Can Sexual Desire Be Reclaimed in a ‘Good Enough’ Marriage?
I have an online community where people are able to come together to talk about desire, relationships, healthy sexuality, love, marriage and self image. All the stuff that most of us struggle with. Right now there is a hot topic in the community.
One woman wrote this question of our sexuality and intimacy coaches:
“Do you believe that lost desire can be reclaimed? Specifically, in a long, happy enough marriage, where sexual desire and satisfaction used to exist, can we find a new way to pleasure when it’s been gone for a while?”
It’s a great and timeless question, that has kept marriage counselors, sex therapists, and intimacy coaches in groceries for a very long time. The first thing is to acknowledge that many marriages are just like this woman’s marriage. They are good enough, happy enough, and functional enough. These marriages raise children, support communities, provide important emotional support, and companionship, while offering a level of financial security to the people who are in them. There is often plenty of love and attachment in these unions, which for a great many people is something worth staying for – even if the sexual fire in the relationship has long faded.
As a life coach that often supports people with sexuality and intimacy issues, it was hard not to start spouting the usual advice about how to relight that dying sexual fire.
Some of it is good advice like giving each other space so the air can come in again, followed up by taking intentional time to be together. We talk about trying new sex toys to “Sex at Dawn” polyamory and the possibilities of an open marriage. The discussions often are filled with thoughts such as “Perhaps we weren’t ever made to be monogamous in the first place?”
Even the most conservative of the conservatives, Newt Gingrich, either wanted an open marriage or demonstrated his sexual boredom by having serial monogamish relationships spotted by hidden affairs.
We have all heard it before – and frankly I have written it before. But as a grown mid-life woman who has been in a mostly traditional marriage for close to 30 years, I know the truth about most things. There is no Santa Claus, it is nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off, the sales are never on anything you really want to buy, and sexual boredom can grow like moss over most long term relationships (no matter how hot they were in their inception).
The question is really “Is it really possible to have a rich, long lasting and sexy relationship?” Is there a way to honestly keep the fire burning for decades and if it doesn’t, is there a way to relight it? Or are we all doomed to live like happy roommates into our golden years, sharing popcorn and pay per view night after night? Contented and dulled into our good night?
So three sex educators in my Shameless Community (including me) rose to the occasion and tried once again to come up with something meaningful to answer the question of what to do about the very good marriage that works on all fronts except when it comes to sex.
Don’t Live Within Your Partners Limitations!
From Pamela Madsen, Integrative Life Coach For Women:
“I have found that a tremendous libido killer is trying to live within my partners sexual limitations. It is really okay to refuse to live within your partner’s limitations! Long term relationships often lose their sexual spark, fail, or go into sexual boredom when when we agree to live in the box of each other’s sexual limitations, shame, and fear. Work with keeping your own unique balance of desire for relationship with your desire for sense of individuality and self-direction. Agree to a willingness to experiment with opening each other’s limitations and moving past them. It will create the possibility for healthier living and just might spark a renewed sexiness in your relationship. Neither you nor your partner gets to stay small and in a box while the other just accepts it. Sexual desire needs growth in order to thrive.”
It’s Time To Demand a New Kind of Love From Each Other
From Will (Yes, one name – think Cher or Madonna) an extra-ordinary sexuality and intimacy coach as well as a certified Sexological Bodyworker at Naming Desire and an expert in the Shameless Community:
“Living as powerful and creatively expressed people is a revolutionary act. How can I balance my growth and need to explore while continuing to create and expand intimacy? What’s revolutionary about this is that it demands a new kind of love from people, and asks them to engage with themselves and the world intentionally and with curiosity instead of shutting down.
I have found the work of Dr. David Schnarch inspiring. In his book Passionate Marriage, Dr. Schnarch reveals how a passionate sex life requires each person to face the anxiety of defining himself/herself while getting closer to their partner; a process he calls “differentiation.” Basically, it takes self aware, passionate people to create intimacy.
I agree that it is rare, because nobody shows us how to do it! I didn’t have a teacher, minister, scout leader etc. who could model that for me. Consequently I fell into the socially programmed co-dependent model of relationship that my parents learned.
Should we put up with our partner’s limitations? I guess that depends on what we want and how much it will cost us. We always have a choice; I can stay or I can go. Personally I choose not to tolerate my partner’s limitations, while simultaneously having compassion and curiosity and belief in their potential to grow and change.”
“Finding a compromise in situations is always a preferred approach. As Steven Covey says in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you must go for a win-win. Anything else is a loss.
Specifically, if one party is losing, it cannot have a positive outcome – no matter how noble it may seem.
To “meet in the middle” is to find solutions that are mutually-beneficial to you and your beloved.
As your life journey unfolds, you are undoubtedly learning, growing and changing. When you are in the world of the entrepreneur, the changes can be happening rapidly. The more you learn about spirituality, success, empowerment, etc., the more you desire.
As your awareness of the greatness that is within you expands, you are excited to see what else can unfold for you.”
“If your significant other is not sharing the journey of enlightenment with you, they may be either staying where they are, or evolving on a different path than you.
At some point, you may realize that you are in different spaces and that there seems to be quite a gap between you.
The most obvious solution to bridge this gap is to meet in the middle. Which, essentially means that you must shift away from who you truly are, and they must do the same. Thus, you are now coming together as people you are not.
How long will that space be fulfilling?
Although I prefer not to use the term “level” in a relationship (it implies superiority), you may be in a higher space than your significant other. Meeting in the middle may then mean that you have to come down a few clicks – which you would be able to do.
They, however, would have to come up from the space they are in, into a world they have no experience in. How realistic would it be to expect them to be able to do that? In order for you to communicate effectively, you would have to meet them where they are at and communicate in a manner they can comprehend. If your journeys continue to evolve in different directions and the gap between your respective spaces increases, it may be increasingly less fulfilling for you to do that. Obviously, your relationship is nothing to do with your vocation or your business.
To ensure you maintain a healthy, empowering, mutually-fulfilling relationship you both must ensure that it is maintained as a priority.
You are both distinct, individual human beings and, you both have a specific purpose to fulfill in this lifetime. The more you keep your relationship and your shared journey as a focal point, the more opportunities you will see to evolve together.
As always, prevention is better than cure. Being aware of the potential to grow differently can open you both to options to grow into your greatness, while maintaining your loving space.
If you have realized that you and your partner have grown apart, then something obviously needs to shift.
You are not going to give up being who you are just to appease them. And, you won’t expect them to make a quantum leap to attain the same space you hold.
Now you are aware that meeting in the middle may not be realistic, you are now free to seek the options that will support you both in the life journey you desire.”
There are no easy answers to making your “Good Enough” marriage a place of continued hot desire. It is really challenging work, and can take a lot of guts. It is all about taking yourself and your partner to a new level – and that can feel frightening. All I can tell you is that while there is no Santa Claus, a hot sex life deep into our lives is possible – it just takes courage to live past our comfortable boxes and the television set.
To learn more about Pamela’s first book where she shares her personal journey through sexual desire and monogamy please check out Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home In Time To Cook Dinner (Rodale, January 2011).