What is an Affair?

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What is an affair? When does an affair become an affair?

In the past I’ve talked about how commonly people seem to consider an affair occurring only when you have had sex with the other person.

To me, that interpretation is really broken.

Sex seems like a level that affairs hit when they have reached “the point of no return”, but it has always seemed to me that the “affair” started long before that.

Affairs don’t just happen. There are any number of choices made by both parties that lead to an affair. But at what point does a relationship cross that line?

I’ve been searching for a better way of describing and identifying an affair, and recently came across it in the form of a Ted Talk video by Esther Perel. If you haven’t seen it, it’s truly a great video and well worth spending 20 mins on.

In this, she defines an affair as a relationship with three characteristics:

  1. A secretive relationship
  2. With an emotional connection
  3. And sexual alchemy

Let’s look at each of these characteristics in turn.

A Secretive Relationship

First, the relationship is secretive. That doesn’t mean the betrayed partner doesn’t know about the person. In fact, in the VAST majority of affairs the betrayed partner does know the “other person”. Often they know them quite well, and may even consider them a friend or at least an acquaintance.

Statistically, men are most likely to have an affair with a co-worker while women are most likely to have an affair with a friend. So it’s not as if the people are unknown. And often the betrayer will even talk about them and mention them in conversation.

What is secretive about the relationship is the nature of it.

Even if the affair has not progressed to a sexual stage (and some never do), the betrayer keeps a lot of details away from their partner. How often they are seeing the person, the sorts of things they talk about, etc.

So while the betrayed partner likely knows about the other person, they have no idea what’s actually going on. They think it’s just a co-worker, or an acquaintance. What they don’t realize is just how much time and energy their partner is expending on this other person. How invested their partner is in this new relationship, usually at the expense of their own.

The betrayer may claim “it’s just a friendship, it’s nothing” – and maybe part of them even believes that. But if that were true, then why hide it? The fact that they are hiding details from their partner indicates that at least at some level, they know they are doing something wrong.

In one case I know of, the husband had a very close friendship with a co-worker. They talked/texted all the time outside of work, and sometimes the husband would go meet this person without telling his wife where he was going or who he was going with.

When the wife found out about the relationship she confronted her husband on it. He insisted it was nothing, and that they were “just friends”. When she asked why, if they were just friends, was he so secretive and evasive about the “friendship” his response was “because I knew you wouldn’t like it”.

Ummm, alright. So if he knew she wouldn’t like it, then that would seem to indicate he knew at some level that there was something wrong. And he chose to pursue the relationship in spite of that.

Maybe there truly was nothing more than friendship. But the fact that he kept it going in spite of knowing how his wife would feel about it indicates at the very least a lack of empathy, and putting himself and what he wanted ahead of the good of the relationship.

The secretive nature of the relationship destroyed trust, and once broken trust is very hard to regain.

An Emotional Connection

Next is an emotional connection, and to me this is where the real affair begins. Maybe it starts out as a friendship, or a co-worker at work. But as you get to know the other person better you start to open up more, and discuss increasingly personal details about your life.

This type of discussion builds closeness. But this closeness is a huge danger sign for someone in a relationship.

If you think back to how your existing relationship began, it was probably exactly like this. How someone looks may be the characteristic that caused you to initially notice them, but it was likely long talks and “getting to know them” that caused feelings to form.

Once an emotional connection starts to form with someone else? Well, that’s not really a great sign for your existing relationship.

In many affairs the cheating partners fall in love (or at least believe they have). Incidentally, women are more likely to believe they have fallen in love while men tend to see the affair as “harmless fun”, and something that is filling a gap that is missing in their current relationship.

But whether or not they have fallen in love, they have allowed themselves to open up to the other person in a way that has created an emotional connection, and allowed it to grow.
A while back I had a post called Can guys and girls just be friends? (when they are already in relationships), where I suggest that no, they can’t.

That’s not entirely true. Guys and girls CAN be friends, but if you are in a relationship it changes the nature of the friendship. You aren’t single – and you shouldn’t act like you are. Certain topics shouldn’t be discussed, and the biggest one of all is you should NEVER discuss any problems you are having in your relationship with the other person.

Sexual Alchemy

Lastly is sexual alchemy. See, you don’t need to have had sex for things to be an affair. You don’t even need to have kissed. But you feel *something*, and when you do you KNOW you feel it. A cheating partner may tell the betrayed partner that “nothing happened”, or “they are just a friend”. Well, they can lie to their partner but they can’t lie to themselves. They know they felt something. And even if they didn’t act on it, they know they’ve thought about it.

If they are starting to feel good about themselves when they are around the other person and find themselves looking forward to the next time they see them, then these are HUGE red flags that the nature of their feelings are changing. When that happens, if they are already in a relationship they owe it to both themselves and the other person to stop. Cut off contact with the other person, and figure out what they really want.

I think Esther Perels definition of an affair is perfect. A secretive relationship with an emotional connection where you feel *something*.

If someone is pursuing a “friendship” like this while they are already in a relationship, then whether or not it goes any further than this it’s an affair.

Plain and simple.

Is This All There Is?

Driving off

Is this all there is? This is a question everyone asks themselves eventually.

Is the life I have right now the one I want?

Is there more to life?

Growing up, we have a bit of a romanticized notion of what “being an adult” will be, and what life will look like.

We will be free. We won’t have to live under the rules of our parents. We won’t have to go to school every day. We will be adults – we will be our own person and be able to live our lives how we want!!!

And then we get there.

Once out “on our own” we need a place to live, and we need to eat. So we get a job. Maybe we find one we like, and maybe we just find one that will pay us. But that’s alright, because it pays enough of the bills to let us get by. If we want more “stuff”, we need a better job.

But the job is just a job. Sure we may make some friends at work, but our job is just there to help us finance our life; and our life is the important part.

In our personal life we have friends and family. Often we have a spouse or a partner, and maybe we have kids. THOSE are a greater source of happiness than our job.

But our friends and family have their own lives too. And as much as we may love our spouse and kids, they can be sources of stress and conflict almost as much as they are sources of joy.

We live our lives, and although there may be a lot of joy, life becomes routine. We need to work to pay the bills, and hopefully put away a bit of money to be able to go on a vacation once in a while. Or get a nicer car, or a nicer house.

So we find ourselves in this cycle, going through the motions of life day after day, month after month, and year after year.

Eventually though, *something* triggers you to take a look at your life.

And you come to the realization that being an adult is not what you expected. Careers aren’t what we expected. Marriage is not what you expected. And being a parent is not what you expected.

And you find yourself asking, is this it?

Is this all there is?

Midlife “Crisis”

I think this stage of taking a hard look at your life is what is often referred to as a midlife crisis.

As a kid, I thought a midlife crisis was a bit of a joke. When I heard the term I had visions of an older guy who would divorce his wife, get a sports car and a girlfriend at least 10 years younger (probably a yoga instructor).

It was the sort of thing you saw in movies and on TV, but I didn’t think it really happened.

Of course as a kid I also thought that marriages lasted forever, people would always love their partners and affairs only happened in soap operas. Ha!!!

Now that I’m at midlife myself I read peoples stories on blogs, and I look around at friends and acquaintances and I see that midlife crisis is actually quite real.

It’s just not quite what I thought, and the idea of the sports car and the yoga instructor isn’t often that accurate.

More commonly, instead of a “crisis” people have a period of midlife reflection and transformation.

Sure, some people respond badly, act selfishly and do some really stupid things (and those are the ones we most frequently hear about). But that doesn’t have to be what it’s about.

And in fact, this period in life can also be very healthy.

What Causes Midlife Crisis?

If midlife crisis is a period of reflection and transformation, what causes it?

I think mid-life crisis is really about recognition of our own mortality. It happens anywhere from some ones late 30’s to early 50’s (around “mid”-life). And if you hear enough stories you start to see that there is usually some sort of trigger.

The person going through it often has lost someone close to them, or perhaps they or someone close to them has been impacted by a serious illness.

Sometimes the trigger is just age, and with it the realization that statistically their time on this earth is moving into its second half; and we are closer to our death than our birth.

Why do People Handle it Differently?

To me, the biggest question is why do people handle it so differently? At this time of reflection, some people don’t seem affected at all. Others take stock of their lives and decide to take up a new hobby. And then we have those who dump their partner, buy a sports car and start dating the yoga instructor.

It’s clear that not all approaches are equal, and some have much more significant long term repercussions than others.

Each person is doing what seems right to them at the time, but in the cases that are “newsworthy” to friends and loved ones it often seems like they are watching a car crash. They are watching a loved one engage in what appear to be self-destructive actions and decisions.

So what causes this difference in behavior?

I think it’s primarily due to two things:

  • The size of the gap between where you hoped/wanted to be and where you feel you are
  • The degree of control you feel you have had over how you got to your current situation

The first one seems obvious. You sit back and look at your life, and it’s not what you expected. Maybe a big part of that is due to a romanticized notion of what life “should” look like, but if your life doesn’t look like the one you wanted and you believe that your time is running out, it makes sense to want to make changes.

I think the second reason is actually MUCH more important though.

I write about relationships, but the main underlying theme in my writing is choice and accountability. I feel that choice, and the belief that you have the ability to make choices is one of the biggest keys to happiness.

