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TEDxNormal Speaker: The Secret Ingredient To Happy, Long-Lasting Relationships

Sam Cullinane and her husband Patrick
Courtesy Sam Cullinane
Sam Cullinane, left, and her husband Patrick.

After 10 years of marriage, Sam Cullinane and her husband Patrick were ready to call it quits. 

They filed for divorce, and Sam moved from Utah to Spain.

A year later, they decided to get back together—and are still married today.

“We are coming up on 24 years of marriage,” said Cullinane. “And since we’ve been back together, our relationship has just blossomed and grown and gotten better and better and better. We’re like one of the happiest couples we know.”

"When we're not doing it, we don't feel that same connection."

How did the couple salvage their marriage?

Cullinane said you’ll have to attend her TEDxNormal talk, “The Case to Put Out,” to get all the details, but if you couldn’t tell from the title, it has to do with sex.

Cullinane said she and her husband struggled with mismatched libidos. 

“It seemed like Patty always wanted to have sex, it seemed like I never did. And this was a problem,” she said.

A problem they couldn’t solve, even after they got back together. 

So the couple decided to try something different.

“What we ended up doing was making an agreement,” she said. “And this agreement is to choose each other, and the love and acceptance of each other and our relationship, and choose to have those be extremely important to us.”

Cullinane said that agreement changed the way she and her husband approached the decision to say yes or no when one of them wanted to have sex. 

“When you’re in that cycle of someone’s always asking, someone’s always rejecting the other, it creates tension, resentment,” she said. “So this talk is how we worked through that.”

Cullinane said after she and her husband wrote their first book, “Bigger Love,” about their experience, they grew curious about why their approach had worked so well. They dove into the research, and found science largely supported what the couple had learned firsthand.

Summarizing their findings in their second book, “Marriage: From Miserable to Magnificent,” the couple explains that the first stage of love, Aros, is a lot different from the rest of a relationship. 

“So during Aros, when you first meet someone and you have the butterflies and you know, you’re thinking about them all the time, your body’s flooded with all these hormones, and that creates a lot of sexual desire,” Cullinane said. 

When that period ends—anywhere from 6 months to 2 years—that rush of hormones begins to wane. That, combined with stress-inducing life changes like having children, changing jobs, losing a loved one, really puts the brakes on sexual desire.

Looking at research by Amy Muise at the Sexual Health and Reproductive Experiences (SHARE) Lab, Cullinane discovered the problem is incredibly common. 

“(Muise) found that 80% of people had this issue with their partner in the past month. And 95% of people had had it in the past year, which is nearly all,” Cullinane said. 

Other studies of married couples help dispel a common myth and bolster Cullinane’s approach.

“A lot of people believe that if you have marital satisfaction, then you will automatically have sexual satisfaction, that creating great friendship and communication and those things in your marriage, that those things will improve your sex life,” she said. “What the science is showing is if you have a great sex life, however you figure that out, that that almost always correlates to having marital satisfaction, and stability as well.”

How can that be?

Cullinane said at least in her relationship, “to get to a great sex life, you do have to have trust, you do have to have great communication.” Not only that, but sex floods the body with hormones.

“These chemicals, these hormones, they make you feel good, and they promote bonding and intimacy, and I feel like, if you’re doing it enough, that feeling, it creates like a glue,” Cullinane said. “When we’re not doing it, we don’t feel that same connection. Like our fights are harsher, everything is edgier, but when we’re connecting that way it’s like it softens everything else for us.”

Cullinane said her talk is for anyone who wants to enjoy happy, long-lasting relationships. 

“Like we mentioned, it’s so common that even if they’re not having a problem with it in their relationship now, it could be a problem in the future, and this is just to create a spark of a paradigm shift to have you look at that problem and the solution differently.”

Hear Cullinane’s talk at this year’s TEDxNormal at the Illinois State University Center for Performing Arts. Tickets are $20 or $10 with student ID and are available online or in person at the CPA box office.

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Long-Lasting Relationships - Full Story

Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.
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