Is Monogamy Natural?

One of the big arguments/excuses/rationalizations commonly given for affairs is that monogamy is not natural.

It’s an argument that’s been around for years, and I recently saw it in the headlines when Scarlett Johansson was discussing her own failed marriage.

I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person. I might be skewered for that, but I think it’s work. It’s a lot of work. And the fact that it is such work for so many people—for everyone — the fact of that proves that it is not a natural thing. It’s something I have a lot of respect for and have participated in, but I think it definitely goes against some instinct to look beyond.

Scarlett Johansson

 

I actually agree with what she’s saying here.

Yes marriages are work.  I’m not sure if being monogamous is “work”, but a marriage isn’t always easy or fun.  When you’re married you have to balance what is good for the marriage with what is good for you; and sometimes there are differences between these two things.

This is one of the big things challenges all relationships face.

Additionally, people are sexual beings.  Talking about sex and sexuality is somewhat taboo and often makes people uncomfortable; but it doesn’t change the fact that we are sexual beings.

Sexual desires are normal, and healthy even.

 

Monogamy is about committing to one person physically and emotionally, and committing to that person ONLY.

Committing to one person doesn’t mean you stop finding other people attractive though.  And yes, you may even have sexual thoughts or desires about another person.

So there is definitely some basis to the argument that monogamy is “unnatural”.

 

To that I say, so what?

 

Basic Instincts

Sexual desire is a basic human instinct.  It’s natural, and I can accept that it may be natural to (occasionally) have sexual thoughts about someone other than your partner.

But you know what else is natural?

  • Wanting stuff you don’t have
  • Getting defensive when people criticize you
  • Believing “your way” is the best way
  • Fearing what we don’t understand

 

There are lots of things that are “natural”.  But it’s a HUGE mistake to think “natural” is the same as good or desirable.  They aren’t the same thing.

When someone pisses me off, it may be natural to want to yell, scream, or punch them.  That doesn’t mean I should.

So sure, due to sexual instincts monogamy may not be natural.

Here are some other “unnatural” things:

  • Getting a job.
  • Being honest (instead of telling people what we think will make us look good or we think people will want to hear).
  • Accepting that our way isn’t always best, and different approaches can be just as good (or even better) than our own.
  • Working to find solutions to problems that work for both people instead of  focusing on what is best for ourselves.
  • Not just doing something or taking something (stealing) simply because we “want to”.
  • Trying to see things from the perspective of another person.

 

None of these things are “natural”, and none of these things are “easy” all the time.  In fact, some of them are REALLY HARD.  But they are still positive and healthy.

Unnatural things can be positive, and Just because something may seem “natural” doesn’t mean we need to act on it.

In fact, I would argue that MANY of our “natural” instincts are actually driven by greed and selfishness; which aren’t exactly positive characteristics.

Yes, we have basic/natural instincts and those instincts drive our behavior at times.  But our instincts don’t control us, and they don’t define us.  We don’t have to act on these instincts.

In fact, I believe our ability to demonstrate self-control and NOT act on our basic instincts all the time is one of the key characteristics that allow us to function in a social world.

 

Casual Sex vs. Intimate Sex

Thinking back to the idea of monogamy, I ask you – what is sex?  What does it mean to you?

Is sex just a physical act driven by a hormonal response?  Or is it something more?

I’m not sure if there is a “right” answer here, but I think “how” someone answers that question will have a direct relation to their views on monogamy.

 

Sex is a physical act, and feels good.  It makes nerve endings in certain places go crazy (in a good way).  It also causes the release of dopamine and other “feel good” hormones.

But is that all it is?

I don’t think so.  When it comes to sex (and attraction), I think there are a few other things going on.

 

Even if you are in a monogamous relationship, when our partner compliments us, tells us we “look good”, that they find us attractive or that they desire is, it feels good.

Whether it’s your partner saying it or someone else, it feels good to know others find you attractive (anyone who says otherwise is lying).

 

Someone noticing you, wanting you, and desiring you makes you feel good about yourself.  Well, unless they do it in a creepy leering way – then it probably just makes you feel self-conscious and perhaps a bit concerned for your safety.

Other than that?

Being desired makes you feel better about you (at least for a little while).

This is because sex and attraction are tied to ego; to our feelings about ourself, and our own self worth.

 

Sometimes (especially in long term relationships), our partners do a pretty shitty job of “wooing” us, and reminding us that they find us attractive and desire us.  Or maybe they still do and they still try, but because we already “have them”, it doesn’t impact us much anymore.  After all, wanting something we “don’t” have is another of our natural instincts (this is why I think understanding hedonic adaptation is key to happiness in life).

This is just a reality of long term relationships.  So we ALL need to remember that letting our partners know that we still desire them is important.  And listening and being willing to believe our partners when they tell us they still find us attractive and desire us is important too.

 

But is sex just about desire and feeling good about ourselves?  Are our egos so fragile that we actually “need” others to wants us?

Sadly, I think the answer is often yes.  And if so, what does that say about us?

 

Let’s say I go for a walk, and while out on the street I run into Scarlett Johansson.  And let’s assume she sees me, we get talking, and yeah, she finds me attractive and desirable (because she would of course).  She’s already established with her quote at the start of this post that she doesn’t think monogamy is natural, so let’s say she and I decide to have sex (hey, this is my story so I can have it play out however I want!).

I’m sure the sex would be enjoyable.  But beyond having a chance to be naked with Scarlett Johansson what have I really accomplished here?

Will I actually feel better about myself?  If so, why?

Is my life any better because I’ve now had sex with her?  I guess I could put it on my resume or something; but in reality, it wouldn’t change my life much.  And actually, even if it’s on my resume it likely wouldn’t help me land many jobs.

 

If sex is purely a physical act that feels good, then we can do it with anyone we find attractive.  When that happens, it’s all about ego.  It’s all about external validation.  Sex becomes a form of power, where having sexual power over someone or being wanted sexually is required in order to feel good about oneself.

 

So yes, sexual desire is natural.  And there are lots of people out there who I would find sexually attractive and/or appealing for some reason.  But does that mean I should want/need to have sex with them?

If so, why?

To feel good about myself?  To validate my ego?

