Sex and Passion. How to sustain it, long term. Part 1.
I decided to split this post into 2 parts because it’s long, and both can stand on their own giving you a lot to chew on. Keep an open mind while reading it because although the concepts are explored through the context of relationships, they can be applied to your life generally. My intention, as always, is to stimulate truer personal fulfillment through our relationships. To untangle the complexity of our patterns and worry so that we can activate a liveliness that’s deeper within. A charge that is, no doubt, more meaningful than our fears.
I hope it stimulates thought, and inspires action.
How do we keep the passion alive in our long term relationship? Why do we sometimes feel disconnected during sex? How is it that we can love someone very deeply, but not feel excited about them?
“I’m generally satisfied, but something is missing.”
“He doesn’t initiate like he used to”.
“She doesn't want me anymore”.
“I don’t get turned on like I used to - I think there’s something wrong with me.”
Sex, passion, and lust. A giant topic that runs deep. In a relationship that has passion, it’s a non issue and therefore it isn't complex - it just is. But when we struggle to express ourselves sexually with our partner, and if we don't feel that passionate connection with them, it becomes a really big deal.
After years of studying, researching, interviewing, and experiencing the intricate dynamics of intimate relationships, what I’ve found is this: A committed relationship or marriage can indeed last a lifetime on emotional connection alone. Deep emotional intimacy - that is, mutual love, respect, and understanding is like glue for the human psyche. It’ll bind us tight to anyone we experience this with, and will, for the most part, contribute to our “happiness”. Furthermore, there ARE couples who value friendship in their relationship WAAAAY above sexuality and are genuinely content in their partnership even if mostly sexless. This is real. But unlike these couples, there are countless more who spend a solid amount of energy denying their longing for more. A yearning for more excitement. For the unknown. For that inexplicable force that pulls them to this person. It’s the nagging ache of desire unfulfilled, a pang they feel pulse throughout their entire bodies.
A committed relationship cannot last a lifetime on sexual chemistry alone. The need to feel safe and understood is cemented into our DNA, so if we don't have that with someone, sex alone ain’t going to cut it, long term.
Therefore: A relationship needs both emotional intimacy and passion to THRIVE. To be at a level 3, not a 2.
There’s good news: The dwindling fire between a couple CAN be re-lit, especially if they once had it. Even if they’ve been together for ages, have kids, work, and lame in laws. There’s just some things that need to be addressed:
There are many variables that contribute to a fulfilling, or non fulfilling sex life and healthy or otherwise relationship with your own sexuality. Factors such as culture, generation, societal beliefs, as well as trauma. One can’t deny how all of it, especially trauma, adds a rich complexity to this topic. A complexity that I’m not qualified to write about in detail. So, I won’t. That said, I think we've been hypnotized by culture to believe two core principles of intimate relationship: one, that passion cannot withstand the test of time, and that two, if you’re having trouble connecting sexually with your partner, then you’re just simply incompatible in that department. I want to challenge these two beliefs and tell you how I see it. Hope it helps.
When you first start dating someone you like, sexual chemistry is at a peak because of this simple equation. High Risk + Low Fear = Turn On.
Let me explain:
Fear (I’m excluding the rare and legitimate fear of clear and present danger) and excitement have almost an identical physiological profile. Both are governed by our emotional response to the unknown, differentiated by only one small, yet wildly impactful element: Our focus. If we focus on pain, or the anticipation of it in any way, we will become fearful. Likewise if our focus is on pleasure or the anticipation of it, we’ll feel excited. In both cases, our hypothalamus which governs our stress response, instructs our bodies to increase it’s breath, heart rate and blood flow. These increases raise our body temperature and encourages sweating. Our psychology is also impacted - in both cases we become more alert. The only difference between the two is marked by a message sent to our reward system when we are in fact, excited, not afraid. Then, it’s all fun and games.
Uncertainty is a basic human need. We need the unknown to break up the monotony of all our comfortable, safe, and controlled habits. Unquestionably some people are much more attached to the comfort of knowing what comes next; however, even the most rigid, certainty driven person needs a little “I have no idea what’s around the corner” fun. The kinda fun we have when we first start seeing someone super fun, and all we have is fun, and nothing is certain and yet we don't care cause it’s so fun. Again: Nothing Certain + Who Cares This Is So Fun = Sexual Chemistry.
