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Why You Might Want To Remove Sex and Romance From Your Relationship

Nora Ephron famously wrote, “Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.” No one’s thinking about divorce as we enter wedding season, yet it’s inevitable that your relationship will change, whether you divorce or not. What you want is someone who will be a great partner, even if he’s no longer your lover and you’re no longer in love.

That’s sort of the premise of the Steven McCauley’s novel My Ex-Life.

It tells the story of David and Julie, who were briefly married until David came out, and who reconnect 30 years later when Julie needs his help with her daughter from a second marriage that’s in the middle of ending. Surprisingly, they rediscover the intimacy they had when they were married, but the romantic-sexual stuff is no longer a part of their dynamic.

But a couple doesn’t have to be divorced to lose the romantic-sexual connection, given all the talk about sexless marriages nowadays.

As McCauley says in an interview on “Fresh Air”:

It seems to me all relationships evolve as time goes on, even for people who stay together as a couple and even if the relationship remains sexual, essentially, that as you get older, needs change. Needs for intimacy change and companionship change. And I wanted to have these people begin to re-examine what really worked in their relationship — the friendship, the closeness — and try to adapt it for, you know, needs later in life that are maybe less restless, less hormonal.

Hormonal meaning sexual.

It’s an interesting concept. It’s similar to what my co-author and I propose in The New I Do for unhappily married couples with children who can’t, won’t or are hesitant to divorce. They can transform their marriage into a parenting marriage, in which they continue to go about their lives as co-parents and partners but without the sexual-romantic relationship.

McCauley’s David and Julie discover they still have a deep friendship that is more comfortable and, ultimately, more enduring than when they were spouses. While his book may be fiction, it isn’t far from reality. As McCauley says:

One of the struggles, for me, personally throughout my life with close relationships has been this fear of losing a piece of your identity because you’re making — you know, it’s inevitable that you make compromises when you’re in an intimate relationship. And I think that’s a good thing, but it also can be very frightening. And I don’t think they need to do that in this case. There’s a sense that they’re — they can continue pursuing other relationships if they want to and that they’re not as bound to each other by this — the demands of kind of sexual intimacy.

Maybe it’s easier in David and Julie’s case because he’s gay and therefore they’re not going to have that sexual connection anymore no matter what. McCauley notes that he knows a number of former couples, divorced because the hubby came out as gay, for whom that is true. But, as he says in the interview, the book was inspired by an article he read of a hetero couple who were able to do that.

Couples who have a conscious uncoupling (all you Gwyneth haters, just chill) can probably do the same. If you end your partnership kindly and lovingly, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to rediscover an intimacy — or at the very least, a friendship — that will honor your years as intimate partners as you forge new ways to connect. It’s especially important if you have children together because kids tie you together forever.

Sex, bless its heart, can complicate things for people, as actor Maria Bello explores. Why do we consider the person we have sex with to be the most important partner in our life, she asks. What if we stop having sex with that person, but still remain married or reconnect — does that change anything?

Here’s what I like about McCauley’s way of thinking. There are many former spouses who haven’t repartnered, by choice or chance later in life. They — OK, we (damn it!) — are getting older and may or may not have the support system they need.

At the same time, there are many married couples who are sexually disconnected.

Could we ever move beyond our romantic-sexual connection to our partner or former partner and just connect on a deeper intimacy that brought us together in the first place and that perhaps never went away but may have gotten lost or unappreciated during the struggling romantic-sexual periods?

I don’t know. It’s interesting to think about though.

Want to have a parenting marriage? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore (please do) or order it on Amazon.

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Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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