5 Pieces of Advice for Maintaining a Monogamous Relationship Without Going Crazy or Dying of Boredom
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A funny thing happened this week: A reader emailed me with a dare of sorts. “From your columns, I understand you’re in a serious relationship with a man,” it read. “Mazel Tov, it should be all you hope for.” Then things got interesting: “I was wondering if you guys would experiment with something me and my wife do.” Oh boy. I readied myself for the revelation of a kink I’d never even heard of before. Instead, he explained that as Orthodox Jews they observe Family Purity Laws, which, among other things, prohibit intercourse and physical intimacy — even sharing a bed — with a menstruating woman. While they do it for religious reasons, he believes that it’s also caused the passion in his marriage to last longer. ”I was wondering if this process would work for secular hetero couples as well,” he wrote. “My theory is that there is a finite amount of passion in a sexual relationship; if you use it all at the beginning, there’s not much left after the bloom has gone off the rose.” He ended rather sweetly with a “P.S.” to assure me he wasn’t trying to save me or anything — which is wise, that ship sailed long ago — he just wanted to see if he could “do a little bit to help relationships last.”
For a moment, I considered taking him up on the challenge. Then that moment quickly passed.
I was left feeling struck by just how many theories there are out there about the secret to monogamy, and coming from all directions – religious leaders, relationship experts, individual family lore. The advice ranges from abstaining from physical intimacy during menstruation to breaking out your copy of “Fifty Shades.” That’s not to mention superficial advice on keeping a partner interested — from vaginal rejuvenation to Rogaine. Is there any worthwhile wisdom to be gleaned from all these theories on erotic fidelity? We can fly to the moon, for crying out loud, but what do we know, or think we know, about making long-term monogamous passion last? I decided to investigate and came up with five of the most compelling bits of advice currently floating around out there.
Earlier this year, couples therapist Esther Perel, author of the fantastic book “Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence,” gave a must-watch TED talk on the topic and emphasized the importance of maintaining distance in relationships — contrary to the “fusion of souls” version of love that is so often romanticized. ”In desire we want an other, somebody on the other side that we can go visit, that we can go spend some time with, that we can go see what goes on in their red light district,” she said with a smile. “Fire needs air, desire needs space.” In interviewing couples around the world, she found that many reported being most desirous of their partner when physically apart from one another, or when seeing them with new eyes — for example, watching from afar as they entertain people with witty banter at a cocktail party. ”In this space between me and the other lies the erotic unknown,” she says.
Validate your own damn self
Here’s another pointer that flies in the face of our concept of all-consuming, all-fulfilling love. David Schnarch, author of “Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships,” writes, “Better sex is not a matter of technique or dexterity. To get it, you’ve got to hold onto yourself. That is the paradox: You have to learn to hold onto yourself emotionally while holding onto your partner physically.” He believes that nonreciprocal ”self-validated intimacy” is essential. ”It feels good when our partners agree with and validate us, but you can’t count on it. If you demand it, you can land in the crazy conundrum that creates eternal insecurity: we put a spin on what we reveal about ourselves in order to get the response we want,” he says. “Then we can never feel secure with those who accept us because we know they don’t really know us.” But if you validate yourself, he explains, “you can afford to let your partner know you as you are” — and that’s when you begin to be truly known.