Q&A With Therapist Mary Jo Rapini

One topic that has continued to surface during the pandemic is how to stay connected to your partner and maintain intimacy. I recently sat down with sex and intimacy therapist Mary Jo Rapini to chat about her biggest piece of advice for couples who want to stay connected and restore their sex lives. I’m sharing her relationship tips below, along with what to expect from her therapy sessions if you visit her at Complete Midlife Wellness Center.

Read on below and be sure to enter our Instagram giveaway for a chance to win free 15 minute consultations with both Mary Jo and myself, as well as a free copy of my book Sexually Woke.

What is one of the most common causes you see in counseling of people losing intimacy with their partner in midlife?

Couples stop communicating. They get busy and take each other for granted. Having kids adds to the busyness, and they forget that what they have between the two of them has to be guarded and put first. Unresolved issues tend to come up during uncertain times, like the pandemic. It’s important to talk through these issues with your partner. I’m sharing a worksheet in this email with five questions to talk through during a check-in. You can tackle one question a day or all at once. It takes about half an hour but really opens up communication, which is key to restoring intimacy. 

First question – what did I do last week to feel appreciated and special – ask each other and respond. Build on what they are already doing. Show each other appreciation and a feeling of specialness. When you hear you did something you do more of that.

What is your biggest piece of advice for couples who want to liven up and restore their sex lives?

It starts with an emotional connection. Ask your partner what you can do from them to make them feel special and appreciated, and show your partner that you appreciate little things they do to make you feel special. Also, ask each other how you see your intimacy life right now and how you can work together to restore it.

It’s important to articulate what you need to feel more relaxed — especially for women. It’s really about setting the mood. Maybe you need more foreplay. Or perhaps try hiring a babysitter to arrive a little early before date night so that you can take a bath or masturbate before going out. Before women can focus on our bodies, we have to escape in our heads and set the mood.

What is something small couples can do every day to stay connected to one another?

Any kind of touch is really important. When couples touch each other before they talk, it changes how they interact. Put away phones when your partner is speaking to you. Send each other sweet texts or emails during the day, and ask your partner what you can do to make them feel more emotionally connected. People tend to focus on the sex part, but sex can never be as good when it’s unconnected emotionally. What takes marriages down – ruins or breaks them – is when you are no longer emotionally close. Find out what is “romantic” to your partner, and prioritize showing them love in that way. Romance and sex can be as simple as having dinner and glass of wine over candlelight, or it might be spending time naked in bed.

For someone considering sex and intimacy therapy who hasn’t gone before, how would you describe your process and potential benefits in a nutshell?

When you come to sex and intimacy therapy, you will have a safe place to talk through your needs as a couple and to receive encouraging information. After every session, I give a homework assignment to help couples move forward. Sometimes couples want to have a monthly check-up, and sometimes we talk over email in between sessions. This helps couples stay on track.

The benefits of a healthy sex life, in addition to personal and relational happiness, are a boosted immune system. Most people in the medical community suggest having intercourse at least once a week, both for mental and physical benefits. Remember though that “sex” doesn’t always have to be intercourse. It can be enjoying a glass of wine or eating strawberries in bed together.

If you haven’t already, be sure to watch our recent video chat about sex and intimacy during the pandemic.