Episode 56: Charla Muller: 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy
Charla Muller is a business exec and a mom and a wife and a 40-something women just like many of you and your friends. For her husband’s 40th birthday she wanted to give him something memorable – something that only she could give. She offered him sex every day for a year. Her book, “365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy” documents that year. Join Charla and Chip for a sweet conversation about one woman’s honest attempt to improve her marriage. Listen in as Charla talks about how the “stuff” everyone brings to a marriage can bear down on the relationship, intimacy and the desire to connect. This interview isn’t about the behind-the-scene details of their sex life, but rather a story about how a year of daily intimacy transformed a marriage. And don’t miss Charla’s exercise for you to try at home.
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Chip: Welcome to Sex Love and Intimacy. I am your host Chip August and today on the show we are talking about marriage, and long term marriage, and relationship. We are talking with Charla Muller. Charla has worked in the advertising and PR business for 20 years including a stint in New York City at one of the world's top 10 PR agencies and at smaller agencies in Atlanta and Charlotte.
Her book, "365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy" came out this past June. It is by Berkely Books, a division of Penguin. It is a funny and intimate look at turning 40 and being married and wondering if there is more to marriage than just laundry, babysitters, and negotiating the DDR. It started when Charla's husband was about to celebrate his 40th birthday and she offered to give him something memorable; something that only she could give. She offered her husband sex every day for a year and her book documents that year.
We are just really privileged to have her as a guest on the show today.
Charla: I don't think that a lot of wives want to say that part of their marriage is flawed. I thought I had a good marriage and I knew I married a terrific guy. And I knew that we had a wonderful life together. I also knew that had fallen low on my list. This was an effort to move that back up on my priority list and show him that I was very committed to that part of our relationship.
We were teammates in intimacy and we were both committed to figuring out how to have it happen in a meaningful way every day that we could. And some of it was kind of scheduling and kids schedules and "You've got a sales dinner tonight and I've got book club tomorrow night, so how are we going to make this happen?" But it was giggly and it was fun and it took so much pressure off. I know that it is bizarre to think, but having more sex took incredible amounts off pressure off our sex life.
My husband, I think made a great comment when he said "Sex everyday is not a long term sustainable model." But neither is sex hardly ever. And so we've landed somewhere soundly in between. And we have been able to pull back in some of the spontaneity. But there is a part of me that is kind of a perpetual planner so I kind of make sure that we are scheduling it when we can. He's reintroduced the spontaneity back into it and now I feel like we have the best of both worlds which is very nice.
Chip: Welcome to Sex, Love, and Intimacy Charla.
Charla. Thank you. Thanks so much for having me!
Chip: Oh, it's my pleasure. This shouldn't be a radical idea and is. My thought when I was a youth, the idea of getting married was "Great, I'll be able to have sex every day." I noticed, and I have been married three times, and none of my marriages have worked out that way. First, tell me how did you get this idea?
Charla: Well, my husband was turning 40 and we had some friends that were doing some crazy over the top things you know; elaborate trips. I had a girlfriend that got a new car. I was trying to think of something memorable to give my husband. 40 is kind of monumental in a way. You are pregnant for 40 weeks, Noah sailed on his boat for 40 days, and 40 means you are halfway to 80. So I wanted to do something to kind of mark the occasion and I wanted to give my husband something that only I could give him. We weren't in a position to take an elaborate trip or buy anyone a new car. I was kind of brainstorming and it came crashing down on me in all of its glory and I thought "This is just the best idea ever. I am going to give him intimacy every day for a year."
Chip: Yah, and I can pretty much guarantee he will remember what you gave him for his 40th birthday.
Charla: Exactly! I wouldn't want him to pause and say "Gosh, what was it that she gave me for my 40th birthday?"
Chip: I read the book quickly. I didn't get to read all of it. It seems to me when you first offered it he declined.
Charla: He did. He turned me down. Can you believe it? First of all, my husband knows me really well. I think there was a part of him that thought "Has she really considered all that this could mean? Has she really thought through it all?" And I think that there was a part of him that maybe thought "Am I up for this?" So there were a lot of details to consider and talk through. So he asked me to go back and think about it in a very nice way. I came back and I said "No, I am really serious. I really want to give this a shot. I think it could be neat and fun and interesting, and hopefully wonderful!"
Chip: Ok. So weren't you worried that you were about to turn....."Ok look, I have to make my bed every day." You know, I don't think of it as a joy. "I have to get meals on the table for my kids every day." Weren't you a little worried that you were going to turn your sex life into just one more chore?
Charla: Certainly that was under consideration. My husband was a bit resistant for exactly that reason. I think he wanted intimacy to be the way it was when we were newly married and didn't have kids; spontaneous and passionate and spur of the moment. But I think the reality was, at least for us, and I think a lot of couples are like that when they are in the throws of raising children and two careers and making sure the mortgage gets paid every month, I mean there isn't a lot of time for spontaneity. So we were taking something from one category, which was the spontaneous and not very often category, and trying to put it into the scheduled but frequent category. So yah, we kind of changed the framework for it a bit. Yes.
Chip: Ok. Now this spontaneous and not very often. Your sex life was ok? This wasn't just like "Oh my God we have to fix this. Its broken."?
Charla: I wouldn't have said it was broken. I think that once we got through the year, in retrospect, I realize now it was probably broken. I don't think that a lot of wives want to say that part of their marriage is flawed. I thought I had a good marriage and I knew I had married a terrific guy. And I knew that we had a wonderful life together. I also knew that had fallen low on my list. And that this was an effort to move that back up on my priority list and show him that I was very committed to that part of our relationship.
Chip: Was that in question that you weren't committed?
Charla: I think that the fact that it was low on my priority list would make him question that. When I chatted with my girlfriends about this too it was certainly a message that resonated with them. There was kind of the overall exhaust factor. We were both working and I was doing a lot at home. And he certainly was too, but at the end of the day I would fall in bed exhausted and that would be the last thing on my mind. We were having a hard time reconciling that. Were we fighting about it? No. Did I feel like our marriage was in crisis? Absolutely not. But I did know that was something that could be better.
Chip: Not only were you not fighting about it, as I understand it, you weren't really even talking about it.
Charla: We weren't even talking about it.
Chip: It just happened.
Charla: It just happened. I think that happens with a lot of couples. You just wake up one day and say "What happened with that part of our marriage?"
Chip: Yah, well my experiences with working with couples is that it actually happens pretty fast.
Chip: Ok. The marriage is good. You've got good communication. The sex is kinda fallen by the wayside a little bit. Ok. I have a theory. This is just my personal theory. Sex in relationships stops when the guy stops asking for it. Really, in long term relationships, men always tell me "Oh no, its because my wife didn't want it anymore." But always we get to that moment of "It's because I was afraid to hear no one more time and so I just stopped asking." Is that what was going on with you?
Charla: Possibly a little bit. I've never considered that and I think that you've tapped into something. Whether women or men like to admit it, I think women are the gate keepers to intimacy and men are knocking at the door. So when they stop knocking....in a way that probably did happen. Yes. And you know, its funny, because we talk about it in "365 Nights", the fact that my husband finally was able to give voice over this course of the year to his feelings of rejection. And I was so flabbergasted by that. I was so surprised. I had no idea that he felt rejected because I didn't feel like I was rejecting him per say. I was just tired and exhausted. I jokingly said to him "Well it's not like I wanted to have sex with someone else and not you. I just didn't feel like having sex at all." And he said "No, that is a rejection of me. And that is rejection of a certain part of our relationship that is important to our marriage." It wasn't until we embarked on this year that all of a sudden we discovered this whole new level of communication about the topic that we had never had before.
Chip: Well that's great. Of course when I work with couples it's the first thing we try to encourage.
Charla: Right. It was amazing. Yah.
Chip: Now technically...just the technicality of it...didn't you have to have some rules or something? How did you make this work?
Charla: We did. Well our goal was 365 days. We had some fair rules of play so when my husband traveled certainly we would try to make up for it. It wasn't required. If somebody really truly had a headache they could take a pass.
Chip: If you were dying of the flu you didn't have to....
Charla: If you were dying, yah. If you were curled up in a ball sweating bullets you didn't have to do it. I personally didn't think it was polite to regret to the party that I had planned so I tried to make sure that I was on the top of my game. We ended up averaging between 26 and 28 days a month. That's what we ended up.
Chip: Wow, that's huge!
Charla: But we didn't keep score. There were a couple reasons for that. One, we never imagined that there would be a book.
Chip: You didn't do this to write a book.
Charla: Never in a million years did we do this to write a book, number one. And number two, it wasn't a contest. It was really kind of a meaningful attempt to improve intimacy so we weren't necessarily keeping score. But we were very committed to the idea.
