Desire in Long Term Relationships: Keeping it and Finding it When It’s Gone.

There might be love. There might be commitment. There might be a solid friendship at its core. But that doesn’t mean there will be desire in a long-term relationship. No wonder they’re such hard work! Worth it – but hard.

Desire feeds physical intimacy which in turn feeds connection, nurturance and the protective guard around relationships. Intimate relationships in which desire has faded can take on the shape of housemates or colleagues. There can still be love and a deep emotional bond in these relationships, there might even still be sex, but without desire the way we see ourselves and feel about ourselves changes and will ultimately play out in the relationship. Understanding the nature of desire is key to getting it back. 

The intensity of desire in relationships will ebb and flow. Kids, work, life stress, hormonal changes and those ‘but-they’re-just-so-comfy-feel-them’ grey trackies that glue themselves to you in winter have a way of putting out the fire a little, but problems come about when it stays out for too long. Intimacy might fade, the connection might loosen and sex just doesn’t happen any more.

Slowly, the protective guard around your relationship might start to chip away. The very thing that makes your relationship different to every other relationship in your life slowly stops. You can spend time with other people, laugh, cry, argue, share a meal and go on holidays with them – but sex is something that is only for the two of you, building and nurturing an intimacy and connection that is shared between the two of you and nobody else. This is why it deserves attention.

The fading of desire happens slowly. It comes with the vacuuming, the cleaning, stress, work, busy-ness, familiarity, predictability and just trying to make it through the day. Above all else, it comes with the assumption of responsibility for the needs of our partner over our own. As explained by Esther Perel, a leader in the area of desire in relationships, desire fades when we disconnect from ourselves and become selfless, which is the enemy of desire.

The clue is in the word – ‘self-less’ – as in the lack of self. It’s impossible to switch on desire if we’re not there to switch it on.

Desire then, isn’t about what our partner does, but about what we do and the connection we have with ourselves. It’s about a psychological space we go to during intimacy, where we are with another person but able to let go of responsibility for that person and engage completely with ourselves – our physical needs, our sexual needs, our fantasies. We become selfish – ‘self-ish’ – in the very best sense of the word. We show up completely. We’re fully available for ourselves and this is critical for desire to flourish.

What you need to know about desire.                                                                            

From the work of Esther Perel, we know that desire in long-term relationships involves two needs that push against each other. On the one hand, we need security, safety, familiarity and predictability. But we also need adventure, unpredictability, mystery and surprise.

We need to feel safe and secure in a relationship – we can’t build intimacy and closeness without it. We need to feel as though the relationship has staying power and that the person we love isn’t about to walk out the door. We need a sense of familiarity and predictability. We need to know what happens when we reach out and we need an idea of where the relationship is headed.

But we also have a need for adventure and excitement. As much as we need predictability, we also need mystery and surprise. As much as we need security and safety, we need adventure and risk. It’s how we feel the edges of ourselves and stop ourselves and our relationship from stagnating. 

The problem is that we are asking for all of this from one person. It’s a lot. We want a predictable, safe partner we can trust and we want an exciting, passionate lover. We want to be in a relationship where we feel a sense of belonging, but we want to expand our own identity. We want to feel safe, but we want the excitement and growth that comes with teetering with our toes on the edges of unpredictability.

Why Desire Fades 

There is a difference between love and desire. To love is to have, to desire is to want.

In love we feel the having, the closeness, the belonging. The wanting is fulfilled and there’s a security in knowing that it won’t leave – that it’s safe and stable. We want that from love. We want to feel that it’s safe to give ourselves over, that we will be received and not left exposed. We want to have the person we love. We want to be physically close, as in no distance between us. We want to know the other, to be familiar and to feel the warmth of that. We want to feel comforted by their physical nearness.

But in desire, we want something else – something unpredictable and unfamiliar. We want the excitement that comes with seeking out and discovering that the one we are seeking has been seeking us too. We want the excitement that comes with the mystery, the uncertainty and the unpredictability of that.

As explained by Perel, the qualities of a relationship that grow love – mutuality, protection, safety, predictability, protection, responsibility for the other – are the very things that will smother desire.

The desiring mind is not necessarily a politically correct one – but it is an exciting one and one we deserve to experience. Desire comes with a range of feelings that would make our everyday, socially appropriate selves gasp with the inappropriateness of it all – jealousy, possessiveness, naughtiness, power, selfishness. Too often, the very things that turn on our sexuality and our desire between the sheets are the same things we will push against once the bed is made. 

We make the mistake of not asking for that which might nurture our desire because we confuse it with selfishness. So instead we act from a place of selflessness. The problem with this is that is can starve our desire. Desire by its very nature is selfish – but the very best kind of selfish – the capacity to stay in tune with the self, while being with another. 

Now the Good Part – How to Get it Back

The secret to desire lies in being able to stay connected with the part of ourselves that’s powerful, passionate, playful, sexy, mysterious, selfish, while also being able to be generous, considerate, socially appropriate, responsible and respectable. 

There is a time and a place to fully engage with our self so we can be aware of and meet our sexual needs and feel the feelings that come with desire. There is a time to put our responsible, selfless part aside and experience our desiring self in the fullest.

Neediness and desire cannot exist together. Nothing will kill desire quicker than neediness. Nobody will be turned on by somebody who is needy for them or who has an expectation of them as their caretaker.

In relationships, the more connected we become, the more responsible we also become and the less able we are to be selfish – to let go – in the presence of another. Over time we lose the connection with the part of ourselves that experiences desire.

Desire involves letting go enough to be able to fantasise, to imagine, to be completely in our own head and our own body while being with another, but not responsible for another. It involves having the security to turn the focus from our partner to our self in order to look after our own sexual needs, and to trust that the relationship will still be there when we’re ready to come back. Through her research, Perel has found a number of ways to increase desire.

  1. Spend time apart.

    We know this one. Desire flourishes in absence. It’s something we all have in common regardless of gender, culture or religion. When we are apart, we shift away from the day to day responsibility we feel for (and share with) our partner and reconnect with that which is unfamiliar and exciting. We move from ‘having’ to ‘wanting’. Desire is cramped by the familiar. With distance we are able to feel mystery, longing and anticipation – the hallmarks of desire.

  2. Watch them in their element.

    Our desire grows when we watch our partner doing something that’s driven by their passion and knowledge. We see others drawn to them and we see them exude a confidence that we may not typically see. However much we might love the person we see at home or on holidays or in the everyday, seeing them in an unfamiliar light as confident, knowledgeable, expert and sought after, inspires the unfamiliar which in turn feeds desire. During these times, we are not close up. We watch from a comfortable distance and in this space, this person who is so familiar becomes mysterious, exciting, unpredictable. In that moment, we are changed for a while and we are open to the excitement and mystery that is within touching distance. This is when love and desire share the space.

  3. Know what shuts desire down for you and what turns it up.

    To find the desire or to bring it back into a relationship we have to look to ourselves first, rather than making the issue one of what our partner can do to make us desire him or her more.

    Ask yourself the question: When do you shut yourself off from desire? Is it when you feel exhausted? Old? When you don’t like the way you look? When you haven’t connected in with each other? When you feel selfish for wanting? When you feel as though you can’t ask? When you feel as though you can’t take? When you’re tired of giving? When receiving pleasure feels wrong? When? 

    Similarly, ask when you turn your desire on. When do YOU turn your desire on. This is a different question to asking what turns you on. One comes from the self, one comes from the other. Is it when you miss your partner? When you feel good about yourself? When you’re not busy? When you’re able to loosen from responsibility? When you’re confident? When you feel like you deserve to look after yourself?

