"Hope Springs," a romantic comedy that is now in theaters, proclaims, "Sometimes to keep the magic, you need to learn a few tricks."
For Kay, a demure empty-nester who works at apparel retailer Coldwater Creek, that's buying the guide "Sex Tips for Straight Women from Gay Men" and practicing with a banana.
For her emotionally Neanderthal husband, Arnold, it's sharing a bit more of his feelings, and splurging on an intimate dinner out followed by a hotel room.
Meryl Streep as Kay and Tommy Lee Jones as Arnold -- a middle-class, 60-ish couple from Omaha, Neb. -- have slipped into marital boredom, forgetting what drew them to each other in the first place.
But longing for something more, Kay takes $4,000 out of her savings account and they fly to Great Hope Springs, Maine, for a week of intensive couples therapy with world-renowned Dr. Bernie Feld, played by Steve Carell.
The film, released this week, seems to be resonating with the over-50 set. AARP's magazine made it the cover story.
"It's very typical," said Dorree Lynn, a Florida psychologist and author of "Sex for Grownups: Dr. Dorree Reveals Truth, Lies and Must Tries for Great Sex After 50."
"Every marriage needs to be renegotiated at a certain point in marital history," she said. "Usually, it's when the kids come and when the kids leave and when they look at each other and say, 'My God, what are we doing with each other. Who are you?'"
Without a deeper look at the relationship, such marriages end up in "divorce or the blahs," Lynn said.
In "Hope Springs," the couple heads off to Maine, but not without a lot of complaining and grousing by Arnold, whose night life consists of falling asleep in chair to the Golf Channel.
He would rather spend money on a new water heater than engage in psychotherapy.
Married 31 years, the couple's get-up-and-go has got-up-and-left. They sleep in separate bedrooms. The closest they get to sex is a peck on the cheek. For their wedding anniversary, they give each other a cable subscription.
Their children have grown up and left home. Each morning Kay robotically fixes Arnold his bacon and two fried eggs before sending him off, briefcase in hand, to his accounting firm.
At night, Kay makes half-hearted attempts to arouse his interest, but they are lost on her diffident husband.
"We are like roommates with nothing holding us together except the house," Kay says.
But all that changes when they head off to therapy after Kay reads Feld's self-help book, "How to Spice Up Your Marriage."
Kay is lonely and wants more. Arnold is grumpy and downright resistant. "Marriages don't change," he says.
Is there hope?
Feld tells the couple that in order to fix a marriage, "you have to break it, like a deviated septum."
Arnold and Kay begin their "sexercises," at first just holding each other for 10 minutes. Then touching and eventually, the real thing.
Meanwhile, Feld explores their sexual history: When was it satisfying? What are their fantasies? Arnold, who has a touch of erectile dysfunction, says he has never cheated.
Lynn, who does couples therapy in Jacksonville, Fla., said all the "tricks" are helpful in reinvigorating a stale marriage.
"Most people make love the way they want to be made love to, not the way the other person does," she said. "They are not willing to try something new."
Communication Fuels Sex
Critical to keeping long marriages alive is communication, Lynn said. "The minute communication stops, sex stops," she said. "And when sex stops, resentment starts."
She recommends "date nights" and not to talk about children or problems. "Hotel sex changes the environment," she said. "It doesn't matter if it's a Motel 6 or the Ritz Carlton. Get out of the house."
And remember that after 50, sex can be more than penetration. "Touching and teaching couples to slowly build to the next step and kissing, that's very important for the brain to kick in," she added.
As our bodies get older, many are on medications that can also affect desire and performance, drugs like antidepressants, statins and diabetes medications, Lynn said.
"Marriages operate very differently than they once did," she said. "Longevity, expectations, dual careers, changing locations, TV and computer. ... That process of renegotiation, if successful can produce a new marriage with the same person."
In the end, Kay and Arnold renew their vows on a beach: That was Kay's fantasy. And renegotiate, they do.
Kay promises to take an interest in golf and Arnold swears he will stop complaining, unless its something "really worth complaining about."
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