Getting the spark back!
Every so often it's good to take stock of our primary relationship. Perhaps the most frequent question is, ‘do we still have that spark anymore?’
Most couples are realistic that their long-term relationship is not likely to be as sparky as a new love affair, and accept that, as domestic routine takes over - work, children, money worries and tiredness - things will change.
It’s ok living like this if we know that, given a holiday, or even a little time together, we will get our mojo back. But if it goes on too long - well, each individual can start to feel lonely, lost, and eventually resentful. Things then become scratchy, rows become more frequent, and a sense of despondency sets in.
Passion, excitement, and sex either slow down, stop, or even worse, perhaps, become a chore. (in fact, the main reasons couples stop having sex is simply because one or both partners stop looking forward to it - it’s just another thing to tick off on the list of things to be done.)
While sex isn’t perhaps the most important aspect of a long-term relationship, it is the part that distinguishes us from being housemates or just friends. So when sex slows down or stops, we can lose faith that we are any more than just companions. Sex is an important sign of us being special. But what if we have stopped looking forward to it? Can we get those feelings back?
Working with your partner on these issues without outside help can be really daunting. First of all, for most of us sex is still an embarrassing area - few of us find it easy to discuss our sexuality, fantasies and desires, and our partner may seem, paradoxically, the least easy person to open a dialogue with on this. There is too much vulnerability when it’s someone that might reject you or be shocked, or feel as equally embarrassed as you do.
How easy is it to say, ‘I’m not sure if I fancy you any more?’ (or hear those words from your partner).
Each partner may be experiencing these issues - sometimes with one partner ‘wanting it’ while the other doesn’t - but neither knowing really what to do. Books on ‘spicing up your sex life’ tend to be about new positions, new techniques and so on - when actually, what’s happening is not a failure of technique at all, it’s a loss or erotic curiosity and imagination.
Couples will often then start going to bed at different times so as to avoid the sex issue, or get into low-level bickering which keeps them at arm’s length from each other, and has the same effect of avoiding intimacy.
Another route you could take, particularly if talking has become difficult, is to seek a specialist relationship counsellor. Chances are, your partner feel the same sense of things going nowhere, and may welcome the chance to ‘un-stick’ things.
Couple therapy to help re-establish a fun sex life together may start with some generic issues that usually make couples feel better! For example, it is normal in a long-term relationship for sex to taper off, but it's not a sign of failure. In addition, almost all couples struggle with the weight of domesticity and familiarity ‘squeezing out’ excitement and erotic imagination.
After these reassurances, the therapist may be more interested in how you transact outside the bedroom rather than in it. So he or she may talk to you about how playful you are together, and if and when you get a chance to just be together.
At some point, the therapist may also want to talk in general terms about how things are erotic for each of you - for example, most of us know that sex on holiday can be more exciting simply because we are out of our normal routine. So there may be elements of surprise, control, transgression and naughtiness and so on, that once understood, make it easier to respond to each others erotic sensibilities.
Most couples find this work far less embarrassing or intrusive than they imagined, and even quite a liberation when they find they have opened a channel of communication about sex with their partner, often for the very first time (in the beginning, when the sex was good, we didn't need to talk about it - but then when things tailed off, we found we didn't have a language to discuss it).
The fact is, couples have to really work at the erotic connection between themselves, with or without outside help, because long-term relationships are not designed to be good for erotic sex (if that sounds cynical, just ask your friends!). This may explain why so many individuals seem to have great sex when they are in short-term relationship with less suitable partners, and then end up with a lovely and loving generous partner that they adore, but don’t always feel the same level of desire for (it might be helpful if we talked more honestly to our adolescents about this aspect of their futures, instead of giving them the idealised version which is likely to disappoint).
Sex, though, will usually take care of itself when the feelings are right - feelings of curiosity, playfulness and anticipation. Re-imagining the relationship, and each other, is quite possible and - if you’re intending staying together - well worth the effort!
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