‘Hope Springs’ prompts discussion on bringing romance back to a longtime relationshipFARGO - In the new movie “Hope Springs,” Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) Soames have had a sexless marriage for years. They sleep in separate beds in separate rooms. He barely looks at her.
By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM
FARGO - In the new movie “Hope Springs,” Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) Soames have had a sexless marriage for years. They sleep in separate beds in separate rooms. He barely looks at her.
Moviegoers who packed Fargo’s Century 10 theater smiled and laughed knowingly as two of America’s finest actors gave them a personal look at the sometimes-painful process of restoring intimacy.
Avoidance can worsen and prolong the issue, often to the point where couples give up hope that what they’ve lost can be regained, says Sanford’s Dr. Alice Christianson.
“When sexual problems pop up, avoidance often is how a couple handles it, so sex becomes less frequent, and then because sometimes there’s anxiety or discomfort or aversion around sexuality, then even things like hugging, kissing fall off,” says Christianson, a certified sex therapist.
Like with any relationship issue, communication is key.
“As long as we can communicate intimately and honestly with our partner about what turns us on and what turns us off, we can navigate the many changes and issues we may be dealing with,” author Joan Price writes in “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex,” a self-help title recommended by Christianson.
Differences in desire
In the film, Arnold seems content going about his daily routine without so much as a goodbye kiss from his wife, but Kay wants more and takes matters into her own hands starting with a trip to the bookstore.
There she discovers Maine’s Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell), who says in a video on his website, “It’s not impossible, and it’s not too late” to rekindle love and romance.
Christianson says mismatched sexual desire is the most common reason patients seek her help and guidance.
Though not always the case, she says women typically have less desire than their partners.
“Women don’t have the testosterone that men have, and testosterone really is a driver for high interest,” she says.
But it’s not just hormones. Desire can wane for any number of reasons – age, stress, worry, anxiety about performance issues, unaddressed emotional problems, life changes, physiological changes, underlying medical conditions.
Sometimes sex can be painful for women, and rather than address the problem, they avoid sex altogether.
“If they don’t figure out physically what to do to make that better, they can take the position that, ‘Well, I’m just not going to have intercourse anymore,’ ” Christianson says.
First and foremost, an appointment with a general practitioner, ob-gyn or urologist should be made to rule out any medical reasons for lack of interest in sex.
Christianson says paying attention to each other’s needs – both inside and outside the bedroom – can help bridge the gap between differing sex drives.
“The person who’s got maybe less desire can do things that will try to set the stage or do things that promote a little bit more interest so that they can get going,” she says.
One morning Kay serves her despondent husband an intensive couples therapy brochure along with his usual egg-bacon-and-coffee breakfast. She tells him she’s going with or without him.
He resists until the last minute, when he plops down next to her on the plane and gruffly says, “I hope you’re happy,” to which she responds with a semi-satisfied smile.
Arnold’s complaining and bullying continue as he fights the process. (Streep jokingly called the film “50 Shades of Grumpy” in an interview.)
It’s not until he realizes he’s at risk of losing his wife of 31 years that he tries to do something about it.
Christianson says change can inspire change. Even if Kay ended up going to “Bernie’s” sessions alone, she could have improved her marriage.
“That’s the cool thing about change, is sometimes one person can make some small change and it makes a difference in the relationship,” she says.
More than sex
Kay and Arnold’s first “assignment” from Dr. Feld is simply to lie with their arms around each other. Then they’re asked to lovingly touch each other. Just touch.
“Lovemaking is more than (intercourse), which is kind of how people think about sex,” Christianson says, adding it can include emotional closeness, kissing, hugging and massage, among other things.
“Foreplay technically starts out the minute you wake up in the morning and (depends on) how your partner treats you during the day,” Christianson says.
One of the most rewarding scenes in “Hope Springs” comes in the final moments when Arnold passionately kisses Kay before he leaves for work, bending her backward over the kitchen sink.
Christianson and other specialists say the notion that sex should always be spontaneous is a myth.
“Give it a chance. You may find that scheduling sex encourages you to think about it all day, anticipate what you’ll do, and rev up your arousal,” “Naked at Our Age” author Price writes.
Christianson hopes avenues like “Hope Springs” and this article help people realize they don’t have to resign themselves to a sexless relationship – at any age.
“We’re sexual lifelong whether people want to do something about that or not,” she says. “Sex is not just for the young and able-bodied.”