WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO SUSTAIN PASSION?by Peter Roussos, M.A.
Marriage and Family Therapist
My experience in working with couples who come to therapy because of sexual difficulties is that unsatisfying sex or a lack of sex is consistently preceded by, and perpetuated by a pronounced, often profound, sense of emotional disconnection between the partners. These couples often talk about a “lack of intimacy” between them.
There are many stereotypical ideas about what “intimacy” is. Many people believe that intimacy is primarily about sex. Others believe that intimacy should always be comfortable and pleasant. Many view intimacy as something that women are capable of and men are destined to struggle with. All of these views of intimacy overlook the core dynamic of what it means to function intimately, which is the gaining of knowledge about oneself and one’s partner while being emotionally engaged and connected.
Mature intimacy is a process of self-definition and self-revelation to others. It is about knowing and understanding ourselves, and having a willingness to show who we really are to our partners. Intimacy requires a willingness to “see” and understand our partner for who he/she really is. With the requisite honesty, intimacy will often be uncomfortable, but will always be deeply meaningful, because it is fundamentally about emotional connection.
The level of intimacy between a couple is determined by each partners’ ability to tolerate the discomfort that often comes with being emotionally close to someone. Intimacy often means saying things that your partner may not want to hear, or your hearing things from your partner that make you uncomfortable. It is the couple’s ability to stay engaged and connected during such discomfort that allows them to work through issues that challenge closeness.
In sex, expressing our wants can be very uncomfortable especially if we think our partner is going to react unfavorably. People who are anxious about tension or disagreement will often not express their sexual feelings thus sacrificing aspects of their sexuality in the process. Boredom and disconnection can quickly follow.
I have often had the experience in my work with couples where one partner accuses the other “of not being interested in sex”. As I explore the issue further the partners who are supposedly not interested in sex, often report that they masturbate regularly, and that they are interested in sex and fantasize about sex. The “high desire” partner is typically surprised by this news and is faced with the uncomfortable realization that they have been wrong in their thinking that their partner is not interested in sex. The truth is that the supposedly “low desire” partner is interested in sex, but they have, for a variety of reasons, lost desire for the partner.
Further discussion with these kinds of couples usually reveals patterns of disconnection that often start with limited communication, and overwhelming demands of work, home, and parenting. These couples typically have little time for each other. Often the partners discover that they have lost respect for each other. This is especially common for couples when one partner thinks they have made a good faith effort to address the marital issues only to be stonewalled by the other. Sex suffers greatly under these circumstances, because it is difficult to feel healthy desire for someone you feel you don’t “know” anymore, or someone whom you do not respect. It is difficult to feel desire for someone whom you don’t think understands you or appreciates you.
Many couples lose touch sexually because they don’t make time for each other. Connection needs to happen inside and outside of the bedroom. Desire is sustained by non-sexual behaviors that demonstrate love, consideration, appreciation and respect.
Couples who are willing to openly face, struggle with, and work through sexual challenges are often able to achieve tremendous personal growth and to develop a deeper level of intimacy with each other. By learning how to better manage their anxiety and discomfort, these couples are able to develop a greater desire for intimacy and a greater tolerance for closeness and connection. Their sex lives blossom in the process.
So what does it take to take to sustain passion in a marriage? Passion is part of a relationship in which the partners are able to tolerate healthy, mature intimacy with each other. Passionate sex is driven by honest expression of one’s self, by openness and curiosity about one’s partner, and by mutual respect, and consideration between partners. It is this level of connection that allows couples to sustain passion for each other, and to continually develop their sexual relationship over a lifetime. Couples who have this kind of intimacy tolerance find that while aging may limit what they do sexually, their depth of connection with each other, and their sense of passion for each other, is limitless.
Pete Roussos, a Carmel Valley resident, is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Del Mar who works with adolescents and adults in individual, couple, and family psychotherapy. He can be reached at (858) 755-2505.
Peter Roussos, M.A., MFT