Today's session in my Psychotherapy course was led by Esther Perel, an amazing woman on the frontlines of beautiful shifts in the realms of couples therapy (read more about her work at the end of this post). Esther had been coming across people over and over again who came to her and said, "We love each other very much, but it's been years since I've felt wanted." What Esther had been taught as a therapist was that sexual problems were always the consequence of deeper relationship problems. In this way, it was believed that once you fixed the relationship problems, better sex would naturally follow.
However, what she was experiencing was that even when she had worked with a couple on their relationship problems, and they were back on the same page again, connected and laughing together, there were times when still the couple would have problems in the bedroom.
Traditionally, couples therapy is a desexualized practice. It has often dealt more with issues of dysfunction and performance, and dealt less with the dimensions of the sexuality within the relationship. She found that in some people, increased intimacy leads to decreased desire for their partner.
They were already very intimate in many ways, so they were already 'inside' each other in many ways. This makes it hard for them at times because of the way they love - sometimes in a way that makes it hard for them to make love to the person that they love.
This is a painful blockage, because they want nothing more than to express themselves and how they feel, but for some people it really doesn't work. Perhaps they feel excess burden, excess worry, excess responsibility for their beloved, but in order to make love to the other you have to be able to enter inside your own body, your own sensations, your own sensuality.
These people don't know how to remain connected to themselves, physically, sensually, in the presence of the other they love so much. This leads to a split - the lust/love split.
Then there is another point - passion fades. It needs to be replaced by something more 'real', more mature. Some people will take extreme risks to the point of losing everything just to catch a glimpse of this thing we call passion. Passion doesn't just fade, there are plenty of couples that start with much more lukewarm waters, and the passion grows from there. Fantasy is basically the bread of the impoverished. She began to rethink erotic fantasies and the power of the imagination which allows us to maintain curiosity ... not only towards ourselves, but also towards our partners.
Where do you go, and what are the feelings...
These are very different questions than the typical, how often do you have sex? Do you enjoy it? How often do you orgasm...
These questions are very statistical. These typical questions leave out the erotic, and the erotic is the poetry. It is the way we engage with our sexuality through our imagination. It is what allows us to remain interested in a partner for many years. Otherwise, we are not likely to remain interested for any other reason than because we have desire for a partner.
Women in the west are living a fairly new paradigm. For many women in the world, there are still only two main reasons for sex - to have children, and as an obligation to their spouse. We are able to maintain desire for sex with a beloved for basic pleasure and connection. Desire has therefore become the primary organizing principle of sexuality and intimacy in long term relationships.
There is a concept of the 'double flame'. How do we live in relationships where we are trying to experience a very new kind of intimacy ... where we also want passion. This is not just unique to highly sensitive people. Passion has always existed, but was mostly a privilege for the men. Intimacy was where a couple worked the land together, raised children together, and were companions, sharing commonalities.
It had very little to do with intimacy equalling "In-to-me-see". This kind of intimacy is still relatively new - where we want to transcend our existential "alone-ness" while we connect with our beloved. We want to be validated. What we have here in the west is something that we women tend to take for granted.
With the same person we want social status, economic security, a passionate lover, family life, a best friend, a trusted lover, an everything-all-in-one-person. We now want one person to give us what an entire community used to provide.
These needs spring from different sources and pull us in different directions. We want to be surprised, but we want routine and security ... yet we don't want to feel like things have become too routine. Desire is often flattened by that which has become too routine. We want possibilities to be opened up to us. Love wants to narrow the distance, neutralize the threat, and know the beloved. Desire thrives on the unknown, the mysterious, desire doesn't want to close the gap.
Reconciling intimacy, and the erotic end of the domestic, involves finding a way for us to have these fundamental human needs be attended to within human relationship - and not always at the same time.
Absence and longing is a cornerstone of desire. Can we want what we already have? Desire is free of responsibility - there is no caretaking. There is no responsibility in play, except for playing by the rules. Love, on the other hand, is not free of responsibility. The vast majority points to the fact that desire is activated by wanting. Questions about what you want are very easy to bring in to any therapy session.
Here are some questions to help create conversations that lead you and your partner toward deeper intimacy:
These kinds of questions help to bring about what we are all yearning for - togetherness and separateness at the same time. Throughout this session, Esther referred many times to these books; Arousal by Michael Nader and The Erotic Mind by Jack Morin.
If you feel that this Psychotherapy course is something that would interest you, please go here.
ESTHER PEREL is the bestselling author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Her book has been translated in twenty-five languages - and she is fluent in nine of these. She is a master trainer and workshop leader, and has given two Ted talks to date. Known for her keen cross-cultural pulse, Esther shifts the paradigm of our approach to modern relationships. She is regularly sought around the world for her expertise in relational health and communication, team building, erotic intelligence, couples and family identity, work-life balance, and corporate relationships.
*I recommend checking out two other books in this genre that you may enjoy, here and here.
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