Learning to Be a Couple
Dec. 25, 2000 -- For six months before Kelly Moore's wedding, as she shopped for the perfect wedding shoes (black and white zebra pumps) and haggled over the 53-person guest list ("If you don't make the cut, it's not that I don't love you ..."), she thought often of her postnuptial reward: A weeklong honeymoon with her new husband in Costa Careyes, Mexico.
At long last, Moore and Bradley Conway -- with the ceremony over and the guests gone -- were jetting away. They were Mr. and Mrs. Conway now, and she sincerely hoped that even though they already had lived together, their honeymoon would be a marathon of swooning romance.
And remarkably, it was. "I've never been more relaxed in my life, and I've never felt more at one with my husband," says Moore, a training and development manager with Coca Cola in Oakland, Calif.
How did this happen? How can newlyweds put sizzle in their honeymoon at a time when many couples live together before marriage and few are having their first intimate sexual experience on their wedding nights?
The answer, experts say, likely lies in the two fundamentals of romance: planning and communication. The goal of a honeymoon should be to allow the couple to luxuriate in the pleasure of being together. And while most newlyweds today know each other far better than did couples decades ago, rather than boredom, this familiarity should bring a chance for increased intimacy. The key appears to be to focus on what's new: their marriage.
"With couples nowadays spending so much time together, the question is, what is the significance of this marriage?" says Linda Banner, PhD, a sex therapist affiliated with the University of California at San Francisco/Stanford sexual health and medicine program. The honeymoon, she says, is an ideal time to reflect on the commitment just made. "I would ask, what is their relationship vision? What would you like to see in your life together?"
To encourage these kinds of conversations, create an intimate setting for the honeymoon, says Steve Finz, co-author with his wife, Iris Finz, of Unspoken Desires: Real people talk about sexual experiences and fantasies they hide from their partners. "Make it a private time," he says.
That probably means finding a place to rest and be alone together, rather than embarking on the definitive tour of the masterpieces of the Louvre. Concentrate on romance, advises Finz. Get dressed up, go dancing, drink champagne in the room, take bubble baths -- the works.
Tim and Joanna Collins of Seattle sought the ultimate romantic destination for their honeymoon, and they may have found it in Bali. They spent a week ensconced at the Ritz hotel on the beach, and a second week at a Four Seasons villa in the hills, where they were welcomed with a soaking tub full of orchids. Skipping the strenuous hikes that had been part of their previous travels, they concentrated on no-holds-barred relaxation and conversation.
"We talked a lot about the commitment and the changes you have to make now that you're one instead of two," says Tim Collins, 33, who is in charge of operational excellence at Amazon.com.
Just as couples report that their relationships feel "different" once they're married, so too do the sexual experiences feel different, says Isadora Altman, author of Doing It: Real people having really good sex. "Marriage itself carries an enormous impact with the label of wife and husband," says Altman. "There might be the feeling of, 'I adored the way we made love before, but I don't want my wife to be doing that -- she's going to be the mother of my children.'"
Or a woman can suddenly become orgasmic. "She feels, 'Now I can relax -- this is now my spouse,'" says Altman.
Kelly Moore says the emotional intensity of their wedding vows -- taken on a yacht on San Francisco Bay at sunset -- made the sex during their honeymoon more romantic and powerful than ever. "It was the most amazing thing," says Moore, 26. "It was like we were one. You had a whole different goal about who should be pleased -- it was so much more partner-focused."
The sex also got an additional charge because, in an effort to make sex feel "new" after their wedding, Moore and her fiance declared a sexual hiatus six months beforehand. Other couples report taking similar steps to stir up a bit of anticipation and mystery. Author Steve Finz's son and his fiancee plan to get separate hotel rooms for several days before their December wedding.
As for those who do wait until their honeymoons to be sexually intimate for the first time, sex therapist Banner advises keeping expectations low. "If you've got performance anxiety, slow it way down," she says. "Instead of going for an endpoint of intercourse and orgasm, go for an endpoint of touch and intimacy."
While some couples describe their first sexual encounter as thrilling, most do not, and for some women first intercourse is painful, says Steve Finz. He suggests oral sex as a more pleasurable way to begin if both partners are comfortable with the idea.
Having realistic expectations is well advised in planning the honeymoon trip itself, says Eva Holguin, president of PlanetHoneymoon.com -- a travel agency that registers honeymoons in a manner similar to a bridal registry. If the couple hasn't traveled together before, an all-inclusive resort like Sandals can eliminate disagreements, says Holguin. Most importantly, she says, it's a mistake to leave the day after the wedding, when the couple is likely to be exhausted. "Traveling is hard," she says. "I suggest putting it off for a day to rest and relax."
If Webster's dictionary is any guide, the pleasures of the honeymoon should be fully savored because they're not likely to last. According to the dictionary, the word first appeared in the 16th century with the "honey" referring to the sweetness of a new marriage. Sadly, the "moon" is a bitter acknowledgment that this sweetness, like a full moon, will wane.
But there's always a second honeymoon, isn't there?
Jane Meredith Adams is a former staff reporter for the Boston Globe. She writes frequently about health.
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