When the Romance Wears Thin
One of my favorite blues songs is titled “The Thrill is Gone” by BB King.
Blues is a medium that has pulled me in because it tells the story of the everyday circumstances in our lives in a way that is gripping, real, and purifying. In “The Thrill is Gone”, King laments a lost love and says, ‘you know you done me wrong, and you’ll be sorry someday’ as he fades into a deep and sonorous guitar solo.
When I listen to the song, it doesn’t get me down. To me it’s just so clear and so expressive. One summer, I listened to it every day as I drove home from work. Sometimes when I witness the perfect expression of experience through poetry or song, I feel a sense of awe because it’s so transcendent. I can feel the whole range of emotions that are there, and can hold space for all of them. The guitar solo at the end reminds me that there is solitude, quiet, and peace even in the middle of our deepest hurts and losses.
In this piece I wanted to follow up my article ‘In Romantic Partnerships, Do Opposites Attract’. I introduced Imago Relationship Therapy and articulated how romantic love has the potential to wake us up and guide us towards greater fulfillment. While many traditional ideas about romantic love discount its potency and power, I made the case to reclaim the fun, the playfulness, and the loss of coercive control that a romantic partnership can bring.
The presence of passion and conflict that is evident in romantic partnerships can be healthy and redeeming. The best research shows that happy marriages and successful partnerships have more to do with emotional responsiveness and positive interaction than the level of passion or conflict that occurs within them.
The problem with romantic love in intimate partnerships, is that while it is lustrous, and wonderful, it tends to wear thin with time. Most people are first attracted to a person because of that person’s novelties and the vicarious sense of pleasure that they feel around them. The thrill of vicarious pleasure is explained by Imago Relationship Therapy as an experience of our ‘lost self’.
The lost self includes personality characteristics that were unapproved of or disallowed in our most primary relationships.
Because we feel both attraction and have a history of prohibition with this lost part of ourselves, with time the very same qualities that we most admired in our partners can become a source of frustration and resentment. The reality sets in that, like most things in life, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You simply can’t be dependent on another person to recover undeveloped skills and personality characteristics needed for full and healthy functioning.
When people in intimate relationships become dependent on each other and reach an impasse, it’s appropriate to seek the help of a trained therapist. Because this growing impasse often takes the form of a power struggle, and an effort to try to change the other person, partnerships can become irreparably broken if conflict is accompanied with contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and major breaks in communication.
In this clip from Mama Natural, a popular blog about parenting, Genivieve and Mike give you a confessional about what happened when their ideas about each other came crashing down. As you can see, their power struggle contained the culmination of a lifetime of frustration in relationships. What they share is a central theme in Imago Relationship Therapy: that we are imprinted with an image of what is safe, and familiar and what has worked for our benefit in past relationships.
Deep in our unconscious, there is a will to survive that leads us to repeat what we know, rather than to examine the projections of our fears and our insecurities onto our partners. Genivieve and Mike share with you their attempts at making ultimatums with each other and their feelings of shock and despair when those efforts proved futile.
When a romantic partnership culminates in a power struggle, it perpetuates a dynamic known as projective identification. Projective identification functions as a defensive mechanism; couples project unwanted parts of themselves onto their partners. Through this process, the other partner can be manipulated into behaving in accordance with the projection, and conflict is exacerbated.
In the example of Mike and Genivieve, they both felt thrust into a situation of having to defend themselves, but with the help of a skilled therapist, with a faith in their spiritual path, and with the concepts of Imago Relationship Therapy, they found a way to walk through the fire.
In Imago Relationship therapy, partners are given a safe space to begin to examine their projections and understand the wounds of attachment that lead them to build such complex defenses. It’s only with this insight that they can begin to make the choice to deal with their anxiety, to feel it directly, and to move through it. In this process, they can take back their projections and show genuine curiosity and love towards their partner.
Please join me as I continue to discuss this topic in Imago Relationship Therapy and discuss the methods and techniques that are utilized to build safety, to examine old defenses, and to move towards a more holistic and fulfilling way of functioning in intimate partnerships
Making Love Mindfully
“Cellulite and sexual potential are highly correlated.” ~ David Schnarch
Relationships are a powerful mindfulness practice; they bring our faults, assumptions, and bouts of ignorance into awareness, so that we can examine them with a mind towards restoration and repair. In this piece, I take one aspect of relationships, sex, and highlight the ways in which it can be used as a meditation to gather information and improve your relationship.