When I hear stories about midlife crisis, the people who make the biggest changes are usually people who have been living the life they thought they “had” to, or the life they felt was expected of them. Commonly they didn’t assert themselves, and instead just went with the flow.

And now they don’t want to do that anymore. Instead, they decide to live the life they “want” to live – usually acting very impulsively and with little thought about consequences. It’s at once a rebellion and an assertion of individuality; a way of taking control of their own life – with either very little thought given to the damage being done in the process or a belief that they have “sacrificed” for long enough and they don’t want to anymore.

I truly believe this element of choice and control is much more important than the actual gap between where someone is and where they want to be.

If the gap is large but it’s a result of your own choices? Well, there’s no one to blame but yourself. You may not have what you want but you’ve done the best with what you had.

If you feel that you have been living the live that was expected of you though?

People can have what from all outward appearances are great lives. Great families, jobs, partners that truly care about them and support them. It doesn’t matter how “great” a persons life is though if they don’t feel they “choose it”.

No matter how much good there is, if they feel they have been living the life that others expected of them then it lays the groundwork for considerable resentment.

What is the Crisis?

When this midlife time of reflection becomes a crisis, there are a few common areas. These include the following:

Loss of Identity

This is probably the biggest one. In life we play a number of different roles. And in the process of growing and changing it’s easy to find that in all the roles we have “lost ourselves”.

We have become the parent, the partner, the co-worker, the child. We are all these different things to different people. But who are we?

I think we are the sum of all these things. Each of them makes up a part of us that is part of who we truly are.

When there is a sense of lost identity, maybe people never actually knew who they really were. This realization can be painful, but also powerful.

And midlife becomes a time of finding yourself again, and perhaps finally accepting yourself for who you are, instead of looking at who you are not.

Loss of Freedom

At midlife people often talk about “wanting to be free”. There is often sadness at lost youth, and a yearning for the freedom that came with it.

But the sad truth is, as much as we may try there is no going back. We were “free” because we were kids. We had adults to take care of us and look after us.

Once you are an adult? Freedom doesn’t really exist – at least not in the way it did when we were kids. You pretty much have to go to work. You have to have shelter, you have to eat. If you have kids, you have to take care of them. And if you want a relationship, you have to put effort in.

All of these things definitely DO put restrictions on you.

You absolutely CAN choose to walk away from those restrictions, and some do. Some hit a point that they find the stress too high and they just walk away one or all of these parts of their lives – their partner, their job, and even their children.

However when people do that they are looking for a freedom that they will never truly find. And that type of freedom not only comes at great cost, but is also usually not quite what someone expects.

Feeling Stuck

Another issue that can cause midlife to be a time of crisis is the sense of being “stuck”. Life has become mundane and routine. You feel like you are just going through the motions. Alive, but not truly living.

The advertising world tells us that “normal” is bad. It tells us that we are special, we aren’t like all the “other people”. We deserve more.

Then we look over and see the kids. And the mortgage. And the bills. And the pile of laundry.

And over time a sense of sadness and hopelessness builds, which in time can turn to depression.

I think this is probably the leading cause of affairs and divorce. People are looking for some sort of change to shake them out of the rut they are in, and finding comfort in the arms of another is an easy (and temporary) way out. People who have affairs often say that they wanted “to feel alive again”, and that they had lost that feeling.

Affairs are a quick fix though, and they don’t address the underlying issues. I talk about this as it applies to relationships in Losing the Spark. But even individually we all need goals. We need things to strive towards (both individually and as a couple) in order to allow us to get through day to day life.

Truthfully, we all could probably do with a bit more excitement our lives. But it doesn’t just happen, we need to build it in.

A Time for Change

Midlife is a time for reflection. Even if you have been living the life you felt you had to, or the one you felt was expected of you – sometimes when you take a good look at it you realize hey, it’s not so bad.

Maybe there are a few changes you can make, a few goals to pursue, a bit of improvement in communication with people you care about.

And sometimes improving a few little things can make a world of difference. We don’t necessarily have to wipe the board clean and start our life over again.

Last year I hit 40. Mid-life.

There was a bit of turmoil in my life at the time, but I can truly say I never entertained thoughts of the sports car and the yoga instructor.

I did reflect on my life, and I do on a fairly regular basis. But every time I do, I come to the same conclusions.

Yes, life could have been different. There are any number of choices I made which, had I chosen differently would have resulted in a different “me” today.

But I have no regrets. All of my choices were mine, and all of them helped shape me into the person I am today.

And honestly? I like me. Hell, I love me.

And I love my life.

My life is not perfect and it never will be. And things won’t always work out the way I want. But I have a lot of things to be thankful for.

And I ALWAYS have choice.

Others matter to me, and I care about their opinions. They may even influence some of my choices in the way I live my life. But they were still my choices.

I can always choose to improve the things I don’t like, accept them as they are, or change them.

And so can you.

Momentum Shifts

Momentum

Momentum is defined as:

“the strength or force that something has when it’s moving”

Looked at this way momentum is often thought of in terms of a physical object, but physical objects aren’t the only things that can have momentum.

Momentum is also found in the world of sports. Take basketball (since that’s what I know best):

Maybe a player hits a few shots, then makes a great defensive play. Next thing you know the game is coming easily and the player (or team) is “in a zone”, confidence builds and everything seems to be working. In this case momentum is more like a feeling or an energy; and this energy can be seen through body language. When things are going well players are loose, carefree, and seem to be having fun. It can’t really be quantified, but anyone who has felt it or even just witnessed it knows it real.

One thing about momentum though, you can’t always control it and it’s not always positive. Just as positive momentum can build, players or teams can go cold and the momentum can shift. Sometimes a team appears to have a game well in hand, and then something happens. Maybe they start missing a few shots, or have some defensive lapses. At first it’s not a big deal as they still have the lead. But as the game becomes closer the energy starts to shift, and instead of playing freely players start to tighten up. Doubt starts to creep in and they start to rush. The opponent senses the shift, as do the fans.

When this happens a coach will often call a timeout to give the team a bit of a pep talk and try to prevent the negative momentum from building any further. See, momentum in this sense comes down a lot to confidence and belief. It is a form of energy visible largely through body language.

Momentum in Relationships

Relationships also have momentum. The early days of a relationship are often generally marked by a sense of positive momentum. The couple may just be getting to know each other, but they are relaxed, comfortable with each other and having fun.

Unfortunately just as there is positive momentum, there can also be negative momentum. And when you find yourself getting caught in negative momentum you can feel powerless to stop it.

The problem with negative momentum in relationships is that there is no coach to call a timeout and try to get things under control. Instead, this negative momentum can feed off itself and build, potentially spiraling out of control.

The Downward Spiral

I recently read an article by couples therapists Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt talking about how negative energy impacts relationships.

The therapists were a couple themselves, and as their own marriage was struggling they made an interesting discovery. Their discovery was that this negative momentum makes it very difficult to get out because people start to guard themselves, misinterpret things and look for offense even where none is intended.

As a result, even when partners are making attempts to improve the relationship and “make things better”, it often doesn’t work. People can become unable to recognize genuine love.

Harville ticks off the ways we deflect what we secretly crave: by devaluing praise; by assuming the other person is insincere; by criticizing the sender of a positive message for not getting it right, not doing it on time, or not doing it often enough; by not listening; or by feeling embarrassed.

For instance, there was the wife who told her husband she needed him to express more affection—then resisted his kisses and kind words because, she said, they didn’t feel genuine. Another husband admitted that when his wife offered verbal support, he shut down and didn’t respond. And when a new father took time off from work to help his exhausted wife with their twins, she refused to let him do his share.

“The common wisdom,” they write, “is that romantic relationships would stay happy if people did a better job of giving to each other. But that’s not what we’ve discovered. We’ve found that many people need to do a better job of receiving the gifts their partners are already offering. It’s surprising how often the compliments, appreciation and encouragement of a well-intentioned partner make no dent in the armor of an unhappy partner.

Ulterior Motives

When we are unhappy, we start to put up barriers, perpetuating our unhappiness and making it difficult for things to improve. One of the big problems is when we start looking for ulterior motives. If you are looking for hidden meanings and slights, you will always be able to find them.

This causes people to discount genuine attempts at improving and strengthening the relationship. People take the approach of “oh, he/she is only doing this because they want something”.

Yeah, they probably do want something. They want to make the relationship better. They want to see their partner smile again. They want to experience a loving relationship the way they once had. They want to be happy again as a couple. “Wanting something” doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

So they do their best to try to make things better, but they don’t know how. And when all their attempts at improving things are ignored or looked at suspiciously eventually they will give up.

That is when relationships die.

Loss of Hope

I’ve said before that I don’t think it’s ever too late. Sure, there are some cases where it’s best for everyone if a relationship ends. Often when relationships end I think that both people do still love each other. But that love is buried under layers of hurt and resentment, and it has gotten to the point where they don’t believe they will ever be happy again.

Consider the following:

suicide

It’s kind of a morbid thought, but I think the same thing happens in relationships. I don’t think anyone “wants” a divorce (alright, maybe some do but those are probably exceptions). They just want to be happy again, and they have lost hope that they will be able to.

Frequently when long term relationships fail, one or both members wish they could have made it work. And often long after the relationship has ended, people hold out hope that they will somehow be able to reconcile.