As I’m sure you’ve experienced, things slowly change when our emotions become invested. The equation slowly morphs into: High Risk + Growing Fear = Living In Our Heads. The turn on is still there, and so is some of the fun. But we care a whole lot more about the “nothing is certain” part. Then our fear of not being enough and losing this person mounts, and our internal fireworks gradually lose some of their marvelous, sparkly, neon momentum.
This is partly appropriate. Losing love is the most painful inevitability of the human experience. It’s simply impossible not to recoil somewhat when we fall for someone - when all the roadkill of our rendezvous and relationship past rise from the dead to once again haunt our present, often stiffening our bodies with worry. Because as our emotion deepens, as our lives intertwine with another’s, as we share more of who we are and the events that have led us to where we are, another basic human need - the need for certainty; that is, to feel secure and safe, grows. Emotional intimacy demands certainty, for it simply cannot grow in uncertain soil.
Our fear is not the problem. Nor is our need for certainty. It’s how we reconcile with this need to be comfortable and habituated. It’s how we cope with our fear of losing love or even of losing ourselves in the name of love. This reconciliation is what shapes the quality of our relationship.
THE LIGHT AND DARK OF CERTAINTY AND UNCERTAINTY:
If we enter the High Risk + High Fear zone, we’ll activate all our relational patterns triggered by our fear. We become more controlled. Our rules of how this person is ‘supposed’ to behave will rear their (sometimes) tyrannical heads, and we’ll at times second guess ourselves and our partner. Depending on our trigger ‘go to’s’, we’ll either shut down, control our surroundings, withhold, criticize, people please, abandon our own needs, or deny their needs.. and the list goes on. It’s absolutely essential that we own our patterns in this department. It doesn't make us bad. It makes us human. But our birthright - our privilege, is to take responsibility for this truth as it will undoubtedly set us free.
If you’ve been in a relationship or marriage for years, even decades - when you’re long past the courting, the falling in love, and the establishing your relationship stages, you might think that your issues are different, but I assure you, our needs for both certainty and uncertainty never, ever go away no matter how adept we become at denying them.
DARK (negative) CERTAINTY:
The beauty of certainty in a relationship is friendship. It looks like Saturday night in sweats lying on the couch eating delivery and binge watching Netflix. A shared activity which is, in my world, essential. But certainty also takes on the energy of each or both people involved. An energy that becomes tirelessly routinized in the effort to keep things under control: the household, our health, and our stress levels. But controlled is not grounded. Controlled is our reaction to life in an effort to become more grounded. Controlled suffocates excitement and fun, ultimately depriving our souls of the oxygen it needs to feel truly alive.
Certainty is void of spontaneity and freedom.
Certainty is knowing your lover’s body so well that you think there isn't more terrain to explore.
Certainty is sex the same way every time because you know it’ll lead to climax.
Certainty is believing there isn't more of your partner's psychology to understand.
Certainty is safe. And safe is risky in the world of pleasure.
LIGHT (positive) CERTAINTY:
Our comfort in relationship may indeed take on the form of Saturday nights on the couch and Netflix, but it’s so much more. For a relationship to fill us up, we need to know that our love is sacred to our person. That it won’t be ignored or taken for granted. We need to know that even in the midst of a fight, that love won’t be taken away from us. That the ground below the relationship is sturdy in it’s foundation, and that when life throws rocks at it, the bond proves unshakeable. Our relationship must be steadfast and resilient in it’s ability to bend, not break. Positive Certainty takes on a different kind of energy than controlled. It’s a mindset. It’s decisive, and clear. Decisive and clear is safe, but it’s also firm and grounded. It can also enhance sexuality.
Certainty is feeling safe enough to let go. To allow someone to explore our bodies, fully.
Certainty is knowing we can screw up and still be supported.
Certainty is feeling accepted for who we are.
Certainty is valuing your love more than being right.
Certainty is presence. And presence is sexy as hell.