For most of our lives, the notion is perpetuated that our sexual prime occurs in young adulthood, when our bodies are most resilient and when our genitals are most functional. It seems that we don’t hear as much about how our sexual satisfaction and level of stimulation becomes greater as we mature and become more self-aware.
One of the foremost sex therapists, David Schnarch, asserts that as men and women grow older, they become more adventuresome. Women become more comfortable with their genitals and more empowered to pursue sex for pleasure, and men crave more intimacy and emotional connection.
Our relationships are all of one piece.
The quality of our sex lives are inextricably linked to the intimacy that we feel with our partners, and the foundation of intimacy is built on communication.
In sexual interactions, human communication occurs on many levels, but here I want to focus on the verbal, kinesthetic, and meta-level. Becoming aware of what you communicate and what your partner communicates can be considered an awareness practice.
The verbal communication about sex is obvious. But how much do we really talk with our partners about what turns us on, what we like, or find out how to do the things that give them an optimal level of stimulation?
On the kinesthetic level, there are number of subconscious cues that we can tune into that contain messages for us. What happens in our bodies? Do we feel muscle tension and anxiety? How well do our bodies yield to pleasure? When we are kissing, touching, holding, do we feel movement and flexibility or hesitation and retraction? Do we show signs of arousal—wetness and engorgement? Do our hearts pound? Do we feel heat in our bodies when we are with a partner?
On the meta-level, we can be aware of how certain sexual behaviors communicate a symbolic meaning about our relationships. Consider the difference between fucking and making love. Fucking involves pulling, grabbing, and wrestling the partner into the positions and movements that amplify self-gratification. Making love incorporates the wants and needs of the partner and involves creativity, imagination, and play.
To learn more about how these dynamics are communicated, you could ask the following:
>How well do you share power in bed?
>Does the same partner always initiate sexual activity?
>Is the level of desire for sex a constant focus of attention?
>Are the sexual acts that are performed, catered to only one person’s pleasure?
>Are there firmly established rules that dictate your sexual relationship with your partner?
In traditional sex therapy, attention is paid to what is communicated and verified in a sexual relationship, as it provides another medium for working towards emotional intimacy.
With an increased capacity for emotional intimacy, there is greater pleasure and physical stimulation. This increased capacity comes through a cultivation of the faculty of differentiation, a quality that comes with self-knowledge and awareness. Using interactions in relationship as a mindfulness practice contributes to this self-knowledge and awareness.
As we grow in self-knowledge and self-awareness, the qualities of our sexual relationship can age like fine wine.
10 Romantic Things You Can Do for Your Partner
‘I will give you a love potion without drug or herb or any witch’s spell: if you wish to be loved, love’ ~ Hecato
- Look for any opportunity to take on a small task or chore for your partner. Your partner will have more time for you and will appreciate the value that you see in their** work.
- Share with your partner examples of beauty. Explore nature and art together. Develop conversation about what you both think is beautiful.
- Carry a photo of your partner with you at all times. Remind yourself of how important they are and show them off to your friends and acquaintances.
- Find one of their funny habits and tease them about it. Show them how attentive and preoccupied you can be with them.
- Tell your partner about the things that they did early in the relationship that made you fall for them. Make sure they know how important they were to you even early on.
- Ask your partner to let you give them a bath, brush their hair or help them get dressed. Show them that you love their body and want to help them take care of it.
- Learn about your partners friends. Work to create a support system for them that will sustain them when they are not feeling their best.
- Talk about their accomplishments in front of their friends and peers. Show them that you see and appreciate how hard they work to reach their goals.
- Ask your partner to put together a list of ways that you can surprise them. The list can include breakfast in bed, planning a mystery date, or securing tickets to a much coveted show or performance. Make plans in secret to make these surprises come to life. Give your partner subtle hints every now and then to build their sense of anticipation.
- Take on a task that your partner feels the need to control. Ask to drive their car, cook for them, or shop for their groceries. Do your best to show them that you can handle these things with attention and skill.