A buddy of mine ended up divorced after his wife walked out on him, and even after the divorce he wore his ring for 6 months hoping that somehow they could figure things out. Eventually he gave up and moved on with his life (only to have her come back wanting to patch things up after it was too late). Reading other blogs and comments sections, for the person who was dumped/scorned/left there is often a wish that things could be different, and they could be back together.

The failure of a long term relationship is not an easy thing, and the only people who seem to be unfazed by it are people who have already started a new relationship prior to ending the old one. Incidentally, those affair relationships are almost always doomed to failure. Stats say that 40-50% of first marriages fail (pretty depressing), but when you look at numbers on the affair relationships that cause marriages to end, the stats jump to around 80%.

Changing Perspective

I think people give up on their relationships too easily. Long term love isn’t always easy – you need to build it, and keep building it every day of your life.

Negative momentum can threaten to tear things down, so we need to find ways to recognize when it is happening, stop it and turn it around when it occurs.

We need to start opening ourselves up to genuine gestures of love, and stop looking for problems and issues. You will always be able to find things to be unhappy about if you are looking for them.

You get out of life what you put into it. It can be hard when you are unhappy, but you need to start focusing on the positive, and appreciating the things that are good. I’m sure there is a lot of good, but it can be hard to see when you are caught in negative momentum.

No matter what state your relationship is in, things can always get better. Things can always improve. But you need to open yourself up and allow love back in.

For any readers out there who have “been through the fires”, I would love to hear from you. What are some things that you have used to hold on and maintain your love when times were tough? Feel free to comment below or email me at thezombieshuffle@outlook.com

Building Closeness and Intimacy

closeness

For anyone who has read my site, you know I believe very strongly in love and in long term relationships. I also believe they naturally go through ups and downs, but maintaining and nurturing love is a choice.

You choose how you treat your partner. How much time you spend together, how you spend that time together, how much you value them and appreciate them. You choose how much effort you put into your relationship, and how much you are willing to accept them for who they are.

This idea of choice is supported by every relationship expert I have read or heard about. They all talk about how maintaining long term love is a mindset, an outlook, and a choice.

But what about falling in love? Many people think of love and romance as this magical thing, based on feeling and emotion. And it is. But is falling in love a choice too?

Creating Closeness

A buddy of mine recently pointed me to a fascinating study by Dr. Arthur Aron, called The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. I’ll admit the name leaves a bit to be desired, but the study itself is pretty interesting. The study was intended to understand whether or not closeness or intimacy could be created. For the experiment he defined intimacy as “a process in which each feels his or her innermost self validated, understood and cared for by the other.”

His experiment was quite simple. Members of the opposite gender were paired up and given a number of self-disclosure and relationship building tasks of increasing intensity to carry out over a 1 ½ hr period. They were then asked questions measuring the degree of closeness they felt was built through the procedure.

I believe there are variations of the questions, but you can find a sample of them here

He found that:

One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure

One interesting part of the study was that he found that it didn’t really matter if you agreed with each other’s ideas and opinions. That didn’t seem to impact the building of intimacy. The important part was the act of self-disclosure.

Falling in Love

There are no real surprises in Dr. Arons study. People often say love “just happens”, but that’s completely untrue. We all know that part of falling in love is getting to know the other person. That’s the time of discovery, where things are new and exciting.

Even in cases where “your eyes met across the room and you knew it was love”, there was still some sort of a process. Your eyes met because there was mutual physical attraction. That may be a good start, but it’s simply the starting point. Even if you moved straight from eyes meeting to sex, that doesn’t make it a relationship (sorry Hollywood and romance novels, it’s true). There will always be a period where you get to know each other, and this period involves self-disclosure.

Does that mean you can make someone fall in love with you? No. Does it mean you can make yourself fall in love with someone simply by learning about them? Well, kind of.

Getting to know someone is how you build intimacy, but it doesn’t always result in love. Some relationships fail quickly, while others start as friendships and develop into love over an extended period of time (potentially years). There is no single formula that will result in success.

Personally, I suspect that when friendships turn into love there was always a degree of attraction for at least one of the members. The whole idea of the dreaded “friend zone” is where someone has feelings for another person that aren’t returned. They often stick around, keeping themselves in the other person’s life with the hopes that maybe it will develop into something more. This happens all the time and is a common theme in love stories (both fictional and real).

In blogs and comments sections there are MANY people out there who are convinced that they are “the one” for someone else. People talk about how much they do for the other person and how they are always there for them, but their love is not returned.

So why do some relationships bloom into love, while others don’t? This depends on the level of intimacy and closeness. As you learn more about another person, you allow yourself to be vulnerable with them, and you become more comfortable sharing information about yourself. We all have emotional walls around ourselves, and when we have let someone breach that wall? I believe that’s when love develops.

Intimacy in Long Term Relationships

If closeness and intimacy is built by sharing and self-disclosure, what exactly does this mean to long term relationships? There seems to be a perception that long term relationships are incompatible with love and romance, and there is some truth to that.

Intimacy or closeness develops through reciprocal self-disclosure, and that period is exciting as it is new and you are learning. But eventually you have learned a lot about each other. Intimacy is built, and the relationship is established. Now how do you maintain it? How do you prevent it from breaking down over time?

That is the part many people struggle with over time. They have finally achieved what they believe they were looking for. They are in a stable relationship, and things are “safe”. A problem is that it’s easy to become comfortable, and it’s easy for both partners to stop doing the little things that you did during the courting stage. Another thing about safe and comfortable is that it can become routine and boring.

Plus over time you start to realize that your partner is just a regular person, who has flaws like any other. Conflict will happen, and depending on how you deal with it conflict can erode the feelings of closeness.

In many relationships, one day you realize the sense of intimacy that brought you together is gone (or at least eroded). You figure maybe it’s a phase that will pass. But it doesn’t, so you find yourselves in a relationship where you have become largely roommates. And being roommates sucks.

Can Guys and Girls Just be Friends – Revisited

One of my most popular posts (in terms of views, comments and likes) is Can Guys and Girls Just be Friends?

In answer to the titular question, my belief is both yes and no. I suppose I’m waffling here, but it really depends on the nature of your interactions and what you are telling the other person.

One reader shared a story with me about her affair, and how it started innocently enough. She was married, and started corresponding with someone through social media. Over time their messages became more intense, and she realized she had fallen in love with this other guy.

It’s easy to see how this happens. I’m not sure about her case, but if the existing relationship is in a bit of a rut and you meet someone new, even if it starts as “just friends”, as you open up to each other the simple nature of intimacy makes it so you are at risk of having it develop into something more.

I recently read an article where someone tried the Dr. Aron questions, and found that they worked for building intimacy. In the article the person states:

The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late. With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there.

When this experiment is done over a period of an hour or so, I can understand that. But when it comes to affairs, I find that very difficult to believe.

People aren’t stupid, they KNOW when the landscape has shifted from feelings of friendship into feelings that might be something more. People can tell when they are becoming excited to hear from the other person, and when they are happy to see them. They know when they are thinking about the other person more than they should be. They know when the relationship has crossed lines that take it beyond friendship and into something more.

They just don’t care. It feels good and is exciting, so they choose to continue the relationship anyways. They may deny that it’s an affair, but the affair has started long before sex, or even the first kiss.

It IS possible to love two people at once. Putting yourself in the position for that love to develop is a choice. Let’s face it, if you are putting yourself in that position then chances are good your relationship is in a troubled spot. If it’s healthy then you probably aren’t taking a lot of time to get to intimately know members of the opposite sex. And if you do, and those feelings start to arise? At that point continuing to see that person after it has developed into love is also a choice.

Back to the idea of guys and girls just being friends, it rarely works (not saying never here, but very rarely). For it to work you really need to put boundaries on the types of interactions you have, and the level of sharing that occurs – especially if you are already in a relationship.

Intimacy and Rebuilding

Alright, intimacy is built through emotionally opening up and sharing with the other person. But this is something that happens as you are learning each other, and once you already know each other well you can’t really “build” intimacy in the same way. Over time relationships can get into a rut and intimacy can break down. So what do you do?

Well, Dr. Aron’s findings on intimacy have some bearing on how you get out of a rut. Think back to his experiment. Did it involve two people sitting in a room watching TV together? Umm, no. How about two people going about individual tasks independently of each other. Again, no.

It involved two people INTERACTING, opening up to each other and allowing themselves to be vulnerable around each other. So why would we expect rebuilding a relationship to work any differently? Why do people wait for “feelings to come back”, or just start living individual lives? How in the world is that ever supposed to help a relationship?

To rebuild a relationship there are things you can do, but you need to DO them. You need to take action, and be conscious about it. You need to recreate the conditions where you fell in love.

BuildingARelationship

Relationship experts agree that you need to actively rebuild. You need to spend time together, make each other priorities in your lives and relearn each other. Even when you have been with someone for years, there is always more you can learn. Beyond learning each other you can also build experiences. So do things together. Go on dates where you have to interact. Maybe find an activity you are both interested in and do it together.

Dr. John Gottman talks about rebuilding your love maps, and he has a series of exercises and questions for couples to do together similar to Dr. Arons findings. In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson talks about something similar. She talks about sharing something deep and intimate with someone you love. Different experts suggests different (though similar) things. The main commonality is that rebuilding needs to be intentional, and it needs to be active.

