Learning to Love

Learning-to-love
Love. We all use the word, but there is no real consensus on what it is or what it means.

One of my first posts was my attempt at figuring out what love is, and looking back on it now I think I had a lot of things right, but at the same time it seems somewhat lacking.

Some say love is a feeling. Others say love is a choice. I think it’s probably a mix of both.

Maybe it’s best to say that love is a feeling that comes with certain choices, and the ability to maintain love (and feelings of love) over a long period is a result of continuing to make loving choices towards your partner.

I don’t think love just happens. Attraction may just happen, but you still have to choose to get to know the other person. To look at them, to listen to them, and to be with them. When you make those little choices, you are letting yourself allow love to develop.

And once love has developed, it needs to be maintained. I’ve talked before about whose responsibility love is. I truly believe that it’s not your partners responsibility to keep you feeling in love with them – it’s yours. You need to nurture your love every day, in countless little ways.

And if you choose not to express love? To turn away from love and not let it in? Or to not accept it when it’s given? They you only have yourself to blame if feelings of love fade away.

Deep Roots

I like to think of love like a tree. Trees need nurturing (sunlight, water, soil) to stay alive. When they are young they are fragile, and need more attention and care. As trees age their roots start to run deep, and they no longer need the same sort of care.

Even when their roots are established though, they still need nurturing. They still need sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil to stay alive. Established trees are strong, and can weather difficult periods. Trees can even be cut down. But as long as the roots are alive, the tree can survive, and come back. It may look a bit different, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Other times the tree can start to die from the roots, and although the tree may still appear healthy at first it has started to rot from within.

The key is the roots, and keeping those roots alive and healthy.

sapling photo

Nurturing Love

So how do we nurture love?

How do we ensure our roots run deep, to allow us to weather the storms of life?

And how do we keep the roots of our love alive?

It seems obvious to me that love requires nurturing. And this nurturing comes in the form of action.

But what actions are needed, to not only maintain but also to grow our love?

A while back I came across a great article on the characteristics of love. Look at the following quote:

Loving involves being in a relationship with another. In a functional loving relationship there are mutual expectations. If I love you and you don’t accept my love then the relationship is dysfunctional because the primary purpose of love is not easily accomplished. If you don’t let me love you, then my love will be squandered on you.

As such, to be in love is to be engaged in an activity that can be done well or not so well. One can be good at loving or poor at it depending on how good (or bad) one is at accomplishing the purpose or goal of loving someone. The statement, “I love you very much” may sometimes be a deep expression of a feeling that comes with being in love; but it can also be uttered by people who do not know the first thing about how to love another. This is because this statement, if it is meaningful, is not simply a report about a subjective feeling going on at the time that it is uttered.

To be meaningful, you must put your actions where your mouth is. This means doing things that promote the other’s happiness, welfare, and safety

So how do we nurture our love? What actions do we need to take? This article talks about love as being shown with the following core actions:

  • Being there
  • Being beneficent
  • Being considerate/non-maleficent
  • Making a commitment
  • Being loyal
  • Being consistent
  • Being candid
  • Being trustworthy
  • Being empathetic
  • Being tolerant

Let’s look at each of these…

The Actions of Love

Being there. This means you are there for the person in times of need. They know they can count on you, and they can rely on you. Sometimes they may need you at times that aren’t convenient to you, but that’s fine. Some sacrifice may be required, and you may not always be able to be there. But you should always want to.

Being beneficent. This goes one step further than just being there. This means you want to do things FOR them. You want to see them happy (in fact, I think true happiness comes not just from the things that make you happy, but from deriving happiness from seeing your actions bring happiness to someone you love). You value their welfare, and want what’s best for them.

Being considerate/non-maleficent. This is about not wanting to do things that are harmful towards the other person. Trying not to hurt them, or embarrass them. It’s about taking them, and how your actions impact them into account. Over the long term, we all screw this up occasionally. Everyone has moments that they are selfish in their actions, and they end up hurting those they love. But those sort of things should be exceptions, and should be accompanied by remorse when we realize we have hurt the other person.

Making a commitment. This is pretty obvious – you are committed to the relationship.

Being loyal. This involves being loyal and faithful to the person you love. As the article says, “loyalty is not optional if one is to enjoy a happy relationship”.

Being consistent. Consistency is very important. Love and relationships aren’t something that you only engage in when it’s convenient to you. They aren’t a part time job, and you can’t just take time off when things get tough. This goes hand in hand with commitment – and means that acting in a loving way is the normal behavior.

Being candid. Love requires openness and honesty. Lying and deception damages relationships, while honesty (even about difficult things) tends to bring people closer together. It’s important to be careful how you word things though – there’s a difference between honesty and being rude.

Being trustworthy. In loving relationships, you need to be able to confide in the other person and know that they are able to confide in you.

Being empathetic. This is about trying to see things from your partners perspective. We are all different, and “my way” isn’t necessarily the best or the only way. You need to be able to value your partners perspective an opinion even when it doesn’t line up with your own. Relationships require meeting halfway sometimes, and that requires empathy.

Being tolerant. Relationships also require patience, and the ability to let things go, forgive, and move on. Insisting things need to be “your way”, or holding on to grudges and resentment is one of the quickest ways to poison a relationship.

All of these are important characteristics in a loving relationship. And more importantly, all of them are things that can be developed and improved.

Choosing Love

I think it is these actions that people talk about when they say love is a choice. Yes, there are feelings associated with love. But these feelings need to be shown, and we show them through the actions we take and the way we treat our partner.

If you say you love your partner but you strike them out of anger, are you showing love?

If you say you love your partner but you are having an affair, are you showing love?

If you have no interest in spending time with them and connecting with them on an emotional level, are you showing love?

How does your partner know you love them? Should they “just know”? Or do they know because of the way you treat them and interact with them?

Love may involve feelings, but it is more than that. Love is actions.

It may not always be declarations of undying love and passion, but love still needs to be present in all our interactions. We can learn to love, and we can get better at it each and every day.

still learning to love

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Forever is Now

forever

Recently there was a death in the family, and although it’s not a happy topic it’s had me thinking about mortality and loss.

Death is a strange thing. Someone is in your life one day, and suddenly they are gone. It doesn’t feel real at first. At an intellectual level you know they are gone, but it’s almost as if they have just gone away for a while. A part of you almost expects them to call, or show up at your door. But at the same time you know they never will again.

There is pain and a sense of loss that comes from their absence. Depending on how close you were to them, this absence is felt in different ways.

Different experiences bring memories of them. You have moments where you can still see them, and imagine them. You visualize the look they would have on their face if they were with you, and the things they would say. And in those moments they are still with you.

They live on, but now it’s only in memory.

Opportunity Lost

When thinking of those who are gone, there is a sense of loss from their absence. This sadness is for all the future moments that you will never get to share, as well as past opportunities that have been missed and things left unsaid.

And these past opportunities are probably the ones that hurt the most.

Why were opportunities missed and words left unspoken?

This happens because a part of us thought they would always be there. We thought there would always be more opportunities, so we never made it a priority to take those opportunities or say those words.

Chances are there were good reasons. We have jobs, families, friends and hobbies; never mind things like laundry, dishes and other chores. There are only so many hours in the day, and *something* has to give.

I suspect for many of us who have lost someone, once they are gone all of those reasons seem somewhat hollow, and we would give almost anything to turn back the clock and just have one more moment with those we cared about.

But we don’t.

In the moment we decided other things in our life were a greater priority than they were.

That’s not always a bad thing. Life does get busy and those other things do need to be done, and there are only so many hours in a day. We can’t do everything, and make time for everyone. Choices do have to be made.

But the sad reality is, often when you “know” the person is there, at a subconscious level you don’t feel you have to put in the effort.

Promises For The Future

This makes me think about marriage. When people commit to marriage, they are committing to forever.

They are making a promise to each other that they will be there for each other no matter what life throws at them. To me, there is something at once beautiful and powerful about this concept of forever.

When people talk about love and romance, often the focus is on passion and hormones. People kissing, unable to keep their hands off each other as they leave a trail of clothes on the way to the bedroom.

Being lovers IS very important, and it’s something I’ve written at length on maintaining in a relationship. But that’s not all there is to love.

To me love is deeper.

It’s rooted in commitment, trust, and being there for each other. Keeping that vow to each other to be there “no matter what life throws at you”. Growing old together, and reaching out for each other physically and emotionally each and every day.

End of a Relationship

The reality is, many couples don’t get to see forever.

They start full of love and promise, and build a life together. But somewhere along the way it goes wrong, devolving into resentment, hurt and apathy.

For those who can see past the hurt and resentment, the cause is often lost opportunity. All those times that something else was a priority. The latest show on TV, putting in long hours to get that promotion, going out with your buddies, and ironically even focusing on the kids.

All those things are prioritized over our partners, because we know our partners “will always be there”. So we spend months and years losing the connection we once had, and slowly drifting apart.

Dealing with it is akin to dealing with death – except the person is still physically there.

Reaching For Each Other Again

All too often, when a couple has lost the connection it marks the end of the relationship.

Personally I don’t think it’s ever too late (but then, I’m a bit more optimistic than most).

I hear stories about couples who were on “on the brink” and were able to rebuild their relationship – often making it stronger than it had been before in the process. It’s not easy to do, and for those that have been successful there are a lot of common characteristics.

