It was during what seemed like the endless winter in Ohio that I’d received a date for an invasive abdominal surgery I’d need to have the first of April. I prepped food for the family while I’d be recovering, got coverage for the kids, and laughed when the surgeon reminded me not to be intimate with my husband for six weeks following the procedure.

I’d had an emergency C-section with our first child but I was sure the urge to get frisky this time would pale in comparison to the two freshly-married twentysomethings who couldn’t keep their hands off of each other back then. Now we were closer to 40 and we were seeing those memories in our rearview as if they’d happened to someone else.

My husband and I have been married 10 years, together over 13. Most of those years have been insanely happy sprinkled with some of the hardest things life has thrown at either of us.

But through moves, babies, job loss, career changes, natural disasters, lost loved ones, and everything in between, the passion that once kept our early years fiery had long since been snuffed out by the busyness and mundane routine of life.

So, I smiled and nodded to my surgeon, mentally noted the timeline, and joked about it to my husband that evening. Following surgery was a very rough recovery time; a symbolic reminder that I was no longer 25.

In the weeks that followed though, something unexpected and beautiful unfolded.

In what was jokingly supposed to be a loveless month-and-a-half of healing and recovery, my husband and I were allowed the space to invite real intimacy back into our marriage.

See, after the initial wild and exciting honeymoon phase of our union, somewhere between getting grown up jobs, having kids, and realizing that we were somehow real, live grown ups all of the sudden, sex just became another thing we did. We went to work, we grocery shopped, we cooked dinner, we watched Netflix, we had sex, and we got to sleep in enough time to rest up for the same cycle all over again the next day.

But what if that wasn’t all there was to intimacy within a long-term, committed marriage relationship?

We certainly hadn’t said our vows and entered into a lifetime of loving each other hopeful for a boring, vanilla sex life. Yet somehow, that’s where we had found ourselves. Slap in between the excitement of new romance and, what? Death?

Fix it, Jesus!

As I healed from surgery, I allowed myself to be open and vulnerable with my husband, something I’d struggled with the entire 13 years leading up to those weeks. Full disclosure, having to go off of my anxiety meds before surgery likely gave a nice boost to my emotional instability here, but for that I am thankful. Because it was in this mess that I was reminded why I fell in love with my husband in the first place.

To show me his love for me, he didn’t slyly sneak up and kiss the quarter-inch of skin visible from my oversized sleep t-shirt, suggesting he was making a move, because we couldn’t have sex during those weeks. So I couldn’t be annoyed had I felt too tired or too bloated or too distracted by my anxiety’s to-do list on an endless loop in my brain. Instead, I was able to see him choosing to serve me. To help me out of bed. To listen to me cry when my emotions were at threat level midnight status. To hold my hand while I fell asleep, expecting nothing in return. To heat me up chicken broth for the eleventieth time because it was all that sounded good for weeks.

All of this felt like a spark—a reminder of what true intimacy felt like with someone who loves you unconditionally.

It wasn’t just something to check off the box to say I had completed that assignment for the week. This was truly a time to be in the presence of each other and connect on a heart level, no Netflix warm-up required.

And what was most surprising was how much this connection, communication, and intentional caring for each other fueled our willingness and desire to have sex as the natural manifestation of our love for each other. It wasn’t a to-do list item anymore. It became an exciting, heart-pumping, juicy text-sending, tell your girlfriends about it over wine out of a box (because you’re still classy) later time in our lives.

While neither of us would’ve said that our marriage was in any kind of trouble before our sexless six weeks, we probably wouldn’t have bragged about our love lives either. But after intentionally choosing to open space to allow ourselves to connect, to make eye contact, be vulnerable, and talk to each other again, we unknowingly opened the door to a level of intimacy we hadn’t experienced in our previous 10 years of marriage and our relationship (and sex life, ow! Ow!) is so much better for it.

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Brynn Burger

I am a wife, a mother, a teacher, a friend, a writer, a lover of all things outdoors, and sometimes a shell of my former self. Parenting a child with behavior disabilities has become both my prison and my passion. I write so I can breathe. This is my therapy. I hope that my violent vulnerability and use of humor will help you to power through this with me. It is the only way I know.