Letting Go of the Past

Rebuilding a relationship isn’t easy. Rebuilding intimacy and closeness means allowing yourself to be vulnerable again, and allowing yourself to be hurt. If your relationship is troubled then that can be difficult. Chances are you have been hurt, so you have emotional walls build up to protect yourself from being hurt again.

But you can’t hold back. You have to let the walls come down and let the other person back in. Think of the study, it is allowing yourself to be vulnerable that allows closeness and intimacy to build (or in this case, rebuild). So if you continue to build up walls, all you are doing is preventing closeness from returning. Effectively you are sabotaging your chances of rebuilding.

If you are holding back, you need to ask yourself why. What are you holding back for? Do you truly want to rebuild the relationship? If so you need to let go.

It’s like the team building exercises on trust, when one person leans back and the other catches them. If you truly want to rebuild a relationship, you need to be willing to take that step and trust your partner. Be willing to open up your heart to them. Be willing to lean back and let them catch you. Build closeness and intimacy into your life, and never let it go.

Is the Grass Really Greener?

Is the grass really greener

Are you content? Is your life “enough” for you?

Content. Enough. In North America, those words seem to have taken on a negative connotation. It’s almost like we should never be happy with what we have, or who we are. There is always a push for “more”. Saying that what you have is enough has come to mean that you are “settling”. Settling is bad, because you are special, you are unique and you deserve the best!!! As a result you should never be satisfied. The danger here is that you get into this never ending cycle or always wanting more.

What’s that, you make $30k a year? Well look at all the things you can have if you made $40k. How about $50k, $100k, $2 million? There will always be more. The question is, when is something “enough”.

I used money because it’s easy to quantify different levels (2 is larger than 1). But this mindset pervades all aspects of life and one of the big areas is happiness. The “quality” of your life is seen as something that can only be measured by your own personal level of happiness. If you aren’t happy this becomes a reflection on the quality of your life. Obviously something is missing, or you need more. But what is missing?

Will a hobby help? A new job? A new relationship? Hobbies are easy to try. Jobs may be a bit more difficult (especially if you are in a career), but they are doable. Most companies understand that people are trying to build a career, and if you leave on good terms a good employee is often welcomed back.

Relationships, though? Those aren’t the sort of thing where you can just “test the waters” and see what’s out there and then come back if things don’t work out. Well technically you can, and many do. But I’m pretty sure that would be referred to as an affair, and personally I don’t advise them.

Making Changes

I suspect everyone has heard stories of people who leave relationships because they are unhappy and looking for some kind of change in their life. What they have isn’t enough, and they believe that better opportunities exist for them.

Some people make a change and find that a new start was exactly what they needed. Others make a change and eventually realize it was a mistake. Here are a few stories of the latter variety:

One buddy was married, and about a year after their first child was born his wife walked out. He doesn’t know what happened, but believes she found the reality of being a wife and a parent didn’t match up to her expectations and she didn’t want to do it anymore. He tried holding onto the marriage for a while, and they lived in separate rooms while she relived her youth and went back to the party scene. After a while he gave up and filed for divorce. He hurt for a long time, but eventually moved on with his life.

About two years after their split while doing the weekly exchange of their son his ex-wife told him she missed him, realized she had made a mistake and wondered if it would be possible for them to try again. He told me that hearing her admit it was a mistake made things worse for him, because he had never wanted their relationship to fail and he had tried his best to hold on. But by then it was too late.

Another buddy was raised by his mom, as his parents separated when he was young. While he was growing up his mom had a number of boyfriends that came and went, but none of them were around for very long. When he was older his mom admitted to him that leaving his dad was the biggest mistake she had ever made, and he doesn’t believe she’s ever really been happy in a relationship since.

In both cases the person who left the relationship wasn’t happy, and felt there was “more” out there. They felt they could be happier with a different person, or a different life. In both cases they found that life on the other side wasn’t exactly what they expected, and they didn’t appreciate what they had until it was gone.

grass weeds

Exciting and New

I have to admit, I don’t know a lot about the relationships in the above scenarios. I met the first guy a few years after his wife walked out. For the other guy, I’ve never met his parents. What I do know is one member of the relationship wanted things to work out while the other wanted to “spread their wings”; and in both cases later regretted things. Maybe the problem was that they had got in a rut. Maybe things had just gotten boring, and the wives were looking for a bit more “excitement” in their lives. At the very least, it’s safe to say that they were looking for “something” that was missing in their relationships. Well, “new” doesn’t stay new forever, and neither does excitement actually.

A few years ago a buddy of mine went through… well, I’m not actually sure what he went though. He was well educated, and working a good job in his chosen field. We weren’t close, but we made a point of getting together periodically for lunch to catch up on each others lives. One day we went for lunch and he seemed as happy and positive as usual. A few months later I received a mass email saying he had quit his job and was moving out to the coast to become a white water rafting instructor, which he did for a number of years before eventually returning home.

A while back we got together to catch up and he told me a bit about his life as a white water rafting instructor. The work was seasonal, so when the season was over he alternated between traveling the world (finding hot destinations) and crashing at his parents’ house back home. In his words, he became a bit of a gypsy. He said he enjoyed it at first, but started to miss family and friends. He had relationships, but since he was fairly transient, the only relationships he had were passing things with people who weren’t looking for anything serious. Money was tight, and he didn’t have a sense of permanence. Not only that, but his job started to become exactly that – just another job. He came to realize that:

It doesn’t matter what you are doing, everything becomes routine eventually.

Appreciation

His is a pretty extreme case. We all have bills, and we all need jobs to pay them. At the bare minimum we need food and shelter, but we probably want a bit more than that. So there isn’t really a lot that we can change. With most of our days spent working to support our lives, much of life is routine.

So how can we become happier? To do that we need to learn to enjoy the small moments in life. More importantly, we need to learn to appreciate them. Appreciation and gratefulness are some of the biggest indicators of success and happiness in relationships. Those who appreciate and are grateful for their partners tend to be happy. Those who aren’t, not so much.

It’s an unfortunate fact that many people don’t appreciate what they have though, and it takes losing it in order to realize what they have lost. It’s sad that many relationships are lost due to a simple lack of appreciation. But why is that?

Characteristics of Unhappy People

I recently read an article on chronically unhappy people, and it was found that they tend to share a number of traits. These traits included:

  • Victims mentality. Seeing yourself as a victim of circumstance or “the situation” and not believing you have the power to make changes
  • Focusing on what’s wrong or missing instead of what you have. This is similar to the lack of appreciation mentioned above
  • Comparing yourself to others. This is related to focusing on what is missing, and it breeds jealousy and resentment – two very toxic behaviors
  • Try to control or micromanage your life and being rigid about change. Being a control freak is extremely unhealthy, as your way isn’t always the right way. But even if it was, life has a way of throwing you curveballs, and you must be flexible enough to adapt accordingly
  • Worry and Fear. Focusing on all the things that could go wrong instead of focusing on what has gone right

All of these are toxic attitudes and habits. As the article mentions, these are things that we all do sometimes. But there is a strong correlation between our happiness and how long we stay in these mindsets vs working to get out of them.

When people hear the saying “you are responsible for your own happiness” it means you have the capacity to make appropriate changes in your life. But often it’s easier to look externally then it is to look in the mirror. I don’t think finding happiness has to mean changing your relationship, job, or distancing yourself from family and friends (though these are definitely all things that could be contributing to unhappiness).

I think being responsible for your own happiness is really about looking at your own attitudes and your approach to life and learning to slow down, let go of control and appreciate the things you already have.

IsWhatYouHaveEnough

People often fight change, and cling to the status quo even if they know that their approach to life is self-destructive. They feel they can’t change, because “it’s just the way I am” and I can empathize with that. Change isn’t easy, especially if you have a lifetime of attitudes and habits to break.

Attitude

Earlier I mentioned my buddy who became a white water rafting instructor. Guess what he’s doing now? He’s doing the same job he was doing before. But now he sees it in a new light, and approaches it with a different attitude. More than skill, intelligence or beauty, attitude is the most important quality we have.

I recently read an interesting article on affairs. It suggested that people who have affairs are trying to fill a hole in their lives and find something that is missing. That seems fairly obvious. The interesting part is that the article went on to state that the things people are looking for are things they either had or could have in their current relationships. However they stopped putting them in themselves. Take passion for example. Passion often fades, and is used as an excuse (sorry, I mean reason) for affairs. People look for passion outside the relationship because they have stopped putting it into their own relationship. Again, this comes down to attitude and approach.

I’m by no means suggesting that leaving a relationship is always a mistake. Sometimes a fresh start is better for both parties. But I do think many relationships fail unnecessarily. In many cases people simply stopped giving their existing relationships the care it needed. If that has happened, most relationships can be saved by refocusing on them, nurturing and rebuilding.

justNeedToWaterIt

So is the grass really greener on the other side? No, it’s simply a matter of perception. Perfection doesn’t exist, so when people make changes they are exchanging one set of opportunities and problems for another.

Life Without Sex – Part 2

couple-in-bed-arguing

In a relationship, sex has many benefits and is an activity that enhances the connection between a couple. Sex drive differences can change sex from a wonderful part of a relationship to a source of conflict, and in extreme cases couples fall into a sexless relationship. In part 1 I discuss this idea of a sexless relationship (having sex less than 10 times a years is considered a sexless relationship), some of the causes, dangers, and what you can do if you are in a sexless relationship and you are the one who still wants sex.