Chip: Yah. I get that. Ok, so here's the other technical question that comes up for me. The word sex, we all think we know what it means, but I think it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It's funny because as adults we just think it's a piece of skin and a piece of skin and wiggle, wiggle, pop. I think that sometimes it's intimate kissing and sometimes it's just holding each other. So how did you define sex?
Charla: Well, the book is a very modest, G-rated account obviously. But for the most part our definition did include birth control.
Charla: So yah. You can conclude from there.
Chip: We need to take a short break. We need to give a chance to have our sponsors support us a little bit and give a little support to our sponsors. You are listening to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I am talking to Charla Muller, the author of "365 Nights". We will be right back.
Chip: Welcome back to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I am your host Chip August. I am talking to Charla Muller. She has written an amazing book called "365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy". And the short version of this is that for her husband's birthday she offered him one year of sex. We are kind of talking through what that involved.
When we went to break we were talking about what sex is. And for me that is sort of a deeper question about intimacy and how difficult sometimes it is to really maintain the levels of intimacies that our heart desires. This sort of put that in your face in a big way.
Charla: It really did. We went from pretty much from zero to 60 in the intimacy department.
Chip: So how do you deal with it? Is it just conversation? Did you wind up having to get therapy?
Charla: No. I think what it did was it required a new kind of dialogue in our marriage that we had not participated in. In a way, sex had become the elephant in the living room and I think that happens for a lot of couples. The less you have it the more aware of it you become in a way. I had become a gamer. I was kind of gaming on some level on how to get out of it. I think my poor husband was going "Gosh, I wonder if tonight is the tonight" and me going "Gosh I wonder if I can go one more night." I think a lot of women do that. Especially when they are tired and fatigued and kind of feeling overwhelmed by life. So all of a sudden we took kind of that gaming environment off the table and we were teammates in a way, which is the way it should be if you think about a marriage or a committed relationship. We were teammates in intimacy and we were both committed to figuring out how to have it happen in a meaningful way every day that we could.
We were communicating. And some of it was kind of scheduling and kids schedules and "You've got a sales dinner tonight and I've got book club tomorrow night, so how are we going to make this happen?" But it was giggly and it was fun and it took so much pressure off. I know that it is bizarre to think, but having more sex took incredible amounts off pressure off our sex life.
Chip: Well I imagine the first pressure it takes off is you not wondering are you going to have sex or are you not going to have sex.
Chip: You are also not trying to figure out "Well what if he wants to and I don't want to or what if she wants to and I don't want to." All that's gone.
Charla: All that's gone. Unless one of us isn't feeling well we are going to try to figure out how to make it happen.
Chip: Ok, now for me, there was a time in my life when if my partner said "I want to have sex" it wouldn't have mattered if I was awake or asleep, I would have just been ready. But I'm in my mid fifties now and there is a lot of conditions I need to be able to....So did you spend a lot of time sort of just talking; you know, trying to get to that place where you could be sexual?
Charla: I think half of it was just getting our kids in bed and put away for the evening. That kind of created a nice peaceful environment. I think we were kind of able to get there pretty quickly in a way. So that wasn't necessarily an issue.
Chip: So the thing about having sex in the house with kids is a challenging one for a lot of couples. Was that an issue with you guys?
Charla: Yah, I think that we were in a really good place with our kids. Our kids at the time were five and seven. So they weren't so young that you were constantly looking around going "Where's the baby? Where's the baby?" At the same time, they were still kind of young enough to have a pretty early bed time, but they were still fairly self sufficient. So I think it was terrific timing in terms of our kids age. We also had to set some ground rules with them. They probably watched a little bit more tv over the course of the year. They learned to respect the closed and locked door. There were some measures that we were taking to set some rules and mark of some territory for us with our children that I think was very good for us as a family.
Chip: As this experiment, this gift...I guess not an experiment; really a gift. As this gift progressed, did you actually notice changes about how you felt about your husband?
Charla: It absolutely transformed our marriage.
Chip: Ok, so say more about that transformation.
Charla: It was amazing. And this is what it did on a couple levels. Clearly, he was happier. I was happier. It was funny, and I've discussed this with my girlfriends before, you know there's never been a time where I have been intimate with my husband where I said "Wow, that was a complete waste of time." It has usually been the exact opposite where I've said "Wow that was really nice. We should do that more often." He's like "You are kidding, right?" I think that he was happier and I was happier. We worked better together as a couple. I felt more connected to him. He was more connected to me and as a result our kids were happier. Our house ran better. Everything was [xx] in a way by this new intimacy connection.
