I frequently receive inquiries and questions about articles I’ve written here about intimate relationships. For example, I’m asked for more information about why so many “techniques” to improve romance and sex tend to fail. About how to reverse the decline into a “dead zone” that many couples experience over time. How you can keep sex and romance alive in the midst of daily life challenges. Or how the rise of affairs, polyamory, and the “open marriage” might impact your own relationship.
One thing is certain from the concerns I hear: The nature of our emotional, sexual, and intimate relationships is evolving in our society. Increasingly, men and women – straight and gay – are becoming open to different forms and varieties of partnership. Those who want to keep a mutually committed relationship alive and growing look for ways to do that, successfully. They know that doing so is challenging in this changing era, especially so, as we change over time — emotionally, physically and in our vision of life.
Fads won’t do it. But here are five ways that can:
1. Open yourself to awareness that you can’t “change” your partner – ever. You can’t “make” him or her be different than they are; or who you want them to be. They may choose to change, or grow in a different direction, but for their own reasons. The only impact you have is to be accepting of who your partner is, to begin with; rather than showing disappointment, disapproval, or pressure to change. There must have been something positive that drew you to your partner to begin with. Who is that person today, in real-time? Acknowledging that, them you can decide if it generates continuing caring and love – including the reality of your partner’s “flaws” or “imperfections;” or if it doesn’t. If the latter, then you have to decide how you want to deal with that. Dong this is what I describe as “creative indifference.”
2. In your daily interaction, work at revealing yourself. That is, express and show what you’re experiencing about, say, a conversation or dilemma over some issue or concern that’s arisen. It may involve the two of you, or either of your lives, outside of your relationship. That includes exposing your thoughts, feelings, desires, fears – all of that – which means being transparent about who you are. No hiding out. Does your partner show openness to “receiving” this? And respond with openness in kind? Unfortunately, many retreat into withholding some part of their inner lives because of shame, fear, or potential rejection. And that’s a formula for relationship decline. Revealing yourself is what I call practicing “radical transparency.” Give it a try.
3. Aim to integrate your sexual relationship into “whole person sexuality.” So many committed couples complain that the sexual dimension of their relationship fades away over time. And with good reason, but it’s not because its intensity changes over time, with familiarity and family responsibilities. Rather, your sex life diminishes when your entire relationship fails to grow; doesn’t strengthen positive connection, empathy or mutual support between the two of you. What occurs in your relationship during the day follows you into the bedroom. But when you realize that “making love” is a way of life, one that serves and enhances the relationship between the two of you – like a third entity — it will support an energized physical and sexual relationship. That’s how “making love” is different from what I describe as typical “marital sex,” or just “hooking up” sex.
4. Create a respite from daily life by setting aside time – and a place – to reconnect and re-experience some of what drew the two of you together to begin with. This is especially important for couples living busy lives, with busy careers and parenting responsibilities. The best way to do this is go away overnight – right where you live. If you have children at home, arrange for overnight care. Plan one overnight stay in a very comfortable local hotel, the most luxurious you can afford. Begin with a leisurely dinner at a restaurant you both enjoy. Take a stroll around, and enjoy just being together with no demands; no emails or texts to send or reply to. Then, back in your room, extend your intimate connection to reflecting on the “unspoken:” how you feel about the state of your relationship at this point. Do you feel you’re on the same “wavelength” about your life goals, your vision together, your individual desires over the years ahead? How do you want to deal with where you’re not so aligned? Engaging in this focuses you on an often hidden-but-worthy question that I ask couples: “what’s the point of staying married?”
5. Leave your relationship. Not as you may be thinking, though. I’m referring to creating enough of a life in areas that neither of you share with the other. For example, interests, activities, perhaps travel by yourself or with others to places that your partner doesn’t share the same interest in or attraction to. Know that it’s OK; you’re not joined at the hip. This strengthens your relationship because having experiences that reflect your own individual desires and interests are stimulating. Then, you bring more energy and engagement back into your relationship. That’s what I mean about “leaving” your relationship to improve it.