  4. Who are you when you feel desire? Embrace that part of yourself.

    Desire is about a space you go into where you stop being the responsible, well-behaved human who looks after others and takes care of things. Desire happens when you can be completely available to, and connected with, yourself while you are with another. Where do you go when you don’t have to be the responsible one? Is it a spiritual space, a naughty space, a playful space or a place of complete surrender. As Perel explains, ‘Sex isn’t something you do, it’s a place you go, a space you enter inside yourself or with another.’ Give yourself permission to do this and if you’re worried that it might feel too ‘selfish’, ask your partner what it would be like for him or her if you were to completely let go during sex. I’m betting it won’t be a problem.

  5. Respect that each of you are entitled to sexual privacy.

    For desire to flourish, there has to be the capacity to psychologically ‘leave’ the relationship and enter your own erotic space. We’ve made the mistake of making intimacy about transparency but it’s not. You don’t have to know each other’s every thought, fantasy and imagining for the relationship to thrive. It’s just too much. Entering somebody’s psychological space is a privilege, not an entitlement, and though being invited into that space is important, being there all the time will hinder desire. 

  6. Forget spontaneity. It takes effort.

    Bringing back passion into a relationship takes a deliberate effort. It’s important not to stand still and wait for it because it won’t come to you by itself. Passion isn’t going to appear from nowhere when you’ve packed the dishwasher and finished your chat about which tiles would look best for the kitchen splashback. It just doesn’t work like that. What does work is deliberately creating opportunities and space to be with each other. 

If the desire has faded, reigniting it might feel awkward at first and that’s completely okay and completely normal. Don’t take the ‘awkward’ as a sign to stop. Take it as a sign to keep going because you’ve already been stopped for too long. 

Desire, sex and physical intimacy are worth the fight and should never be looked on as a bonus extra. They are the heartbeat of relationships and the lifeblood of connection and intimacy. We deserve to experience desire in the fullest. We deserve it for ourselves and for our relationships.

 

(Image Credit: Unsplash | Charlie Foster)

35 Comments

Ally

Thank you very much for this insightful read!

For a couple of years now, ever since I decided I was ready to be a parent, I’ve been unhappy and I shrugged it off as nerves for nearing 30 and the idea of parenthood, had 9 months of pregnancy bliss (hormones I suspect) and then 3 months later my negative feelings return. I suspect now that it is to do with the fact that I have been feeling less and less desire for him. We work together and live together and we enjoy it too because we make a great team. Lately, we have started therapy to provide some insight into my unhappiness.
I am very emotional and good at opening up to him, he is a great listener. Therapy has made me realise he doesn’t open up to me, but he’s always been a super chilled person. Do you have any ideas here?

Your article has inspired me to focus on spending time apart more and to take control of my desires. I used to desire him and initiate but was hurt from rejection a few times that I just stopped altogether. Sometimes I think I will surprise him tonight with sex and then lose confidence. When he initiates however I feel myself pull away which really bugs me. I wish I didn’t feel this way. Any suggestions?

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JamesC

My problem is not losing desire for a partner in a long term relationship. This happens to me within weeks of meeting someone, usually after a couple of sexual encounters. I not only lose desire my body shuts down sexually and I suffer from severe sexual dysfunctions that make sex stressful and unpleasant. This has been going on since I started dating as a teen and I’m now in my 50’s. I want a long term relationship but every time I try these dysfunctions crop up and II have no reason why.

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Kari G

This was a VERY good, well written and thought out article. My fiance and I read it this morning and it brought about some good conversation as we’re currently in need of finding our way back to desire in our 7 year relationship. Thank you!!

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Shona

Married 13 years to a pretty good guy with a lovely home and 2 kids. We’ve always avoided conflict and drama so our level of intimacy has been affected. He tends to be dismissive when I’ve raised things I’m struggling with, “your glass is either half empty or half full”, “you’re/we’re really lucky compared to others” etc. This has tended to shut me off from expressing a lot of deeper fears and feelings. Sex was never great. He has a low libido and some degree of performance difficulty. Over the last 5 years, we would’ve had sex maybe 5 times, with over 2 years at one stage. Of course, it’s always pretty awkward and clumsy. I have engaged in an affair with a long-term friend and the intimacy is the best of my life but there’s a lot at stake if I choose to leave my marriage. My husband knows and we have been separated under the same roof for over 6 months. I wonder if I just write off intimacy as part of my life hoping that I won’t really care as I age (currently 47).

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Rose

I am in a loving and committed 6 year relationship with my boyfriend. We live together and have a dog. Sex has been an issue for us throughout our entire relationship. Our ‘honeymoon’ period was the shortest I’ve ever experienced. After less than 2 months of fun and excitement my boyfriends libido disappeared completely (and utterly). This was very hard for me and in our mid 20’s was a bit of shock. We went through a long period of him having NO interest in sex at all and my libido grew completely uncontrollable. After a few years my libido dropped too. I generally mimic desire and when there was no apparent desire for me, along with being constantly rejected, I stopped desiring sex altogether. I even lost interest in masturbation. This has also lead to me completely losing that part of myself that is sexual, mysterious, flirty, etc. I just don’t feel capable of any of it anymore, like the old me was someone wholly different and distant. We have spent years communicating about this, talking it through. I persuaded him once to try couples sex therapy but we never made it past the introductory appointment. I’m starting to realise there are some problems you just can’t talk your way out of. I’m starting to go a bit mad, especially now everyone has to self isolate due to Covid-19, which is just making it harder as so much of the advice out there involves finding space and time away from each other. I used to rationalise it as something that wasn’t as important as loving and committing to each other but reading your article has made me realise sex and desire is something I really want and miss. I don’t want to have a sexless relationship anymore. Please, Do you have any advice that might help us?

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Emma

Me too … you are both not alone, this is very similarly my situation as well. Especially during COVID, the craving for space is crazy and yet so hard. It makes desire impossible

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Ben

I’m currently in a 4year relationship with my girlfriend and before the all this quarantine stuff happened, it felt as though my girlfriend was so into very intimate things. She had just started to send me dirty texts and sometimes even nudes last December and she’s never done that the years prior. But then around February, when this covid thing started to blow up, and we’ve been forced to have a LDR, I was confident and secure that she would still send me dirty stuff. But I was very wrong. All the sexual aspects of our relationship had disappeared. She gets uncomfortable whenever I try to turn her on or even just when I just express how sexy ‘this: or ‘that’ is. I’ve had it rough this year. Its as if I’m not wanted anymore because she was never even the vocal type about affirmations. It just never comes natural to her to be “sweet” and then now that we’re in this LDR, she can’t express her usual physical affection either. I don’t know if I’m just living in the past but it really feels as though I’m not even interesting to her at all anymore. And to add to all this, she and her family are planning to move to a different country some tine late next year so I feel so frustrated that we somehow have not figured out what to do about being apart for so long because its going to be 2-3 years before I can go and follow to the other country. I want to figure out how to manage our LDR not just for the now but also for the near future but it really feels a lot of signs are pointing to us being nothing when we’re apart like this.

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Jane

Rose, your experience mirrors my own. I have been married for over 25 years though. What you have is a tough nut to crack. I suggest you find support such as a therapist. I have often wondered if my spouse has Asperger’s because of his total lack of interest in finding time for sex. I am also not sure if he witholds due to anger. Unfortunately, I believe in Esther Perel’s insight, and it would attract me more to him if he also chose to follow this concept, but he dismisses it (which feels like he dismisses me). I do hope you find a way out of this dilemma because you don’t want to waste your precious youth. In fact, I urge you to not waste anymore time wasting your precious youthfulness and find an alternative. You can always return to the marriage again. You are allowed to have fluidity in your life.

