How To Get Your Shit Together and Love Yourself In The Process
3 Essentials For Making Love Last
A marriage doesn’t end with divorce. It ends with the loss of your past self, the woman with a light in her eyes and a spark in her body. More specifically, it ends with the suffocation of desire in the pursuit of lofty love ideals.
Mary is 39. She’s married to Jack and has a five year old daughter, Lily.
Mary’s feels heavy with responsibilities and she finds it hard to switch off at the end of the day. A glass of red always helps.
Success is important to Mary and she sets many goals for her life. These include her performance at work, when they’ll pay down the mortgage, how she styles their home, where they’ll holiday next, what school her daughter will go to, and what she’ll pack into her lunchbox. Other than the odd date night, she doesn’t set specific goals for her marriage because achieving their dream lifestyle together will keep them strong.
Mary believes in marriage. She shed a tear when Meghan and Harry said ‘I do’, their marriage signalling the saviour of the flailing institution. ‘See!’ she says, ‘the world needs more love’. She’s been married for eight years.
During these eight years Mary has come to accept her lack of desire for Jack. She sometimes worries he’ll cheat but even fear can’t rally her lethargic libido. At the end of a long day she wants to want Jack, but she doesn’t.
She talks to her friends about her worries but they’re in the same boat. They all agree it’s just what happens.
One evening Jack goes out with his mates. It’s the second time this month and Mary feels a pang of resentment. ‘I never go out’, she snarks. What she means is, I’d like to be as carefree as Jack, enjoying myself and not worrying about looking after Lily with a hangover tomorrow. The fun rarely outweighs the suffering the next day, she concludes. She has enough on her plate and doesn’t need to make it harder for herself.
That evening, as Mary watches The Good Place her mind is mostly on Jack. It’s getting late. She texts him, ‘Are you having fun?’ This is code for ‘When are you coming home?’
There’s no reply.
Mary is feeling insecure and dare I say, a little abandoned. Things haven’t been great between them lately. They’ve hardly had any time together between work and all the other life stuff. She thinks it’s probably been a month since they had sex.
The fear bubbles. Jack has subtly exerted his independence and this reminds Mary that she isn’t in charge of Jack. He’s free to make his own choices. What if he doesn’t choose her?
Love needs three things to last: identity, independence and intimacy.
This is where the getting your shit together part comes in.
Women are culturally conditioned to please others and whilst this is awesome for harmony, it sucks for personal identity. Esther Perel, leading couples psychotherapist, says women have been socialised for connection and vulnerability and the result is a loss of self-connection.
Our happiness is limited by this lack of self-knowledge. Our clarity is foggy and our intuition smothered. In their place, our fears and controlling tendencies run rampant.
A way to temper this is to stay attached to your own desires, curiosities and dreams. To remember who you were before you were a wife, girlfriend or mother. That’s the woman he fell in love with after all!
Guided self-inquiry is the way to go here:
Step 1: Delve into what lights you up and weighs you down with a simple gratitude exercise. What are you grateful for and why? What frustrates or disappoints you and why? Be specific. There’s golden nuggets of insight to be found.
Step 2: Set soulful goals guided by how you want to feel when you look at the week or month ahead. Do you want to feel free? Grounded? Enough? When we set goals, we’re really chasing how achieving those goals will make us feel. For example, you might be seeking to feel secure or affluent when you buy that house. Or renewed, free and full of wonder when you jump on that plane to the Maldives. So why not start with the feelings and then set the goals? You’re more likely to feel satisfied and happy this way.
Figuring out what you really want is the KEY to fulfillment and the first step making love last.
Are you in the Blissful Burrow?
Women are especially susceptible to the idea that one person can meet all their needs. It can be comforting to be in the Blissful Burrow. You’re forging ahead on your financial and family goals, you always have a plus-1 to weddings, and there’s someone else to take the rubbish out.
Ah, this is what life is made of. Or is it?
The first red flag is the increasing use of ‘us’. When two become one. Do you call on him for your every need because you don’t feel like you can create the life you want without him? Do you see this melding as a sign of strength in your relationship? Or maybe you’re just in the habit of dialing his number?
Philosopher Alain de Botton says that in relationships ‘we throw away our supports, we have less things to call our own, and we begin making requests of each other.’ This leads to more skin in the game — mortgages, kids, extended families, emotional vulnerabilities. Leaving you less free to be yourself and act as you wish because any sudden moves will have a HUGE ripple effect.
Many women happily forgo independence to create their love story and they expect their partners to do the same. This is where tension breeds because men are much better at holding onto themselves, and so while you’re craving more quality time together, they’re often craving more them-time. They don’t see this as a blight on their love for you either, FYI.
The dilemma then isn’t how to maintain a sense of self when you’re so deeply enmeshed in another’s everything, it’s how to WANT to maintain that necessary separateness.
Some questions to ask:
What do you do for you? Make a list of all the things you enjoy doing and plan for those. Push your girlfriends out of their own Blissful Burrows to join you. Girls need girls damn it!
When was the last time you did something for yourself without justifying it? No texting after you’ve been out shopping for an hour longer than planned to let him know you won’t be long. Leave the house and don’t say when you’ll be back.
Why does him having a life make you uncomfortable?
When you’re in the Blissful Burrow and you’ve accumulated belongings and dependencies, it’s normal to be afraid to lose him. But perhaps you’re so afraid of losing him that you’ve alienated yourself?
Love needs intimacy to survive. Fact. Otherwise you’re more like friendly flatmates, and if you wanted a flatmate you’d still be in that cramped apartment with Rachel and her string of dodgy boyfriends.
Hopefully by this point you’re clearer about what makes you feel good and you’ve booked a weekend away with your girlfriends. You’ve taken yourself out for coffee and breezily left the house with nothing more than a ‘see you later’. Perhaps you’ve even solved a few problems around the house without asking for help. Who knew that running jar lids under hot water made them easier to unscrew?
Now let’s talk about the challenge in sustaining your desire.
Sexual desire is driven by a wish for closeness and this means there must be a pre-existing sense of distance. This is tricky because increased emotional and physical intimacy is the goal in love, and as a result, there’s very little unknown territory to explore. Aka we’ve seen each other’s wobbly bits and we think we know each other pretty well. We’ve grown so close to our partners that they blend into our lives.
Cue the pained cries of your dying desire.
The antidote? Taking charge of our own happiness and doing things separately is necessary to create space for desire to blossom. I know it feels like you never see each other as it is, but trust me, this is a biggie for making love last.
The good news is, desire is fueled by ideas and sensations just as much as it is a physical response, and a shift in thinking or a new perspective can rekindle the flickering flame.