 

Sex as a physical act may feel good, but I think sex can (and should) be more than that.

A few years ago I wrote the following:

Sex is a form of communication. It’s a physical manifestation of the love, caring and compassion that you share for one another. If there are any underlying issues in your relationship, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s a bit of a breakdown in caring and compassion. When this happens the openness required for meaningful sex is likely missing (or at least somewhat hampered). You may or may not still be having sex, but without the emotional connection sex becomes purely the physical act.

Sex is different from intimacy.

Intimacy is about connection. It’s emotional, physical, and even spiritual. Sex is a form of intimacy, but it’s not intimacy. Intimacy is the little things – the touches, the smiles, and the shared looks. Intimacy is feeling loved, feeling valued, and giving that in return. Intimacy is opening up to each other, sharing hopes and dreams, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person. Intimacy is about openness.

Sex in the context of intimacy is the deepest form of sharing a couple can have. You are literally giving yourself to your partner, and symbolically the two of you have joined as one. It needs to be as much about what you give as it is about what you receive.

 

I think intimate sex can only exist in a committed/monogamous relationship.  Casual sex may feel good, and may be passionate at a physical level.  And for some, they confuse this with “intimacy”.

Intimate sex is deeper though; and can only happen when you let down your walls and truly let the other person in.

 

MoreThanSex

 

There are many things that aren’t “natural” for people, but these things can still be admirable characteristics and qualities to have.  We just need to work on them, and accept that we always have choice.  We aren’t slaves to our natural instincts.

Monogamy may not be natural, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing.

Part of what makes us human, and makes us more than just animals is our ability to learn empathy; and to actually care about something larger than just us.

 

I’m not saying casual sex is necessarily a bad thing.  If that’s all you are looking for in a relationship for whatever reason (time, energy, fear of intimacy, enjoyment of being able to live life attachment free), that fine.  In that case it’s important you are upfront with the person you are with, and you find someone who has a similar approach to life.  As long as that approach works for both people, great.

But when someone wants “the life” – the safety and security that comes with a committed relationship, yet also wants to do what they want sexually; don’t use the excuse that monogamy isn’t natural.

It may not be, but a lot of what makes us human isn’t natural.

It’s a choice.

feeling of love

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What Affects One Person Affects Both

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I recently read an article on differing sex drives in a relationship, and while the article wasn’t anything new I thought the comment section was fascinating.  In the comments there were women talking about the changes their bodies go through after childbirth and the toll that being a mother takes on their sex drive and desire for any physical intimacy in their relationship – often extending to cuddling, hugging and basic touch.

There were a number of women commenting (at least I assume they were women, you never know online) and a few guys chiming in as well.  What struck me was a particular back and forth.

One lady mentioned that her husband wanted sex as part of the relationship, and that she just had no interest any more.

Another lady replied she had been through the same feelings, and she recommended the first lady “just do it”, as from her experience it was something her husband needed and cutting it out completely would put additional stress on the relationship.

The first lady was pretty incensed by this, saying that feeling like she needed to do something she didn’t want to felt like “emotional rape”, and that it wasn’t something her husband “needed”.

I have written in the past about the benefits of sex in a relationship. I have also written about the importance of sex to a relationship (from a guys perspective), and how sex isn’t really about sex. So yes, I’m definitely in the camp that feels sex is an important (and even necessary) component of a relationship – for both the physical and emotional benefits that it brings to the individual and the couple.

That said, I completely understand the first lady’s perspective. She’s right to say that she shouldn’t feel she has to do something that she doesn’t want to. Yeah, sometimes there are things in life you “have to do”, but doing so can breed resentment. Sex is supposed to be a form of connection and communication for a couple, and having it feel like a “duty” can destroy the connection that it is supposed to bring.

But although I believe I can understand her perspective, I think she’s overlooking one very important point.

Sex is not an individual act.

Making Choices

A marriage (or any relationship) is a partnership, and one member should never unilaterally make choices that affect both members of the relationship.

Imagine you are in a relationship and a great job opportunity comes up in another city or country. In a healthy relationship, you don’t just take the job. Instead you probably discuss it with your partner, and try to get their buy in. If you really want the job you try to sell your partner on it. Your partner needs to understand and agree with the move, and see how it benefits either them or the relationship in the long term. If, after discussion they don’t want to make the move you have a decision to make. You either don’t make the move (because although it may be what you want, it’s not right for the relationship); or you do it anyway. But if you do it anyway, there needs to be an understanding that it may cost you the relationship.

This applies to all sorts of things, and really is the primary “limitation” in a relationship.

When something affects both people, no one should expect to just do what they want. The wants and needs of the other person HAVE to matter. If they don’t, it’s not a relationship.

And I’m pretty sure sex affects both people.

So it’s not fair for one person to simply say that sex (or anything for that matter) is something that their partner doesn’t need. They can say that they don’t need it. And they can say that they don’t understand why their partner feels they need it. That’s all.

Differences in sex drive are normal, and are something most relationships find a way to navigate. Usually this results in one person having it a bit less than they would like, and the other person having to “just do it” sometimes when they might not really want to. As long as there is empathy and kindness for each others needs and some kind of compromise can be found, it isn’t a huge issue for most couples.

If a compromise that works for both people cannot be found however, then the relationship is very much at risk of failure.

 

Fidelity in Relationships

Most relationships have an expectation of monogamy. Personally I feel that’s a good thing; and when people step outside the relationship and have affairs or open relationships, I think they are kind of missing the point of sex. Sex isn’t just a physical act and it’s not just about your own pleasure. It is an act of intimacy, sharing, vulnerability and trust; and is symbolic of a special connection that a couple has.

Casual sex reduces it to a physical act, while in a committed relationship it is something more.

So monogamy is valuable component of a relationship (to me at least). But a sex drive is also a physical urge that differs from person to person. And for many, its presence in a relationship IS seen as a need.

When someone commits to monogamy they are committing to their partner, and from that point on their partner is the only person they will have sex with.

The unspoken part of that agreement is that sex will be part of the deal. It’s supposed to be a vow of monogamy – not a vow of celibacy.

 

Communicating and Caring

This brings me back to the lady who said that she doesn’t feel she should have to do something she doesn’t want to – especially something like sex.

She’s 100% right. Sex is something that should have connection and intimacy (at least most of the time). So if she’s not “feeling it”, she shouldn’t have to do anything to “appease her husband”.

At the same time, it’s perfectly reasonable for her husband to want and expect sex as part of the relationship.

Both people are right in this case.

This problem has a few layers to it. How big is the gap between what they want? What is the husband expecting? How often does he want/expect it? And how often does the wife want sex?

If one person wants it as a daily occurrence while the other person wants it weekly, that may be a problem they can figure out. If one person wants it daily and the other person want it…

…never. Well, that’s a bigger issue.

And truthfully, it’s probably not even an issue about sex.

It’s an issue of communicating, and listening to each other. And caring about and respecting each others needs. As a member or a relationship, you should care about your partners wants and needs – even when they don’t line up with your own.

That doesn’t mean you always have to meet them. But you do have to meet them sometimes, and you have to find a balance where each of you feel valued and respected.

MoreThanSex

If someone no longer wants to meet their partner’s needs, then that indicates something has broken down. Either they don’t feel valued and respected themselves so it’s a form of punishment (he/she doesn’t do things for me, so why should I do things for him/her). Or the connection in the relationship has broken down to the point that they simply don’t feel enough for their partner to care about their needs.

Either way, if the relationship has hit that point the question has to be asked – why is the couple still together? If someone either no longer cares about their partners needs, or they feel that withholding affection as a form a punishment is acceptable, then the partnership has broken down.

A relationship has to be about more than just two individuals looking out for themselves.

 

Meeting in the Middle

A while back I wrote about the three keys to a successful relationship. Love each other, don’t be selfish, and communicate.

If someone wants sex on a daily basis and they expect their partner to meet their needs in that way, I see that as being selfish and not very loving.

However, I also feel the same way about someone saying sex isn’t a need and they should never have to have it if they don’t want it. If there is a large gap in sex drives that stance not very loving and is just as selfish.

If you want to be loving and unselfish, you communicate and find something that works for both people. One person should never be dictating terms of anything that impacts both people.

That’s not what a partnership is about. The couple needs to communicate, show empathy and caring for each other’s needs, and try to find a compromise.

Everyone has their own beliefs and boundaries; and establishing your own boundaries and sticking to them is important. So I understand the idea of never having to do anything you don’t want to.

But when those boundaries put a couple in continuous conflict, something has to give. They either find a way to make their boundaries overlap, or they need to accept that their relationship will not work.

To the lady who said she should not have to do anything she doesn’t want to – she’s 100% right. But that doesn’t mean she can expect things to be her way and also expect to hold onto the relationship. That’s a fairly one sided approach to relationships.

To hold onto the relationship, both she and her husband need to find a way that they can both be satisfied. He could accept things only on her terms (which will likely cause resentment). She could accept things on his terms (which will also cause resentment).

Or they could both love each other, not be selfish, communicate, and try to find a path that works for both of them.

sacrificetorelationship

Expectation vs. Entitlement

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Expectations seem to be getting a bad rap these days.

In recent posts I’ve discussed the idea of expectations in relationships (yes, they exist – and I would argue that’s a good thing). I’ve also discussed the idea that expectations are a part of setting goals, and having a vision for yourself and what you want in life.

Yet I continue to read things like “I just want people to love me without expecting anything from me”. There’s this idea that in unconditional love expectations are bad and people should just be satisfied with anything.

When exactly did “expectations” become demonized, and why? I suspect it’s due to a sense of confusion between expectation and entitlement.

Expectations are tied to our needs and wants. We need food and shelter to survive, so in the modern world some form of income is a need. Sex is a basic human instinct, and there is no clear consensus on whether it is truly a need or a want, but the fact that the argument even exists tells me that at least in some capacity sexual fulfillment is a need. The lines between needs and wants blur, and it’s pointless to try to differentiate the two; but expectation is a belief that our needs and wants are important and that we will attempt to fulfill them and that those around us will care about them.

However an expectation of something doesn’t mean it “will” happen, and periodically we find that our expectations are adjusted when reality doesn’t line up with them. But expectations are important, and there is nothing inherently wrong with them.

Life is an Exchange

When looking at expectations and needs in a relationship, I think you can draw many parallels to the world of work.

When looking at a prospective partner we are like a company doing interviews. We have a wish list of criteria and we are looking for someone that meets as many of those criteria as possible.

Depending on what you are looking for in a relationship these criteria will vary, but they usually include things like physical attraction, common interests, similar outlook or goals in life, sense of humor, reliability, sexual compatibility etc. If the relationship is serious things like outlooks on kids, responsibility and some degree of financial stability are also important. Criteria of a desirable partner is pretty subjective, but we all have *something* we are looking for which provides a perceived benefit to the relationship.

Finding someone who meets your criteria fairly well doesn’t mean you have a relationship though. Your partner has things they are looking for too. Their criteria may not be the same, but they also have to see value in what you bring to the relationship. It’s not a relationship unless both parties see some sort of benefit.

Even if the exchange is simply the enjoyment of each other’s company, both people must see some sort of value in maintaining and growing the relationship. If only one person sees value, the relationship won’t last – to suggest otherwise seems foolish to me.

Beyond criteria of what we are looking for in a partner, we also have some sort of vision of what we want our relationships to look like – with upper and lower boundaries of what is “enough”. Most people probably have not actually thought through what these boundaries are, they only know when expectations are not being sufficiently met.

I suspect most people understand that their partner could better match their “ideal” standard, but they could also be a lot worse. So this question of “what is enough” is central to determining the viability of the relationship. Relationships struggle when needs are no longer being sufficiently met on one or both sides. When this happens, each partner is really evaluating “is this still enough for me”? If not, some leave. Others believe it can it be better, and look for ways to improve things.

It is when relationships are struggling that resentment about “expectations” arise, but the expectations in question have likely always been there. It’s only now that they have become an issue.

My belief is, expectations are natural and we all have them. They are actually positive, because if we didn’t have them then how could we judge if our relationship was still working? Would we just have to put up with anything?

Entitlement

Instead of expectations being a problem, the REAL problem is entitlement.

Entitlement is all about a sense of ownership or a belief that you *deserve* something. I see entitlement as having two main forms:

  1. I should get this because I want it, “no matter what”
  2. because I have done this you now have to do that

It is fine to have expectations of someone else – but that doesn’t mean you are entitled to anything. The other person matters here, and what you want doesn’t matter if they don’t also want the same thing.

I don’t care how nice someone is, how pretty/handsome they are, how much money they have, how many people they know or how educated they are. Sure, some of those things influence the opportunities you have, but that doesn’t mean a damn thing.

entitlementowesnothing

Fulfilling Expectations

If expectations are fine and are the criteria for relationship satisfaction, but the fulfillment of those expectations is not guaranteed; how should people best position themselves to ensure their expectations are met?

The answer to that is, the only thing you truly have control over. You. Your choices, communication, and your behaviors.

This is where the golden rule comes in. People should try to live their lives in a way that their choices and behaviors are in line with their expectations.

If you want someone to treat you with love and kindness, *maybe* it would be a good idea if you were to treat them that way. If you are hoping to have your needs met in a relationship, you had better be working to understand your partners needs and trying to meet those. And it shouldn’t be a calculated “hmm, if I do this for him/her then they will do something for me” – this isn’t a financial transaction. You need to be doing it because you genuinely want to meet their needs – because you care about them and want to see them happy.

You also need to communicate your needs and wants. Many people hold resentment for unmet expectations, when they were never clearly understood by their partner in the first place. As I’ve said before, guys are dumb. Sometimes what one person thinks is clear is not clear to the other person.

So communicating expectations and reciprocating for your partner puts you in the best position for your expectations to be met. But that’s all it means. It doesn’t guarantee anything, and it doesn’t mean you will get what you want when you want it.

You may end up disappointed in some circumstances but over a period of time hopefully you will find that you and your partner are meeting each other’s expectations. In doing so, you should both find you have a high degree of satisfaction in the relationship.

When Expectations are not Met

Entitlement is believing your expectations will be met when and how you want them, or that others should conform to your needs. Yet expectations and needs are real.

If you find yourself unsatisfied in your relationship, then chances are your expectations also are not being met in some way. If this is happening in individual cases it’s not an issue. But when it becomes a pattern over extended periods it can become a significant problem. When this occurs, it’s important to understand what the problem actually is.

Are specific expectations that are not being met? If so, take a good look at them and ask yourself if they are fair expectations to have. Maybe they aren’t, and you would be best served by adjusting your expectations. If you look at your expectations and feel they are fair, then it’s important to discuss this with your partner.

Let’s look at one of the most common issues in a relationship – sex. I’ve written about sexual issues in the past, and the reality is that due to differing drives sex is always a potential source of conflict.

To be clear, no one is entitled to sex.

Entitlement is when someone expects sex “on demand”. Or believes that if they do something for their partner, they should get sex in return – regardless of what their partner wants. This is wrong.

However another version of entitlement is that if someone is not interested in sex they should not have to have it – regardless of what their partner wants. Due to the nature of a monogamous relationship I see this as equally wrong. This may not be a popular view, and I’m not saying someone should ever “have to” have sex when they don’t want to. But although a sense of entitlement around sex is wrong, an expectation of sex in a relationship is not wrong.

Entitlement says “I need sex, and it doesn’t matter what you want”. Or “I’m not interested in sex, and it doesn’t matter what you want”.

Expectation says “I need sex as part of this relationship, and I am not satisfied without it”.

These are different.

People need feel fulfilled sexually, and this requires communication. To have a successful relationship, both partners need to care about what the other one wants. Nothing should ever be entirely on one person’s terms. As discussed earlier, for all needs people have upper and lower boundaries of what is “enough”, and every couple needs to find a way to navigate these boundaries that works for them.

I use sex as an example because this is the one situation in a relationship where someone’s level of satisfaction is completely dependent on their partner (which is probably why it is a source of conflict). Most other needs can be satisfied individually or with other people. But these ideas of boundaries apply to all needs. In a relationship your partners needs should be important to you, and you should get satisfaction and enjoyment from seeing them met.

For some needs, one persons lower boundaries may be the upper boundaries the other, and this is natural. As long as their needs are still being met enough to meet the lower boundaries, there is no conflict. But when the upper boundary for one person doesn’t even approach the lower boundary for the other, over time conflict will arise.

With healthy communication, a couple will try to work on things and see if they can improve the situation. Maybe there are reasons, and if those reasons are understood there is often a willingness to adjust expectations and change these boundaries accordingly.

If the lower boundaries of needs aren’t met however, eventually this will start to poison the rest of the relationship. Expectations form our measures of success. It’s pretty simple – If expectations are being met we’re happy, and If they aren’t we aren’t

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Changes Over Time

Learning to communicate and adjust expectations is important for the success of any long term relationship.

People change, and the things we are looking for may also change over time. People also go through different life events, so even if your criteria don’t change your partner may no longer meet them in the way they once did. Plus relationships start as “new and exciting”. Passion is based on this excitement, but it can be hard to maintain that when you know the other person so well that there isn’t really anything new left to say.

Due to these things all relationships will struggle at times. During those times, if you truly want to weather the storm you need to be able to deal with difficult issues. You need to communicate with each other honestly and openly, addressing problems and working through them together. This is the hardest part in any relationship, and it is something that can definitely feel like work.

When I compare relationships to work, what I am saying is that you NEED to actively work on them. And if you don’t, there is a very good chance that you will either be unhappy, or it will fail (or both).

So accept that both you and your partner have expectations of each other, and communicate those. Your expectations will differ, and this can cause conflict – but it’s important that you work to addressing these conflicts in a way that is satisfactory to both. No one is ever entitled to having their expectations met, but finding a middle ground that works for both people is needed in order for any relationship to succeed.

Does Love Have Expectations?

Couple-in-Love-Picture

Sometimes I hear people talk about unconditional love, and it seems there is a belief that unconditional love should not have any expectations. I’ll see comments like “I wish someone would just love me without expecting something in return”.

