You might want to believe you’re on a single, united journey together, but that would not be entirely true. You can be sure that they have their own journey to make; sometimes your partner’s journey will interlock seamlessly with your own, sometimes it will diverge, causing unrest and friction.
Their journey, one way or another, will eventually take them from you. There is no other way. If not by choice or circumstance, time will catch up and death will come between you. Contemplate this truth. Remind yourself often, even until it breaks you. Then maybe you grieve for the loss to come, and learn to hold on lightly to what you have, for it is not yours to keep.
Your partner’s journey includes their own discoveries and challenges, their own hard decisions, sacrifices, dilemmas, and predicaments. Your partner’s journey will have them facing their own heart-break, their own dark nights of the soul.
Parts of their journey will need to be faced alone
Some of your partner’s journey will inevitably need to be faced alone, no matter how much you love them, how much you need them, how much you want to protect, rescue, or soothe them. The same, of course, is true in reverse.
Much of the art of relationship is about how we honour our partner’s journey even as we honour our own, how we navigate the borders and boundaries that keep us as two even as we move as one. Your relationship asks this of you – Can you recognize the unbreakable sovereignty of both you and your partner even as you dance in the longing for some kind of permanent “we”?
A reader with a thirty year marriage reveals “I don’t feel passion in my marriage,” and asks an interesting question.
She says, “I have reliable and steady, but I want passion, creativity and fun. Our sex life has dropped off to almost nonexistent. I want to find HIM exciting. I have twenty or more marriage books. So, would your book work? Do I really need another marriage book?”
Read her full letter, and my response, below –
I like my husband. He is a good guy. We spend time together. He says thank you for things I do. We work together quite well on various charity organizations. We pretty much have the same value system: we are both savers, both have same parenting values, etc. The only things we have ever argued about was neatness of the house ( He is neater than I am). But after 30 years we have met in the middle on that issue and don’t argue about that either.
Neither of us want to hurt the other one and we are both very quick to apologize if we think we might have done something wrong. My husband is having health issues. I went back to work this year and that has helped my outlook on life tremendously. We only have 1 child left and she keeps us quite busy as she is social and cannot drive yet. I just don’t feel any passion anymore and I don’t think he does either, to be honest.
Our sex life has dropped off to almost nonexistent. When I went off birth control, my sex drive skyrocketed but he didn’t know what to do with that. He was polite and would try, but the passion of our early days just wasn’t there. Now that I have entered menopause and have a new job, I just don’t ask anymore, so weeks go by. As I mentioned, stress and health problems don’t help.
On our 25th anniversary trip to a very romantic destination, it took 4 days or so before we made love, but then it was every day. But then back to reality. We schedule a week long vacation once a year just the two of us along with several weekends a year (We have a long weekend coming up in a couple months). We hold hands. We talk about our dreams. We take walks on our place, the two of us, several times a week.
I have probably 20 or more marriage books. So why don’t I feel like I am in love with him? He is a good friend. I’m not leaving. Our marriage is a covenant for life. I just thought it would be more, I guess. I thought it would be this passionate, fun connection. Most women would kill for what I have: he fixes anything in our house immediately, if I ever ask for something to be done, he does it immediately. He tells me he loves me every day. He has giant to do lists, but he puts me on them to make sure he doesn’t forget me because he does love me.
He will go on dates, but I have to plan them. I plan great big fun ones, which he really, really likes (going out to dinner and leaving a key to a hotel with him, setting up camping on our property, making a scavenger hunt, etc). He especially liked the scavenger hunt for an anniversary where I put pictures of something that happened each year and the clue to go find something that happened another year.
I have reliable and steady, but I want passion, creativity and fun. I have found a huge outlet this year with my job. I am having a ball and find myself just prattling on and on about it to him, but I know that gets old for him. I want to find HIM exciting. The job has helped my boredom, but unlike what people suggested, it hasn’t helped the relationship. I want to want to spend time with him.
To be honest, I wonder about just cancelling our weekend together so I can just do school stuff. I’m sure the problem is me, but I don’t know how to fix it. I just thought marriage would be more, I guess. Just an unrealistic expectation I suppose. But I don’t know how to not keep yearning for more. Would the book address that? Most books don’t really apply to us. As I said, we don’t fight, so all of the silly communication stuff with the “I-statements” and paraphrasing and all that… it doesn’t fit.
I managed to get him to go to counseling for his work stress (which eventually caused a health issue that has had some major repercussions) and he had me come in with him. He feels like we should share everything, so I know how he feels. Even then, the counselor couldn’t see the stress (My husband is VERY calm on the outside and has never lost his cool/yelled in our marriage, professional life, etc). He decided that he was like a person on the battlefield that can do his job, but then struggles after the battle is over.
