One of my favorite books in the sex, dating and relationships realm is “Mating in Captivity” by couple and family therapist, Esther Perel. In the book, Perel talks about how what we crave in long-term relationships and marriages, such as closeness, comfort, and support, directly conflicts with what is necessary to foster and maintain erotic desire in a relationship. In other words, early in a relationship there is a space that exists between the two people where desire, excitement, and novelty live and help desire flourish, but as the relationship progresses and that couple becomes closer, the space starts to shrink and desire begins to wane. Perel refers to a couple’s awareness and understanding of this space as ‘erotic intelligence.’
Based on some of the concepts that Esther Perel talks about in her book, here are some ways couples can increase as well as maintain desire in a relationship.
Own your independence within your relationship
In long-term relationships we slowly start to co-identify with our partners. “I” turns into “we.” Our lives become intertwined and we become more like our partners in order to peacefully co-exist as a unit. Only problem is we run the risk of compromising and sacrificing important parts of ourselves.
So, don’t be afraid to disagree with your partner, to argue, to have conflict in your relationship. Passion and desire can’t be created without a necessary amount of tension. Also, when you continue to communicate honestly with your partner about what you want to achieve and do as an individual, your partner will see you how they did before you became confined to your relationship.
Spend time apart
Guy’s/girl’s nights — or weekends away with your same-sex friends — are important to maintain that spark. Even a slight separation from each other can help disparage some familiarity. Perhaps you both go away, separately with your friends, and you agree not to talk all weekend, or to have minimal contact. Soon you start wondering what they’re doing, who they’re talking to, or whether or not they’re missing you. That slight separation creates healthy anxiety and discomfort.
Weekly date night
Desire begins to wane when you take each other for granted. So do not stop trying to impress your partner. Make time to go out together, get dressed up, and restore some of those exhilarating moments you experienced at the beginning of your relationship. Don’t just stay in and order delivery every date night.
Make sure you both put in an effort and get yourselves done up for your partner, like you would when you first started dating.
Understand what motivates your partner in the bedroom
Couples who talk about their sex life usually have the best sex. That’s because when you don’t talk about sex openly in your relationship, sexual desire and experimentation is stifled due to fear of overstepping boundaries, or showing parts of yourself that you’re embarrassed or ashamed of.
Talking openly about sex will also turn your partner on in the bedroom, especially since we all have different things that provide us pleasure and satisfy us sexually.
Understanding where sexual desire is rooted for your partner — and how that might be similar or different to them in other facets of the relationship — is a huge part of erotic intelligence.
Quantity versus quality
Couples in long-term relationships are often preoccupied with whether or not they’re having enough sex. They fear being that couple that has “boring sex,” or the couple who is tired of sleeping together, or even worse – the couple who barely has sex at all. Instead of focusing on the amount of sex you have, focus on the quality of the sex you’re having. Sure, you may be having sex with your partner every other night, but how engaged are you with it while you’re having it?
If you and your partner can handle it, taking a mini sex break can be a proactive way to re-ignite some passion and help you break out of monotonous sexual routines. When you aren’t getting it all the time, you begin to desire and appreciate it more.
Don’t forget about foreplay
In a long-term relationship sex can quickly become about efficiency, leading to us gloss over the necessary build-up – foreplay. Think about the first few times you’re sexually intimate with someone you’re insanely attracted to; you spend a long time on foreplay. You go slow, savor the moment, lose track of time, and will do anything to turn the other person on. Eroticism, pleasure, and imagination are all about playing and letting go, so when sex becomes functional and systematic we lose the arena necessary for those desires to develop and exist.
Change the routine
Mix it up. Break up the routine whenever possible. It could be having sex in a different room than you normally do, or having sex in the morning or middle of the day if you usually have sex right before bed. Incorporate some elements of sexting and dirty messaging, particularly during a period when you’ve decided to take a one or two week break from having sex. Use this separation as a time to add those seductive, foreplay-type elements.
In the end, couples want to desire their partners like they did in the beginning of the relationship, but they don’t want to do so at any cost of the comfort and security they’ve created. So we’re being pulled by two very separate ideals in a long-term relationship: desire vs. security. Ultimately, the trick to maintaining desire in your relationship is being cognitive of the arena in which desire exists and flourishes, as that can be created without jeopardizing your relationship and everything you’ve worked so hard to build together.