The following article is a companion to my recent article, Is Passion Possible in Long-Term Relationships?
In my work as a psychologist and couples counselor, I’ve observed the tendency for some couples to think that their marriage or relationship should be a certain way, somehow other than it is: “We should communicate more”; “We should spend more time together”; “We should have more shared interests”; “We should be having more sex”; “We should…”; “Why aren’t we…?”
When couples present with the beliefs that their relationship should be a particular way, I often ask them, “Why? Why do you believe that things should be different as you’re suggesting?”; “Who said you should be having more sex?” “Why do you want more passion, and what would that look like for you and your partner?”
These questions get to a particular issue that is important for all of us to consider:
Do you want a more passionate relationship (or more specifically, a more passionate sex life) because not having passion is causing you distress and you feel that something important is truly missing, or do you want more passion because you think you’re supposed to have more passion?
Whose Passion Standards Are You Trying to Live Up to?
Thinking that your relationship/marriage should be or is supposed to be a particular way can arise when you: 1) Compare your relationship to other couples or some external standard that you are allowing to dictate your relationship reality; 2) You compare the current reality of your relationship to something that might have existed in your relationship history (for instance, thinking that the passion and excitement you had when you first married should be achievable today).
Assessing your relationship by someone else’s reality can cause problems because in doing so, you are more likely to interpret any differences that exist between your relationship and this external standard as an indication that your relationship is somehow amiss. In short, you end up judging your relationship as not right or broken, and, in the process, you fail to recognize the unique circumstances of your life and the particular rhythms that may work for you and your partner.
The truth is that not all couples seek or need sexual passion, nor do they feel that something important is missing from their relationship because their union might be described by an outsider as passionless or mundane. When you come to believe that you “should” have a more passionate marriage or relationship, when you tell yourself that passion is a necessary ingredient to relationship fulfillment (without taking the time to reflect upon what is your particular truth and your partner’s truth and what brings meaning and fulfillment to your lives), then you are doing your relationship an injustice. You just might be over-idealizing the notion of passion at the exclusion of what works for you and your partner.
For many of the couples I’ve worked with, what matters most is a sense of safety and security with one’s spouse/partner, a security that allows them to express their deepest longings– even if the predictability and familiarity that allows for emotional security and stability comes at the cost of passion. For these couples, emotional transparency and intimacy is prioritized over the sensuous fires of intense passion. And this works well for many couples.
The Complexities Of Passion
Passion, I believe, has become one of those terms that conceals just as much as it reveals. The experience of passion is layered with meaning—the sexual-passionate experience exists at the intersection of the psychological, emotional, physiological, interpersonal and cultural—all powerful influences that continually shape and color our experiences, including passion and sexuality.
For some, passion is about abandon and escape from the confines of domesticity; for others, it is the selfless giving to another that is passionately restorative and enlivening; for some, passion, power and control go hand-in-hand; for others, feeling sexually alive is about being “bad” and getting caught; yet for some people, passion awakens when tinged with aggressiveness and the need to push oneself and one’s relationship beyond certain limits without worrying about the other’s feelings…and so on. What is passionate for one may appear subdued and highly ordinary for another—we are indeed varied, complex and layered beings, and our turn-ons and turn-offs reflect this complexity.
But whether acknowledged or not, the need for and experience of passion (in whatever shape and form it takes) is a highly personal experience that rests on the desire to express our deepest selves and vulnerabilities with a partner who will fully accept and love us (foibles and all).
So do you really want more passion in your relationship? Or do you tend to idealize passion, thinking that your relationship should be more passionate for reasons that do not truly reflect what you want or need?
Marriage and Relationship Workbook
Is passion truly important to you and your partner?
If so, for information about how to make passion a regular part of your marriage/relationship, click Sex in Marriage to learn more.
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro