Though I can't quite claim I've surpassed the seven-year itch, this month my husband and I have achieved five years of marriage. Not to boast too much, but I'm proud of us. We've lasted longer than all of our straight friends; some of whom are now on second marriages. We're still communicating, we're still having sex, and we're still happy.
This all comes down to intimacy. So, what keeps it up beyond the usual advice of buying new underwear frequently? Here are the five lessons I've learned from five years of commitment.
1. Constant canoodling
The importance of canoodling – kissing, cuddling, touching, but not necessarily having sex – allows a couple to be continually reminded of each other's sexual desire. This is actually something that's easy to forget.
Everybody has wants and needs, but after years of marriage, I think sometimes we genuinely stop caring. People use excuses like "I'm tired" to avoid intimacy, not realising they are denying their spouse closeness (and vice versa). The best way around this is to canoodle every day. It might lead to sex, but it doesn't have to. Whatever the case, it's an expression of shared warmth.
2. Alone time
The French physicist and writer Blaise Pascal famously said, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone". This directly applies to relationship and sexual intimacy too. All people, including (and perhaps especially) extroverts, should take alone time to just sit and reflect. On weekends and even holidays, my husband and I never spend a full 24 hours together. A minimum of two hours apart a day is necessary for us to recalibrate our senses of self.
A couple needs distance, they need to miss each other's minds, and each other's bodies. The only thing being together constantly leads to in a marriage is complacency.
3. A deliberate lifestyle plan
Couples drift apart emotionally and sexually when they stop planning communal life together. I can't express enough the importance of joint lifestyle in a marriage. Life is not all about careers – prioritising your manner of living as a couple is more essential than your jobs. Over the years, my husband and I have both altered our individual lives and careers so our marriage comes first. The result is a mutual rapport with each other based on a united journey.
For some, reaching career goals is fulfilling, though that fulfilment does not necessarily transfer to partners. This is essential to remember when planning and living life as a couple outside of work. It shouldn't be an afterthought because one (or both) of you has had a hard week. You should deliberately plan a lifestyle that enhances your relationship, whether that's the little moments cooking and eating together, or the bolder moments exploring new kinks in the bedroom.
4. No set roles
Sex and gender roles are boring. To continue having an intimate marriage you need to throw them out the door. This goes for everything from who does what chores, to who dominates whom when it comes to sex.
I attribute the constant effort to mix it up in my marriage – from who vacuums and who does laundry to who tops and who bottoms – to sustaining overall marital intimacy. Continual resistance of clichés keeps a relationship spontaneous, and spontaneity keeps a marriage's carnality alive.
5. A "monogamish" approach
I understand we've all been told that monogamy means happiness and retention of faith in a marriage. After a couple of years of monogamish-ness, however, my husband and I have learned that occasional non-monogamous interaction with other people keeps our intimacy going.
It keeps sexuality exciting, and forebays despair, lack of variety, and being taken for granted. Not to fall prey to the gay trope of "monogamy isn't realistic" but honestly, being somewhere adjacent to monogamy (and remaining open, communicative, and trusting) ensures long-term affinity for us. Those three values also keep us evolving healthily together as a couple. Just as buying new sets of underwear does.