Marriage Prep

An Overachievers Guide to Matrimony

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Learn the art and science of happily ever after.

Vulnerability is the Key to Making Someone Your Soulmate

 “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” was the name of the New York Times article by Mandy Len Catron that got us talking about research and falling in love.   (I know I’m not the only one that asked my partner to do the 36 questions with me.)  We all want to know, right?  How to fall in love, and perhaps more importantly, how to stay in love.   The article is about Dr. Arthur Aron’s study which explored if strangers could fall in love in a research lab. After taking take turns answering set questions, they ended with a 5-minute intense gaze into each other’s eyes. You can learn more about it here, or if you are a science nerd like me, read the original study here. 

What is this really all about? The questions-the eye gaze…it’s about increasing closeness, an experiment in creating intimacy.  Part of you loves this more than you think.  It’s every montage in a romcom, it’s that getting to know someone experience and feeling… this might just be love.  These questions, the behaviors, they are a little uncomfortable, maybe even a little scary, a little exciting…because they make us vulnerable.  Vulnerability, no one is ever happy when I say that word.  Sharing your softer feelings, your dreams and fears, the parts of yourself you usually protect.  It’s like showing your underbelly.   But exposing yourself, and having someone do the same in kind, is the way to feel truly known, loved, and accepted.

The truth is, vulnerability is the key to making someone your soulmate, and once you’ve married them, keeping it that way.  Maybe that doesn’t sound like falling in love-but that’s a big part of what is happening when you first find your person.  You both open up, share more and more with each other, and that exposure-that intimacy—it bonds you.  To know deeply and be deeply known is the crux of that in-love experience.  When you are first falling for someone, you don’t need an exercise to share deeply or to gaze into each other’s eyes—that’s just happening, on a date, over dinner, before a kiss, after sex. Intimacy building comes naturally.

Dr. Aron talks about another aspect of closeness that’s powerful, something a bit deeper going on.   He calls it self-expansion.  I love this idea, the process of falling in love is many things and one of them is an actual expansion of ourselves.  We grow, change, and adapt- we expand to integrate this new person into who we are. Maybe you try new things, or have new ideas, you certainly have new experiences and at some point, you are forever changed by your partner.

This kind of intimacy, this expanding of yourself, doesn’t occur as easily once you’re married or in a long-term partnership. You will need to intentionally keep bringing it into your relationship, just living side by side won’t cut it. We often mistake comfort, familiarity, and routine for intimacy.  It’s that mistake that can rob us of the kind of connections we need to keep falling in love. 

 You want to stay in love, get vulnerable, again and again and again.  Ironically, for most, the longer you are together, the harder it is to be vulnerable.  The stakes feel higher as there is more to lose.  As scary as vulnerability is, it’s your best bet for keeping your love strong, your bond real, and your relationship alive.  It’s you and your partner constantly revealing and compassionately accepting new layers of one another that keeps you both in love.  I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s hard to do.  But all we can do is keep at it, keep trying to put ourselves out there with the person you’ve chosen to love for the long haul.  What can you share this week that’s a little bit more vulnerable?

When It Comes to Sex...Love Isn’t Desire: 5 Ways to Cultivate Desire in Your Long Term Relationship

The way we make sense of love, desire, and sex deeply impacts the way we feel about ourselves and our relationship.   Loving and respecting one another, building a life together, it's powerful stuff...but that doesn’t necessarily translate into desire.  The deep love that grows from being partnered with someone for years is different than desire-it’s different than being lustfully wanted by you partner.   Desire fading doesn’t mean that love is, or that something is wrong with you, your partner, or your relationship.  The natural evolution of relationships dampens the very things that fire up desire. Desire isn’t something that’s guaranteed, it’s something that you have to cultivate.

My favorite thinker about desire is Esther Perel.  I adore her book “Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence”.  It’s beautifully written and captures the ultimate paradox of both the security and excitement we look for in our relationships.  One of my favorite takeaways from her Ted talk “The Secret to Long Term Desire"  was hearing about when people desire their partner the most, as well as the value of knowing what turns you on vs. waiting for your partner to turn you on.  

Creating a culture of desire in your marriage has two parts.  One, creating desire within you for your partner, what makes you want sex?-and then what makes you feel desirable. (It’s not about making your partner desire you---that can get crazy making fast.)

Here are 5 ways to cultivate desire.

  1. Self-care

You’ve got to sleep, exercise, eat healthy and have your way of relaxing and restoring. This is the foundation.  Being tired, stressed and lethargic doesn't give you that in the mood feeling or emanate come hither vibes.  The impact this has on desire in long term relationships is quite significant.  Explore where in self care you struggle the most and make a plan to create a small daily change.  Better yet, share these goals to tackle with your partner!

2. Identify what makes you feel confident and attractive--Do it, Revel in it, Share it

What makes you feel confident and sexy: An intense workout, a great suit, lingerie, heels, killing it at work, a scent, creating, accomplishing, learning?  Aim to do something that makes you feel confident and attractive every day...that might not happen, but getting close will feel good!

Identify activities, demands, roles that do not make you feel desirable or desiring.   How can you compartmentalize these aspects of your life or explore with your partner why it shuts down desire. Where is there room for change?  We can have set ways in which we feel open to sex---the more flexible that becomes the more room there is in our life and our relationships for desire.

3.  Distance and Independence

Old adages exist for a reason. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. You always want what you can’t have. Before your partnership began you had your friends, your hobbies, your life, you were interesting and that made you attractive and confident.  We have to find ways to incorporate that into married life.

Desire is craving, wanting, longing...hard to do that with something that is oh so familiar.  It’s hard to long for what you already have. This doesn’t mean playing games in your relationship or playing hard to get. Just as in dating, these strategies only work if they are authentic and true.  I can’t pretend to be less available...being less available is just a natural consequence of my engagement in other areas of my life that matter.

Pursue your passions, friendships, activities.  Having your own pursuits works on every level. You will be happier and more confident which is a great start for desire, and it creates space and distance which keeps novelty in your relationship.
 

4. Let Loose

Be free and don’t take yourself too seriously. We all have so many hats to wear—most of them are not connected to desire or sex.  Where in your life can you be playful, silly, free? Find the spaces where you aren’t a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a good son or daughter, a good boss or team player, but unadulterated you...not your roles and not what you do.  You want to be able to connect to this side of yourself and ultimately share in it with your partner. Try things that make you feel uncomfortable or uncertain. This can help challenge the need we all have to be in control or be perfect.  Control and perfectionism are at odds with the abandon and freedom that feeds desire.

5. Fantasize

Thinking, imagining, daydreaming and fantasizing about sex is healthy. Take time in your life to intentionally think about sex.  This in itself can be a turn on for you and help you get connected to your sexual side. Explore what fosters desire for you. You can begin with your 5 senses-sounds, smells, imagery...what gets you excited?  See where your mind wanders and you may learn new and undiscovered turn ons. Begin to share your discoveries with your partner. Turn-ons change over time-connecting to your sexual side and talking about it encourages sexual growth and change to occur together with your partner.

What fuels love and cultivates desire are often opposites. In being partnered for life we take on the challenge of working at both.  But the best part is that cultivating both love and desire are just as good for the relationship as it is for us as individuals. Next time we will talk about how to cultivate the love and connection that comes from intimacy, vulnerability and closeness.

Till then,

Dr. M