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Jenny

Loving this article btw! You really nailed it!! it is by far the best as opposed to all the other ones. Defiantly worth reading and taking in! When you speak about time apart how much time is enough time to start missing that person and would that mean minimal contact too? I hope to see more blogs and posts from you regarding relationships it’s very interesting and accurate information. Thankyou

Jen

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Cryssy

Hello I just had a question Iv’e been with my boyfriend for 4 years now sometimes I feel overwhelmed because I’m not feeling the desire we used to share once together. things have been, for a lack of a better word, “dry.” I have been working on my neediness because I tend to be needy when I’m not getting the attention I want from him. Talking to him about sex seems to dampen his ego and makes it hard for me to approach the situation. I want to rebuild our spark mostly Iv’e even tried buying things from Victoria secret just so I could possibly turn his head around but that didn’t work he blames things on being too tired and he has been dealing with depression and has been in a negative head space. I have been trying to help but I also have my own bad days and get to be needy. Don’t get me wrong he’s an amazing guy and yes he’s dealing with a lot of pressure right now but Sex doesn’t seem to be on his mind…and I know for a fact he isn’t gay. If I initiate to any degree hes immediately turned off. Ultimately I think I’m going crazy trying to figure out what I can do to spark things up so we can have a healthy sex life.

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Chris

Great article. Wondering when you speak having one’s own private sexuality or private sexuality space in the relationship what do you mean. Masturbation? Pornography? Or do these things make desire with your partner less powerful?

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Karen Young

It doesn’t necessarily mean finding a way towards sexual satisfaction in a way that is separate from your partner, but more being able to be with your partner, but also focus on yourself.

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Melissa

Such a great article. I’ve been married for 10 years and desire has certainly been something I’ve had trouble with. I think growing up in a very religious home desire and selfish sexual thinking have been discouraged my whole life. It is a tool that is deeply hidden and not used. This has been an issue in our marriage from the start. I feel I go through the motions most of the time, and that is bad for both of us. We have a deep love for one another and are committed, but I want that desire in our marriage. Any tips on how to exercise that feeling when it has been unused for so long, and not feel guilty about it?

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Karen Young

Experiment gently with what that feeling would be like for you. It might feel awkward for a while, but that’s ok – it’s about discovering and trying something different until it feels right.

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Alkan

This is the best article that I’ve read about intimacy and desire. Thank you for putting in the effort and sharing these amazingly valuable information Karen!

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Kelley

Thank you for writing this. I have been on this off and on rut now with my boyfriend, more so me having a push-pull routine. He’s the most amazing guy I’ve ever met in my life and I truly can see myself spending my life with him. I have went through many growing pains within myself the past year and it’s caused me to disconnect from him pretty massively– as well as health issues that gets in the way of our intimacy (as well as my completely out-of-whack hormones taking a huge role of this). We are compatible and nothing in this world tells us we shouldn’t be together. I am making doctors appointments and I am going through the awkward stage of reconnecting after disconnecting for so long (a year of disconnection is a long time) Your article after all of this gives me hope we can get back to where we were and live a happy life together with the intimacy, love, and desire we both deserve. Thank you 🙂

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Hey Sigmund

Kelley you’re so welcome. I’m pleased the article has been able to give you hope and comfort. You sound so motivated – you deserve to have someone in your life who you adore and who adores you. Sounds like this man is it. I hope you are able to work things through.

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A

Hi, I’m currently almost entering 8 years of my relationship with my fiancé. And after a few difficult weeks, he’s finally called for a cool off period. He tells me things like he knows logically he still wants to marry me, but the emotional attachment has changed. I can understand it’s probably because for the last few months I’ve been very busy with work and he’s been helping me out with it. So much that I’ve been dependent on him being there and while I show my appreciation, it’s not enough with him. He tells me that he feels like he has no time for himself, and also another main thing is physical intimacy. We have tried to have sex during the first few years but I’ve always felt pain and am unable to carry it though. I also don’t find myself desiring sex with him, maybe because my knowledge of it is always a painful experience. After that, he just stopped trying during the last few years. He finally expressed that he’s been quite affected about it, even though I’ve said I’ll seek help if I need to, or we can use external help like lubricants etc to minimize the pain.. But he says that it might not help too? Coupled with the feeling of being stuck in a rut, he’s really lost as to if he wants to go on with this relationship. Please give me any advice to find back my desire for him, as I would still want to fight for this relationship. Right now we are working on distance as we have agreed to not meet or contact unless necessary for the next one month..