On one level, this makes sense. We don’t want to feel like we are being used. We want to feel like someone loves us for who we are, and if they have expectations then it can feel like they are placing conditions on love. Unconditional love shouldn’t HAVE conditions, right? Isn’t that what the term “unconditional” means?

I understand this line of thought, but I’ve got to go against the grain on this one. I think it’s misguided and somewhat naive to say love doesn’t come with conditions or expectations. I believe it does, and I will go even further and suggest this is actually a good thing.

What Do You Expect In Love?

In a loving relationship, what do you expect from your partner? Can you truly say you don’t expect anything from them? If you are going to be honest, we all have expectations of our partners.

I recently read a blog where someone listed a “charter of rights” in a relationship, and I think it was a great topic and idea (thanks Bugs!). I don’t want to steal her stuff, but I think at the very least in a relationship it’s fair to expect the following:

  • Your relationship should be a place of safety:
    • This includes physical safety. It is never acceptable for your partner to hit you or take out their frustrations on you in a physical manner.
    • This also includes emotional safety. People often think of abuse only in physical terms. In reality, MOST abuse is emotional, and it can be just as damaging as physical abuse (only the scars aren’t as easy to see). Physically abusive relationships are usually also emotionally abusive, but often people think as long as they don’t “cross the line” to hitting someone it’s not abuse. It still is, and should never be ok.
    • Lastly I’ll include sexual safety. I’ll talk more on sex later in this post, but sex should never be something that your partner expects when they want, on demand. If you don’t have two willing participants, even if you are in a relationship it is still rape.
  • Additionally, it’s fair to expect that your partner will be “true” to you. Adultery/affairs are never ok. Even when they are “mistakes”, something that “just happened”, or are things that occur when your partner is going through a “hard time”. There is never an excuse for infidelity.

To me these are the obvious expectations that anyone should have for their relationships, and if any of those are broken then the covenant of the relationship has also been jeopardized.

There are other expectations we all should have in our relationships that are perhaps a bit less obvious and harder to quantify. These are the “loving behaviors” that I discussed in my last post, which include things like kindness, trust, caring and empathy.

Loving behaviors may not happen ALL the time (hey, we all have bad days where we can kind of be jerks). But it IS fair to expect that these things are the regular modes of behavior in a relationship.

If you are in a relationship with no kindness, trust, caring and empathy is it really a relationship? Would you actually stay in that sort of situation?

None of these are bad things to “expect” in a relationship, and in fact are the fundamental building blocks of a relationship. So I think it’s safe to say that yes, relationships can (and should) have expectations.

Rights and Responsibilities

Most of my university days are a blur, but one of the things that has always stuck with me is a discussion we had on rights.

The idea presented was that rights are accompanied by responsibilities. If I have a “right” from you, then in exchange for that right I also have a responsibility TO you. It’s a two way process.

Furthermore, this process needs to be mutually agreed upon. I can’t just claim a “right” to something I want and then give you something. Both people need to agree to about the nature of the “exchange”, and there is no right unless this form of exchange exists.

No one is ever entitled to anything. Entitlement is the concept of having a right without believing you should have to do anything in return. Entitlement is selfish, and I would argue is wrong.

Entitlement has no place in relationships. Our relationships should be mutually beneficial. I’m not saying every interaction has to provide value to both members, or that things are necessarily going to be 50-50 (there is almost always someone who puts more into the relationship). But there must be some perceived value to the relationship for both people.

If you think of nature, a one sided relationship is referred to as a parasitic one. Mutually beneficial relationships are symbiotic, and that his what we should strive for.

Expectations vs. Entitlement

So what do rights and responsibilities have to do with relationships? Well, taking this concept we can say that if we expect something from our partner, they should also be able to expect it from us.

If we expect a relationship of safety, we need to also provide one. If we expect kindness and caring, we need to also provide that.

But let’s look at a more difficult topic (and a common area of conflict) – Sex. Is anyone ever entitled to sex in a relationship? No. Should anyone expect to get it whenever they want? Again, no. But is it fair for someone to expect that sex will be a part of their relationship? Yes, I think so. Sex is a difficult topic because relationships rightfully expect faithfulness. Most consider sex a need, and as part of the relationship their only outlet is with their partner; but different people have different levels of need.

Sex is one example of a conflict point. Other common ones are spending time together (balancing me and we time), outlooks towards money and approaches to parenting.
For any conflict of these conflict areas, there has likely been a mismatch of expectations. That doesn’t mean the expectation itself is wrong, it simply means that some form of compromise has to be found where both peoples expectations are met in way that is seen as satisfactory (or at least acceptable) to both.

Why are we in Relationships?

The truth about relationships is, we go into them with a belief that our needs and expectations will be understood, respected and at least largely fulfilled by our partner. In fact, that’s a big part of what love is. It’s a type of caring where you not only derive happiness from seeing your partner’s needs fulfilled, but you also want to be the one to fulfill them.

Think of marriage. Marriage isn’t just a legal document and a ceremony. It’s a symbol of your commitment to each other. It’s a symbol that you care about the other person, and that their needs and expectations are important to you. It’s a symbol that you are no longer just an individual, but you now view yourself as part of a “we”.

If expectations and needs aren’t being met in a relationship, eventually it will get to a point that the relationship is no longer viewed as beneficial by one or both members.

When this happens it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together, if you are married or if kids are involved. The relationship has ceased to function.

At this point you need to make a decision. You need to either find that part of yourself that cares about the needs and expectations of your partner, and WANTS to fulfill them; or you need to accept that the relationship has failed and move on.

Expectations Revisited

Usually when I hear about expectations in love, there is a sense that we should NOT have expectations in love. There are many sayings like this:

LoveandExpectations

Perhaps “love” doesn’t have expectations, but I think a relationship definitely does. To suggest otherwise would be like saying that you should stay in a relationship with someone no matter how they treat you. Sorry, if someone treats you badly or doesn’t love you back you may still love them, but why would you stay with them?

Expectations should be agreed upon, and should be realistic. But the core of a relationship involves making your needs and expectations known to your partner and knowing that they will care about them. And them knowing that you will learn and care about their needs and expectations.

During this discovery process (which may last a lifetime) your partner may tell you that some of your expectations are out of line, and that’s all right. Hopefully you are able to adjust them. Other times those expectations may be important enough that the relationship is at risk.

