Beating Back the Banality of Marriage

by Lydia Waruszynski, M. Ed

I know I’m probably going to sound like your grandmother or something, but “if I had a nickel for every time” I heard the phrase “I Still Love You But I’m No Longer in Love With You”, I’d be a lot richer I tell you!  Well, okay, after doing the math, maybe only a couple of bucks richer but my point being: what the heck does this really mean? Do people who say this even know what they really mean?  Do they even realize how the person at the receiving end of that statement feels like….perhaps sucker-punched comes to mind?  Painful, no doubt. Do they ever consider that this may have more to do with how they feel about themselves-instead of their partner? And, are they really talking about love? Or, are they talking about desire (passion)?  Because, here’s the thing: although each can feel like it flows from the other, love and desire can definitely be very, very different.  Even diametrically opposed!  Love and passion can conflict and delude the best of us. Furthermore, part of the confusion is that we continue to live in a society where the romantic ideal holds that love and desire naturally do go hand-in-hand and, in the same way, the person you fell in love with should unwaveringly be your consummate “be-all-and-end-all”. Talk about putting a partner on a pedestal …to say nothing of the pressure it places on a relationship!

I once read somewhere that love is a state of living while passion is a state of being.  I had often thought the opposite to be true but when I read this it made sense to me. Passion is more like something on the inside that can either be stoked or suppressed. Love has the potential to last over time but passion is more transient. Many couples struggle with rekindling or resurrecting passion in their lives together, happily married couples included. I would hope that most couples know that there’s this natural ebb & flow to desire or passion, which is normally experienced in relationships. It only really becomes a problem for couples when conflict goes on too long and there is a lot of defensive behaviour or complete withdrawal because of the disparate levels of desire… Moreover, what we don’t realize is that often this conflict has more to do with the unconscious personal or social constructs we fall victim to than it does with having fallen out of love with each other. Let’s face it!  Couples in long term relationships always run the risk of bumping up against the prosaic together or creating a lacklustre groove in everyday life.  Why? Let’s see… Apathy. Boredom. Complacency. Dependence. Familiarity. Obligation. Predictability. Responsibility. Routine. Safety. Security. Work …..just to name a few!

Life is what happens to you and How you react to it!

Confused? Let me try to elucidate: Recently I made a house-call to a young parenting couple.  Their major concern was that they had fallen into a funk where they both felt no desire for one another. Their transition to parenting from pregnancy to postpartum had been positive but now, almost two years later, they questioned whether they’d lost “that loving feeling” for good. I asked them to paint a picture of their present daily life for me. This is what it looked like: Both were responsible and hands-on when it came to taking care of baby and home. In fact, each saw the other as doting and devoted. As parents, they worked in tandem and respected the structure and routine they had created for their child.  Establishing emotional and physical security for their baby was now the priority. As a couple, however, there was no space or energy cultivated for their intimate life. Night after night, once all family related chores and obligations were taken care of, both would fall asleep on their comfy couch to the buzz of the TV set, capping off yet another day of domestic bliss!

I asked them what life had been like before they became parents: individually, each really enjoyed their own hobbies: she reading and writing poetry, volunteering at an animal shelter and he, time with his buddies, golfing and restoring old cars. Together, both had enjoyed cooking, trying new recipes and wine, working out at the gym, walking hand-in-hand along nature trails, and beside their biweekly “mystery” date nights (which included sex by the way), anticipating an outing to a new restaurant or supper club every other month or so.

Friendship. Fervor. Freedom. Fondness and Fun! And that other “F” word, too:-)

And isn’t that what being human and having a good relationship is really all about?  A balance between separateness and togetherness, intimacy and independence, play and purpose. The way I see it…all portend to the growth of the human spirit!.

So I asked this couple: “as happy as you are now being parents, what do you miss, what do you long for?” It wasn’t long before the floodgates opened and both declared “each other!” She missed the “butterflies” she used to feel for him whenever he’d touch her; he longed for the way she used to look at him. She longed to feel sexy again.  He missed being her “man”.

Obviously the love was still there but what they were both lamenting over was…desire.

Their sizzle had fizzled.

To paraphrase Esther Perel, one of my all-time favorite writers and marital therapists:

Love and desire speak two different languages. Love thrives in an atmosphere of reciprocity, protection, and congruence. Desire is about feeling alive and often more selfish. In fact, at times, the very elements that nurture love: comfort, stability, safety, for example, can extinguish desire.  Love is something you have, desire is something you want…..but in a long-term committed relationship, the question to ask is: Can we want what we already have?

Absolutely!  But sometimes it requires making a conscious paradigm shift- as in the willingness to look at each other -and life- with new eyes. So, before they could bring the lust back home, I first needed to help this couple understand how their current perception of each other had inadvertently created a new dynamic between them.  For one thing, they were now in the throes of parenting, filled with love and adoration for their child but also deep in diapers and discipline, routines and schedules, stress and worries, obligations and responsibilities.  Now, don’t get me wrong, they sure worked well as a team, and were very committed but tell me…how sexy is that?  Likewise, if desiring each other is about passionate engagement, about curiosity and discovery, then something had to be done about redirecting some of the pleasure and playfulness they had since relegated to their son.

I gave them an assignment: scheduling a play date. Not for their child but with each other.  The objective here was to have them use their imagination. Seeing they were already pros at bringing novelty into their relationship via their date nights in the past, I could see by the sparkle in their eyes that they were up for the challenge. Anticipation. Their energy was palpable.   I explained that beating back the banality of anything begins with willfully bringing back more creative energy. I also suggested they each usher in their individual or personal twist to the play date, as this would compel them to be more in charge of their own desire.   In this case, not only was it going to be fun, but the “play” part would also accentuate their attraction for each other. Also, what had a great chance of lasting was the association both would make of this shared experience…..and like one of my favourite mentors- Truus Andree- used to always say: “Positive behaviour usually begets more positive behaviour [sic]”.

True, not all relationships make it, some really do crumble or wither away but before we make the decision to trade in a perfectly good relationship for a fluttering belly of butterflies, we need to try to understand the ambiguity between love and desire and especially recognize how the way we conceptualize our daily lives may in turn desexualize our intimate connection.  Most importantly, we need to be mindful about how the loss of one doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of the other.

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