3 Reasons Why Your Successful Relationship is Ruining Your Sex Life
Vulnerability is a tough gig. Although we crave to be seen and understood, to lay down our masks and expose the fleshy bits beneath the armour, the actual doing of this is a whole other story.
The worst part?
In relationships, especially long ‘successful’ ones, we don’t get a choice on the vulnerability front. Our partners inevitably see all of us: the rational and irrational, the gentle and the prickly, that time you were super mad at them for staying out with the boys when they should have been at home with you and the kids. And that is terrifying. Love is terrifying.
You would think that all this rolling around in vulnerability and knowingness would lead to a deeper connection and a more satisfying sex life. Nope. Nein. Non.
We become more sexually timid as time goes on. The longer the relationship, the safer the sex. The more we stick to our MO.
1. The longer you’re with someone, the more you rely on them for an ever increasing proportion of your needs.
The two of you meet through a friend and you’re both relieved by the thought this could signal an end to dating. After about a year, you move in together and begin the process of merging your belongings (by merge, I mean you culled most of his gross, bachelor stuff and kept your nicer couch). Pretty soon the joint bills start flowing in and you decide it’s easier to have a joint bank account. A few years on from that, he proposes one magical evening to the backdrop of a killer sunset and of course you say yes. Wedding, check. Purchase of own house, check. A baby or two, check. Eight years go by and now your everything is intermingled. Your names are on bills, mortgages, bank accounts, and birth certificates. You can’t see where he ends and you begin.
It’s at about this point you decide you don’t want to risk the security of your empire for excitement and exploration in the bedroom. Since the children, you don’t have that much sex anyway and the two go-to positions are adequate. You’re seemingly satisfied with defining your sex life with adjectives like ok, fine and good.
From time to time your mind may wander to greener pastures; a movie or a friend’s tale sparks your imagination. But you don’t say anything to your partner. Why?
It’s a huge risk to the harmony of status quo when our loved ones behave unexpectedly. When those who tread a worn path in our daily routines and hearts suddenly veer off in another direction, we may feel unsettled or worse, terror. You think to yourself, hang on, that’s not your kind of thing. And then your mind wanders to all the other things they may like that they haven’t told you about. Have they already done these things? Am I no longer enough? Shit, I knew we weren’t having enough sex. The fear unspools and the ignorant bliss is shattered.
This is exactly why many feel they are unable to raise new ideas or try new things in long term relationships. Comfort has a higher currency than excitement when your everything would come unstuck if it all went pear shaped.
2. Shame With A Side Order Of Guilt
So let’s say your partner has calculated a cost benefit ratio of mixing things up in the bedroom and has taken the risk of sharing a longing or fantasy. It’s so different from anything you’ve ever done together. The metallic taste of disgust reaches your mouth before you properly consider the proposition and you spit out a ‘hell no, why would you even want to do that?!’ Even if you don’t say the words aloud, your scrunched nose and shoulder shiver gives you away.
We shame others when they suggest something that pushes us out of our comfort zone. Our immediate reaction is to reject them in order to protect our delicate sensibilities. Our boundaries are so rigidly in place that their benign — and dare I say exciting — suggestion feels like a declaration of war.
Philosopher Alain de Botton suggests shaming is linked with guilt. Social and religious conditioning has taught us to feel guilt and shame around a lot of this stuff. Guilt is the ball and chain to fantasy and imagination. We take far too much ownership over our imagination and like an errant child, we try and wrangle it into submission with a stiff moral upper lip. Internally, our scripting goes something like this: ‘I must be a bad person if I want to be tied up and spanked.’
World renowned couples therapist Esther Perel affirms that we don’t know how to listen to another’s imaginings or vulnerabilities without it triggering something in us. The trick is to find a way to put space between the feeling and the reaction. To short circuit the shame shit storm and ask — ‘what is this triggering in me?’ before shutting down a chance to sprinkle routine and familiarity with novelty and adventure.
3. The Melding of Two Into One
To explain this one, let’s begin with a social media example. Do any of you have married friends who share the same Facebook or Instagram account? I do and it really grinds my gears. To me, social media is an opportunity to discover and share the many layers of who you are. You follow those that inspire and delight you, and you share with others what resonates. It’s not your identity per se but it is a portrayal of it, or at least a portrayal of who you wish you were. Either or. It’s about you, sharing and connecting with others. Note the pronoun — you. In case I haven’t made it clear, nothing shits me more than a joint social media account. I feel like it’s a dearth on individuality.
Recently I was asked to write a few words for a friend’s wedding ceremony. I began my research in earnest, wanting to convey the optimism of being in love with the realities of love itself. I was encouraged to find this passage:
It is the goal of marriage to achieve a blending of hearts and lives, but let there be spaces in your new life together so that each may encourage and nurture the individual growth of the other.
Your wanton desire bellows an Amen!
Here’s what usually happens in long term relationships: intimacy thickens and emotional connection gets stronger and people disconnect from their desire. Increased emotional intimacy often means decreased sexual desire.
Basically, it’s hard to feel attracted to someone who has abandoned their sense of autonomy. You can love them but it’s much harder to desire them. There’s no tension and desire flourishes in the polarity of energy.
The antidote? Rediscover your self-reliance. Stop sharing everything. For God’s sake get your own social media account.
So what do you do with all this intel?
Recognise how difficult it can be to breathe life into a sexual rut and applaud the courage mustered by your partner to share longings or suggest new ideas. If they didn’t care about you or the health of your relationship, they wouldn’t risk losing your acceptance for it. There is little worse in a relationship than being met with the shiver of disgust. Listening without reacting is hard. Really hard. Try and get better at it. It’s worth it. The other person’s reaction is not a reflection of you. It’s them coming up against the hard edges of shame, guilt and conditioned morality. Be gentle. A flower never opens with force. Do you dare to know what you want? And can you put your own discomfort aside and stomach the wanting of your partner?
If you can, the payoff a more satisfied, vibrant, abundant relationship and life. Sounds worth it to me.