My post from last week on Can Guys and Girls Just be Friends has received a surprising level of response. Since statistics show around 40% of men and 30% of women will have affairs, I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising.
I thought I was finished with this topic, but comments and emails from readers have led me to explore something I’ve only touched on a bit in the past – the loss of passion in long term relationship.
I believe that more than anything, loss of passion is THE leading contributor to both affairs and divorce. Statistics are clear, many marriages or long term relationships fail. What statistics don’t show is that many of those that “succeed” aren’t really happy relationships – or at least not as happy as they could be.
Some people accept that this is just natural, and tell themselves maybe this is what marriage really is. Or they decide it is better than the alternative of being alone. So they emotionally disconnect and become roommates who live parallel lives, each person doing their own thing with maybe the occasional “duty sex” thrown in once in a while.
Other people ask themselves, is this all life is? Is this what marriage is really about? It seems obvious that the answer is no. That isn’t what anyone expected when they agreed to “in good times and in bad”. Unfortunately although this loss of passion happens gradually, once it has happened it can seem hopeless to get out.
Living parallel lives is one way to deal with the pain, but ultimately that will lead to an affair, divorce, or acceptance of an unhappy existence. That pain does not go away though. It gnaws away at you, and will start to permeate all aspects of your life. One reader described it to me as follows:
Nothing is more painful than a broken relationship. Nothing is more painful than feeling love for the person sitting next to you, and feeling nothing in return. Knowing they are right there, but they are a million miles away.
Affairs allow someone to feel as though they have reignited the passion, and allow the person to convince themselves that yes, it WAS the relationship that was the problem (after all, they can feel passion for someone else, right?). But all the evidence shows that after a year or two the passion in the new relationship fades and the person is back in the same exact spot.
Divorce is another way out, but it is also a way of blaming the relationship. And like affairs, there is no guarantee that any future relationship will be any better.
Short of things like physical and emotional abuse it seems clear that improving the current relationship is the best option if possible – especially if kids are involved.
Commitment involves what you are putting into the relationship, and remaining as roommates isn’t healthy for anyone. So if you have emotionally disconnected you should either start actively working on the relationship or you should get out.
I believe in both love and marriage, and I don’t believe passion has to be lost. If it has been lost, I believe passion can be found again. Marriage can be wonderful, loving, fulfilling and passionate. It should be a place of personal and emotional safety. If yours isn’t, I don’t believe it’s ever too late to change that.
What is Passion?
The first thing to look at is passion. What exactly is it? When I think passion in a relationship, I think of sex (or at least the feelings that lead to sex). I think of people who can’t keep their hands off each other. People who are fumbling with each other’s clothes when they are barely through the door.
I’m sure most people have experienced that, however briefly, and it’s a great feeling. It’s also how passion is sold to us in romance novels and movies. But is that really what passion is?
Science has shown that the intense emotions of the early stage of a relationship are really hormone induced infatuation, and that this emotional intensity is unsustainable for longer than 6 months to 2 years (incidentally the average length of an affair – hmmmm).
Does that mean long term relationships are destined to be sterile and passionless? I don’t believe that to be the case at all. Quoting myself here:
Being passionate about something means REALLY enjoying it, and having strong positive feelings for it. You can be passionate about all sorts of things: cooking, traveling, a sports team, whatever. When people talk about passion in a relationship it’s the same thing. You are passionate about the other person. They are very important to you, and you care greatly for them. Seeing them happy is a source of happiness for you.
The hormone induced early passion may be destined to fade, but a healthier passion can and should stay in long term relationships. Unfortunately, that often fades too.
Loss of Passion
Why do we lose passion? Where does it go? There are all sorts of possible answers to this question, but for one of the big ones (in my opinion) I’ll turn to the movies. Have you ever seen the movie Analyze This? It’s a great film, with Robert DeNiro playing a mob boss who is going to see a counselor/psychologist (played by Billy Crystal). Here’s an exchange from the film:
Crystal: What happened with your wife last night?
De Niro: I wasn’t with my wife, I was with my girlfriend.
Crystal: Are you having marriage problems?
De Niro: No.
Crystal: Then why do you have a girlfriend?
De Niro: What, are you gonna start moralizing on me?
Crystal: No, I’m not, I’m just trying to understand, why do you have a girlfriend?
De Niro: I do things with her I can’t do with my wife.
Crystal: Why can’t you do them with your wife?
De Niro: Hey, that’s the mouth she kisses my kids goodnight with! What are you, crazy?
I thing this amusing exchange touches on something very important. I’ve talked about roles before, and how we have different aspects to our selves. In my view, our partners have at least three distinct roles that they need to play in our lives. They need to be friends, lovers and family.
In long term relationships, all of these roles need to be nurtured and maintained. Time and effort needs to be spent on being both friends and lovers. When that doesn’t happen, it’s easy to start seeing your partner only through the roles that you do maintain, and that’s when trouble begins.
This becomes especially pronounced when kids are introduced to the mix. I have kids, and I love them. They’re great, and I couldn’t possibly imagine my life without them. In theory kids act as a bonding agent for a couple. They are a product of their love for each other, and they bring the kids into the world together. Even couples who have split up will admit that in an ideal world they would have been able to raise the kids together.
But kids also require great sacrifice, and can put strain on the relationship. As awesome as they are, they are demanding little buggers in terms of time and energy. And time with them (or just as a family) is time not spent as a couple. It is very common for couples (usually the guy) to admit that they miss the time they used to have with their partner before kids.
Many women also lose themselves in being mothers. Add in hormonal and physical changes, and it can be difficult to find the energy required for being a couple. I’m a guy, so I won’t pretend to “get” this stuff. But I know that as as the kids get older it is common for women to have to find themselves again (there are a number of books written on this topic).
In the scene from the movie, De Niro’s character has lost sight of his wife as a lover. His view of “wife” has come to see her only as the mother of his kids. He may still see her as a friend, but he no longer sees her as a lover – he has stopped seeing her as desirable or sexual.
With or without kids, many couples fall into the trap of not making time and prioritizing each other as friends, and lovers. It may be not making time for each other, or taking each other for granted. Like anything else, if you don’t use it you run the risk of losing it, and over time this lack of focus on each other can lead to an emotional disconnect.
When someone says “I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore” this is likely what has happened. For whatever reason, not enough focus has been spent on being an “us”, and the end result is a breakdown of emotional connection. This happens to varying degrees ALL the time, with many couples.
How do you solve this? From what I can see, it is a puzzle many, MANY people wish they could solve. If I *knew* the answer to this I would likely be on the talk show circuit promoting my latest relationship book instead of writing this blog, but based on a variety of sources I do have some thoughts. Stay tuned for part 2.