Lovers & Friends II: Nurturing Eroticism
Valentine’s Day makes me think of chocolates and candy, flowers and hearts, sweet notes and smiles, and yes, sex and romance! In Part I, I discussed the importance of intimacy and compassion in long term relationships. Now let’s think about how to maintain, or regain, the fire and intensity in our long term relationships. I remember an older standup show of Chris Rock, where he posed the question: “Married and bored, or single and lonely?” There is such an overwhelming sense of hopelessness to that question. The realist in me is smugly nodding, while the romantic in me is pouting, kicking, and screaming NOOOOO… it can’t be! It’s ironic, actually. All of the things that make us seek out long term relationships, are too often the same things that cause us to later feel bored and lack satisfaction in our sex lives. Long term relationships offer safety, familiarity, and security. Yet, these factors represent the actual deadening of the mystery, excitement, and adventure involved in eroticism.
Unfortunately, the better we get to know our partner, the less our partner is often able to turn us on. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up and distracted by daily activities and obligations so much so that we neglect our sexually passionate lives. With each addition to the family, the family has to appropriately adjust and adapt to each change, and for each new child. But do your urges, needs, and desires go completely discounted because you’re a busy partner or parent? We mistake the process of beginning a relationship as merging with our partner. Instead, let’s reframe how we view long term relationships and remember that we don’t merge, we join with our partners. Dwindling sexual intensity is not a problem to solve, but rather, a paradox to manage. Reconciling freedom and commitment, adventure and safety, and separateness and togetherness, are all like inhaling and exhaling. It’s impossible to choose one over the other. In relationships, we have to take the benefits of both, while recognizing the very real limits to each.
In our society, it is all too common, that we all, at some level, see marriage or long-term relationships, as the decline of sex. It’s viewed as representing all of the things we lose when we make our commitment, as opposed to all of the wonderful things we hopefully gain. When we add sex to love it makes us intensely vulnerable. We often forget that while we’re building intimacy, investing in long term commitment, and fantasizing about our futures that we are still individuals. It’s possible, and actually ideal, to always remember that you are an individual, and so is your partner. We don’t need to resent or feel threatened by our partner’s separateness. We should appreciate it because we trust that we have the security of our long term committed relationship, while enjoying the independence of our own experience.
We do this by remembering and prioritizing time spent with our friends and family, hobbies that bring us pleasure, and seeking opportunities for self-time, without our significant other. Remember the excitement early in dating? When you spent time doing the things that were important to you and the anticipation of seeing your new love was so intense that you couldn’t keep your hands off of each other and wanted to rip your partner’s clothes off on sight. With independent, new experiences, we have opportunities to explore ourselves. What are our (new or budding) likes and dislikes? We can share our fantasies with our partner. Practicing making your partner feel special by flirting, dropping some compliments, and sending some dirty texts, perhaps during your lunch break, can go a long way. Reflecting on our partner’s positive traits is better than focusing on our partner’s negative traits.
When Help is Necessary
Sometimes things have just gone too far for too long. At times, we may not even notice because we’re too busy living our lives. A key signal is if you say or think, “We don’t have sex,” or “I can’t remember the last time we had sex.” The excuses and explanations as to why you haven’t had sex have continued to increase. “We can only have sex during ovulation.” “We shouldn’t because we’re pregnant.” “We just had a baby.” “I’m exhausted and I need to sleep.” “I have to work late, again.” Obviously, it can be difficult to focus on adult play when we’re managing the stressors of adult life, so we need to do just that. Effectively take care of the money, work, children, etc. It has been said that a hallmark of emotional health is the ability to work and play.
Well sex is part of adult play. We also need to accept when things aren’t just as we’d like them to be. Maybe the dishes or laundry can wait. Maybe it’s okay to skip working over the weekend and have a date night. Maybe we won’t make all of the money in the world to live our very most perfect lives. Sometimes we’ve tried valuing independence and introducing novelty, but eroticism is still hiding, or our partner continues to not be interested. Well then maybe it’s time for some outside support, like a couple’s therapist. Our excitement, proclivities, and aversions, often arise from challenges and frustrations in our childhood. Sometimes we have certain patterns in our relationships that are keeping us from sustained sexual intensity. A couple’s therapist can certainly see things that we sometimes can’t see because we’re too immersed in our lives. Give us a call if you think you need more support with passion and eroticism in your relationship. One of our therapists can help you to remember how to inhale and exhale.