I was listening to this amazing TED talk by Esther Perel – just her accent is enough to keep you interested in what she has to say – about her research on relationships and cheating. She makes some very fascinating points on how intimacy (or long-term togetherness) inevitably kills passion. In long-term relationships, we often expect our significant other to be both best friend and sensual lover.
But as Esther Perel argues, mind-blowing and committed sex draws on two conflicting needs: our need for surprise…and our need for security. Most of her research shows that everywhere where romanticism flourishes, there is a crisis of desire.
So how do you sustain desire? Can we want what we already have?
Passion and desire is fueled by newness, spontaneity, uncertainty and the fear of loss. Yet – intimacy is a result of something “old” or time-tested, predictability, reliability and security. How can both exist in the same relationship?
You want to know that your partner will always be there, that they will love you forever, that they will never stray, and that you can trust them without question. But to maintain passion and desire for your partner, they have to keep you guessing, they have to reinvent themselves, they have to make you uncertain…and maybe they have to make you question the security of the relationship. Catch 22, right?
Well, we have 2 options – we can have open relationships where we each agree to not be monogamous and have the opportunity to engage in torrid affairs (I know there are couples who successfully do this, but it’s probably not most people’s first choice) or we can choose as a couple to figure out a way to keep it “new.”
I’ve thought about this for a long time to try and come up with ideas that would actually work in practice. Is it just a matter of me needing to see my partner with new eyes (reinventing ourselves) and me keeping boundaries between us (time away from each other)?
Is that enough to keep desire and passion strong in a long-term relationship? Or do you need to take it further to include uncertainty or question about the security of the relationship? And is it possible to elicit that “feeling” without doing something hurtful to the other person?
Perel’s research answers some of the questions. She speculates that the crisis of desire is a crisis of the imagination. In order to sustain desire, you must have novelty, mystery, risk and danger.
The meaning of love is to have; the meaning of desire is to want, and unfortunately we don’t want to go back to places we’ve already gone – from both a literal and figurative place.
In her research, she asked the question, “When do you find yourself most drawn to your partner?” The answers were very interesting. Some focused on the space element: “when she’s away,” “when we reunite,” “when I get back in touch with my ability to imagine myself with my partner rooted in absence and longing.”
Other answers had deeper components of mystery and intrigue: “when I see him working passionately,” “when she is in her element,” “when other people at a party are drawn to him,” “when I look at her from a distance and she is radiant and confident.” When this person who is so familiar, so known, is elusive and becomes a mystery again – then you will once more find desire.
“Mystery is not about traveling to new places but about looking with new eyes.”
— Marcel Proust
So, maybe this is just about a shift in perception, an ability to stay open to the mysteries that are living right next to me. How difficult is that to do?
Perel continues with an intriguing discussion on how this relates to the way you were raised as a child. If you were raised by parents that were open to new experiences and encouraged you to go explore the world, then you have a greater ability to love and maintain desire, openness and spontaneity in your relationships.
However, if you were raised by parents that were fearful and anxious, who looked at the world as a dangerous place, and who tried to keep you protected and close, then you as an adult may forego a part of yourself in order to not lose this connection. You will learn to love in a way that comes burdened with extra worry and extra protection. You won’t know how to leave your partner in order to go “play” and give both of you the necessary space to maintain desire.
I think she’s on to something as I’ve seen both in myself from being raised by a fearful mother but secure father. I also see it in many of my past relationships, knowing what I did about their childhood and their parents.
Knowing this, I think it is possible to “re-parent” yourself and give yourself an opportunity to shift your perspective, to see your partner with new eyes, and to be able to bring spontaneity and mystery back to your relationship.
For the full TED talk go to: https://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_the_secret_to_desire_in_a_long_term_relationship?language=en#t-1128728
Dr. Diane Hayden is the owner and publisher of Natural Nutmeg Magazine and Essential Living Maine Magazine and is an author, speaker, and workshop facilitator. She holds a B.S. in Marketing from the University of Connecticut, a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Maryland and is an Empowerment Life Coach. For 20 years, her work has focused on inspiring people to learn about the power of thought and belief systems and how that shapes their lives. Her passion centers on helping men and women break the failed relationship cycle through her proprietary SPARK method. You can learn more about her online at http://naturalnutmeg.com/category/where-is-dr-di-travel/ or https://drdianehayden.com/.