Love and desire need different things to survive…
It’s a widely accepted belief that sex is hottest at the beginning of a relationship.
When you’re first falling in love, you can’t keep your hands off each other; even a look from your beloved can turn you on so much, you’ll be dragging him to the nearest dark corner to have your way with him.
But once you get to know each other better and the infatuation stage (which, FYI, has been compared to drug addiction) comes to its inevitable end, things usually start to slow down in the bedroom. Where you were once having sex a few times a day, now a couple of times a week seems like plenty. The more comfortable you get with each other, the less you want to jump each other’s bones. As your bond grows stronger, and your love deeper, it’s not unusual for desire to fade into the background.
But why does it work like this? Shouldn’t desire grow, right along with love? According to famed couples therapist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity; no.
In her viral TED Talk, The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship, she says intimacy is no guarantee of good sex, and that even for couples who love each other as much as they ever did, desire fades over time. But could being “too busy” for sex actually be the key to having great sex?
The allure of the unknown
We’ve probably all had the experience of being attracted to someone we don’t know very well – or maybe at all. You see someone from across the room, and before you know it, you’re imagining them naked and sweaty. Or you’re talking to someone at a party and feel an attraction you can’t explain, based on something superficial like the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles. What would it be like to kiss him?, we wonder. This can happen even when you’re in a committed relationship with someone, with no intention of straying.
Perel explains that humans have two fundamental needs. The first is “our need for security, for predictability, for safety, for dependability, for reliability, for permanence. All these anchoring, grounding experiences of our lives that we call home.” But, she says, “we also have an equally strong need…for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected.” And, says Perel, this goes for both men and women.
“In desire, we tend to not really want to go back to the places we’ve already gone,” says Perel. “Forgone conclusion does not keep our interest.” So, how do we satisfy our competing needs? Can we keep our secure, intimate relationships and still satisfy our thirst for novelty and mystery?
Seeing your partner in a new light
In spite of the way our brains are wired to need opposite things, there is a way to keep sex hot in a long-term relationship and desire you partner again just as much as you ever did – more, even. The secret, says Perel, is to give each other room to pursue your own passions. “Fire needs air,” she explains. “Desire needs space.”
In her research, Perel found that couples were most attracted to each other when they saw their partner “doing something she’s passionate about, when I see him at a party and other people are really drawn to him, when I see her hold court.” Seeing your partner looking “radiant and confident,” says Perel, is “probably the biggest turn-on across the board.”
So think about what drew you to your partner in the first place, and vice versa. Did you love listening to him play the piano? Did he get turned on watching you immersed in your work? When you met, you didn’t know everything about each other yet, and that was hot. Could you both get so busy with your own things again that you no longer know everything about each other again?
“Sometimes, as Proust says, mystery is not about traveling to new places, but it’s about looking with new eyes,” says Perel. “And so, when I see my partner on his own or her own, doing something in which they are enveloped, I look at this person and I momentarily get a shift in perception, and I stay open to the mysteries that are living right next to me.”
How neediness kills desire
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being needy – we’re all needy. We need love, and companionship, and we need to feel desired. At the same time, when it comes to desire, being needy can be the kiss of death. “I have yet to see somebody who is so turned on by somebody who needs them,” says Perel. “There is no neediness in desire. There is no care-taking in desire. Care-taking is mightily loving. It’s a powerful anti-aphrodisiac.“
Of course, in a long-term relationship, you love each other, and you take care of each other. No one is suggesting you should stop taking care of your partner so you can have hot sex again. But there can be a healthy balance – and staying busy is part of that. Don’t lose yourself to your relationship. Always remember what makes you you, because that’s why your partner fell in love with you, way back when. Find the thing that makes you come alive, and feel radiant and confident, as Perel says. Stop moping over your slowed-down sex life and get busy with other things – too busy for sex – and before you know it, you could be ‘getting busy’ in a whole different way.
Images via tumblr.com, favim.com and giphy.com.
Our editor, Nadia, explains how to up the anti in the bedroom by making your partner squirt:
Comment: What drew you to your partner? What are you passionate about, outside of your relationship?
Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn with two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.