Strengthening a relationship and maintaining a vibrant and fulfilling sex life are crucial aspects of a healthy and enduring partnership. Couples often face various challenges, whether they stem from the demands of everyday life, the passage of time, or personal growth. Despite these obstacles, it is entirely possible to keep the spark alive and deepen the bond with your partner.
Our remarkable guest, Laurel McHargue, shares valuable insights into how she and her husband have navigated these waters, making their relationship an inspiring example of how to nurture love and passion over the long term. This episode is in line with our aim to explore relationships and how they've evolved over time, particularly in terms of strengthening a relationship and keeping sex vibrant.
Laurel’s philosophy of life revolves around the idea that a life without challenges is ultimately boring. This belief has been the guiding force behind her life choices and even the journey that led her to meeting Mike – her husband.
Laurel and Mike were classmates at the United States Military Academy at West Point. However, they didn't spend any time together until they were both part of the leadership team for a cadet battalion during their senior year. (West Point refers to this as Firstie year) When they attended West Point, meals were mandatory and Laurel and Mike were seated at the battalion leadership table. The daily routine of dining together from breakfast until dinner gave them a great opportunity to get to know one another and to cultivate a friendship.
Because they were both dating someone else at the time, they saw one another as a friend, which allowed them to chat and be curious about one another's personalities, values, and principles. Talking openly and frequently with each other caused Laurel to respect Mike and to see him as a challenge and ultimately, brought them closer. That is why their relationship has a great foundation built on friendship and a deep understanding of one another.
Their story is a testament to the idea that choosing a life partner is not without risks, as you can never truly know everything about another person. It requires a leap of faith and a willingness to adapt and grow together. In fact, Laurel's career in the Army, marked by frequent moves and new environments, kept her engaged, active, and continually evolving. Nonetheless, she embraced change rather than shying away from it, making the most of each new opportunity and challenge that came her way. This adaptability was not only a key element in her personal growth but also in the success and longevity of her relationship with Mike.
I truly admire Laurel's positivity and zest for life. Her vivacious and enthusiastic approach to life resonated with my own philosophy as a coach and therapist, where I aim to help people create the best lives for themselves, recognizing that we only get one chance at this journey.
Every long-lasting relationship has its ups and downs. In some cases, couples consider divorce. In Laurel’s case, she initially felt resentment due to an incident at a party but she quickly overcame it, demonstrating the strength of their relationship. She emphasized that being friends first, without the pressures of a sexual relationship, laid a strong foundation for their relationship. Additionally, she admired Mike because he was so disciplined, fit, educated, and self-motivated.
Maintaining a healthy relationship, particularly involving sexual intimacy, is an intricate dance that involves a delicate balance between individuality and respect. It's a journey where emotional and physical intimacy play pivotal roles, and where partners seek to nurture not only their connection but also their own well-being. Both partners must prioritize their physical and mental health to ensure they bring their best selves to the relationship. This commitment to personal wellness positively impacts relationship satisfaction, creating an environment where both individuals can thrive together.
What struck me about Laurel's marriage to Mike is that she respects him as a person and as her partner, and likewise, she feels the same respect from him. Laurel commented that she makes it a point to never bad-mouth Mike to anyone. Mutual respect, without a doubt, stands as one of the fundamental cornerstones upon which a healthy and enduring relationship is built. It entails a deep and unwavering appreciation for each other's worth, individuality, and contributions within the relationship. It involves recognizing and honoring the unique qualities, beliefs, and experiences that each partner brings to the table. Respect is a cornerstone of Laurel and Mike's love and a key element of their marriage's success.
In relationships, it's common for people to celebrate their similarities and shared interests initially. A sense of commonality can be exciting and lead to the belief that you're perfectly matched. However, it's a mistake that many couples make when they stop celebrating their differences and begin focusing solely on their similarities. Over time, their unique interests and passions may fall by the wayside, leading to a sense of sameness in the relationship.
Embracing individuality within a relationship is crucial. It allows partners to celebrate their uniqueness while coming together to create a strong bond. A respectful acknowledgment of each person's autonomy paves the way for the emotional and physical intimacy that lies at the heart of a fulfilling relationship. However, it must also be noted that both partners should continue pursuing their owne interests and passions, even as they grow together. Maintaining these unique aspects of oneself brings vitality and energy into the relationship. It's about not being afraid to have different interests and respecting each other's individuality. This kind of mutual respect and understanding contributes to a happy, thriving relationship that lasts for many years.