My counselor recommended this game called Reunion that we played… We each guessed each others responses 100 percent of the time. We know exactly what each other is thinking most of the time. So, would your book work? Do I really need another marriage book?
Here’s my response –
First, congratulations on what sounds like a lovely marriage and life. Second, I’m not at all surprised to hear that achieving the success of heartfelt connection, security, respect, and friendship has left important parts of you feeling empty and unsatisfied. The cruel reality is that the very things we work so hard to create in a marriage or relationship can also rob us of the feelings of excitement and liveliness that many of us crave. Thus, I hear statements like “I don’t feel passion in my marriage,” alongside stories like yours quite often.
I agree that you probably don’t need more marriage books on conflict resolution, communication, love languages, or empathy. You already understand or possess these qualities in spades.
Unfortunately, most conventional thinking on marriage and relationships (including most counselling and therapy models) focuses exclusively on narrow definitions of connection, and misses other important areas.
Creating and nurturing emotional bonds is an important part of the equation, but the other side of the coin is important too. The other side of the coin includes differentiation, novelty, tension, friction, uncertainty, risk… all ingredients necessary for passion in marriage, for that crucial and elusive experience many of us crave: eroticism.
The article struck a chord worldwide, and I quickly received hundreds of emails, comments, questions and requests of all sorts. Many readers, women and men both, wanted to hear a comparable counter-point, something about why men leave the women they love, the assumption being that there must be some innate symmetry to this phenomenon. I’m not sure there is.
I have wrestled with this counter-point, this question of men leaving women they love, in my mind and on paper, for well over a year now.
Why men leave women they love… Or do they?
The truth is, in my clinical experience, I rarely see men doing the leaving. Men compartmentalize. They withdraw into work, hobbies, fantasy, or addiction. They cheat or carry on secret lives and secret affairs. They might create situations that make it impossible for a marriage or relationship to continue. Men also suffer silently, shouldering massive burdens. The men I work with often have a high tolerance for disconnection. They might leave a dissatisfying relationship in spirit (sometimes they never fully arrive), but they are unlikely to leave in body. Certainly the description above does not fit all men, but the general patterns I see in my couples counselling practice recur too often to ignore.
I find it interesting that when women leave a dead or dissatisfying relationship they are celebrated for their courage. (You can see this in some of the comments on the original article.) Men though, seem to be held to a different standard; by society, by each other, by women, and perhaps most importantly, by their own selves.
It might be a sense of duty or sacrifice that keeps men from leaving. Or an ability to cleave off parts of themselves that don’t fit into the box they feel they must occupy. A man’s focus on performance and success might make the feelings of a failed marriage intolerable, and so the shame of leaving is not an option.
Or perhaps men expect less from a relationship, less from love. Perhaps the painful and revelatory truth is that men expect less from life. Beneath whatever bravado we may see from the outside, many men are disconnected from any real, living sense of purpose in their lives. Their chests may be puffed out, but their hearts are empty.
As many women are awakening to long repressed (and suppressed) desires – for freedom, for expression, sensuality, power, intimacy, eroticism, authenticity, aliveness – their male counterparts may be trudging on, heads down.
“… the European novel, a lovely phenomenon of the last two centuries, has taught more than one contemporary woman what a rich reservoir of impulses and longings she has in her soul that can be satisfied or remain unsatisfied… A twentieth century woman feels complicated sensibilities in herself that no ordinary or mortal man can meet.”
These complicated sensibilities do not seem to be surfacing in men in the same way, and perhaps rightly so. Women’s paths and men’s paths, while intertwined, seem also to be necessarily different. Nonetheless, men too have their own “complicated sensibilities” and their own “rich reservoirs” to discover and attend to.
In archetypal terms, we could say that many women continue to take on the lover qualities in a relationship, while men embody the warrior. The warrior is able to put feelings aside and work for a greater good based on principles and ideals. This ability is valuable, but when these principles and ideals are divorced from a man’s true calling, when they are in opposition to his heart, the warrior energy becomes twisted, and the man becomes mechanical, cold, withdrawn. (Of course these roles may also be reversed. Plenty of women are discovering their inner warrior, and men their inner lover. All configurations can be valuable, and all can be troublesome.)
There’s a saying, “Do not give a sword to a man who can not dance.” Warrior energy is powerful and noble in its healthy and lively expressions, but if it becomes too rigid it morphs into a sad and dangerous parody of itself. The man who can not dance is a man who can not feel. He can not feel the rhythms of life, of others, of relationship. Dancing requires an alertness, it requires grace. Dancing requires an erotic intelligence. A man singularly focused, without these qualities, ends up cut off from feeling, inaccessible to himself and others.