It requires honesty – brutal honesty at times about what has gone wrong and why things have broken down. And it requires an ability to hear those things, and not treat them as criticisms or attacks, but instead see them as facts, and issues that need to be addressed in order to succeed.

It requires checking your ego at the door, and accepting that things will never be exactly the way one person wants it. Compromise is needed on the part of both partners.

It requires accepting conflict and issues as part of life. As part of the reality of two people building a life together.

If requires focusing on what you do have, and the good that exists in your life, instead of focusing what is missing or wrong.

It requires focusing again on the couple, and carving out time for each other even when life is busy.

And it requires empathy. Empathy in a relationship is about taking your partner into account, and understanding that your actions impact them. Understanding that even if something isn’t important to you, it still needs to be a priority if it’s important to your partner.

Here’s a fact for you:

Many couples who divorce wish that they had been able to “make it work”. Even when they have been able to rebuild and move on with their lives, they still wish they had put in a bit more effort and had made their partner a little bit more of a priority than they did. Many believe that they “could have made it” had they just shown a bit more empathy.

Building Forever

Forever isn’t something that just happens, and it’s not something that exists in the far off future.

No matter how strong you believe your relationships is, no future is ever guaranteed. Things happen. Tragedy or illness can strike at any time.

Don’t assume your partner will always be there, and don’t leave things unsaid. Yes, people get busy and life gets in the way. But don’t use that as a reason to not maintain and build your relationship.

People talk about drifting apart or falling out of love. That only happens if you let it. That only happens when you stop making each other a priority and putting in effort.

Forever is something you need to build into everyday life. It is built through looks, touches, smiles, and words of caring and support.

Forever is built by not just saying you love someone – but by reflecting those words with your actions each and every day.

Forever is now.

It’s Not About The Sex

holding-hands-1

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.

Losing the Spark

dimmingflame

I spend my days in the world of business, and increasingly I see parallels between what it takes to succeed in business and what it takes to succeed in long term relationships (and life in general actually).

Two of the central concepts in business are Operations and Projects. Any business has *something* that they do, and the operational side of a business is the day to day tasks that allow the business to function in the here and now. This is the stuff that keeps money coming in, and sometimes you’ll hear this referred to as the things a business needs to do to “keep the lights on”.

A business can’t only worry about today though. They also need to keep their eye on the future and plan where they want to be tomorrow. See, even if they have a great business, markets change. New products appear (potentially reducing interest in existing ones) and new competitors appear with fresh ideas and approaches.

In addition to worrying about today, businesses have at least part of their energy and resources dedicated to ensuring there is a tomorrow. At the very least, they need to monitor the ongoing health of the business. This side of business where there is long term visioning is referred to as projects.

Operations may keep a business running and alive today, but the future still matters. A business needs to grow, or at least ensure that they aren’t becoming obsolete. It can be tough balancing both of these things, but it’s necessary to stay alive.

Those who don’t balance the present and the future tend to fail.

The Operations of Relationships

Think of the progression of a relationship.

The early days of relationships are all about building. You meet, and spend time together learning each other. It’s exciting, and it’s new. When you get together it’s an event. Even if all you do is rent a movie or watch some TV, you still made plans to get together. Think of this as your “business start-up”.

Then the relationship gets to another level, and you move in together or get married (and then move in together). What happens? We are no longer building the relationship, we have already built it. We know each other, and although there is still more to learn the pace at which this happens slows considerably.

We now start worrying about day to day life. Our “planned” time together gets taken up with things like grocery shopping, laundry and dishes. Then maybe we have kids, and for a number of years they become the priority. Life becomes all about feeing and changing the baby. It’s about teaching them, raising them. Helping with homework, and shipping the kids off to various events.

These things are all important, and we have to do them. And hey, maybe we even enjoy doing them. But all the while the energy we were once expending on our partner and our relationship is slowly diminishing.

If you talk to couples who are having problems, one of the biggest issues they face is they get to a point where they feel they have lost “the spark”. When this happens, couples will often say things like “they feel like roommates”, or “they feel taken for granted”.

I think this is the biggest killer of relationship, but what exactly is it that has happened here?

The couple has gotten caught up in “operations”. They have lost sight of the future (the fact that they need to have one). They aren’t monitoring the health of the relationship.

Instead, they are simply living life day to day, doing the things to keep the lights on. They haven’t focused on each other enough and spent enough time growing the relationships – or even just ensuring that they aren’t falling apart.

Part of it is “comfort”. Life gets busy, and when you *know* that the other person will be there it’s easy to let them slide. After all, when all the chores are done and the kids have been put to bed both of you are often tired. But over time this takes a considerable toll.

Some couples wake up one day and realize they no longer know the person sleeping next to them. And chances are both of them have a bit of resentment and a sense of loss for where they once were, and what they have become.

Look at your interactions with your partner. Look at the hours you spend together. How much of it is actually focused on them? How much time are you investing in being a couple? Now look at how much of it is time where you simply happen to be occupying the same space, but you are really focused on the kids, the chores, whatever.

Yes, all the “stuff” of day to day life has to happen. But you need to nurture the relationship too.

Signs of Distress

In long term relationships, I think all couples go through some sort of variation on “losing the spark”. Eventually we realize we have got caught up in running a household and raising a family (the world of operations), and we have lost sight of each other as a couple.

What matters is how far things are gone before we really notice, and what we do about it.

People talk about how communication forms the foundation for any relationship, and that becomes especially true when we recognize problems. People are different, so often one person will be the first to really notice “a problem”.

When this happens the biggest mistake people can make is to do nothing.

From reading books and other blogs, often women are the first to get the sense that something has gone wrong (us guys tend to be oblivious). It’s not always women noticing first, and the relationship may not even be a woman and a man – but let’s assume it is for this example.

She notices *something* has gone wrong by realizing that she isn’t really happy.

Maybe she says something to her partner, but he doesn’t get it. He hears her, but doesn’t understand. He thinks, “I love you, I’m providing for my family and I’m a good parent, I don’t understand what the problem is. I’m being a good partner here.”

He is stuck in the world of operations. Those things are important for keeping the relationship going, but not for keeping it ALIVE.

When she says something another response is to get defensive. Having his partner say “I’m not happy here” become misinterpreted, and in his head it becomes “you aren’t a good partner” causing him to start to withdraw (hey, we are emotional creatures and can be a bit sensitive sometimes).

A worse situation is when she doesn’t say anything at all. Rather, she pretends she’s happy and tries figuring out what is wrong on her own. All the while resentment towards her partner is growing, and he doesn’t even know anything is wrong.

Actually guys may be dumb, but we’re not stupid (mostly). So he has picked up on the fact that something is wrong, but he thinks it’s just a phase that will pass, or he completely misreads the severity of things. After all, they’re a couple and they’re committed to a life together, right?

Hah. Unfortunately life isn’t that simple.

Accepting a Problem

When it comes to relationships people REALLY don’t like to accept the existence of problems, so they deny it for as long as they possibly can. People are stubborn, and our natural response to things is to look for things to blame reasons, and we really don’t like change.

Eventually though, we accept that there’s some kind of problem.

I once read that most couples get to a counselor about 2 years later than they should have, and I believe it.

For the person who “caught on” late, they’re hurt and a little scared, so they do what they can to try and make things better. But by now the relationship is caught up in the resentment that comes with negative momentum, so there is a risk that the partner who noticed things first has withdrawn from the relationship, and ignores the efforts to improve things. They think it feels forced, and not genuine.

The couple is now in a downward spiral that does not have a happy ending unless they can both buy in that they want things to improve. And if they do, they need to realize that yeah, things will seem a bit forced at first – but that doesn’t make it any less real.

Digging Out

A LOT of relationships fail at this point. And a lot more stay together, accepting the “truth” that this is normal and long term relationships are simply doomed to a loss of love. Some are fine with a somewhat happy existence, and others stay together in name only – basically living separate lives.

I think there’s more to life than that. I think your relationship should be a source of joy. You should WANT to spent time with your partner whenever you can. After a long day at work, you should look forward to getting home and seeing their face. You should want to share experiences with them. And no matter how long you have been together, nothing should feel as good as being with your partner, holding each other and knowing you’ll never let each other go.

To get back to that spot, you need to focus on the relationship. Day to day life will always be there, but that can’t be your only interactions. You can’t use that as an excuse to not nurture the relationship.

Like a business that monitors it’s day to day health while having a plan for the future, the relationship HAS to become a priority. You need time focused on each other. You need to not only maintain the relationship, but build it.

Do things together.

I don’t think couples intentionally take each other for granted. Most couples will SAY “of course the relationship is a priority. Of course my partner is a priority”.

But actions speak louder than words.

Think back to my earlier question:

Look at your interactions with your partner. Look at the hours you spend together. How much of it is actually focused on them? How much time are you investing in being a couple?

Now ask yourself how much time you think you should be spending on being a couple. Everything needs some sort of sustenance and maintenance to survive, and relationships are no different in this regard.

If you feel the spark has been lost, rest assured that you aren’t alone. Many, many couples go through the same thing. But as long as there is still a flicker, no matter how faint, you can rebuild a flame.

But it’s up to you to do it. If your relationship is a priority, don’t let that only be in words. Back your words with action, and focus on it again. And this time, don’t let it go.

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.

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…