DARK UNCERTAINTY:Some couples after they break-up, devolve their relationship to f*ck buddy status. Have you ever been there? It’s an interesting phenomena where basically overnight someone goes from certain and boring to unattainable and hot as hell. It may last one night, it may last several weeks, but one thing is certain - it doesn't last. It can’t last, because we now know that Sex - Intimate Fulfillment = No Chance. Relationships that lack trust and security clearly have a lot of uncertainty, but it’s the kind that’s rooted in fear. So while that high risk may at times be a turn on, all those unknown roads lead to to the land where anxiety, depression, and aloneness prevail. It’s experiencing our lover’s hesitancy, of having to contend with just their one foot, not both and some. It’s the treating love as a trade - where you give only as much as you get. It’s when someone threatens leaving when they’re mad. It’s the withholding, distracted, turning inward, shutting down and dark omnipresent force that chips away at our love and trust. This uncertainty is hell.
Uncertainty is not knowing if you’re loved.
Uncertainty is fearing they’ll leave.
Uncertainty is playing games.
Uncertainty is feeling misunderstood.
Uncertainty is a cold dark place. No one feels sexy in cold dark places.
When certainty is not met with a healthy dose of the unknown, sexual energy - and all the passion and desire that drives it, contracts. One of the largest generators of energy is surprise. Of course we don't want the kind of surprise that threatens our livelihood, but we NEED to feel distance, longing and risk in our relationships. As previously noted, that risk is super sexy. In fact, it’s downright addictive to those who struggle to maintain long term relationships. Which is why I’m emphasizing having a sense of excitatory risk - not fearful risk, in the midst of the trust and security of deep intimacy. THIS is what people struggle with, THIS is what most believe isn’t truly possible. Consider this equation: Growth + Curiosity = Desire. In the beginning of a relationship, we’re masterful innovators. We show up invested in our own lives (growth) and motivated to learn about theirs (curiosity), which both contribute handsomely to raising attraction (desire). Growth is subjective and looks differently for everyone based on the area of life that needs evolution. But one thing for sure growth is NOT, is being just one way. We may have a core identity that (hopefully) aligns with our core values, but we also have many archetypes within us. You are not just a parent. Or a business owner, or a yogi. There’s get down to business you, there’s fun you, there’s feminine you, there's masculine you. There’s light and airy you, and there's mysterious and complicated you. There's the person who is addicted to safety, but there's also the person who is vibrant and electric. Paying attention to the parts that showed up in the beginning of your relationship, and then giving them regular air time, will have massive impact on the levity of your relationship.
Uncertainty is continuously exploring the different parts of yourself, and bringing that energy to your relationship
Uncertainty is not doing what just “works.”
Uncertainty is curiosity. It’s the surprise we feel when we uncover another layer of a person's psyche and being.
Uncertainty is safe distance. It’s the space we create to hold our longing.
Uncertainty is being held accountable. It’s knowing we can’t get away with being a shit.
Uncertainty is the unknown. And not knowing keeps us on our toes, wanting to know more.
Light uncertainty is where you MUST put your focus if you want to bring back, or elevate the passion in your relationship. But please take note: too much certainty OR too much uncertainty will break down your relationship. It may be a slow chip that takes decades to wear it down, or it could be a fast and furious burn out. But it is what causes people to split, even if they manage to stay together.
I want to give you tips on how to raise the dosage of HEALTHY UNCERTAINTY in your relationship. Here’s a couple of action steps to take asap:
1. Meet your lover’s specific need for fun uncertainty: have a heart to heart and ask him/her what is exciting TO THEM. Because I guarantee what you consider to be fun uncertainty is not always what they consider it to be. Then share what excites you. **In order to increase the sexy unknown, don't wait for them to meet your need first and keep tabs (note: that’s very UNSEXY) just do it for them and see what happens. When we feel honored by our partner, it raises attraction.
2. Every week tip the Play vs Domesticity scale towards the play side. How much depends on just how imbalanced the scale is currently for your relationship. Remember, you gotta know what play is for them.
3. Practice adventure dating. This doesn't mean you have to go bungee jumping. An adventure date is anything that is outside of your routine. You decide just how risqué you want it to be. Adventure is subjective, and dwells in the eyes of the beholders. But once in a while, be bold.
4. Change your state often. Low state, low creativity. Peak state, peaked creativity. It always will begin with you and you. (more on this next week).
The Certainty vs Uncertainty scale presents itself in all areas of your life, and how you manage it will largely determine the quality of your life experiences. There are times when the pendulum must swing disproportionately to one side. This is to be expected and it’s OK. Contrary to popular belief, balance does not always reside in the center. But pay attention to this scale, because how you tip it will either yield more peace, or stifle your expansion. It’s all a balancing act.
Here's to risk.