“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.” -Elizabeth Barrett Browning
We are not a happy sexual bunch. According to a recent CNN poll, nearly 40 million Americans are stuck in a sexual rut, and more than 52 percent of us are dissatisfied with our love lives. A neglected, unhealthy sex life makes relationships more vulnerable to anger and resentment and is often cited as the primary motivation for infidelity. Unfortunately, you can’t really cure an unhealthy sex life without curing the aspects of the relationship that lead you to avoiding intimacy. I know from the thousands of people I have spoken to over the years that a malfunctioning sex life is the result of malfunctioning relating, and almost never the other way around.
1. Living with people and their quirks and anomalies is fundamentally different from falling in love with them. Falling in love is all about the biologically-driven attractions that make all of our partner’s traits seem loveable. After that spell wears off, what we mostly find is that the same traits we found loveable can over time become annoying. The best therapist we ever had told me this million dollar piece of advice one day when I thought I couldn’t stand another minute of my husband’s zealous need for order and cleanliness. He asked me to hold those strong feelings in one hand, and then he asked me to open the other hand and list what I loved about my husband. As I sat there with my hands open, I saw for the first time what a balanced perspective of love looks like. It allows you to not get so swept up in what is annoying you that you lose sight of what you love. It is, he taught me, what mature love looks and feels like.
2. I personally witness in my own family how often we can get completely sidetracked by needing to be right, above all. Relationships that live in a constant proving ground of right and wrong leave little room for anything else. One person is always on the defense and the other one seems to always be ready to prove their point. All of the most compelling human qualities of relating, like being curious and open about what makes your partner tick, get swallowed up and the seeds of loving intimacy are squashed each time someone is made wrong. If you can’t think about your relationship as a form of education, then it’s not worth being in it.
3. Take your foot out of the door. So many relationships suffer from an internal reticence where one or both partners can’t or won’t fully commit to the person they have chosen. The tragic thing about the one-foot-out-the-door syndrome is that you never really get to see what the relationship could become. Relationships that have both partners all in will tell you that problems get resolved, issues move forward, and compassionate connection flourishes because both people are committed to the container of their love first. This might be the most prevalent bad excuse for infidelity, when people immaturely commit and don’t realize that making a promise to someone actually means giving up the ability to choose anyone else.
4. Bringing gratitude into your relationship will revolutionize your intimate life. You can’t be grateful if you don’t know how to receive the love your partner is giving you. Learning to receive may well be the most significant educational deficit, which many of us bring to our relationships. Receiving means letting go of what you think it should look like and listening for what is behind the words you are hearing. Applying these practices to your most intimate moments may well surprise you with an ability to experiment with and communicate about the wide range of pleasure-seeking that is lurking within your relationship. When people feel appreciated as they are and know that their love is acceptable just as it is, the door opens wide for passion.
5. Stop holding your relationship and your partner hostage for your unresolved endings, past self-esteem crises and old internal conflicts. A healthy relationship is not supposed to function as a healing balm for unresolved inner pain. The container of love that is a relationship is where two people intentionally work to bring their best selves to create a space where everyone can become a better version of themselves. It cannot bear the weight of unfinished personal development issues that one partner neglects or refuses to see. There is nothing sexy about this relationship trap that usually ends up making both people sick instead of well.
All of this relationship work should make it easy to commit to a regularly scheduled sex life. No excuses, no delays, no unwillingness to experiment and discover how amazing coupled pleasure can be. Bringing curiosity to the bedroom is sometimes all it takes to get out of a repetitive rut. Holding a balanced view of how you love someone will give you the patience and ability to be vulnerable, both prerequisite to an expanding sexual vocabulary. Full on presence and gratefully receiving your lover is actually the key to orgasmic fireworks. Why look any further? Infidelity is not what it is cracked up to be.