Making Love—and Sex—Last in Monogamous Relationships

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Making Love—and Sex—Last in Monogamous Relationships

In this Sunday's New York Times, Dr. Susan Love and her wife, Helen Cooksey, were interviewed in a piece, "Illness Is Only the Latest Obstacle," about Love's acute myelogenous leukemia and her subsequent bone marrow transplant. The interview bordered on the adorable side, with the two reminiscing about their courtship, first kiss, and daughter (who is now dating a woman). 

On the topic of love, and also of having a monogamous relationship and marriage, Love noted the continued challenges faced by a couple as they try to experience life together: "There are always challenges and there are times when you’re closer and less close but it all goes back to remembering you can’t change someone else. It took me 15 years to realize I couldn’t change Helen. I finally realized that the only person you can change is yourself—and if the relationship is worth it to you, you do it."

This quotation made me think about a new TED talk recently featured at the TEDsite by Esther Perel entitled "The secret to desire in a long-term relationship." Perel's motivating inquiry is the ageless question, "why does desire fade in long-term relationships?"—especially if that relationship is monogamous? (because there should surely be other solutions to LBD other than cheating on your partner or "agreeing to find other outlets"...whatever your preferred terminology or logic is.

Marriage, frankly, kills desire because marriage entails a closeness—a psychological, emotional, as well as a physical closeness—that literally smothers desire. "In desire, we want an Other, somebody on teh other side that we can go visit, that we cna go spend some time with.... In desire, we want a bridge to cross. Or in other needs air. Desire needs space."

"[T]here is no neediness in desire. Nobody needs anybody. There is no caretaking in desire. Caretaking is mightily loving. It's a powerful anti-aphrodisiac. I have yet to see somebody who is so turned on by somebody who needs them. Wanting them is one thing. Needing them is a shutdown."

In many ways, the love of longterm relationship is antithetical to the desire that is an essential part of maintaining that relationship. Perel explains that

"in this paradox between love and desire, what seems to be so puzzling is that the very ingredients that nurture love—mutuality, reciprocity, protection, worry, responsibility for the other—are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire. Because desire comes with a host of feelings that are not always such favorites of love: jealousy, possessiveness, aggression, power, dominance, naughtiness, mischief. Basically most of us will get turned on at night by the very same things that we will demonstrate against during the day. You know, the erotic mind is not very politically correct.... [In] our mind up there are a host of things going on that we don't always know how to bring to the person that we love, because we think love comes with selflessness and in fact desire comes with a certain amount of selfishness in the best sense of the word: the ability to stay connected to one's self in the presence of another."

What is the antidote? How can we stay turned on in a long-term relationship? Watch Perel's lecture below to find out: