I made a quick trip to the supermarket to find some firewood hoping it would help set the mood for a romantic evening. While in line at the checkout, I couldn’t help but notice every magazine seemed to know what I was up to. And they all offered some “amazing advice” to spice things up in the bedroom.

As enticing as the titles were, I’d been married long enough to know advice from grocery store magazine wouldn’t do me any good. Because the best way to spice things up in the bedroom is to start outside of it.

Misaligned priorities, disagreements, and overall busyness can quench even the most passionate fires. When sex becomes infrequent, unenthusiastic, or disappointing, the natural inclination is to look for ways to spice things up. But sex works more like a thermometer than a thermostat. And a thermometer can’t change the temperature; it can only report it.

So before going crazy covering your bed with rose petals, buying new sleepwear, or experimenting with new sex positions, take a closer look at what you’re really after.

How to spice things up in the bedroom

As a counselor, I’ve often been asked how one spouse can get the other to be more interested in sex. But after a bit of digging, it’s usually clear the people who ask that question are looking for more than just sex. 

I’ll ask, “If you could get your spouse to agree to have sex with you as often as you’d like for the rest of your married life, but you would never talk to each other again, would you want that?” No one ever says yes.

Why? Because sex was designed to be more than just a mindless physical act. We want it to bring connection. We want to feel loved, desired, respected, known, and understood. The frequency and quality of sex we complain about is merely the outward sign of an inward need. What we want is intimacy. And people who experience real intimacy rarely have anything to complain about in the bedroom.

Sex is an intimate act, but it’s not a way to gain intimacy. It’s a way to express it. Slapping a new “technique” onto a relationship devoid of intimacy will leave us feeling hollow, as if we’re putting on a show. It’s no wonder society talks of “sexual-performance issues.” Sex without intimacy is just that—a performance.

If you’re unsatisfied with your sex life and hoping to spice things up in the bedroom, barring any medical issues, there are probably other areas in your relationship that need to be addressed. Try focusing on these areas of intimacy first.

Relational intimacy

Our culture romanticizes the idea of a “one-night stand.” But the last thing you want in your marriage is to have sex with someone who feels like a stranger.

Unfortunately, life has a way of pulling us away from each other. We may live in the same house, but we begin to live entirely separate lives over time. Instead of thinking of ways of to spend time together, we look for time with friends or prioritize “me time.” We’re married but live like roommates.

Thankfully, building relational intimacy is something all married couples know how to do because we’ve all done it. Before marriage, we dated, courted, and found creative ways to spend time together. We were always on the lookout for ways to get to know each other better. We didn’t need exotic vacations or fancy dinners, any activity from buying groceries to doing homework together would do. What was important is that we interacted with each other. 

It always amazes me how close I feel with my wife after an afternoon of raking leaves. We don’t talk much, but the sense of shared accomplishment when the yard is done makes me feel like I have a partner in life.

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Intellectual intimacy

Sharing facts is easy. We’re out of milk. The car needs brakes. The kids don’t have school on Friday. Facts are what they are. We might not like them, but they typically generate little controversy.

But opinions are more personal, birthed from a mixture of fact, experience, preference, and assumption. Sharing opinions is more dangerous than sharing facts. When our opinions are challenged, it can feel like a personal attack. And when we feel we can’t share our opinions without criticism, intimacy suffers.

What is your natural posture when your spouse shares an opinion? Is your first reaction to try to understand or to argue a different perspective? Do you shy away from specific topics for fear of being verbally assaulted? You don’t have to always agree, but you and your spouse need to know your opinions will be respected to get to deeper levels of intimacy.

Emotional intimacy

Sharing emotions is even trickier than sharing opinions. Sometimes we just feel the way we feel and have no clue why. If you suspect you’ll have to explain why you feel the way you do or that your feelings will be disrespected, you may react with explosive anger or wall off your emotions for your own protection. 

Can you (and your spouse) talk about your struggles and anxieties without being criticized, ridiculed, or belittled? Are phrases like, “You’re too emotional,” “Get over it,” or “You’re making a big deal out of nothing” typical in your home? 

Unfortunately, early in our marriage, my wife learned to keep her mouth shut. At work, I spent all day solving other people’s problems. A person would call with a complaint, and I would find the problem, present a solution, and move on to the next person. The problem was, I’d do the same thing with my wife. She’d try and tell me about a problem, but before she finished her first sentence, I had given her a solution, ticket number, and thanked her for calling the Husband Help Desk. All that did was shut down intimacy. 

Genesis 2:25 describes the initial, sinless relationship between Adam and Eve by saying, “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

My wife couldn’t learn to be completely naked and unashamed until I learned how to listen before speaking. What would it take for you to be completely naked and unashamed in front of your spouse? 

Which all lead to sexual intimacy

If you can be intimate in other ways, sexual intimacy comes naturally. It’s not about finding ways to spice things up in the bedroom. It doesn’t matter if you look amazing naked or even if you achieve an orgasm every time. If you have intimacy in other areas of your life, you’ll be comfortable exploring, lingering, and experimenting with different ways of expressing your love for your spouse. 

When you do, you’ll realize those magazines have nothing to teach you. And you’ll have all the spice you can handle.

Copyright © 2022 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Orlando, Florida. You can learn more on their site, YourEverAfter.org.