Many a man has expressed great bitterness at his wife’s leaving, even as he has sacrificed so much of himself to fulfill the bargain he believed was necessary for a relationship or marriage. He has worked at a job that is dangerous, for his body or his soul. He has turned off much of his feeling so that he can perform adequately to provide economically for his family. When women leave these men, bewilderment sets in. These men believe they did everything they could. If we are not careful, victim and villain archetypes settle into our bones, and men and women find themselves pitted against each other, and ultimately against important aspects of themselves.
In my original article that roused so much attention, I pose a question to male readers –
“Can you feel your passion? If you’ve lost it, why? Where did it go? Find out. Find it. If you never discovered it you are living on borrowed time.”
If men aren’t able to be fully present in their relationship, even for five minutes at a time, it might be that they are disconnected from their heart, from their passion; strangers to their own “complicated sensibilities” and “rich reservoirs.” Paradoxically, men’s connection to these parts of themselves allows them to be fully present in relationship, AND it simultaneously gives them the power to leave.
If we want men to show up more profoundly, we must also be prepared for their long bottled up rage at being used and abused – as cannon fodder, economic fodder, entertainment fodder, family fodder and so on. If we want men connected to their passion for life, we must be prepared to listen to what these passions have to say. Sometimes the words will be no. Or goodbye.
My boyfriend really likes gangbangs. He’s done them in the past and watches a lot of this type of porn. I’ve never participated, being relatively new to this type of thing and I’m trying to understand. I wanted to know if engaging in something like this with a long term partner (as a means of pleasing him, and I would be okay with it too) would jeopardize the relationship. Our goals are to both grow holistically and I’m concerned it would go against that path. He has since made efforts to change his thinking, but it has got me thinking now, what’s the worst that could happen?
Opening your sexual relationship to include others is intrinsically neither helpful nor harmful. It can be either – or both – in different circumstances. I understand your concern that it could jeopardize a long term relationship, and the truth is that it might, but no more so than repressing sexual desires also might.
It sounds like you are warming up to the idea for your own sake. If you were seeing me as a client, I would want to cover some basics on what will help you have a successful outcome should you choose to try it. I do know smart, loving, “holistic” long-term couples who enjoy group sex, gangbangs, and kinky sex of all types, so I know it’s possible.
The word “gangbang” can have a violent connotation. Conventional porn tends to portray impersonality, objectification and degradation. This can influence our perception of sex in general and can come to define specific sexual activities like group sex. As you consider expanding your own sex life, please stretch your vision beyond what you’ve seen in porn. Much more is possible.
Someone close to me recently pointed out that for her a gangbang is really just “group sex with me in the starring role!” The point is that you and your boyfriend can choose whatever sort of tone or feeling you want for the experience. A so-called “gangbang” or group sex session with one woman and multiple men can be gentle, rough, tender, slow, fast or any combination that you choose.
The more clear and communicative you are about your own desires (and limits), the better your chances are of having a positive experience. Get in touch with what YOU actually want. What would feel good for you? Not just for him, but for you too? After all, YOU’RE in the starring role!
Be specific when you discuss the scenario with your boyfriend. Use candid language. Get clear on your limits and make sure you are both on the same page before you include others. Select your collaborators carefully. Are they trustworthy? Do they have sufficient empathy and communication skills to fit into the scenario you envision?
Talk about safety – physical AND emotional – and make sure everyone is on board. I encourage you to discuss and practice moment-to-moment consent. Make sure everyone knows what “Stop” means. Just because you agree to try something does not mean you are required to continue. Giving yourself permission to stop, or slow down, or change course at any time, and making sure this is understood by everyone, will go a long way to build trust and avoid regret. Hopefully it all goes fantastically and you have the time of your life. But if it isn’t going well for you, please stop and re-assess. Make sure everyone present is your ally in this regard.
Consider what kind of aftercare you want. Cuddling? Group shower? Just you and your boyfriend? I encourage you to debrief the experience together. How was it for you? Were there surprises? What did you enjoy? What would you do differently?
Obviously it’s best to practice safer sex using condoms/barriers. I also encourage you to play sober, especially to start. If you can’t muster the courage or chemistry without alcohol or drugs, you aren’t ready.
Please be patient and kind with yourself. Group sex is not as easy as porn stars make it look. Much like one-on-one sex, group sex can have a learning curve and it might require practice before it becomes truly enjoyable. As the woman in the starring role, you may find yourself feeling emotionally and physically vulnerable or awkward as well as excited. The more you can stay present to the experience, communicate your desires, and represent yourself before, during and after the event, the more likely you are to come away feeling good about the experience.