Why is “vacation sex” hotter and more exciting than what most couples experience in their bedrooms at home? And more importantly, why can’t they have that kind of sex in their everyday lives?

One of the answers often given is that people are more relaxed on vacation; they’ve left work and responsibilities behind. They have the opportunity to unplug their computers and cell phones so they won’t be distracted. They are there with the purpose of having a good time, so they are in better moods and are more playful. When couples are away from home, they feel freer to be more uninhibited.

Typically couples return from vacation wanting to bring their revived sexuality home with them, but gradually, in spite of their best intentions, they slide back into the same old sex lives that they were wishing to make better. Apparently, the slogan for Vegas holds true no matter what your travel destination: whatever it is you do there is going to stay there.

The causes of the inability to bring “vacation” sex into everyday life are deep and complex. To understand them, couples have to start at the very beginning: when they first became involved. Most couples describe their early sex life as being exciting and active. In fact, it was very much like what vacation sex is for them now. But as time went by, their lovemaking fell into a routine and became less frequent. There was a decline in both the quality and quantity of their sexual encounters. In her blog, therapist and sex educator, Linda E. Savage, stated that in a long term relationship, sex often becomes “just one more task to check off your list of chores (women tend to view it that way) or a way to relax before sleep(common among men).” According to psychologist David Snarch, 70 percent of people report that their sexual life is asleep.

So it is not just vacation sex that a couple is trying to bring home; they are trying to recapture the sexuality they enjoyed at the beginning of the relationship. The real question is: What is it about everyday life that leads a relationship to lose its sizzle? One explanation, which I (along with psychologist Robert W. Firestone) wrote about in our book Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice is that “The single most important factor that contributes to the deterioration of  real love, friendship and sexuality in a relationship is the formation of a fantasy bond.” The fantasy bond is an illusion of connection or imagined fusion with another person that provides an individual with a false sense of safety, security and permanence. Afraid to be really vulnerable, trusting, and open to the uncertainty of a real relationship, people attempt to fuse or join with their loved one in their minds.

When a couple forms a fantasy bond, they begin to replace real love with a more routine style of relating. They no longer view themselves as individuals or function as two people choosing each other but as a single entity, a couple operating as one. This loss of identity contributes to a faded level of attraction. In addition, when people develop a fantasy bond, the contact between them and their partner is less close and intimate and more superficial and routine.

So why do couples enter into a fantasy bond? Although a fantasy bond can have a deadening affect on a relationship, its illusion of connection offers a sense of security. In spite of the fact that most people say they want to fall in love and are fearful of the thought of ending up alone, when a person forms a real emotional attachment to another person, it evokes a great amount of anxiety–a fear of loss, a separation from an old identity or a challenge to one’s self-protective defenses. The fantasy bond relieves each member of the couple of this anxiety and defends them against the deeper feelings of intimacy.

As a fantasy of love replaces real love, the couple’s loving behaviors gradually disappear. Before long, there is less eye contact between them and their conversations become less personal. They lose interest in both talking and listening to each other. They are no longer spontaneous and playful together. Their lovemaking becomes habitual or stops altogether. Both members of the couple become caught up in roles that support the fantasy that they are sharing life. After a while, they are no longer the interesting individuals who fell in love but they are the executive, the homemaker or the little league parent. Their communication breaks down and eventually consists of interactions about the practical aspects of these different roles. A form of love has replaced real love, and the two people are lost to each other. Once a fantasy bond is established, the partners “act out of a sense of obligation instead of a true desire to be together.”

A fantasy bond kills the sexuality in a couple’s relationship. The delusion of fusion erases the division between two people; yet it is this division that is necessary for there to be sexual attraction between them. What happens on a vacation is that the couple’s fantasy bond is broken into. They have left their roles behind and, for the time being, they are back to being two differentiated people, living in the moment, deciding what they want to do together that day. They have the opportunity to talk about themselves and what they are thinking and how they are feeling. They become individuals again, to themselves and to each other, and as this happens, their sexuality and attraction to one another is reawakened.

To retain “vacation” sex and recapture “beginning of the relationship” sex, it is necessary to challenge the fantasy bond in one’s everyday relationship. Couples have to break out of the roles that they are playing out with each other and go back to living as the complete individual each of them once was. It is important for them to take the time to talk to one another, not about practicalities or kids or other people but to give themselves and each other a chance to pay attention to how they are feeling and what is really going on in their life. Even the busiest schedule can be interrupted to take time to just be together doing whatever it is that the two of them feel like doing in the moment. Being spontaneous, doing something unexpected – any of these actions can reignite a level of passion and interest. An important piece of advice: remember to have fun; don’t be too serious or practical all the time. Act goofy and silly and don’t forget to laugh together.

By lightening their mood while deepening their feelings for one another as separate individuals, a couple can regain a real sense of connection and intimacy. The behavioral changes they are making in their overall life to break their fantasy bond will improve their sexual life. As they become more vulnerable and open to each other, they will relate on a deeper level. As a result, they will be able to be fully present and attuned to what each of them feels and wants. This emotional and behavioral shift will keep sex spontaneous, fresh and a lot more alive…even at home.

Watch video of Dr. Lisa Firestone speaking on the concept of The Fantasy Bond


Photo of couple embracing By BemDevassa (Clima de romance) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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For the past 20 years, Dr. Lisa Firestone has been a practicing clinical psychologist in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, California. Lisa works as the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association and a Senior Editor at PsychAlive.org. She has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), and Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003). An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Lisa represents The Glendon Association at national and international conferences, presenting on topics that include couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention,. Additionally, in conjunction with Joyce Catlett, Lisa conducts intensive Voice Therapy training seminars in Santa Barbara, CA. Lisa received her Ph.D. from the California School of Professional Psychology in 1991. Since 1987, she has been involved in clinical training and applied research in suicide and violence. In collaboration with Dr. Robert Firestone, Lisa’s studies have resulted in the development of the Firestone Assessment of Self-Destructive Thoughts (FAST) and the Firestone Assessment of Violent Thoughts (FAVT).