Couples Therapy Bethesda, MD
One of the most common complaints I hear from the couples that land on my couch is that there is no passion in their relationship anymore. They say things like, “I love my partner, but I’m not in love with him/her,” “we’ve grown apart,” and even, in some cases, “I’m not sure we ever really loved each other.” The clients who say these things to me are being honest, and the sentiments they share are not easy ones to speak aloud. They often come along with doubts about one’s ability to remain in the relationship, fear of hurting one’s partner, and usually a fair amount of guilt.
There is an important question I always want to ask these clients: how have you been creating passion in your relationship?
When we first meet a romantic partner, passion is a given. In the early weeks, months, and (if we’re lucky) years of a partnership, passion just… happens. We can keep our hands off each other, we want to spend every minute together, we are so enthusiastic about learning every little thing about each other that it practically seeps from our pores. This stage of a relationship is often referred to as the “honeymoon period,” and we talk about feeling butterflies, fireworks, a spark. It’s exciting, heady, and powerful. Even though most of us are aware that this phase isn’t going to last forever, we interpret its presence as confirmation that a connection is meaningful, and weigh the significance of this passion in our decision about whether to make a relationship permanent. Lots of passion? Great sex? Interesting conversations? A sense that our partners are truly interested in understanding and being connected to what makes us tick? These are components that most people consider critical in the development of a relationship that might lead to marriage (or whatever form of long-term commitment one desires).
Fast-forward ten years. Now you know each other well, and there aren’t as many exciting discoveries to make. Keeping our hands off each other isn’t much of a problem anymore. Spending time together becomes the default (usually on the couch, in front of the TV, as your kids sleep upstairs), and sex, when we have it, may seem mundane or repetitive. This circumstance by itself is not necessarily problematic–in some ways, this is part of the busy and overcommitted lives we’ve obligated ourselves to. But for many couples, the problem comes from how we interpret this situation. It all turns on what we believe about passion: is passion something that exists on its own, that you get to enjoy when it’s present and miss when it’s not? Or, is passion something that you create, that you have a responsibility to nurture and pay attention to? Some partners will step back and look at our passion-less lives and say, “gosh, the spark is gone. That must mean this relationship is in trouble… maybe even coming to an end.” And for those partners, that outcome is pretty likely. Others will look at a relationship where passion seems to be a challenge and say to themselves, “I sure do miss that passion. Let me see what I can do to get it back.” Guess what? Those partners will probably be able to.
I bet it won’t be hard for you to guess where this passion disconnect is most readily noticed: the bedroom. Couples will often acknowledge to themselves, and to each other, that their passion problem is out of hand and they need to get some help when they don’t feel able to connect to each other physically. This is, for many, the most powerful evidence of disconnect and lack of passion. I think this is so because our sexual relationships with our partners are what distinguish them from all of the other important relationships in our lives. It makes sense that feeling challenged in that component of our relationships is perceived as a significant threat to relationship solidity and, by extension, commitment.
Here’s the secret: at the beginning, passion feeds the relationship. We use closeness and intimacy to express the overflowing passion that just naturally exists between us, and from that, an important bond can grow. Sex says, “I can’t contain how strongly I feel about you. I’m on fire with my love for you!” Later, things work a bit differently: the relationship feeds passion. Closeness and intimacy are things that we have to be more intentional about; we use it to remind each other that we’re committed, that we want to prioritize each other. Sex says, “I love you, I love the life we have built together, and you are important to me. Staying connected isn’t as easy as it used to be, but I’m going to make sure we find a way.”
So often, much of the work of therapy is helping partners shift from one perspective to another; of helping them let go of the belief that a lack of passion means their relationship is doomed, and grab ahold powerfully to the belief that they have the power to create passion again. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly possible.
Lindsey Hoskins provides individual, couple, and family therapy in both our Bethesda, MD and Sterling, VA offices. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.