One thing I’ve learned about desire in almost a decade of studying the construct is that desire ebbs and flows. It can disappear for long periods of time and then return with force. Many in long-term relationships know this all too well. Sexual desire is not something that remains steady. This ebb and flow can occur within the same long-term relationship or may vary based on age or stage in life.
Sexual desire is often defined as a motivational state with a subjective awareness to attain something that is currently unattained1, where a combination of forces brings us toward and away from sexual behavior.2
We know things like lack of sleep, stress, relationship dissatisfaction, and financial issues or job uncertainty can negatively impact sexual desire. But what about the less obvious? Esther Perel, therapist and author of “Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence“, takes us on a journey through her TED Talk (my all-time favorite in the TED series), “The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship“. In this talk, Perel eloquently speaks of keeping desire alive in long-term relationships.
Largely based upon ideas presented by Perel and the lessons I’ve learned from my research, here are three things that we can control that are surefire ways to deflate desire in your long-term relationships:
1. “We” Replacing “Me”
Desire is like fire. What does fire need to survive? Air.
If you don’t maintain your individuality within your relationship, the fire of desire won’t have enough air and will extinguish. Although intimacy needs closeness, desire needs distance. Reconciling these two is difficult but can be done by ensuring there is a balance between the two. Try to keep some parts of the “me” seperate from the “we”.
There is no room for neediness in desire.
Expressing neediness to your partner deflates desire. There is no neediness in desire. Perel says “neediness is an antiaphrodesiac”, and I think she is right. We do have needs. Needs such as security, safety, dependability, reliability, and closeness are all met (most of the time) by having a close romantic relationship. But the needs associated with desire are different than these needs. Desire-type needs are things like adventure, novelty, mystery, risk, danger, the unknown and unexpected. By expressing the security-type needs to your partner through excessive neediness, the desire-type needs have a hard time reconciling. This is very much related to maintaining independence. If you’re capable of getting needs met as an independent person, you’re more likely to have your needs met by others. If you’re making it clear you need your partner for reassurance, they’ll be less likely to want to provide and desire will suffer.
How can you want something you already have?
Familiarity breeds contempt. We all know that our patience is much shorter and our frustration much stronger with those closest to us. The routine and familiarity of our partners makes it harder to feel desire for them. So how do we allow ourselves to want something we already have? Redefining novelty. Lingerie and toys may help, but they aren’t going to fix the real problem at hand. Think about novelty in terms of new layers of yourself to reveal to your partner. What parts of yourself does your partner bring out in you? Think about different ways to share yourself with your partner to tackle some of this routine and allow room for desire.
Although many aspects of desire are often stereotypically gendered, I think these three killers of desire are universal to all genders. It is humannature. Perel talks about how “love = to have” and “desire = to want”…how do we reconcile these when so many of us want desire in our love relationships? Keep independence, manage neediness, and introduce novelty in the expression of yourself with your partner. That is a great place to start.
1Regan, P.C., & Berscheid, E. (1999). Lust: What we know about human sexual desire. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
2Levine, S.B. (2002). Re-exploring the concept of sexual desire. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28, 39-51.
3Perel, E. (2007). Mating in captivity: Unlocking erotic intelligence. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Note: This originally appeared on Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-pleasure/201405/three-things-deflate-sexual-desire