How to fuel passion in long-term relationships?

The American sexologist and therapist David Schnarch, the author of the classic sexology, the book “Passionate Marriage”, proves that in long-term relationships problems with passion are inevitable. But also that they are a unique development tool. Overcoming them together allows you to become better people. But what does that mean in practice?

You say that a decrease in libido or bedroom boredom can be beneficial for us and we should not necessarily be afraid of them

No matter how much sexy lingerie, candles, music or incense you buy, boredom will always set in at some point in a relationship! This is because we stick to familiar sexual behaviors and avoid those that might make us nervous and insecure. But boredom is good, because fighting it forces you to leave your comfort zone, in this case your sexual comfort. Of course, expecting development from yourself and your partner – which is always associated with entering the unknown, and thus the emergence of fears – can undermine the foundations of many marriages, because it is not easy to motivate anyone to change. However, the more we avoid situations that cause discomfort and thus give us the opportunity to develop, the more desire weakens. Therefore, problems with it can create tension in us, which will ultimately force us to grow.

In the book Passionate Marriage I read that instead of working on the marriage, we should let the marriage work on us. What does it mean?

These days, virtually everyone accepts the idea that a successful marriage requires effort from both parties. The only question is how much effort it will take. What exactly are you supposed to do? When people talk about working on a relationship, it’s like they want to give it a shape they like or expect. Don’t like where your relationship is going? Plan quality time for two. Are you unhappy with how your partner talks to you? Talk to him using the “I” message. Do you want your partner to take a step back because you are afraid of intimacy? Tell him you need space. And when these “work on the relationship” solutions don’t work, you back off or look for a new partner. In Passionate Marriage, I propose a different approach. I explain that marriage is de factoa sophisticated self-development machine that challenges your limits and stretches them to allow you to grow.

Many problems in marriage are inevitable because of our limited emotional development. Moreover, the solution to these problems is not to avoid them, but to take up the challenges that married life throws at us. In other words, this marriage works on you, not the other way around. The key here is your development as a human, not the development of some skill or trick. Albert Einstein said that the essential problems of our lives cannot be solved from the same level of thinking we were at when we caused them. Much of what we think of as relationship problems is actually the way marriage works.

You use the term differentiation, which determines the quality of a relationship and is the opposite of the well-known attachment. What is it really and how can you work on it?

Let’s start with attachment – this is our strong need to seek out and be with our loved one. Differentiation, on the other hand, is the ability to balance attachment with the need to direct one’s life. In other words, it is striving to be yourself while remaining in a deep, committed relationship. You want to be yourself and share yourself with others at the same time. Differentiation is useful everywhere, but it is especially beneficial in monogamous, emotionally involved relationships, especially when it comes to sex.

There’s no point in thinking about how to practice differentiation because it’s not something you can implement. This differentiation works on you (not the other way around). It works, for example, when you reach a stage in your relationship when you don’t need a partner to build your self-esteem.

Striving for intimacy with another person is a typically human phenomenon. As I understand it, too much intimacy in a relationship is not necessarily good for us.

Intimacy requires confronting yourself and revealing yourself in the presence of your partner. Just talking about your feelings isn’t intimacy if you don’t confront them along the way. We don’t like too much intimacy, because it often involves hearing or saying things we don’t like, and often in a situation of insecurity or understanding by our partner. What makes this phenomenon uniquely human is the depth to which we, as a unique species, are able to descend.

The high level of intimacy is hard to handle, so most of us don’t tolerate it very well. We often confuse intimacy tolerance (how much we are willing to reveal ourselves) with the need to be accepted. The lower the differentiation, i.e. the less we distinguish ourselves, the higher the need for acceptance, but the lower the intimacy. This vicious circle drives a lot of people in and out of relationships.

So what can you do to achieve more passionate sex and a more intimate relationship?

There is no one-size-fits-all “first A, then B” formula, but it is important to recognize that an emotionally involved relationship is governed by certain predictable processes and unavoidable problems, and that these can be used to your advantage – to grow. It’s not about “lack of chemistry”, “falling out of love” or “communication problems”. The inevitable changes that lead to problems with sexuality and intimacy are more of an emotional impasse: what one partner wants blocks the other, and compromise is not possible. Or emotional fusion: feeling controlled or unappreciated by your partner. Or the difficult dilemma of double choice: you want two things, and you only get one. They happen extremely quickly and intensely, if you and your partner are not too diverse. If you follow the strategy from Passionate Marriage,

You also propose methods to build bonds between partners.

The book contains tools for emotional and physical connection. The methods I have developed do not require intercourse or even removal of clothes. They will be useful for any couple looking for better physical or emotional intimacy, especially one where the partners feel they have grown apart, become bitter, and their relationship needs to be reset. And so “hugging until you relax” is a long, several-minute hug, during which you hug each other in your clothes for 10-15 minutes. For many couples, that’s longer than their sexual intercourse lasts! It gives you a chance to calm down while remaining in close contact with your partner.

On the other hand, “heads on pillows” is lying on your side facing your partner (with or without clothes). The pillows you’re lying on are close together, but far enough away that you don’t have to squint at your partner when you look into each other’s eyes. This contact allows you to learn to consciously relax with your partner while you become more emotionally and physically involved. Do these exercises if your sex life has become dysfunctional, you have problems with desire, either of you is having an affair, or you have stopped having sex altogether. There is no need to delude yourself – during the relationship, each of the couples will encounter one of these things!

Can a relationship between two people also be a spiritual journey?
Sexuality, being in a relationship, and spirituality have one thing in common – they require personal commitment and learning, and they evolve with you. Once you understand that emotionally engaged relationships are machines for self-development, it will be easier for you to accept that problems with sex and intimacy are the driving force of this machinery, not a symptom of relationship trouble. Spirituality is the ability to understand that when things don’t go our way, there is a reason or purpose for it. Therefore, typical sexual-relationship problems are an opportunity for both partners for the aforementioned differentiation.

Not only does this increase openness to spirituality, but it allows you to look at it from a different perspective. You stop believing in a strict God who punishes you if you disobey him. You stop praying as if prayer were a wish list for God to fulfill. Instead, you thank him for your ability to take care of yourself and those you love.

You write that everyone should find the strength to truly love, because it can change the world.
Love makes you more sensitive. It greatly enriches life, but it comes at a price. In the finale of every good long-term relationship story, one partner has to bury the other. At the end of this road, your partner will not be there to support you in facing his death. You have to be able to handle it alone, otherwise it wouldn’t be wise to love your partner as much as you can. The measure of true love is not how it makes you feel, but what you can give to the other person. It is love that, being deeply involved in the death of our partner, does not withdraw from life, that thanks to the ability to take care of our own emotional world, we are able to go through this experience.

When we understand that overcoming common difficulties with sexuality and intimacy prepares us for the ultimate acts of love and compassion, we begin to see the Great Design. And when we really understand it, we start to see that it’s not limited to the bedroom or the relationship. The world would be a better place if more of us used sexual relationships to become better people. So please, let’s help humanity! Fix your sex life and you’ll be contributing to a good cause.