One of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to relationships is about how to keep desire alive and well in a relationship. Luckily Esther Perel, a world renowned psychotherapist goes into this and can help us understand a little bit better the layers behind both concepts.
Let's begin first with where we are in the world. Less than a hundred years ago the relationship between sex and relationships was fairly clearly defined. It had to do with 1. Bearing lots and lots of children because they may not all survive and you needed a large family to help you work, gather food etc. and 2. Simply because it was a woman's marital duty. Luckily in 2020 this is no longer the case and for the first time history sex in relationships is solely based on desire and sexual pleasure. This brings a whole new realm of satisfiction and a completely different perspective.
So what goes into this new world of desire and relationships?
Firstly she mentions that we must begin with the fundamental differences between desire and relationships. For example: In relationships let's look at the words and feelings associated with the term: predictability, security, safety, reliability, permanence and other anchoring things. Desire on the other hand is associated with the need for adventure, risk, danger, the unexpected, surprises etc. So how does one reconcile this? And how does someone in a relationship learn to feel both of these fundamentally contradictory things?
Esther then goes beyond the differences in concept, but complicates things further by actually looking at what the institution of marriage (or think of another long term relationship) means in this day and age. Marriage previously was an economic institution, but now in 2020 we expect our partners to be our financial security, also a best friend, also a passionate lover, also stable, also etc.and everything else contradictory. We have made a prerequisite of requirements for partners that are so radically different how on earth is one person supposed to fill this role? From one person! When we used to get all of these elements from an entire community, yet now, now we expect all of the above from one person. And the cherry on top? We live twice as long so we expect the flame and the passion and security and love to last.
So how do we reach the ultimate balance in desire and relationships?
Esther began research and wanted to discover the answer to some very important questions.
- What makes me most drawn to my partner?
- When he/ she is away - and when I get back in touch with imagination and missing her/him and I can root it in absence and longing
- When I see him/her in the studio or at the office or in his element, when she’s doing something she's passionate about, when I see him at a party and everyone is drawn to his energy and conversion.
- When I see her radiant and confident a fully self sufficient and self sustaining person.
- When I’m surprised, when we laugh, when there is novelty
What do these answers show us? That in long term relationships there is still a desire to mystery and for intrigue. Furthermore mystery here and what makes people drawn to their lovers has nothing to do with new places, or changing patterns and behaviors, it has to do with seeing something new new eyes. Creating a shift in perception.
- The second question Esther addressed is related to sexualty. But instead of posing external questions as most people do like: What kinds of positions or moves turn me on, it is more internally focused. She encourages you to ask yourself when do I feel least turned on and list out some of the reasons why:
- When I have low self esteem
- When I feel fat
- When I had a bad day at work
- When I felt I didn’t connect with you
And then the opposite question, when do you feel most turned on and why?
- When I worked out
- When i did well at work
- When i felt that you listened
- When I got a new haircut etc.
Once you start to have a fuller understanding of your mental state and when and what will make you more physically and sexually active vs. another moment you will begin to be able to take more control in your romantic relationship. You will begin to more easily “light the spark” as they say.
So what do healthy couples do in relationships to maintain the flame?
Firstly these types of couples recognize something crucial. They stop worrying about the contrast and contradiction and embrace the irony of the human condition and our needs. That being that: ironically the very same things that turn us on at night we will fight against during the day. Our very desires and needs are in complete contradiction. For example, in bed we crave things like mischief, dominance, naughtiness and control, vs. in a relationship we want mutual respect, communication, gentleness etc. In relationships there requires a certain amount of selflessness, while erotic passion requires a certain about of being selfish. And that's okay, understand that it is okay to want two different types of things in two different aspects of your life, embrace it, and go with your desires.
Here's a few more tips Esther gives in terms of finding the healthy balance:
- There is a lot of sexual privacy
- Foreplay is very important
- Erotic space is a sacred new space, something different than who you are in your daily life and allow each other this different side of yourselves
- Passion waxes and wanes, there are phases and it may need to be rectified and that is also okay
After reading this should you feel you may not feel comfortable yet answering some of these questions in regards to your sexuality don't worry. Many people feel a little out of there comfort zone when it comes to this kind of topic. You can always turn the help of a life mentor to help coach you through any discomfort you may have internally when it comes to sex, desire, and what you want to learn about yourself.