Sexual Passion: Is Passion Possible in Long-Term Relationships?

“We’re so comfortable with each other, and that’s great—I wouldn’t give that up for anything. But sometimes I wish there was a little more spark in our marriage, a little excitement. Do you know what I mean?”  ~ Marianne, married nineteen years

“Our relationship was so intense, probably too intense, maybe that’s why it ended. But you couldn’t say we didn’t have passion. But it somehow got the better of us…I’ve learned firsthand that a relationship isn’t just built on adrenaline rides.”   ~ Dwayne, discussing a five-year-old relationship that ended

In the above quotes, Marianne and Dwayne are talking about passion—in one example, a marriage devoid of passion’s charge and, in another, a relationship overrun by passion’s fury without a stable foundation to contain the passion. 

Can Passion Be Created?

Typically when people talk about passion, they are referring to sexual passion: A strong sexual desire and/or an intense sexual experience—one that is exciting and enlivening.

While you might make the argument that some people are inherently more passionate then others, passion doesn’t simply exist inside a person, isolated from the circumstances of his/her life—passion (particularly passion in long-term relationships) requires certain external conditions in order to exist.

Passion often exists at the crossroads between our seemingly contradictory human needs for novelty/ discovery/excitement and our needs for security/stability/predictability.  Often new relationships involve higher levels of discovery (self- and other-discovery), excitement, and newness, ingredients that seem to invite passion, or make us more open to exploring and expressing our passionate selves.

But as the newness wanes and predictability takes over the relationship landscape, feelings of excitement and mutual discovery give way to familiarity and emotional security—essential conditions that bring a deep sense of emotional connection and stability.  It has been argued, however, that when couples become too comfortable with each other (when comfort becomes complacency), when you can predict each other’s every move with remarkable accuracy, when what you see is what you get (total transparency without any surprises or mystery), then passion’s potential is lost, and if passion can be achieved, it’s muted at best and needs ongoing resuscitation.

If this is true, then many couples in long-term marriages and relationships face a challenge—they need to deliberately set up passion-friendly conditions. Long-term lovers must break out of deeply-held, routinized patterns of relating to each other in order to create something new, an ever-changing relationship playing field that allows for surprise and that allows for continued self/other discovery (no matter how well you think you know each other).

In addition to doing something different (different from their predictable norm), couples in long-term relationships must perceive each other differently, seeing one another (even temporarily) with new eyes rather than familiar eyes (that is, the eyes that only see what they expect to see).

Is Passion Overrated?

We will explore this important question in my next blog post.

Did you know that many couples describe their marriage or relationship in very positive terms, even though passion is not a central feature of their relationship?  So while some couples see passion as essential to a healthy relationship and feel distressed when it is missing, the “passion equals a healthy relationship” viewpoint doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

For more information, check out my “Is Passion Overrated?”  blog post.

Sex, Passion and Intimacy Resources

If you’d like more information on how to increase passion in your marriage or relationship, check out my comprehensive, easy-to-use How to Spice Up Your Relationship Life ebook.

Effective couples communication and a fulfilling sex life go hand-in-hand. To add communication strategies and skills to your relationship toolbox, check out my communication workbook.

Here’s to increasing passion and intimacy in your relationship!

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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