Psychotherapist and best-selling author Esther Perel says the concept of modern love these days wants to reconcile two fundamental human needs that have been contradictory in nature. “On one hand is our need for security, safety, permanence, predictability. On the other is our strong need for risk, adventure, mystery, the unexpected. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide.”
It’s this pressure to have “familiarity and mystery, predictability and surprise” in a relationship that creates a crisis in desire. So how can a couple overcome it? Put some distance in your relationship.
In Perel’s interviews with couples in more than 20 countries, she asked everyone when they felt drawn to their partner. The answers fell in three groups: when they were physically away, when they saw people taken in or fascinated by their partner, and when they were caught by surprise by something their lover did. All responses point to the same thing: they saw someone so familiar to them in a different, mysterious light. And that, Parel says, can spark desire.
Couples with healthy sex lives know how to nurture and cultivate these moments by putting their imagination to work. They don’t see sex as a mere act, Perel says, but a place they go. “So where do you go in sex? What parts of you do you connect to? What do you seek to express there? Is it a place for transcendence and spiritual union? Is it a place for naughtiness and is it a place to be safely aggressive? Is it a place where you can finally surrender and not have to take responsibility for everything?”
As Perel amusingly points out, “You need to stop being the good citizen who is responsible and takes care of things. Responsibility and desire butt heads—they don’t do well together.”
Another secret to desire of long-term couples: they know passion waxes and wanes, but they make an effort to bring it back. They don’t rely on spontaneity. “Committed sex is premeditated sex. It is willful, intentional, focused. You will it to happen,” Perel opines.
So is desire (forever) possible? Watch the rest of Perel’s talk below.