People in this situation can try to remain supportive and understanding, while showing their partner that they still love them. But ultimately, there’s not a lot they can do to change the dynamic.

Today I want to want to look at this from the side of the person who is either not wanting, or is having issues with the sexual side of a relationship.

Different Reasons

Sex is a good thing in a relationship. It builds connection between the couple, and it gives pleasure to both people. But it requires both partners to be interested and engaged. For the person who is less interested in sex, the question becomes why? I see four main reasons:

  1. They are not sure they want the relationship anymore. Sex requires openness and connection. If someone has checked out on the relationship, then it stands to reason that they would find sex difficult with their partner. When this happens, this person really needs to make a decision to either commit to the relationship or to get out. Staying in the relationship with a breakdown of intimacy is not fair to anyone
  2. They see sex as something to be given or taken away. In some relationships people are interested in control and power, and sex can be used as a weapon (and withheld when they are unhappy). A relationship requires empathy and sharing, and these sorts of attitudes are extremely unhealthy. I plan on writing about power and control in the future, but anyone who is interested in power and control is liable to end up bitter, angry and alone if they can’t change their approach to relationships
  3. They have an immature view of love. If someone sees love as something that should “just happen” rather than something that they need to build into their relationship, then they are bound to end up disappointed by what real sustainable love looks like. This can cause a breakdown of desire and intimacy, making sex difficult
  4. They have had a breakdown of desire. Sometimes this just happens in long term relationships. Usually the person wishes things were different, but they are having a hard time “feeling” for their partner. Desire is related to hormones, so there can be any number of causes behind this (stress, anxiety, depression, and menopause among them)

My interest is for the people in the latter two scenarios, as these are people who actually do care about the relationship and their partner. In these cases the person genuinely wishes things were different, but they are having a hard time changing the way they feel. I’ll refer to this as simply having a lower drive. For people in the first two scenarios, well, chances are you should get out of the relationship anyhow.

Tips for the Lower Drive Person

For the lower drive person, this is a difficult situation. Hopefully the higher drive person is being considerate and understanding, but ultimately the lower drive person is the one who needs to find a way to become lovers again.

First I would like to debunk the myth that sex “isn’t truly a need”. From an individual standpoint this may be true. Unlike food and water, you won’t die without it. But your relationship might. So from the perspective of a relationship yes, regular sex is needed in order maintain and nurture a relationship. What “regular” means is up for interpretation, and that is something that is different from couple to couple (and even for a single couple it will change over the life of the relationship). The absence of sex will put tremendous strain on the relationship, and put it at risk of failure.

It is important to understand it’s not actually the sex that matters (which is why occasional “duty sex” does nothing to improve the bond between the couple). Instead it is the closeness and intimacy that sex is symbolic of. THAT is the part that is needed in order for a relationship to thrive. When intimacy is there sex should come naturally as a result of it. This is why it is important to focus on the relationship itself.

Another thing to remember is that your partner has no other outlets. I’m a firm believer that people are responsible for their own happiness (in the choices they make and the attitude that they bring to their own situation). Sexuality is one of the few places that people are dependent on someone else for fulfillment. So if it’s missing in a relationship, then even if the rest of the relationship is in a good spot this problem will start to affect the rest of the relationship.

The best thing you can do is try and identify any problems in the relationship that may be causing issues with desire. If you’re working on the relationship and desire still isn’t coming back, there may be medical reasons (such as hypoactive sexual desire disorder), however these are extreme cases and only affect a small percentage of the population. Chances are there is something that needs to be addressed in the relationship, and the best way to deal with it is through couples counseling focused on the issue with sexuality.

One question to ask yourself is “should someone have to have sex when they don’t want to”? Obviously the answer is no, they shouldn’t. In fact having sex because someone feels they are supposed to (duty sex) can widen the gap of emotional intimacy instead of helping close it.

Here is the dilemma though:

If someone consistently doesn’t want sex and their partner does then it puts their relationship at risk. If their partner wants it all the time, then this is an issue with the partner not being considerate about the person’s needs. But when the couple has drifted into a sexless marriage, there’s a problem. For the benefit of the relationship it’s up to the couple to find some sort of happy middle ground. It will likely involve an adjustment of expectations for both parties, but it also means the person with the lower drive will have to find a way to be sexual again.

They shouldn’t have to have sex when they don’t want to. But instead of looking at this as doing something they don’t want to, it may be better to try to find a way to nurture their sexual side so that they start to want to be sexual with their partner again.

Making Sex a Priority

Sex is important to a relationship and has many benefits to both the individual and the couple. That is a fact. No one should “have to” have sex when they don’t want to. Also fact.

So the question becomes, if someone consistently isn’t interested in sex and it is putting strain on the relationship, how do they become interested again? How can they find a balance where both members of the relationship are happy? One recommendation is to make sex a focus and a priority in the relationship.

One common misconception is that someone has to be in the mood in order to be sexual. Difficulties getting in the mood are extremely common, and happen to pretty much everyone. With busy lives waiting till you are “in the mood” could be a long wait. And what happens if you are in the mood but your partner isn’t? The chances of both being in the mood at the same time is low. Those who wait for “the mood”, well, generally they find themselves in the sexless relationship.

Instead of waiting to be in the mood for sex, many relationship experts suggest you try to make time for sex with the hope that allowing yourself to be sexual will help put you in the mood (kind of a chicken or the egg approach). In this approach, the lower drive person is just as responsible for getting themselves in the mood as the higher drive person (perhaps more so).

Schedule Sex

To do this, you need to schedule sex. You may do this formally as a couple, or at the start the lower drive person may do it on their own (for example telling themselves that “tonight” is a night for sex). If the thought of doing this doesn’t cause additional stress, then instead it’s possible to mentally prep for sex. Think about sex, read a sexy story (either alone or together), whatever works to try and get yourself into the mood. And then be sexual with your partner.

massage

The key is focusing on sexuality, touch (possibly massage or erotic massage), and building connection instead of the act of sex. In fact, if you don’t or even if you find you aren’t able to engage in penetrative sex, that’s fine. It’s more about taking time to be sexual together and rebuilding a sense of safety with physical intimacy with your partner.

Don’t worry about “shutting your partner down” before penetrative sex or orgasm. If your partner sees that you are putting effort into being lovers again, they will likely be very happy and supportive. When you do have sex it may starts as more of a physical act, but over time it should transition into a more intimate one.

Whether you are scheduling this formally or planning it on your own, come up with a desired frequency and schedule it. Once a week? Once every 2 weeks? Do what works for you and adjust it over time. It’s about building habits, and it may seem awkward at first but over time gets internalized. Be willing to accept that you don’t always have to meet the schedule, but the vast majority of the time you should try to.

Mindset is Key

Depending on how badly the emotional connection has broken down, this can be an extremely difficult thing to do. I recognize this isn’t like watching a movie you aren’t really interested. This is your body, and you are sharing it with someone else.

Because of this, mindset is extremely important. If you view this as an obligation you will get resentful and that will make things worse. But if you accept it is an important part of a relationship, then you will see this as an investment in the long term health and happiness of your relationship.

Heading to the Gym

A great analogy for this is going to the gym with a partner. Physical health is a positive thing (there are really no drawbacks to trying to improve your level of physical fitness). The benefits range from physical health to self-esteem to mental health. But committing to physical fitness takes a commitment of time and effort – it doesn’t just happen.

If you haven’t done anything in a long time though, making a commitment to physical fitness is difficult, and at the beginning it seems like work. You know there are benefits, but the way to achieve those benefits isn’t easy.

In order for the workouts to be effective though, you need to come up with a regular schedule and stick to it. Working out one day, and then not doing anything again for a month or even a few weeks doesn’t really help much. And in fact, if you don’t make it regular you may find it’s easy to make excuses skip a workout. Unfortunately when you miss one workout, it becomes a lot easier to miss another.

If you stick to your routine an interesting thing happens though. After a while you will find you start to enjoy it. And not just that, but if you have to skip a workout you’ll find that you miss it and want to make it up. Instead of “work”, it has become a regular part of your life.

Taking this analogy one step further, even for the people who are regulars at the gym there are days that you just don’t want to go. Maybe you didn’t sleep well last night, or maybe you have a cold. Having a partner who is expecting you to be there can sometimes act as the motivation to get out and do your workout anyhow. Sometimes you will go and you really won’t be into it, but other times even when you force yourself to go you will find that your body responds to being there and you have a great workout anyhow.

motivation

Built to Last

Relationships run into problems, and sexual issues are probably the most difficult ones for a relationship to deal with. But in a long term relationship it is important for the couple to maintain sexuality and being lovers.

It’s important to be open with your partner about what is going on, and recognize this as a problem for the relationship, and not just for the individual. If your partner truly cares about the long term health of the relationship, they will show patience and understanding. But it’s also important to remember that your partner has needs in the relationship too, and letting sexual issues go unresolved will threaten the health of the relationship.

When emotional connection has broken down, it’s the responsibility of both parties to do their part in actively rebuilding it. And part of that rebuilding involves making sexuality and sex a regular part of the relationship.