I think that the 2nd thing which was a real surprise for me was the daily kindness that was required of us to be able to come together in that way at night. I think particularly for women it's hard to be intimate with someone who you have had a fight with or has been a pill to you over the course of the day or has made snarky comments or gotten on your nerves. It gets hard. I think that what was surprising was that we had to treat each other with a very genuine authentic gentleness of the course of the day so that we could come together in an authentic and meaningful way at night. I was completely unprepared for that. I was unprepared to have to be that nice and lovely all the time.
Chip: Well, so how was that for you, now in retrospect?
Charla: It was wonderful. It really was. I think it's easy sometimes for men to say "Ha, ha, ha. I am going to buy my wife this book. She could learn a lesson or two." You talked about earlier how women are the gatekeepers to intimacy. I think one of the things that I have discussed is the idea that it requires both spouses to bring their best game to the table every day. A husband can't be a complete and utter jerk and expect his wife to want to participate in something like this. And likewise, a wife can't expect that either. So I think that your marriage has to be in a really good place to even be able to begin to do something like this. It requires an ongoing commitment to treating yourself with a lot of respect and love.
Chip: So did you find yourself making a rule for yourself? "I am going to make sure everyday I am going to give him an acknowledgement or appreciation."?
Charla: Yes. It just kinda happened organically. It was kind of a very organic thing. It was nice.
Chip: It is a powerful thing you are talking about because it is a thing I coach couples all the time. I believe as a culture we spend a lot more time criticizing and looking for what's wrong that we do appreciating what's right.
Chip: And criticism is corrosive. It's just corrosive.
Charla: I was just amazed at how much we enjoyed each other. Not that we didn't before, but we were just enjoying each other so much more and just kind of basking in each other. I don't necessarily mean behind closed doors. And I talk about this. All of a sudden I wanted to kind of touch him and hug him and look at him in a different way. It used to be, before the year of the gift, I was handing him a child, or handing him a recycling bin, or handing him a stack of newspapers. And all of a sudden we were just connecting on a whole different level. It was just really lovely.
Chip: So it sounds to me that the gift of sex for 365 nights turned out to be a gift of friendship and connection and a whole lot more.
Charla: Absolutely. It was great.
Chip: Ok, well I got more questions to ask but we will take a short break here and give a chance for our sponsors to support us and for us to support our sponsors. By the way listeners, if you are liking what you are hearing and you like the show, I just want to let you know that we transcribe every episode of Sex, Love, and Intimacy. So if you want to print it, or you want to read, or you want to a cut and forward copy, you can find it on my episode pages at Personallifemedia.com. Go to personallifemedia.com and just look for Sex, Love, and Intimacy. Also, my audience keeps growing, and that's a really good thing. If you hear something here that you like, why don't you send it to a friend and let them listen in also? Ok? And finally, if you go on those episode pages you will find that there's all kinds of deals and promotions. I have a wonderful agreement with Audible. They do books on tape, and books on DVD's and CD's, and downloads on all kinds of radio programs. You can save 20% on Ice.com jewelry and more. All you need to do is when you see any of those offers on my pages, use the promotion code "LOVE" and you will get a discount just for being one of my listeners.
We will take a short break. We will be right back.
Chip: Welcome back to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I am your host, Chip August. We are talking to Charla Muller. We are talking about her book "365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy". And when we took a break we were talking a little bit about the intimacy part of this, not the sex part of this. So 365 nights, you get to to the end of this, now you have got a year here. Now, is it your habit to have sex every night? What happens next?
Charla: Well you know it's interesting because I think my husband made a great comment when he said "Sex everyday is not a long term sustainable model." But neither is sex hardly ever. And so we've landed somewhere soundly in between. And we have been able to pull back in some of the spontaneity. But there is a part of me that is kind of a perpetual planner so I kind of make sure that we are scheduling it when we can. He's reintroduced the spontaneity back into it and now I feel like we have the best of both worlds which is very nice.
Chip: And you find that you have to pay attention to it or it will drift into non existence?
Charla: Absolutely. I have realized how attentive you have to be to that part of your relationship. And it is funny because I do think that couples want it to be spontaneous and carefree. And I make the point that nobody wakes up and spontaneously decides to exercise. Nobody wakes up and spontaneously decided to go to work or pursue a career. Those are all things that are very important. I think we have realized that we have to treat intimacy with the same amount of diligence and attention that we treat other aspects that are important to our lives.
