January 14, 2015

How to Keep the Spark Alive in a Long-term Relationship.

sexy couple love

“There is an assumption…that we need only pursue what we don’t yet possess. The trick is, that in order to keep our partner erotically engaged, we have to become more seductive, not less.”  ~ Esther Perel

Keeping sex and passion vibrant in long term relationships can be a paradox.

We work to deepen our bond, become closer, more attached, develop intimacy. Yet passion, eroticism and juicy sex often simmer in the opposite of closeness, intimacy and togetherness—thriving instead in the unknown, the insecure and the mysterious.

Esther Perel, in her book, “Mating in Captivity,” describes this tension beautifully—a tension many of us are unwilling to explore because it feels foreign. After all, isn’t committed love about fostering trust, intimacy, security, reliability and safety?

But maybe the two seeming polarities are not mutually exclusive after all. If we are willing to stay curious and to be explorers.

So let’s explore.

Think for a moment: when did you feel the most heat, the most intensity in your relationship? For most of us, it’s at the beginning.

There are two reasons for this. One is the hormone cocktail our bodies create when we first meet someone with whom we have an intense connection. We have a chemical interaction that enables us to stay up all night and still rock it the next day. Our skin glows. There’s a reason that so many songs proclaim that “love is a drug.”

The other reason for this sizzle is what creates the paradox and it can stand in stark contrast to who we become as a couple over time.

And that is the unknown.

In the first months of meeting someone, we are swimming—or sometimes sinking—in what feels unsafe emotionally, because it is both novel and insecure. We wonder if we will ever “get” this person, as in, make them “ours.” And so we pursue. And it is this pursuit that is so dramatically exciting.

And when we do get them, we feel plagued by the insecurities that are characteristic of a new relationship, and we want to reduce them. So we set out to make the other—the foreign and unknown—more known, safe and predictable. But in doing so, we risk sapping our relationship of the juiciness that thrives, not only in intimacy that grows over time, but also in its seductive sister: the mysterious, the distant, the unknown.

It may be a frustrating paradox that our passion can diminish just when our relationships are deepening, but try turning that frustration on its head for a moment. See it as an opportunity to explore the wilderness of intimacy.

Because when that passion wanes, we have several choices.

One option is to accept it in silent suffering, telling ourselves this is one sacrifice we must make to experience the benefits of long-term love. While another option is to turn outwards, to another newer experience which can have a fallout ranging from troublesome to devastating.

Or—if we are attuned and brave—we can turn towards ourselves and our partners. Be willing to step onto that surface where our fabric weaves together—in that region between deep committed intimacy and lustful eroticism—and we can seek to bring those two polarities closer together.

So if you want to go deep, stop a moment and think about eroticism—where it resides, and where it thrived when you met. Explore how to bring more of that space back into your relationship.

Our intimate relationships are akin to oceans and our experiences are richer if we’re willing to explore their depths. So while it’s tempting to clutch onto the safety of our life jackets and continue floating on the surface, to keep the passion burning we might need to take a deep breath and dive below.

Here are my suggestions for balancing security with passion:

1. If you two have become one, then build space between you.

Create distance that differentiates the “we” from the “I.” This does not mean abandoning your intimacy or trust, but revisiting the forgotten individual identity that was the vital thing that attracted you to each other in the first place.

Instead of only thinking, “How can we do more/be more, together?” start trusting that within the space of your commitment you can still be your own unique self. Because it’s tempting to fall into that trap of the exclusive “we”—we like sushi; we always go to Mexico at Christmas; we don’t hang out with them anymore.

Comforting but, ultimately, suffocating. So throw out the matching pants and attend to some stimulating activities away from your partner. What is calling—your schooling, work, a hobby, some friendships, or a solo trip away?

Heck, just dive into some unusual reading that challenges your viewpoints.

As you grow and deepen through more learning and exploration of your own edges, you will fall enthusiastically in love with yourself. But more than that, you will bring more novelty and freshness to your relationship as you share some of that learning with your partner. And newness, curiosity and enthusiasm are sweetly seductive.

2. Be real.

As in deep, raw real. We do this by maintaining a sacred connection with ourselves and by staying honest and vulnerable with it.

I once had a relationship with a man who always seemed so…happy. Like blissfully happy—with us. I felt wholly inadequate in matching his contentment, but a while after I discovered he was actually not happy. It was a facade he concocted because he was scared that if he voiced discontent he would lose me.

And the irony is that hearing what was wrong would have been a service to our relationship, because I would have seen he had needs I wasn’t meeting. And we had work to do. And to me, deeply pleasing someone who is open and willing to be pleased is a turn on.

So, if you’re one of those who chooses harmony over truth because you think it will please others, you are doing yourself a big disservice.

Be real in your joy and your upset. Bring raw to the surface. Let your partner experience all of you.

3. Throw out the how-to and to-do lists.

Lists are for grocery shopping. Lists scream mundane and obligation. (Unless you are buying your groceries from a market where the farmers’ hands still have soil on them from the carrots he pulled, because that’s just sexy.)

Your relationship is worth more than trite, surface fix-ups. Instead, try reflecting on the ways each of you need to become more distinct, less controlling, less predictable—to yourselves and each other.

Do things that make you tick as a couple. For me, it’s something physical or out of my comfort zone—challenging but fun. For you it might be scaling up or skiing down a mountain, a trip to a tawdry club Hemingway once visited, or maybe something a little risqué.

Just try moving out of your comfort zone. Stop acting so predictably and believing the other is predictable too. A lot of life teems under the surface of our oceans, if only we are willing to explore them together.

Plus, just a little unpredictability can create a lot of attraction.

4. Look at your partner with fresh eyes.

This is the one I find the hardest. I can get lazy. Or sometimes I think I’m just so smart that I already know all there is to know about him. (I can finish his sentence, right?) And I forget that he is his own individual with his own mystery. I forget that it is his embodiment of freedom that attracted me to him in the first place.

And so, do I really want to suffocate that? Make him into what is wholly known but ultimately becomes boring?

Sometimes when I quiet myself, I just watch him and admire him for who he is. And I am delighted because he is a separate being from me, with his own desires and idiosyncrasies.

So when you look at your lover, remember to forget. Forget who you think they are.

When they come home, instead of asking them what they did today, go deeper. Ask them who they are, and what they want. Really, even now, after all this time.

And then make it a mysterious adventure to explore some of those places. Together.


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!


Author: Carla Poertner

Apprentice Editor: Hilda Carroll / Editor: Travis May

Photo: Christ RetRato via pixoto

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Carla Poertner  |  Contribution: 600