One of the things I truly value about Laurel's relationship with Mike is that they both are grateful for one another and they show gratitude for little things. Laurel shared how Mike thanks her every time she cooks dinner, and she in turn, thanks him for earning money to buy the groceries. Laurel also expressed a deep and heartfelt gratitude for how Mike fully supports her interests and her dedication to being an author, despite it not being a very lucrative career. Gratitude is one of the things I love most about my husband. I've never met a more grateful person and I think his gratitude cultivates happiness for himself and for those around him.
Both Laurel and Mike take great care of their overall health and they do many activities together that build fun and excitement into their lives. Laurel admired how fit Mike was, but the couple realized that although an intense bike ride might be right for Mike, it wasn't for Laurel. However, through open dialogue, they compromised on what a satisfying bike ride together would be.
It is not easy maintaining a relationship while having military careers but for Laurel and her husband, they were able to adapt to these challenges as a couple. Having children also introduced new dynamics into their intimate life, with scheduling and discretion becoming important factors considering that exhaustion and privacy concerns sometimes made intimacy more challenging.
As their children grew and eventually left home, they found more opportunities for physical connection and to express their sexuality. They remained intentional about their sex life, scheduling and prioritizing moments for intimacy. Laurel shared that they also developed unique ways to build anticipation and nonverbally initiate intimate moments, creating a playful and affectionate connection that continues to evolve. They have open communication and feel comfortable talking about their love life and their sex life.
Transitioning from non-sexual moments to sexual ones and vice-versa is a learned skill, and it's essential to align your mind with your body's readiness for sex. As we know, women's minds, in particular, often require more preparation. Planning sex can be beneficial at various stages of life, whether you have young children, teenagers, or are empty nesters with busy lives.
Maintaining a fulfilling sex life within a relationship has positive effects on physical and emotional well-being. It intensifies the joy, connection, and laughter that it brings to every relationship. Keeping things fresh and having a sense of fun and playfulness in the bedroom is essential. At the core of a satisfying sexual relationship is emotional and physical connection, where partners not only communicate openly about their sexual preferences but also seek to enhance pleasure for each other. This may involve the introduction of sensual music, sexy lingerie, or even a well-chosen sex toy into the bedroom (or the living room or the kitchen 🙂) to spice things up, as long as it's in your comfort zone. As we know, sex toys are a fabulous way to enhance the sexual experience, especially when a little extra time is needed to build up arousal. They can increase desire as part of foreplay or they can be the main event!
By respecting one another's boundaries and desires, a couple can achieve balance and harmony in their partnership, ensuring that their bond remains both intimate and enduring. Of course, it is important to be able to say "no" to sex when you’re not in the mood without having your partner feel rejected. As a sex expert, I coach people to not just say no when they don't feel like sex, but to also offer an alternative plan. That might look like one partner saying, "You know, I'm not in the mood today but I'd love to have sex tomorrow."
As we evolve with our partners in long-term relationships, our sex life has its ups and downs. The goal isn't achieving the greatest orgasm as a way of maximizing sexual satisfaction but rather, prioritizing connection and sexual pleasure in sexual experiences. Working together as true partners has enabled Laurel and Mike to create a sense of sexual well-being that fosters a deeper connection and helps to maintain a strong, healthy relationship.
Make sure to check out Laurel’s unique puzzle book titled “Peace by Piece” which she co-authored with her close friend Nadine Collier, a licensed therapist. The book offers valuable life lessons drawn from the experience of assembling a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle. She highlights how Nadine contributed to the book by providing reflections and thought-provoking questions for readers. Laurel also has another book entitled "Quack" which draws inspiration from her two-year adventure of raising ducks in Colorado. You can visit Laurel's website and view her books on Amazon.
Laurel’s Podcast Link:
Award-winning multi-genre author Laurel McHargue, a West Point grad, was raised near Boston and somehow found her way to the breathtaking elevation of Colorado's Rocky Mountains--where she lives and laughs and publishes and podcasts. She writes about life, real and imagined, and hosts the podcast 'Alligator Preserves.' She has been married to the love of her life for over 40 years and has two wonderful adult sons.