Scheduling and prioritizing sex may not seem spontaneous or romantic, but it doesn’t have to mean that it’s not intimate. It allows you an opportunity to focus on being intimate together. And you may find that once you prioritize it, you remember what you have been missing.

couple-hands

Life Without Sex – Part 1

Life without sex

When I look at the stats page for the site, the most commonly viewed posts are the ones on Happiness and Sex. This makes a lot of sense as there is a correlation between the two. In long term relationships a couples sex life is generally a barometer of the relationships overall health.

Sex is a form of intimacy and is a manifestation of closeness and connection in a relationship. If your relationship is in a good place, then you have the sense of closeness and connection that leads to sex. And if you have that closeness you are generally pretty happy. So although it may not be entirely causal, more sex equals increased relationship satisfaction (note, that was causal – as in “being the cause of”, and not casual. If you’re interested in learning about casual sex you came to the wrong place).

There are all sorts of taboos about sex, but as a component of a healthy relationship sex is a great thing. Sex in a relationship provides a number of advantages physically and emotionally, for both the individual and the couple. So why is it such a difficult topic for couples, and why can it become a source of so much conflict?

In my previous series of posts on sex I talked about how sex can be a source of conflict due to differing sex drives; and that this is both natural and unavoidable. I talked about ways to deal with these differences, and how open communication in the relationship is the best approach to finding a happy middle ground, ensuring these differences allow sex to continue to enhance a relationship instead of damaging it.

I don’t want to rehash a topic that I’ve addressed already, but I recently came across a concept that made me want to look at this once again. That topic is a “Sexless Marriage”.

Sexless Marriage

A Sexless Marriage is defined as a marriage (or any long term relationship) where the couple has sex 10 or less times per year. According to stats, 15-20% of couples find themselves in this state.

Differences in sex drive are normal, requiring compassion and understanding on the part of both members of the couple. A sexless marriage is an extreme though, and is generally a sign of more than just differing sex drives.

Because relationships have ups and downs which can impact feelings of closeness, it’s not uncommon for “sexual droughts” to happen occasionally in long term relationships. In fact it is fairly common occurrence in the first few years after children are born. When it lasts for extended periods of time however, it can become a serious issue and threaten the relationship.

Humans are sexual creatures, and there are many advantages to sex in a relationship. In a healthy relationship sex is a physical manifestation of the love the couple shares. It is a way of showing closeness and desire, and is a form of communication and sharing. It is a special activity that the couple shares with each other and no one else, and it is not just a physical act, but also an emotional and symbolic act.

The absence of sex (or sex being reduced to duty sex) is symbolic in a different way. When this happens it comes to symbolize a lack of desire, closeness, and a sense that the other persons needs don’t matter. But perhaps most significantly, it comes to symbolize a lack of love.

This is a pretty sensitive topic, so I will try to tread lightly here. To be clear, when I talk about sex here, I’m talking about sex as an extension of intimacy (with the idea that the absence of sex also means there is an absence of intimacy). When this happens it’s safe to say that a sexless relationship is bad news, and not good for anyone.

The frequency with which a couple has sex really isn’t that important (as long as it’s not an issue for the couple), and most couples find a balance that works for them. But sex still needs to be a regular part of the relationship. According to the definition of a sexless relationship, you need it at least once a month for “regular maintenance”. Less than that and I find it hard to believe it’s not an issue for the couple.

Once it becomes an issue the taboo nature of sex likely makes it a difficult one to resolve. It does need to be addressed though, as the cost of not addressing the issue is extremely high. Sexual issues are one of the leading causes of relationships breaking down, often leading to affairs or divorce. It’s something you kinda need your partner for. So if there is no sexual satisfaction within the relationship and no signs that will ever change, eventually people will start looking outside of it.

Breakdown of Intimacy

I’ve touched on some of the causes for the breakdown of sex before, but here’s a quick overview:

Life often gets in the way, and people find themselves too tired or too busy. People naturally have differing drives, where one person wants it and the other isn’t interested. If the gap is large, for the lower drive person this causes pressure. For the higher drive person being “shut down” hurts, and after a while they stop asking. Next thing you know a long time has passed.

Desire is related to hormones, and things like childbirth can make changes to a woman’s hormone levels to change in a way that desire fades (body image issues after kids play a role in this). This is apparently a common issue, and there are a number of books written for women that deal with this (one of the top ones is supposedly Great Sex for Moms, by Valerie Raskin).

This isn’t just an issue for women though (well, the childbirth part is). Dampened levels of desire can also affect men, with some of the main causes of lowered sex drives being depression, anxiety or even high levels of stress.

Another problem for intimacy is simply differences between men and women. For years I leaned towards the “nurture” side of the nature/nurture debate. I thought men and women were largely the same and it was socialization that made us different. But there are differences, and these are very evident when it comes to sex. It’s been said that:

Men need sex for intimacy, women need intimacy for sex.

That’s not entirely accurate. Some men seem to treat sex and intimacy interchangeably, but most understand that sex is only a form of intimacy. But there is an element of truth there as men definitely seem to place a greater emphasis on the importance of sex for intimacy then women do.

So what does this mean for the relationship?

Work on the Relationship

One thing to remember is that most sexual issues are issues with the relationships itself, and not issues about sex. You know the saying build it that they will come? Ideally the same can be said here.

I recently wrote a series of posts on rebuilding passion in a relationship. Your main goal should be strengthening your relationship, and as the relationship strengthens it should also rekindle the spark needed for sex. Sex is important, but a healthy relationship should be your goal (with sex as a nice bonus).

But what happens if you are working on the relationship and the intimacy needed for sex doesn’t return?

Tips for the Higher Drive Person

For the higher drive person ensure you understand what makes your partner feel valued and loved, and show them that. If you are doing your best to ensure the health of the relationship and your partner is still not showing any desire or interest in sex? At that point there’s not a lot you can do. You can’t “make” someone want you, and the low drive person pretty much holds all the keys.

Taking care of your own sexual needs may provide physical release, but sex is supposed to strengthen the sense of closeness and the bonds between a couple. So self-pleasuring isn’t going to do much for you here. I guess it could, but if you find you are sending yourself flowers at work or sending yourself suggestive texts then you are probably hitting bottom.

kissing-mirror

In all seriousness, being forced to take care of your own needs for an extended period of time will only damage your relationship. It will break down the bonds between you and your partner, and resentment will build along with a sense that your needs don’t matter in the relationship.

Due to this you need to get it out in the open and try to find a solution (waiting things out won’t work, and will only result in a lot of waiting). Be careful in how you approach this though. Your partner need to be able to understand that you do love them, and that you miss sex with them, and the closeness and benefits it provides.

Remember that your goal is a lifetime of love and happiness with your partner. Sex needs to be part of that and your needs have to matter in the relationship. But the relationship is the main goal.

At the same time, don’t lose sight of the fact that you and your needs matter too. You need to be happy in the relationship, and that can be difficult without physical intimacy. If your partner values you and the relationship, you will see effort on their part. If you don’t see effort you have a difficult decision to make. Can you stay in a relationship without intimacy? Some do, though I can’t see how that is good for anyone. But hopefully there are signs that your partner does want this to change.

So what about the lower drive person? That’s coming in Part 2…

Finding Passion – Part 2

passion

In the first part(s) of this series I talked about how relationships go through stages, and over time passion can be lost as the emotional connection between a couple breaks down. Some people respond to this loss of passion by looking for it outside the relationship, either through an affair or divorce (with the hopes of finding it in a subsequent relationship). Other people stay in the relationship but accept the loss of passion as an inevitable outcome for long term relationships.

I don’t believe this has to happen. The intense hormone driven passion during the infatuation stage of a relationship is gone, but a healthier long term passion can still be nurtured. The love in a marriage (or any long term relationship) should still be a beautiful, wonderful thing. Maybe I’m just naive, but I believe your feelings for your partner should still be able to take your breath away whether you’ve been together 2 years or 60.

In this final part I want to discuss how emotional connection can be rebuilt and passion can be found. Most of the ideas here have come from a variety of sources; books, articles, counselors and even talking with other couples. I believe strongly in long term relationships and marriage, and I believe no matter how hopeless things may seem it is never too late.

Laying Blame

When passion breaks down it can often feel like the death of a loved one, and in some ways it is. Your partner may still be there, but there is a sense of loss for the relationship that previously existed. When this happens it is common to look for something to blame. What happened? How did it break down? Was there something wrong with your partner? Was it because they simply didn’t show you enough love? Was there something fundamentally wrong with the relationship? Was there something wrong with you?

First it’s important to acknowledge that yes, in some ways the relationship IS at fault. But a question to ask yourself is, is the problem something inherent about the relationship? Or is it perhaps the way one or both parties have approached the relationship? If it is a flaw with the way the relationship has been approached then it can be improved. After all, you loved each other once. So why can’t you go back there?

But you won’t actually go “back there”. The patterns of the past are what got you to your current state. So your future must be different. Different isn’t bad though, and it can in fact be better.

You may believe the current state of the relationship is largely due to your partner, which may be true. In some ways however, that doesn’t matter. You do need to understand how you got to your current state in order to avoid making the same mistakes again. Beyond that though, you have to be able to let go of the past and move on. If you want to rebuild, blame simply puts up barriers.

In addition to not blaming your partner, it is important to acknowledge that there are two people in a relationship and you played a role in any issues.

When you are in denial about your part in the relationship then you are no better than a child flinging sand at another child in a sandbox. When you take responsibility for your part in the marriage, only then will you be able to connect with your partner in a mature, intimate way. – Carin Goldstein, LMFT

Believing in Change

For things to change, you need to believe things CAN change. There are two primary mind sets people can have in life, fixed and growth mind sets. I will write more on them in the future, but in order to truly believe in change you have to embrace a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset people often don’t believe change is possible. Problems are seen as a sign of a fundamental flaw, and there is a belief relationships should not require effort (because if it requires effort then it’s not true love). Hate to say it, but if your relationship is in a tough spot and you have a fixed mindset you WILL fail unless you can change that mindset first.

Even without a negative mindset, when you are in a bad spot the situation can poison any effort and make it hard to believe things can improve. In the sports world Phil Jackson recently made the following comment about this negative mindset:

Losing breeds more losing. It’s hard to work out of a funk when the team doesn’t have any sort of confidence. The self-perpetuating cycle just keeps on churning, pushing a squad into a deeper and deeper hole.

The comment was about a basketball team, but it applies to any interpersonal dynamic. Things won’t turn around on their own, and the longer you wait before taking action the deeper the issues get until eventually they seem hopeless. The truth is, everything can improve with effort.

Putting in Effort

Have you seen the movie the Matrix (part one of course, as I will deny the other parts exist)? In it, Keanu Reeves is able to learn anything by simply getting the information he needs uploaded into his head. He needs to learn to fight? No problem. Just upload a Kung Fu program into your brain and voila, instant black belt!!!

Neo

Guess what, life’s not like that. Even if you truly believe change is possible it doesn’t just happen on its own. You need to be willing to put in the effort.

Imagine you want to get into better shape. How do you do it? Do you sit at home thinking “I wish I was in better shape” while popping another Dorito in your mouth? I’ve tried, it doesn’t help. What about if you want to learn a new language? Does it suddenly come to you one day? If you have a post-secondary education, did a degree show up in the mail one day causing the knowledge to just appear in your head? No. All of these things require time, effort and dedication; and rebuilding your relationship is no different.

There are no magic wands, and no shortcuts. If you truly want to make changes in your relationship (or any aspect of life), you need to put in effort in order to facilitate those changes. This isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. Think of it like riding a bike. If you haven’t ridden a bike in a long time, the first few attempts will be shaky and may feel a little unnatural. You may even fall down a few times and wonder if you’ll ever be able to do it again. But if you keep at it, it will come back and eventually it will feel natural again.

Effort is key here, and mindset is everything. There will be setbacks, but you can’t give up in frustration every time things aren’t going well. You need to commit yourself to re-igniting your relationship. It will take time, and require SUSTAINED effort.

Alright, you need to put in effort and you need to believe. But what do you actually have to do?

Take Care of You

One important, and often overlooked thing is taking care of yourself. It’s kind of like the reminders you get before a plane takes off – “In case of a drop in cabin pressure, put your own air mask on first”. This is the same. Basically, you can’t help your relationship if you can’t help yourself. Of course it’s also important not to take this too far, and you can’t ignore your relationship while focusing only on you. But in order to get your relationship to a healthy place you also need to be in a healthy place (or working towards one).

HealYourself

Find Each Other Again

The biggest thing with lost passion is that the couple has “lost each other”. Part of this may be due to different roles. All couples start as friends and lovers, but over time life starts to get in the way. We have jobs, mortgages, bills, and families; and time is quickly filled up with routine. If you don’t devote time to each other it is very easy for the emotional connection to break down, and the relationship to devolve into simply being roommates. When this happens you need to rediscover each other and find each other again.

How do you do this? First, you need to start prioritizing time for each other again. Life is full of routines and things that have to be done, so if you don’t “make time” for each other you will never have it. There will ALWAYS be other things that get in the way. If your relationship is important, then make it a priority in your life. If you haven’t made each other a priority then that’s probably a big part of how you got into this spot.

One of the best resources I have found for rebuilding is John Gottmans book “The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work”. One of the ideas Gottman has is that when connection has broken down, a couple can actively work on rebuilding their “love maps”. The book contains a number of questionnaires and exercises for couples to do, ideally together. The basic premise behind them is about learning who your partner is again. Engaging them, exploring your hopes and dreams together, and re-learning each other.

Gottmans books has 7 principles for rebuilding an nurturing your relationship:

  1. Enhance Your “Love Maps”. This is about re-learning each other and ensuring you continue to stay in tune with your partner’s life
  2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration. This is about thinking about the positive sides of both your partner and your relationship, and taking time to appreciate them
  3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away. This is about actively expressing appreciation for each other (side note, I thought I came up with the marital bank account idea used in prior posts on my own, but apparently I read it here first)
  4. Let Your Partner Influence You. Learn from each other, and be willing to make changes for each other
  5. Solve Your Solvable Problems. Learn how to deal with issues in a non-judgmental way, and learn to compromise
  6. Overcome Gridlock. Some problems will never be solved, and will be perpetual issues in your marriage. This is about learning to accept and live with that problem in a way that you both can talk about it and accept that it’s there, and is simply an acceptable difference between you
  7. Create Shared Meaning. To me this is about emotional intimacy. Finding the deep inner meanings that you can agree on that bond you together, and trying to learn and understand your partner at a deeper level

It had been a few years since I had read this book, but reviewing it for this post reminded me of just how much relationship gold it contains. It should really be a must read for anyone in a relationship, but it is especially good for “distressed” relationships (side note – why is it that you need a license to drive a car, but you don’t need to demonstrate any ability to work as a team prior to getting married?).

Focus on the Positive

Looking at your problems it’s easy to get caught up in who has done what, or what is wrong. So one of the biggest suggestions you will find for repairing and rebuilding a relationship is to remember the good, and focus on it. When you can see how much good you have, it can put into context the things that need improving.

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough – Paul Pierce

Make lists of all the positive things you can think of about your relationship and your life together. Things like your happiest moments and characteristics that you love about your partner. Then invite your partner to do the same, and share the lists. Sometimes when the relationship is tense it can feel like nothing is going right, so it is important to reminder yourself about what you love about your partner. But sharing this allows you to remind them of the things that you love (and vice versa). This should increase feelings of warmth between you and help rebuild the bond.

Bring Back the Fun

Fun. It’s so important, and so easily lost when things are in a bad place (think of the losers mentality from above). Think of the last time you and your partner had fun together. Has it been recent, has it been a long time?

In part 1 I talked about Robert De Niro’s character from Analyze This. He had lost sight of his wife, and only saw her as the mother of his children instead of his friend and lover. It can be hard to do in the early years of being a parent, but it’s important to always make time to be a couple and not just family.

Go on regular dates, and try to bring back a sense of fun and romance (both partners are equally responsible for this). Find an activity you can both do together on a regular basis and do it. If all you are doing is stuff as a family, then you are simply reinforcing the idea of partner as family. You NEED to be a couple, and be able to have fun as a couple again. To do that you need to spend time alone, away from the kids. And importantly, you need to get out of the house!!!

I mentioned a couple I knew who tried this, and they found they didn’t know how to talk to each other anymore. In addition to taking time as a couple, find other “friend couples” that you can go out with. This allows you to interact as a couple while still being in a social setting, and it takes some of the pressure off of having to “fill the silence” with each other. This can be things like going to dinner or events, playing cards/board games/whatever. Couple dates and joint friends allows socializing in a fun/friendly atmosphere, and helps reinforce the sense of team. This is invaluable for helping to build and maintain bonds.

In addition to rebuilding a feeling of closeness, you have to become lovers and place a priority on maintaining physical intimacy. This can be one of the hardest parts of rebuilding, but being lovers is a natural extension of emotional connection. As emotional connection is rebuilt this *should* come back naturally. That said, it’s a sensitive and complicated topic (which I believe it warrants it’s own post), so I’ll leave this one alone for another day.

Final Word on Passion

It’s human nature to want a fulfilling relationship, we all want it. If you are in a long term relationship, you came together for a reason. When the connection has broken down remember why you came together. Rediscover each other, your passion for each other, and work to maintain it. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that relationships must be maintained, and it is the responsibility of both parties to keep the spark alive. It requires commitment, and it requires effort.

There are many ways to show your commitment to improving your relationship, and what works for one couple may not work for another. Take a look and pick what you think may work for you. Try it, if it helps great. If not try something different. But the key is you need to take action, try different things, and put in effort.

I like to think of a relationship as a plant. With water and sunlight the smallest seed can grow into a strong beautiful tree. In a relationship, the water and sunlight is the tenderness, affection and effort that we put into each other. Once plants have had time to establish their roots, they can weather all sorts of storms. Times of drought can take a toll, and without care eventually the strongest plants will die. They are remarkably hardy though, and even when they appear dead the roots may still be alive. As long as the roots are alive it’s never too late, and if given the attention it needs the plant will return. The new plant may look a bit different, but it can still be just as beautiful.

sapling photo

Long term relationships require effort, but I believe they are worth it. A close friend once compared rebuilding passion and emotional connection to trying to get an iceberg moving. At first it seems like an impossible task, and the effort to get it moving is considerable. Slowly though it will start to move, and as it moves it will gain momentum. But that momentum requires effort and commitment on both parts. Commit to your partner, and together you can achieve anything.

I’m interested in what YOU think, and if you have any ideas or suggestions for maintaining the passion and emotional connection that keeps us together.