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Hey Sigmund

This sounds like a difficult time for you. Physical intimacy in a relationship is something that’s can break a relationship if the couple aren’t on the same page. It’s so much more than the physical aspect – it’s nurturing, bonding, connecting and is one of the things that makes your relationship with your partner different to every other relationship in your life. A relationship can work without sex provided that both people agree that they are honestly okay with that, or provided that there is an alternative way of creating physical intimacy that doesn’t involve intercourse and that both people are happy with this. I would really strongly encourage you to speak to a doctor to see if there is something physical that’s causing your pain, not only because your fiancé has flagged the lack of physical intimacy as an issue, but because pain is usually a sign that something isn’t right and it’s important to take notice of that. It’s also going to be difficult for you to find your desire again if you expect to feel pain. If there are no physical reasons for the pain, there may be psychological things, like stress or worry, that are behind it. If this is the case, a counsellor would help you to understand what’s happening and they would also be able to help you find strategies to deal with it. Here is some information that also might help https://www.heysigmund.com/6-reasons-people-leave-relationships-and-how-to-avoid-it-happening-to-yours/ . I wish you all the very best.

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Nah

You mentioned in your article that neediness can diminish your partners desire. What’s the best way to approach your partners neediness without making it seem you don’t care about their feelings or needs?

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Hey Sigmund

Have a discussion but the more tenderly you can do this, the better your chance of being heard. Try and make it a positive, ‘this is how we can make us even better’ conversation. Naming and acknowledging a feeling helps to tame that feeling, so in your conversation, try to name the feelings you’re aware of in your partner. If you’re not sure, ask what happens for your partner when they do what they do that feels needy. Acknowledge that the behavior is important for your partner and that you just want to understand it more. This will help your partner to feel heard and understood and as though you’ve ‘got this’.

What seems to trigger your partner’s neediness? Then try, ‘I understand that when … Happens it triggers something in you and you feel uncomfortable. I want to understand more about it so we can work on a way to feel better about it.’ Then gently address the impact on you. ‘I really understand why you feel like that but when you do … I feel …’ Hold or touch your partner while you talk. That in itself can release oxytocin, the bonding chemical, and nurture feelings of closeness and security while you are having your difficult talk.

Talk to your partner about the article and the effect of one person feeling like a caretaker. Try not to use the word ‘neediness’ though – it’s a word that will trigger all sorts of things. If you can describe it positively, you’ll be more likely to be heard. Rather than neediness, try ‘the way you love me’. Try, ‘I love the way you love me and it’s important to me that you feel loved and secure in the relationship. Sometimes I feel as though you don’t feel that way, and that puts a distance between us. I know we can sort through this. Can we talk about what we each need to do that?’ Effectively, it’s naming the specific behaviors that feel needy, acknowledging your partner’s feelings behind it (fear of ….), and validating that.

Neediness can have nothing to do with the present and a lot to do with past hurts. If you’re doing what you can do to help your partner feel secure (by being loving attentive, being accountable, calling when you say you will, being where you say you are) then it may be a leftover response to past relationship or childhood hurts. If it feels safe for both of you, this might be something worth gently exploring because people automatically, without realising, people respond to new situations as though they are old ones. This is really normal and we all do it. If this is what’s happening (and it might not be) talk then about how you and your relationship are different to the past ones that were hurtful. If this becomes a real barrier in your relationship, counselling will be able to help you both to move to through this. I wish you all the best.

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Thomas

I still feel love and comfort in my 10 yrs relationship, but… very often I find desire in thinking about other women. Sometime this desire is answered by those other women… Allthough we defenitly had some passionate first yrs in our relationship, I just dont feel the real desire in this anymore. Your article was helpfull but I’m still in doubt what to do… Thank you.

