Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
For most of us, keeping passionate love and hot sex alive in a long-term committed relationship is one of our deepest longings. We all want it, and yet most of us have a hard time believing it's possible or figuring out how to get it. In her TED Talk, Perel suggests this achievement lies in the balancing of adventure and security. This makes intuitive sense, but what steps should we take today to get there?
I want to give you hope. Whether you are in a relationship that is basically good but needs more passion, or one on which you are almost ready to give up, you can start practicing passionate love. I figured this out through my own personal experience and through coaching countless individuals and couples on similar journeys.
The key to mystery: Listen
Most of us claim to want a partner who is exciting to be around, and yet, if you are anything like how I used to be, you don't actually know all that much about your partner. I discovered, under some duress, that I barely listened to what my partner had to say most of the time. I would repeatedly interrupt him, AND steer the conversation to what I wanted to talk about, usually my anxieties (very sexy, right?) I would then complain that we had little intimacy! When I finally told him that I wanted more depth in our relationship, he admitted that he hated talking to me. He told me how disrespected he felt when I interrupted him. This was a revelation to me. Luckily, I was working with a coach who helped me hear his feedback and do something about it. I promised my husband, from that day forward, that I would "zip it" whenever he spoke, and guess what? Now I find him a lot more interesting (and sexy) because I see aspects of him I never got to see, when I was cutting him off. He, in turn, feels a lot safer and freer to be himself, because I am listening respectfully.
The key to adventure: Dream for each other
As Perel suggests, we need to have a vibrant life outside of the relationship in order to have a vibrant life inside the relationship. Towards this end, at the Handel Group, we recommend DREAMING. Most of us are pretty lame at dreaming. We dream about ideas that are realistic, but forget what it is like to be wildly in love with something we want, like a new career, a sculpted body, a home that is just right, or passionate long-term intimacy. We encourage people to put down any fears or disbeliefs, and "let themselves go" in their imagination. Ask yourself: If you could have anything, what would you have? This is a heart exercise (say that out loud for the pun intended.)
In a couple, it is your job to know your partner's dreams, and cheer for them. It is your job to believe in them when they don't. By helping them feel proud and excited about their life outside of the relationship, you will help them feel proud and excited IN the relationship.
The key to connection (and hot sex): Make a plan
We honor that commitment, to differentiate our relationship, no matter what. Just to make sure we do, we have designed a "consequence" that we pay if we break our commitment. -- Laurie Gerber
Perel said it best: "Committed sex is premeditated sex." Saying "I can't make it hot" is really just saying "a hot relationship is too much work." Of course you can make it hot, but it may take a bit more mental, emotional, spiritual and physical work than you thought. At Handel, we call that work having Personal Integrity. We define Personal Integrity as the alignment between your highest ideals, your thoughts and plans, and your actions.
To practice Personal Integrity in your relationship, you are probably going to have to schedule sex, or at least commit to it X times per week. My husband and I have two young children and we both work more than full time, and yet we still promise each other that we will have sex twice per week. Sex is after all what distinguishes our relationship from a really good friendship. We honor that commitment, to differentiate our relationship, no matter what. Just to make sure we do, we have designed a "consequence" that we pay if we break our commitment: the next time we have sex, we have to have it outside of our warm, comfy bed. For some of you, this may be exciting, but I happen to love my cozy bed. What consequence would work well for you?
And it's not just quantity you can dictate, you can dictate quality too. You can promise play, imagination and "turning yourself on" too. I do.
Try this, and you will see the connection come back alive. Yes, it's a bit of work. But of all the things in your life, a connection to your partner is probably one of the most important, yes? On most people's deathbeds, what they seem to care most about is how well they loved and were loved.
As Perel suggests, we are at a unique time in history where human culture is changing and sustained desire as a phenomena is possible. But it's only possible if a critical mass of human beings do the work to make it so. I want a world in which "hot monogamy," as we call it at Handel, is an easy choice for my children and for the entire next generation. If you do too, write a post about how you are going to bring practical eroticism into your relationship!
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