Sunday, February 2, 2014

Restoring Desire in Marriage

Throughout human history the vast majority of marriages have been arrangements. When the lust begins to wane in an arranged marriage, no one panics or runs off to the nearest therapist. For many participants the change is welcome. In others it feels like par for the course.

When marriages are arranged, those who seek the joy of romantic love often look outside of marriage. Traditionally, adultery has been the go-to cure for waning sexual desire.

For many people it still is.

But, what about the couples who married for love and who find that the thrill has gone? If adultery is not an option, what are they to do?

For nearly all members of the human species the gradual decline of sexual desire feels like it has something to do with biology. If you believe that biology is a social construct you might have trouble adapting to advancing age. If you begin to believe that your mind can change the course of biology you will be engaging in depressive thinking. Accepting reality may be a good, though paradoxical way, to keep desire alive in a love marriage.

Most people believe that conjugal desire is dampened by everyday domestic routines. They believe that they can revive lust by introducing more surprises and more spontaneity… or a few more trips to Victoria’s Secret.

They fail to notice that too much surprise and spontaneity can create insecurity and undermine trust and confidence. If you don’t know whether your spouse will show up on time for the appointment, you might have difficulty feeling intimate with him or her. How easy is it to continue loving someone who causes you unnecessary stress.

Daniel Jones offers an overview of the latest advice on offer from the world of marriage counseling. He seems chagrined by the fact that these counselors are offering more routines. Up to a point, one feels that he is right. How exciting can it be to schedule love making?

Jones describes what people find when their marriage counseling is designed to restore their waning sexual desire:

It won’t take long for them to find out that, surprisingly, the most recommended strategy for reigniting passion in marriage — passion that has waned in part because of the deadening weight of its routines — involves loading up the relationship with even more routines: date nights, couples counseling, dance classes, scheduled sex, 10 for 10s (committing to 10 hugs of 10-seconds in duration every single day), fresh flower Fridays (a boon to the local florist, if not your marriage), required kisses upon parting, lunchtime exchanges of erotic texts, and possibly some creative midday play at the local Holiday Inn involving silk scarves and an eye patch.

Such restorative activities fall into two groups: drudgery and spice. The drudgery, like research and couples counseling, is supposed to be hard work, whereas the spice, such as “creative” bedroom play and kisses upon parting, is supposed to be fun. Depending on a couple’s proclivities, however, the drudgery may turn out to be fun (like reading to each other in bed from marriage improvement books) and the attempts at spice may start to feel like work (having to get out of the car and go back inside because you yet again forgot your required parting kiss).

These attempts at relighting the flame may work for some, but for others they seem to be less about feeling sexy or “rediscovering” each other than they are about demonstrating a nose-to-the-grindstone determination to try anything to stay together and remain vital, which can have a bonding appeal of its own.

Jones is correct on the last point. Couples that undertake these exercises are, at the least, working together. It is surely better (and even sexier) to engage in cooperative enterprise than to be at cross purposes.

Unfortunately, far too many people believe that they can rekindle sexual desire by provoking and stoking conflict. In the short run, it might well lead to some great make-up sex, but that is a misdirection. Eventually, conflict will be so exhausting and will create so much insecurity that it will extinguish most concupiscent longings.

It might not make very much sense but couple harmony is essential to sustaining sexual desire.

Spouses need to feel that they are together, as a couple. Couples routines contribute mightily to this togetherness, in large part because they do not cause people to waste their time deciding who is going to do what, when, and how. As I said, you feel much closer to a spouse you know you can always count on.

Spouses who feel that they are independent, autonomous individuals will not feel like they are together. Each will each be marching to his or her own drum. They might occasionally go bump in the night, but their intimacy will feel more like a chore than like fun.

In many ways, one of the most effective ways to kill desire is to politicize a marriage. If you are conducting your marriage according to the dictates of an ideology, you will probably not be doing what needs to be done to function as part of a couple. You will prefer to sharpen conflict than to negotiate compromise. Eventually, you will grow apart and lose that loving feeling.

If you want to bring back the desire, try depoliticizing your marriage.

Also, unlearn what you learned in school. Especially, unlearn the bad mental habit of criticizing and finding fault with yourself, your nation, your job and especially your spouse.

If you spend your time finding fault with your spouse you will be diminishing desire. If you believe that dissent and criticism are signs of conjugal loyalty you are going to have a problem sustaining desire.

People who are depressed often excel at criticizing others. People who are depressed often rationalize their criticism of others by saying that they are highly self-critical. People who are depressed often feel disconnected from other people. People who are depressed suffer a conspicuous lack of sexual desire. 

One does well not to emulate their example.


Leo G said...

Interesting. This guy did a lot for my marriage - Athol Kay, and as far as I can tell, he doesn't even have a degree!

Lastango said...

"If you want to bring back the desire, try depoliticizing your marriage."

That'll be a challenge for feminists -- deliberately and methodically politicizing the relationship is a feminist goal. Raising their partner's consciousness and calling out their privilege is all in a day's work. They do this to friends and acquaintances too, with the encouragement and advice of other feminists. As Stuart writes elsewhere, imagine being married to one.

One problem I have with the advice about introducing scheduled couples events is that it seems to spring from the presumption that something is missing from the relationship. I much prefer the tenor of the "try depoliticizing your marriage" viewpoint because I suspect it would be much more productive to look first for what might be driving or pulling the couple apart. (In business, the parallel thought is that the quickest way to raise your profits is to cut costs and reduce waste). For one example, here's a snip from a web article:


"I contend that swearing in general has lowered our language skills and is the rotting of virtually all meaningful relationships," says Mr. Rinderle, who was married for 28 years before his 1987 divorce. "To this day I often reflect that swearing was the beginning and perpetual fuel of my marriage decline."


Said another way, the distractions, counterproductive friends, and other pursuits that lead to the two people in effect living separately in the same house might be a cause of the two people growing apart, not an effect.

While the couple is taking out the divisive trash, they can also consider adopting what can bring them together. But that might not be specific activities or techniques, like a scheduled "date night" or flowers every Friday. Laura Doyle, author of "The Surrendered Wife", might suggest that it's far better to observe that the masculine and feminine attract each other, and to consider how to re-adopt those roles. Make this foundational shift, and the regular sex will follow. Distractions will lose their compelling appeal, and be seen as trivial in comparison to the importance of a loving relationship.

Sam L. said...

The Insta-Prof recommends maintenance sex--it could be called Nike-sex: Just Do IT.

I suspect I'm older than you, though maybe not by much. I remarried a few years ago Best sex of my life.

Estelle said...
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