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    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    Why "Put the Excitement Back in Your Marriage" Advice Doesn't Often Work

    You could also call this entry "EL Auditions for Redbook".

    Helaine Olen interviews Esther Perel, a New York couples and family therapist who has a new book out.

    I like her thoughts on monogamy, especially this:

    Our model is that marriage is for everything. So, we think if it didn't work out with you, I'm not going to think that maybe there is something to question about my model, I'm just going to say I chose the wrong person and I'll go somewhere else to get everything. And there is something about not wanting to give up on that ideal that makes people more willing to go for divorce, and the dissolution of the entire family system and all the bonds, than the willingness to renegotiate boundaries.

    Pathological monogamy anyone?

    I also agree with her on fantasy and on the expense of erotic energy, though I personally would use another adjective. Perel is, perhaps, brainier, more New York and less heartland, in comparison to her colleagues in the field, but she still lapses into certain of their irritating habits.

    There is a notion people have that in the beginning of relationships passion is spontaneous. They actually forget that the beginning was one big story line. There were hours spent anticipating, planning, plotting, developing the script, imagining what you're going to wear, what you're going to eat, where you're going to go, the whole thing. But people remember things as explosive and in the moment and unplanned. And that's not true. But passion can die because we forgo the willfulness, the intentionality and the imagination that fuel the erotic.

    I agree that sex is not necessarily spontaneous at the beginning of a relationship, but passion is, I believe, spontaneous. You're sitting there and suddenly you're overcome with wanting the person you're sitting with. Not that you take them at that moment. But that feeling -- let's get real -- cannot happen as often when you're sitting with that person too often. Your body/mind/whatever-it-is has to turn down the frequency just for your health. You can force something else happen, but I don't think you can make that happen. And a lot of people just aren't satisfied without that.

    Perel says: The whole point of fantasy is that it's not meant to be reality.
    The early part of a relationship is the time at which fantasy and reality are not wholly separate processes. Where what you fantasize, down to the tiniest thing, may or may not manifest. And you feel alternately in control and out of control over whether that happens. Once you're in a relationship, the mechanisms by which you gets what you want are set: generally, you ask for it or you don't get it. Not knowing whether (not to mention how or why) you'll get what you want is part of what makes getting it exciting. You just can't do that later on, unless you want to be deeply unsatisfied.

    Some problems can't be solved. I don't mean that relationships end up sexless after awhile and this can't be solved, but I do mean that you can't put something you've lost "back in" like that when it comes to desire. The thing that makes sexual desire fascinating is that you can't help it.


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