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.
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.
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.