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Hey Sigmund

This is a difficult one. Relationships eventually reach a point where the euphoria of the earlier times in the relationship settles to a more secure, deeper love – this is really normal. If you are looking to other women it will always be very difficult to find desire with your partner because your time with these other women will be ‘euphoric’, kind of like the earlier days with your partner. It doesn’t mean that your current relationship isn’t capable of having this, it just means it’s compromised because it will come so much easier with new people. It’s really up to you how committed you are to your relationship. If you are committed and want to stay in it, the best chance of rebuilding the desire is making the decision not to look outside of your relationship for this. A new person will always be exciting and interesting because you haven’t reached the point of stability and security and attachment that you have reached with your partner. This will always undermine your capacity to feel desire with your partner. It can be difficult to find the desire when it feels as though it’s gone, but there are ways to do this. It’s about recommitting and rediscovering each other again. You might find that somewhere over the last little while you’ve both slipped away a little bit, and spending time together and connecting intimately, not just physically but talking together, doing things together – especially exciting things that you may not usually do, not just side by side but actually together where you start to see other other as individuals again, rather than the person you live with. It’s about being vulnerable with each other again, appreciating each other, being open with each other and seeing with each other. Sexually, it’s about letting go of having to be the caretaker and feeling some sort of responsibility for the other person and being able to really move into yourself, whether that’s through fantasy or whatever. It’s important for your partner to be able to do this too – desire brings desire – so sharing the article with her and talking openly about what you both need would be a good place to start. Relationship counselling can really help with this as it’s a safe way for both of you to openly explore what you need to move the relationship forward.

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Thomas

Thank you so much… I really appreciate the fact you clearly acknowledged that I truly feel at comfort and love in my relationship. I notice that often people can’t seperate desire and love in these matters. Thank you.

I can really connect to what you’re saying. Maybe because we’re both still quit young (26), it is tempting for me to look at other friends and see their ‘euphoric’ times again and again. It’s true: this might be something to talk about with my girlfriend- or should I start saying: significant other? :-), but I’m still afraid of hurting her… On the other hand: I wrote the first comment when I was really down and my head was spinning in a negative circle that evening. Later that night I found the courage to openly talk with her about some of those issues I felt. She responded really well. I guess she keeps on surprising me, even after 10 yrs.

I feel like we’re gonna be ok, but it will remain an issue in our relationship. Thanks again for your response and beautiful/interesting website!

Thomas

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome. It’s great that you could both talk about this – it says a lot about your relationship, and about the both of you that you had the courage to bring it up and that she had the courage to listen. Sounds like a relationship worth fighting for.

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lisa

Does this mean it’s okay to have an affair if it’s ‘desire”? An then what… work on love, passion and desire in the marriage?
Thanks!!
lisa

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Hey Sigmund

This article is about desire within the relationship you’re in – without going outside the relationship and having an affair. The idea is that over time, desire diminishes as we take on responsibilities and caretaking for each other at the expense of ourselves. The way to get it back is to find a way to psychologically let go of that sense of responsibility temporarily during intimacy and to attend to our own needs. We can get back desire within our relationships by entering a space where we can fantasise, imagine and completely look after our own needs sexually rather than taking responsibility for our partner. It’s very hard to do that if we’re worried about the other person and assuming responsibility for their sexual needs. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about our partner – we absolutely do – it’s just that during intimacy, desire will be enriched if we can attend to ourselves first. It was a good question. I hope this has answered it for you.

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Lisa

Thank you. What if the other partner needs desire outside his marriage to satisfy that need while working on the desire with his wife? Is there ever room for that?

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Rosi

So good to read! You completely nailed the downfall of my first marriage. Thank you for your research and for your suggestions.

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Karen

I had no idea that this is what was at the root of the problem! So interesting. Thank you, I believe this can help us old dogs.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome. It’s fascinating research isn’t it – makes so much sense! I think there’s something in it for all of us

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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