazy sex marathons, but now we’re too tired from our jobs and parenthood. We have sex about once a month, if that. I’m worried that this isn’t healthy for our marriage.

-Sex Famine

The good news: You two are still like animals in bed. The bad news: They’re the sort on the road that have been flattened by speeding cars.

This is something to try to change, because sex seems to be a kind of gym for a healthy relationship. Clinical psychologist Anik Debrot and her colleagues note that beyond how sex “promotes a stronger and more positive connection” between partners, there’s “strong support” in the research literature for a link between “an active and satisfying sexual life and individual well-being.”

Of course, it’s possible that individuals who are happy get it on more often than those who hate their lives and each other. Also, rather obviously, having an orgasm tends to be more day-brightening than, say, having a flat tire.

However, when Debrot and her colleagues surveyed couples to narrow down what makes these people having regular sex happier, their results suggested it wasn’t “merely due to pleasure experienced during sex itself.” It seems it was the affection and loving touch (cuddlywuddlies) in bed that led couples to report increased “positive emotions and well-being” – and not just right afterward but for hours afterward and even into the next day.

The researchers found a longer-lasting effect, too: In a survey of 106 couples (all parents with at least one child younger than 8), the more these partners had sex over a 10-day period the greater their relationship satisfaction six months down the road. (The researchers did report a caveat: For the bump in relationship satisfaction, the sex had to be “affectionate” – as opposed to, I guess, angry sex, breakup sex, or “You don’t mind if I tweet while we’re doing it?” sex.)

My prescription for you? Have sex once a week – a frequency that research by social psychologist Amy Muise finds, for couples, is associated with greater happiness. Make time for it, the way you would if your kid needed to go to the dentist. Also, go easy on yourselves. Consider that some sex is better than, well, “sex marathon or nuthin!”

And then, seeing as affection and loving touch – not sexual pleasure – led to the improved mood in individuals and increased relationship satisfaction in couples, basically be handsy and cuddly with each other in daily life. Act loving and you should find yourself feeling loving – instead of, say, feeling the urge to sound off to strangers in checkout lanes that the last time anyone took an interest in your ladyparts, your health insurance company sent you a bill for the copay. 

Head Over Heals

My boyfriend broke up with me last month. We still talk and text almost every day. We’re still connected on social media. We’ve even had dinner twice. I feel better that he’s still in my life, even just as a friend, though we don’t work as a couple. Is this healthy, or am I prolonging some sort of grief I’m going to have to feel down the road?

-Clinging

Your approach to a breakup is like having your dog die and then, instead of burying it, having it taxidermied and taking it out for “walks” in a little red wagon.

Note the helpful key word – “break” – in breakup. It suggests that when someone tells you “It’s over!” the thing you say isn’t “Okey-dokey! See you tomorrow for lunch!” As painful as it is to stare into a boyfriend-shaped void in your life, continued contact is the land of false hopes – fooling you into thinking that nothing’s really changed (save for your relationship status on Facebook).

In fact, research by social psychologist David Sbarra finds that contact offline after a breakup amps up feelings of both love and sadness, stalling the healing process. Staying in touch online – or just snooping on your ex’s social media doings – appears to be even worse. For example, social psychologist Tara Marshall found that “engaging in surveillance of the ex-partner’s Facebook page inhibited postbreakup adjustment and growth above and beyond offline contact.”

This makes sense – as your brain needs to be retrained to stop pointing you toward your now-ex-boyfriend whenever you need love, attention, or comforting. Tell your ex you need a real break, and stick to it. Block him on social media. Drawbridge up. No contact of any kind – no matter how much you long to hear, “Hey, whatcha up to tonight? How ‘bout I come over and slow down your healing process?”

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