Hint: It’s not about the time or the money.
Every year, Charlie and I take two summer vacations—one with our kids and grandchildren, and one just with each other. They don’t have to be real long, just long enough to get a clean break from our day-to-day lives. These vacations each provide us with very different experiences, and we love them both. But it’s the one we take by ourselves that gives us the time to reflect together on where we are and where we’re going over the coming year.
This also allows us the luxury of taking as much time as we need to relax into the love that we are often too busy to really enjoy and savor. Sleeping late and staying in bed cuddling or making love, or just hanging out together with no agenda, no cell phones, no computers, no responsibilities, it’s as close to heaven as I’ve ever been. When I describe this scenario to friends, however, they sigh in envy and tell me they wish they had the time to do the same thing. I hear them. We used to feel that way too that is, until we realized that we did have the time, we just hadn’t prioritized it correctly.
We had forgotten that there isn’t anything more important than taking time to restore our relationship, to reawaken and indulge our enjoyment of sensual pleasure, and to retreat into the sweet environment that supports the growth of our love and ourselves.
As relationship therapists, the second most frequently asked question we get (after “How can I find the partner of my dreams?”) is, “Is it possible to keep the passion alive over the long term, and if so, how?”
Whether you are entering your fourth decade of marriage or you’re in the first year of your marriage, keeping passion alive requires your attention,creativity, and emotional honesty. Attending and responding to the quality of your relationship in general, and of your sex life in particular, is probably the best thing you can do to minimize the chances that things will become stale, old, boring, or flat. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Then why, for so many of us, is it so hard to do? Well, for one thing, there’s a tendency to espouse the belief that sex with the same person eventually gets boring after a while.
This belief can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we unquestioningly accept it as inevitable and stop trying to bring more juice into our connection. After all, if something is inevitable, why bother trying to resist it? As many of us have discovered the hard way, resigning yourself to a sexually unfulfilling relationship doesn’t work too well either. Telling yourself that something is okay doesn’t make it so.
A big part of what makes sex so exciting in the early stages of a relationship is the mystery and newness inherent in the process of discovering, and becoming known by another person. There is risk and unpredictability in the process that brings with it a sense of danger and excitement, which makes for a heightened degree of physical and emotional stimulation. After a while, we may begin to think that we already know this other person and therefore don’t need to pay very close attention to them. When we stop being curious about who this person is and start thinking that we already know them inside and out, themotivation to be curious, attentive, and fully engaged becomes weaker, and the level of pleasure that we experience with them diminishes.
Of course, we don’t ever completely know each other, but telling ourselves we do enables us to go on automatic, just like when we drive the same route to work every day. We can get there without having to pay much attention to what we’re doing. We listen to music, talk on the phone, eat lunch, put on eye shadow, and think about other things, but sex isn’t like driving a car-at least hopefully it isn’t. It’s not about getting somewhere; it’s about being somewhere.
And there is only one place to be when you want to experience physical intimacy, and that is here. This is unfortunately much easier said than done. It takes practice and effort to break the habit of indulging our frequently distractible minds. Sometimes what’s happening doesn’t feel very pleasant, and we’re not very inclined to want to be here now. Until we come to terms with whatever it is that we would rather not think about or feel, it’s likely that we will find ourselves resistant to being fully present with our partner and ourselves.
But what may be the biggest factor for most couples that have experienced a diminishment of pleasure in their relationship is insufficient honesty. There is nothing that takes the passion out of a relationship faster than dishonesty and withheld resentments. The concealment of the truth or any deliberate misrepresentation almost always results in a diminishment of integrity in the relationship. When integrity is broken and not repaired, the quality of connection is diminished whether both partners are aware of the break or just one.
There is little we can do that is more valuable than taking the time to handle “incompletions” so that we not only don’t avoid long periods of uninterrupted time together but are motivated to create more of them. Taking time to be together without distraction is one of the most valuable ways to reignite the passion in an intimate relationship.
Can’t afford it, you say? Think again. Considering the benefits, you can’t afford not to. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or take an extended exotic trip somewhere. When the will is there, possibilities that were previously unrecognized “magically” appear. Now is the time to do it, and of course summer is the best time of all. Long, lazy summer days and cool nights are made for sensory delight. Get out there and enjoy!
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