Sex, fun and individual growth

Long-term relationships should offer each partner two things. The relationship should feel like the best place for individual growth. And it should be fun.

This model of ‘growth and fun’ is quite different to the usual idea that long-term relationships are all about love and sex. Actually, we know that long-term love and desire seem to pull in opposite directions: the weight of familiarity and domesticity - the world we build together - makes erotic sex difficult. Freud describes this: ‘that which he desires, he cannot love, and that which he loves, he cannot desire.‘

My growth/fun model looks at this tension is a different way. We start, not with the couple, but with the two individuals with it. We also start with the assumption that each individual is on a life-long quest for growth, development, individuation, self-expression, development and self-understanding.

We don't even really need to ask why this is. We can just observe the fact that almost all humans seek this sense of growth, and become resentful, bored and feel hemmed-in when they don't experience it

Most people also seek long-term relationships in adult life. Throughout life we are connected to others and dependent on our networks, and as a child our individual identity only emerges out of our primary relationships. As adults, therefore, it is likely that we will seek a long-term relationship, and that it will become the context of our continuing individual growth.

Our long-term relationship should therefore act as a secure base for this individual growth. The imperative for each partner is to allow their spouse maximum freedom to flower, change and experience themselves as individuals. Controlling behaviour is as injurious to this process as not listening to the dreams and aspirations of your partner. Remember, your partner doesn't need a relationship with you to experience growth. People leave relationships when they feel their potential to grow is being inhibited. Conversely, if the relationship feels like the best place to be productive, creative and become who they want to be - why would they leave?

The other thing we seek, beside growth, is fun. This may be because humans - like monkeys - are naturally playful. Or it may be that, faced with loss, suffering, and our mortality - all part of our human condition - we choose to whistle as as ship sinks! Either way, we know that without fun, life is drab, alienating and ultimately just not worthwhile.

Since, as we have observed, most of us will choose to be in long-term relationships, they should also offer us the potential for fun. If I feel that being in the relationship is a great place to feel playful, I will value it. But since no-one needs a relationship to have fun, the impetus will be to leave the relationship if this need is not being met.

Where does love and sex fit into the growth/fun model?

Love is the secure base of the relationship - the fondness, caring, respect and interest we have for each other, the world we've built together, having kids, buying property, our friends, things we do and so on. It is this love relationship that can, and should, offer the context for our individual growth, and fun.

Sex, as opposed to love, is clearly in the fun category. Sex is a subset of fun - if you’re having fun, you’re more likely to have sex. Fun without sex is fine - sex without fun is not fine. If you stop having sex, it maybe because it’s not fun anymore - just a chore. Joyless 'tick box' sex (doing it because you think you should) is no fun.

But sex is also, perhaps surprisingly, about growth. Our erotic sensibilities are quite like our aesthetic sense - potentially, a life-long voyage of discovery and learning. The erotic is a particular way we look - for example, at our partner. If we are looking at our partner and seeing our best friend, we are unlikely to be aroused; but if we look at our partner with different eyes we may recapture that sense of excitement. This way of relating to the world, to others, to situations, is a natural human capacity. It is autonomous - we all have an erotic sense before we enter relationships, and it reflects our emotional as well as physical needs. For example, the erotic fantasy of being 'swept away’ or in the control of your partner, maybe how we suffuse with pleasure something previously experienced as painful - the experience of powerlessness in childhood.

So eroticism, fantasy, and sex are all about a particular connection with the world, with others, and most importantly with ourselves and our past. It is therefore all about growth, as well as fun.

Thinking about relationships this way means we see love as the base, offering individual growth and fun, and sex in both categories.

I hope this is a helpful way to to look at your relationship.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hampton, TW12
Written by James Earl, MSW (Sussex) PgDip (Relate) Prof CertT PST (Relate)
Hampton, TW12

I am a relationship counsellor for couples and individuals, helping with communication problems, affairs, and loss of intimacy and desire. Professionally trained and fully qualified. Based in Teddington, West London. First sessions are free.

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