Chip: The thing that I would encourage listeners as they listen to this...the thing about exercise or work is that they are work. The thing I like to encourage people is, you don't spontaneously decide to watch a football game. You watch the football game that is scheduled. You can't just decided at 10 o'clock at night "Well gee I want to watch a game right now." There are all kinds of things in our life that we enjoy that we do just for fun but that we must schedule to do for fun.
Charla: You are exactly right. That's a great analogy.
Chip: That's the thing. We will schedule our play time, we will schedule a bike ride. And then you say to somebody "Schedule sex." And they say "Well, it has to be spontaneous." No, we schedule all kinds of entertainment.
Charla: That's right.
Chip: So I hear one of the lessons you got out of this was you learned about being nice. I hear one of the lessons you got out of this was you sort of found your best friend again.
Charla: Yes. Absolutely.
Chip: I hear one of the lessons you got out of this was you can't live your life every single night this way.
Chip: What else? What else did you learn from this?
Charla: I learned that intimacy is incredibly important to me. I think it's easy for women to say, and I say this because I have said this and women have said this to me, "Well my husband just wants it more than I do. I just don't need it like he does." And I realized, I do need it. And it might not be in the same way or the same reasons that he needs it, but that I do need it and that our marriage needs it. I got a letter from a husband who actually read the book and I was so touched by it because he has been married for 27 years and he said that this is still kind of a chronic issue that we are negotiating. And he said " I wish that my wife would show me with intimacy what she tells me with her words." I thought that was so profound and so true in a way. I thought I was doing all these great things to affirm and support my husband and tell him how much I loved him and how much I appreciated him taking care of me. All those things. And then I realized that this was another way for us to communicate that to each other. And I had missed out on that I think.
Chip: The thing that I coach people all the time is that talk is really important and many, many times touch is more important than talk. There is something we say with our bodies, with our genuine heartfelt affection that its more than words.
Charla: You know, its amazing because part of the marital vowels are this one person that you are going to love and cherish forever. I think a lot of us are just so thrilled to finally be married and then all of a sudden we are not interested in the one person that we promised to love and cherish and forever in that way.
Chip: I thought your book was wonderfully loving in that way. Listeners I just want to say it is a good read, it's an easy read, you sound just like you in the book. It touched my heart. There were a lot of things you said that were just heartfelt, sweet, and I thought really good life lessons.
Charla: Well thank you very much, I appreciate it.
Chip: If you people want to buy this book, or want to just learn more about you, how would they do that?
Charla: Well they could certainly go to their local independent bookseller or Amazon.com. And if they want to learn more about me, they can go to www.charlamuller.com.
Chip: That's Charla with a C. C-H-A-R-L-A M-U-L-L-E-R dot com. And Charla, we were talking a little bit about this on one of the breaks. I like to give my listeners something they can do for themselves that will enhance the Love, Intimacy, and Sexuality in their life. And you had an idea on that subject.
Charla: Sure. I actually had mentioned in the book, some people are daunted by the idea of 365 days of anything. So the suggestion at the end of the book is that if you are interested in turning up the volume of intimacy in your life, double whatever you are doing now and then six months from now double it again.
Chip: Wow. So that requires then you actually have to stop for a minute and really acknowledge what you are doing now.
Charla: Yah, what you are doing now. And then saying "Ok, if we are going to double it what does that mean? And how are we going to figure out how that's going to happen? And let's talk about it and then if six months from now things are going well, do something wild and crazy and double it again."
Chip: I think that is a great idea. I think that is a great idea. Listeners, if you would like to send me some suggestions about this show or about any other shows or ideas for future shows, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to leave me a voicemail instead of an email, we do have a voicemail system. You can call 206-350-5333. Leave your name, leave my show name, Sex, Love and Intimacy, and of course your comment. Please leave a phone number or an email that we can get back to you with. If you leave a message on the voicemail system and it is positive about the show, please know that your leaving the message indicates your agreement for us to use the message on the air.
Charla, you are just easy to talk to and great fun. I just really want to appreciate you for being on the show.
Charla: Thank you, thank you for having me. This was really delightful and fun. And best wishes for you as well.
Chip: Thank you so much and listeners thank you for listening in. This brings us to the end of another episode of Sex, Love, and Intimacy and I hope you will listen in again.
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