Love should never have a sense of entitlement. But expectations and entitlement are different, and expectations are an important part of love. Some expectations may be unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean expectations are necessarily bad.

It’s Not About The Sex

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I read a number of relationship blogs, and a while back I ran across something written by a woman commenting she didn’t want to just be a “receptacle for her partners sperm”. I have to admit, it made me laugh. It was kind of crude, but funny. And it got across the point of what she felt her role had been reduced to in the relationship.

I recently read another blog by someone talking about what she wants in a man. It was something along the lines of wanting a man who will love her for who she is. For her mind and her soul, being someone who would be willing to support her and grow with her, and not just want her for sex or her body.

I agree. Any man worth being with should want her for all of her, and want to be there for all of her. But guess what? He’ll still want her physically, and he’ll still want sex. And that should never be a bad thing. Actually, she would probably be upset if he didn’t want her.

Reading other blogs, this sentiment seems fairly common. There seem to be lots of women out there feeling some variation on the receptacle idea.

Somehow, somewhere along the way sex seems to go from being this special thing a couple shares that happens to feel good to almost being something bad. It seems to have become a chore or a duty for many women.

If that’s the case, it seems clear that there is some sort of a disconnect between how men and women are expressing our sexual needs as well as our understanding each of other.

Generally I don’t buy into gender differences. I think there are a lot of guys out there with “female” traits and vice versa. But maybe this is one area where we ARE fundamentally different. After all, if you think of the very act – we experience it in a completely different way. I know how it feels as a guy, but as a woman? I have no clue, and never will.

I’ve written in the past about the benefits sex has for a relationship, so I won’t rehash them here.

But here are a few facts:

  • Sex provides many benefits to a relationship
  • Sex drives between partners vary, and are not constant over time
  • Sexual problems can spill over into the rest of the relationship
  • Sexual issues are cited among the leading causes of divorce

How is it that something that should bring us together drives us apart? Some guys may be jerks, but I think most truly do care. So how can any guy make their partner feel like a receptacle for sperm?

Speaking Different Languages

My thought, maybe we just don’t understand each other. And maybe if we can understand each other better we can start to break down these walls of resentment that take what should be a special act and turn it into a cause of conflict. I don’t pretend to represent all guys here, but these my thoughts on the subject…

Sex is not about sex.

Huh? What?

Let me explain…

Who do you have sex with? Random strangers? Unlikely. Your parents? If so, first – too much information. Second, ewww. Your buddies? Some people have “friends with benefits”, but generally that’s because they are not in a relationship and are looking for a regular outlet. In that case, yeah, I guess it’s about the act. But it still has a tendency to run into complications.

No, generally it’s reserved for a couple in a relationship. Why? And why is it that having sex with someone else while in a relationship is often defined as an affair, instead of having dinner with someone else or going for coffee with them? (Incidentally, I think it’s a huge misconception when people draw the line for affairs at sex. The line for affairs should be drawn LONG before that, and could potentially be extended to something as “simple” as dinner. But that’s a topic for another day).

No, sex is clearly different. There’s something special about it. But what?

Being Naked

Years ago one of my buddies caught me off guard when he started talking about his girlfriend and how beautiful and sexy she was when he saw her naked. There are all sorts of stereotypes of guys talking in the locker room about their “conquests”, or constantly talking about women. Maybe it’s just my peer group but we REALLY don’t do that, so it was a bit disconcerting to me when he mentioned this.

First, there’s the unwritten bro-code. You don’t look at or think about a buddies girlfriend/wife/whatever in a sexual way. That’s just not cool. So having him talk about her naked was awkward, as of course it meant my mind instantly imagined her naked.

Ahh!!! Brain what are you doing? Noooooo!!!

As my traitorous brain was processing these unwanted images, I was also thinking “dude, ummm, your girlfriend’s really not that attractive” (I didn’t say that of course). Everyone has their preferences, but for me? Even trying to be objective she didn’t do much for me.

But here’s a secret about sex and desire. Being sexy and beautiful has very little to do with your physical appearance – it’s mostly mental. Is it only young attractive people who desire each other? No (at least, it shouldn’t be).

Being naked with someone you love isn’t about admiring their “naughty bits”. It’s about vulnerability. You are being open with each other. It’s about safety, closeness and trust.

For years I thought sex was about sex. But it’s not. It’s about that feeling, that sense of complete vulnerability and openness. That feeling is intoxicating, and arousing, and will likely lead to sex. But I don’t think it’s the sex that we want, it’s the sense of connection.

The physical act is just insert A into B. The emotional act is one of wanting to connect with and give pleasure to someone you love in a way that is only shared by the two of you.

Because of this I actually believe sex in a long term committed relationship can be better than any other sex. “New love” may have sex more frequently, but it’s more lust than love at that point.

love

Different Drives

Young guys may hope they will be having sex all the time. As you get a bit older, you realize that it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be happy to be having sex more frequently, but sex is just part of the relationship and the relationship is more important.

Drives fluctuate. It may be frustrating at times, but we get that. What really matters is that we feel valued, and feel as though our needs in the relationship still matter. There has to be a middle ground where the lower drive person isn’t constantly being pressured, but the higher drive person isn’t left feeling unfulfilled.

If you say no one day, that’s fine. But when one person is consistently rejecting the other and shutting them down sexually then there is a problem.

For anyone who isn’t having sex with some regularity, I ask you this – what is the general level of non-sexual touching and affection like in the relationship. If sex isn’t happening, I’ll guess affection is at a shortage too. How about communication? How easy is it to talk to your partner? Can you tell them anything? Do you? When you are unhappy in parts of your relationship do you tell them? Or do you hold things in? Do you still tell them that you love them?

When there is limited to no sex, the affection and communication has also usually broken down. If affection and communication were still there, the lack of sex would probably be bearable. But then, if the affection and communication were there, chances are the sex would be too. They go together. Sex is simply the natural extension of that affection and communication.

As such, sex is about much more than the physical act. It is symbolic of all the closeness and affection that makes a couple a couple.

A Symbol of the Relationship

Guys see sex as symbolic of the relationship, and because of this a lack of sex can REALLY start to mess with them.

First, they start to question themselves:

  • Is there something wrong with me?
  • I desire my partner, what is wrong? Am I terrible at sex?
  • Does my partner no longer find me attractive?
  • Does my partner not desire me?

There’s a good chance that the lack of sex is at least partially because their partner isn’t feeling good about themselves. But this lack of sex results in both people feeling bad about themselves, and can start a downward spiral of negative momentum.

If the problem persists for any length of time, guys start to question the relationship itself:

  • The person I committed to won’t touch me, do they not care about me anymore?
  • Do they not love me?
  • Is our relationship failing?
  • My needs are being ignored here, what about me? Don’t my needs matter?

At this point, the sexual drought is spilling over and affecting the rest of the relationships. Chances are you got here due to poor communication. Unfortunately improved communication is what you need to get out, as over time this will do considerable damage threatening the relationship itself.

People say that they don’t want to be bothered for sex. But someone pestering you for sex isn’t a problem. It becomes a problem when they have stopped asking, because when that happens resentment has set in and they have given up hope.

All About Sex

I opened with the idea that guys seem to be making women feel like they are only wanted for their bodies, and that things are “all about sex”.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the intent. Making your partner feel that way is simply going to cause any sexual rift to deepen, and that’s not something anyone wants. So why in the world do guys do it?

Here’s my theory:

One of the biggest issues that couples face is they get to a point where they feel they have lost “the spark”. They feel like roommates, and maybe feel taken for granted. They no longer feel special when they are around their partner. And likely they ARE being taken for granted somewhat. It’s easy to get caught up in day to day life and let the relationship suffer, but it doesn’t mean someone loves their partner any less.

I think this is the stage where some people start to resent sex.

For guys, sex is symbolic of the relationship. They need it on a fairly regular basis (“regular” being different from person to person) in order to feel that things are alright. But without enough focus on each other, to the woman it starts to feel as though all they are wanted for is sex. After all, if you aren’t taking time to nurture the relationship (which is usually the fault of both members) but still want sex, then it does start to seem like you are roommates who happen to have sex sometime. No one wants that.

I’ve heard it said that women need connection for sex, and men need sex for connection. I don’t think that’s quite accurate. Instead, I think maybe for women sex goes along with connection while for men sex is symbolic of connection. But even for the guys it’s not actually about sex. It’s still about connection.

I think maybe men and women are both actually looking for the same thing. We both want connection, and to feel valued in the relationship. We are just speaking different languages, and becoming resentful as a result.

Keeping Love Alive

The worst feeling in a relationship is the sense that you have become just roommates, and the sense of being lovers is gone. When this happens, men often seem to think that sex is the way to rebuild the connection, while women want the connection before the sex.

Both approaches are probably wrong. Sex without connection will feel devaluing for both parties. But going long periods without sex while trying to rebuild connection will undermine your ability to rebuild connection. The relationship has to be the focus, but sex needs to be included as part of that.

For any ladies out there who are feeling like they are just wanted for sex, chances are your partner is not just looking for the act (alright, maybe sometimes but not usually). Instead he’s looking for everything it means to him. He’s looking for connection, and a feeling of closeness. He doesn’t want just anyone, and he’s not looking for a repository for his sperm. He wants YOU. He’s looking for feeling loved, and valued by you.

And he sees sex as a way of expressing all of that.

I don’t know if this makes any sense, or helps anything. But to any ladies out there who are feeling used solely for their bodies, please be open to the possibility that there is a lot more to us than just that.

You may drive us crazy sometimes (just as we do to you). But we do love you for who you are. We love your personality, your quirks. The way you can make us laugh and how just thinking about you sometimes can bring a smile to our faces. We want to be there for you emotionally as best we can (which admittedly isn’t always the way you want). And we do want to grow with you and have a life with you. We just need sex to be a part of it.

Do You Love Yourself?

i-heart-me

Do you love yourself?

As I’ve learned more about interpersonal dynamics and relationships, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three things which significantly impact a persons ability to have a happy relationship.

  1. Your mindset. This is whether you believe your base traits and characteristics are largely fixed, or whether you believe they can change over time. I’ve touched on this in the past (and will deal with it in more depth in the future), but essentially EVERYTHING can change and everything can improve over time. When you don’t believe it can, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  2. Your ability to let your partner in. I recently wrote on this in a post on Emotional Walls. When we wall ourselves off from our partners, we create barriers to the intimacy or closeness we can have. Without closeness relationships suffer.
  3. How much you love yourself. This is about self-acceptance, and a sense of self-worth.

Of these, the ability to love ourselves is THE most important. And I suspect it’s related to the other two. If you don’t love yourself, you are less inclined to let your partner in. After all, if you don’t like you, and your partner were to see you as you see yourself, then perhaps they wouldn’t accept you or love you either. So why would you let them in? Instead people build facades and present the version of themself they believe their partner wants.

The problem is, when they do this they aren’t being authentic or true to themselves, and over time this will invariably lead to unhappiness (and potentially resentment).

Loving Yourself

What exactly does it mean to say you “love yourself”? At it’s core, I think self-love is about acceptance. You accept yourself for who you are. That doesn’t mean you can’t change, and can’t improve. You definitely can. It simply means that you don’t believe you have to as you are fine the way you are. Self-love means you believe in yourself and the person you are. You have self-confidence, and a positive self-image.

selfacceptance

This is not to be mistaken with arrogance, of being cocky. It also is not “self-love” in a narcissistic way. Loving yourself is healthy. Being in love with yourself of being full of yourself is not healthy.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret. The people who seem to love themselves most are often the ones who love themselves the least. When someone seems to love them-self it is because they are adept at self-promotion. They draw attention to themselves because they need external validation.

Self-love doesn’t require external validation, as it comes from within.

A Point of Reference

So I’ll ask again, do you love yourself? This can be a difficult question to answer.

A few years ago I went on a trip with a buddy and we shared a hotel room. Going in I knew he snored, but I had no idea how bad it was. His snoring kept me up at night, but worse than the snoring was the fact that it was broken up by long stretches where it seemed like he stopped breathing. After seconds (that felt like minutes) there were large gasps for air, and he would start snoring again.