Finding Passion – Part 1 1/2

passion7

In part 1 I discussed the loss of passion in relationships, and how I believe it is the leading contributor to affairs, divorce, and unhappy relationships (or at least relationships that are less happy than they could be). Loss of passion is somewhat inevitable in long term relationships, but that doesn’t have to be the case, and there are ways to try and rebuild it when it’s diminished or gone.

I was planning on talking about “ways to rebuild” in part 2, but as I started writing I realized there was something important to cover first about loss of passion. So I’m going to cheat a bit here. Instead of part 2, I now present you with Part 1 1/2!!!

Team Building

Relationships are like small groups, or teams, and in the mid 60’s a guy by the name of Bruce Tuckman came up with a theory on the stages of group development. Tuckman believed there were four stages that all groups or teams can go through; forming, storming, norming and performing. Here’s a brief explanation of each stage:

  • Forming. This is when a team comes together. This stage is characterized by excitement, optimism and anticipation of what the future will bring.
  • Storming. At this stage reality sets in and it doesn’t quite match what was expected. Members may become dissatisfied and/or frustrated. There is some anxiety as they are adjusting to the fact that the team isn’t working out quite the way that they thought it would. At this point there is a resistance, conflict and emotions tend to run high. Members may start looking out for themselves instead of doing what is best for the team.
  • Norming. At this stage the team has worked out most of the issues. They understand the idea of shared goals, and have learned to cope and accept each other. There is a sense of relief and lowered anxiety, as the members are engaged and supportive of each other.
  • Performing. At this stage the team is performing at a very high level. They truly understand each other, and have a strong sense of teamwork and cohesiveness.

tuckman-model

If all teams go through these stages, isn’t a relationship really just a special type of team? Let’s take a closer look at these stages in the context of a relationship.

The Forming Stage

All of us have our own idealized views of what our perfect relationship looks like. Looking at traditional gender roles (which by the way I don’t buy into), young girls may have this idea that they will meet their “handsome prince”, who will sweep them off their feet and lead them off to a life of romance. That’s how the fairy tale romances are depicted by Disney anyhow. The traditional gender roles for guys are a wife who takes care of both them and all the domestic stuff.

Whether or not you buy into the “traditional roles” we all have some sort of idealized view of things. One problem about with an idealized view is that it is almost always a selfish view. It is about “what this relationship will do for me”.

In the early years of a relationship, there is the excitement of the new, and the promise of what the future could look like. In the early stage of a relationship things seem perfect, and it’s easy to overlook the “flaws” in your partner.

It seems clear that this love is real, and will last forever. And if nothing else we all expect that no matter what happens in our life with our chosen partner, we will always be happy together. Eventually reality sets in, and we find that reality doesn’t quite match what we expected.

The Storming Stage

This is where the fun begins. In this stage we realize that our chosen partner is actually a regular person. They may still be wonderful, and a great match for us. But they have flaws just like anyone else. And not just that, but our idealized vision of a life together isn’t quite correct. Most of our time is still taken up with jobs, and the need to pay bills. We may still have dreams that we want to accomplish together, but most of our life is actually pretty mundane.

I believe much of our enjoyment and appreciation of life is based on expectation. A while back I wrote a post on expectations in relationships. I think it’s probably one of my most important posts, but sadly is one of the least viewed. Here’s a simple analogy for expectations:

A few years ago Marvel Studios was just getting it’s start, and they put out Iron Man and an Incredible Hulk movie (with Edward Norton) in the same summer. I was in full “daddy mode” at the time so I didn’t get out to the theater much, but I heard all the hype – both from buddies and from reviews. From everything I was hearing, Iron Man was a fantastic film while the Hulk, ehhh, it was alright.

That fall I finally got a chance to see them, and I enjoyed Iron Man but I really didn’t think it was amazing. I also found that I enjoyed the Hulk much more than I expected to. You see, my expectation for Iron Man was high while for the Hulk it was low. As a result my enjoyment of the films was colored by my expectation.

We do this in all aspects of life. Our happiness or enjoyment of something in some ways is related not to what something actually is, but to how it met expectations.

ALL relationships go through this storming stage. And this storming stage is really a collision between our expectations of what we believed our partner and relationship should look like, and the reality of the situation.

Our level of disappointment at this stage is really about how big the gap is between reality and expectations. If the gap is small, then it’s not a big deal. If the gap is large though, trouble ensues. Because this gap is based on your own expectations, it will be different for each person. As a result one person may be quite happy in the relationship, while the other person isn’t.

As one or both partners become dissatisfied and frustrated they may start turning away from the relationship, and start looking out for themselves. This period of dissatisfaction can lead to conflict and high emotions, and put enormous strain on the relationship.

When a large gap exists, the question becomes why? What exactly is wrong? Is it an issue of unrealistic expectations? Or is the relationship somehow lacking? In all likelihood it is a mix of the two. The situation may actually be pretty good, but it doesn’t match up to expectations and so it is seen as unbearable.

Because our expectations are partially formed by experience you can also see the opposite happen. If someone has been treated very poorly in the past, then may find a new relationship where someone treats them marginally better (but still poorly), and this may be seen as acceptable. It’s very hard to judge things for “what they are”, as our expectations always determine our level of contentment.

All relationships go through this storming stage, and it can be a very difficult time, sometimes lasting years. In some cases people are able to close the gap between expectation and reality. People may realize their expectations were unrealistic and find a way to re-frame them, or they may find ways to improve the reality by working on improving the relationship.

In other cases the gap between expectation and reality is too large, and the relationship fails. Not all relationships make it through this stage. And honestly, not all should.

The Norming Stage

I believe the norming stage of relationships is where true love blossoms. It may not be the stuff of fairy tales, but it is a deep, mature love.

At this point in a relationship both partners have “weathered the storm”. The couple that comes out on the other side is different, but stronger. They have learned strategies for coping with their differences (which may or may not be healthy strategies), and they have come to accept each other for who they truly are, and not just who they wish they were.

Most people will agree with the idea that perfection doesn’t exist. But saying they agree, and accepting it in your own relationship are two different things. A while ago I came across a great quote that sums up the norming stage well. I didn’t write it down, but I believe it went:


Choosing a partner is about choosing a set of problems you can live with.

It sounds terrible, but it’s true. Perfection doesn’t exists, and all people have traits that are hard to get along with sometimes. But we need to find a match that works for us.

Continuing with the super hero movie analogies, there’s a great scene in X-men: Days of Future Past. Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Magneto were close friends when they were younger, but became enemies for a number of years. Now older and wiser, reflecting on the past Magneto says:

All those years wasted fighting each other, Charles… but at least we got a few of them back.

In some ways the storming stage IS wasted time. It is a power struggle and a time where the “me” gets in the way of the “we”. But it’s an important (and necessary) stage for all couples to go through. Of course some couples take longer than others, and the severity of issues may be worse in some cases then others.

The norming stage is when people realize it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation – they can be both “me” and be part of a “we”, and they are able to strengthen their bond moving forward.

Some couples slip through these stages a few more times, but for many once they have figured it out, they are able to maintain their relationships and truly commit “till death do us part”.

I’ve heard people describe this process in their own relationships, saying they came to a point where they weren’t sure if the relationship was what they really wanted. But after some time and soul searching (and usually frank conversation with their partner), they were able to recommit and make their relationship stronger than it had ever been.

The Loss of Passion

Bringing these stages back to my original topic, the loss of passion, it is in the storming stage that passion breaks down. It’s pretty hard to maintain passion for someone who at least on a subconscious level comes across as a disappointment. And it’s also hard to maintain passion when the relationship feels like a struggle.

The hard part becomes rebuilding that passion once they have been able to weather the storm and recommit to each other. The difficult in rebuilding passion is based on two factors:

First is the length of time that the storming stage has gone on, and the severity of the issues encountered and damage done during this time.

The second factor is the attitude people bring into the norming stage. Some people stay together because it’s what they know, they feel it’s best for the kids, or because they are scared to be alone. When this happens it’s almost impossible to rebuild any passion, and I think it’s better for both parties to just let the relationship end.

Others stay together because they realize that they truly do love each other, warts and all. And they want to continue to build their life with their partner. If that is the reason for staying together, then passion doesn’t have to be rebuilt. It’s already there, and it just needs to be nurtured.

The Performing Stage

You may have been wondering, hey, what about the performing stage? I left this for last on purpose. This is where the team is working at a very high level, and has a strong sense of team and cohesiveness. One interesting thing about Tuckman’s theory is he believes most successful teams plateau at the norming stage, and very few ever go on to achieve the performing stage.

I think the same can be said of marriages and long term relationships. Many go through the hard years, and come to some sort of peaceful coexistence. But how many are TRULY happy? How many achieve something closer to their initial idealized view (tempered by reality)? Or how many simply accept that what they have is “good enough”.

I’m a big believer in continuous improvement, and I believe that regardless of the state of your relationship currently, it can always be better. You can always find ways to communicate better, and come to understand each other better. Passion should never die. You should be able to feel just as passionate about your partner at 80 as you did at 20.

To me this is the goal. This is the sort of love we all aspire to. It may not be the stuff of fairy tales, but it’s the real life version of fairy tales.

So how do we get there? Next up, my ideas on this. I promise this time

Finding Passion – Part 1

passion

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:

AnalyzeThis

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.