I’m no doctor, but it was pretty alarming. I told my buddy that he should get it checked out and he insisted he was fine. I asked him if he always found himself tired or rundown, and he said no (even though he fell asleep when he was supposed to be navigating for me on the trip. Very helpful). To him, he was perfectly fine.

A while later I related this story to a co-worker who has sleep apnea, and he told me that it sounded familiar. When I mentioned that the guy insisted he was fine, my co-worker laughed and said that’s because it’s his normal state. He’s always tired, he’s always exhausted. And because of that he doesn’t understand how it feels to be rested.

He believes he’s not tired because he has no point of reference to compare himself to.

I see self-love as being similar. It’s not something you “know”. Sometimes people believe that they love themselves when they really don’t. We can’t get into other people’s heads, so if you have negative thoughts about yourself then you might think it’s normal. After all, it’s what you know.

Incidentally it’s been almost two years since that trip, and my buddy STILL hasn’t seen a doctor (and of course insists he’s fine). He’s not. Sadly the people who need the most help are often the last ones to see it as to them it’s just “the way they are”.

Signs You Don’t Love Yourself

To help understand self-love, let’s start with a looks at some signs and characteristics of people who don’t love themselves.

  • You are critical of yourself. This is one of the big ones. You second guess your decisions (or believe you made the wrong ones), your behavior, and you are unhappy with your body.
  • You spend a lot of time in the past thinking “what if…”. What if I had done this differently, or what if I had done that differently.
  • You become angry at yourself when you make mistakes
  • You don’t have dreams, or your dreams feel out of reach and you don’t see a way to make them happen.
  • You commonly operate out of guilt, or shame.
  • You worry about how you are perceived, or “what others will think”.
  • You believe things would be better or you would be happier if “X” were to happen. Maybe if you lost 10 lbs, got a better job, found a different relationship, etc…
  • You procrastinate.

It’s normal to feel all of these things occasionally. But when they are a pattern of thinking for you, then they are signs that you may not love yourself.

Signs You Do Love Yourself

So what do people who DO love themselves look like? The easy answer is, the opposite of the above characteristics. But as I mentioned earlier, if someone truly loves themselves (and has self acceptance) then it’s not easy to see.

One characteristic is that they tend to have a sense of calm. They are comfortable with who they are, and in their own skin.

They aren’t perfect, and they both know and accept that. They are also able to handle criticism fairly well, as they realize it’s not a reflection on them.

People who loves themselves tend to have a sense of personal accountability and a belief that they have control over their own lives.

They also can look at themselves naked in the mirror without thinking *too many* negative thoughts (regardless of body type).

Filling a Hole

One of the big problems with self-love is that it has to come from within. However, for people who don’t love themselves they often don’t see that. They know there is something wrong, but they can’t identify what it is. Because they don’t understand (or won’t accept) that the issues comes from within they start looking outside of themselves.

When acceptance and self-worth doesn’t come from within, they start looking for external validation. The problem is, validation from outside will never be enough.

self_acceptance_quotes

Everyone enjoys being complimented – it feels good to know that someone finds you attractive, or thinks you are good at something. But for people who stuggle with self love, often compliments are needed. But all the compliments in the world won’t help. If someone doesn’t believe it themselves that self-doubt shows through, and there is a continuous need for external validation.

This can result in all sorts of messed up behavior.

The Explanatory Gap

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t understand what it’s like to not love yourself. I’ve tried, but I can’t. Loving myself is just part of who I am. See, I like me. I don’t think I’m cocky or arrogant, but I am confident in myself. Most importantly, I know I’m in control of my own life. Things don’t always work out, but they often do. And when things don’t I can always adjust accordingly and find a new path. I make decisions, and they may not always be the right ones. But that’s fine, because they seemed right at the time. When I screw up I try to use it as a learning experience, and a way to do better “next time”.

Understanding what it’s like to not love yourself is as foreign to me as it is to understand what it’s like to be a woman on her period. As a guy, it’s impossible for me to understand that. Yeah, I know the biology – the lining of the uterine wall has thickened in preparation of a fertilized egg, it doesn’t happen so the extra stuff (pretty sure that’s the scientific term) breaks down and is released. It’s accompanied by hormonal changes that can impact mood and how someone feels. Intellectually I get it (kind of). But I don’t understand, and I never will.

This lack of understanding is often referred to as an explanatory gap. Understanding the mechanics of something doesn’t mean I can understand how it feels. In the case of a menstrual cycle, I’m fairly confident I will never understand that. Likewise for self-love.

So to help me understand this a bit better and start to close that explanatory gap I turned to a buddy who has lived this. Someone who has been through the fires, and come out a stronger person for it. We’ll call him Gandalf (as his experiences have made him quite wise).

Because I believe self-love is an important component of happy relationships I had the idea that he could help me understand the mindset a bit better.

When I first approached him on the idea the exchange went something like this:

Me: I’m thinking about writing on self-love, and thought you might be able to help me with a post.
Gandalf: Errr, me? Self-love? Umm, how do you know… (starts blushing and looking at his feet)
Me: Huh? Oooohhh. Dude, I’m talking about self-love, as in “do you love yourself”. Not self-pleasuring!!!
*Awkward silence *
Gandalf: So, how about that ball game last night…

Alright, that never happened. Well in my head it did, and it make me laugh. And since it’s a fairly serious topic I figured it would be good to start with at least a smile.

My buddy Gandalf was unhappy for a longtime and he spent years blaming his unhappiness on everything around him, pushing away the people who loved him the most in the process. He eventually had a breakdown that led to him being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that led to him falling into clinical depression.

Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental disorder, and there is a strong correlation between anxiety and a lack of self-love. In the grips of anxiety, my buddy hated himself and it almost destroyed his life. But instead of accepting that this was just “the way he was” and allowing his anxiety to control him, my buddy decided to educate himself, learn as much as he could about it and try to regain control of his life.

Over the next few posts I will be doing something a little different. He will be my co-author, sharing his story. I think his story is at once fascinating and inspiring. Whether you love yourself or not, his experiences are ones that I believe we can all learn from.

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.

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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.

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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.

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