The Dark Secret Reason Relationships Fail.

Via on Apr 18, 2012
Photo: Olga Palma

Hint: It’s a Mood Thing.

I thought I had solved our latest relationship problem using my down-to-earth fix-it approach. He wanted more sex, so I chose a Nancy Regan cure: I would “Just say yes!”

Even if I was tired, preoccupied or grumpy, it wasn’t like sex was a chore. Sex was typically pleasurable and invigorating. So what did I have to lose by being available whenever he was in the mood? In fact, there was almost something kinky about the idea of being at someone’s beck and call, like a harem wife or a sex slave. Yes master!

So for two weeks I put up no resistance and even suggested sex a couple of times when I would normally have opted for a more passive approach like falling asleep. This could have been the upbeat ending where we live happily ever after, having regular episodes of enthusiastic sex. However, something tricky happened which I am going to call the “mood of unlove,” a phrase coined by relationship psychotherapist John Welwood.

According to Welwood, despite all the psycho-spiritual relationship panaceas out there, most of these solutions fail because they miss the hidden cause of conflict between couples. This mood of unlove is actually a deep-seated and universal suspicion we are not loveable just as we are, a basic insecurity that generates a whole laundry list of bad behaviors:

“Difficulty trusting, fear of being misused or rejected, harboring jealousy and vindictiveness, defensively stonewalling, having to argue and prove we are right, feeling easily hurt or offended and blaming others for our pain.”

What does this have to do with my new rip-roaring sex life? Well, for one thing, it was never about the sex, not really.

I figured this out when the most obvious solution (more sex) did nothing to permanently resolve the relationship tension. While it seemed like infrequent intercourse was originally the culprit, that gripe was a decoy for a deeper grievance all tied into the mood of unlove. I was busy polishing the surface while oblivious to what lay beneath it.

My understanding of the subterranean nature of the real problem (think deep, dark wounded psyche) arose from a kiss. We were dancing one night at a party and ended up in a passionate lip lock that I’d not experienced since our courtship phase. I mentioned this fact to him and suggested we do a lot more From Here to Eternity-style necking because frankly, I was having a wet-panty response.

Photo: David Wise

The next day he was distant and reflective, and by that evening a new issue appeared. He realized he had been unconsciously locking away parts of himself to appease me. For instance, he’d cordoned off his swaggering male self  that, when we first met had grabbed me on a dance floor and kissed me deeply. It was this same unapologetic self that would just take me without too much concern for whether or not I was in the mood. Where had that manly man gone? Somehow, he had negotiated away a big part of his identity in a bargain for love.

Yet I didn’t set this bargain. I was not asking him to be solicitous and cautious as my lover, nor to tip-toe around my desire levels. I missed the strong masculinity I first encountered when he courted me, the man with whom I told my friends I had experienced unparalleled sexual polarity.

Post-mortems are rarely fun but they can be useful in determining what killed something. In investigating the demise of the potent masculine a question arose: Did I play a role in this lockdown of the very trait that attracted me to my man in the first place? Because as much as I wanted to blame him for the problem, I was pretty sure my only role wasn’t the one my ego cast me in, that of the long-suffering good sport to my partner’s issues.

So while he was busy figuring out if a counselor could help us get back on track, I sat in contemplation of my mood of unlove. How exactly did I suspect I was not loveable just the way I am? And how did this fear gradually erode what had started out as a robust sexual chemistry?

Photo:Marc St. Gill

The answer shocked me because my self-image as a sexually adventurous free-spirited type (I’d missed the 60’s but had always imagined the summer-of-love would have been a blast), was suddenly under siege.

My answer? I am not loveable when I am not sexual.

Somehow I had unconsciously decided that my sexual expressiveness equaled lovability. This meant the inevitable times when I am not feeling sexually open (when I am sick, exhausted, preoccupied, pre-menstrual or emotionally distant), my lovability was in question. In fact, not only am I not loveable, I am flawed in that place of sexual ambivalence.

All at once I understood my man had picked up on this from me—that when I was feeling sexually unavailable, I was feeling unlovable. With this unworthiness leaking from me, I was about as inviting as a toxic spill behind a bolted door. Sure he could swashbuckle his way in like the leader of a hazmat team, but that would require a heroic belief in his own lovability no matter what. So he had backed off from sexual advances unless it was clear to him that the door was wide open. In the face of my fear of being unlovable, he had stopped loving and I had stopped allowing love in.

The question I will surely dance with from this new self-awareness is just how can I love myself whether I am sexual or not? How can I accept all of me just the way I am? Because only when I can give myself this gift, can I offer it to another.

Like elephant love on Facebook.

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

About Lori Ann Lothian

Lori Ann Lothian is a spiritual revolutionary, divine magic maker and all-purpose scribe. She writes about love, relationships, enlightenment and even sex, at Huffington Post, Good Men Project, Yoganonymous, Origin magazine, Better After 50 and on her hit personal blog The Awakened Dreamer. She is also a senior editor at the online magazine, The Good Men Project, where she founded Good for the Soul, a section dedicated to the exploration of men and spirituality. Lori Ann lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and daughter, where she has learned to transcend the rain and surrender to mega doses of vitamin D. Tweet her at Twitter or friend her on Facebook at Facebook.

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53 Responses to “The Dark Secret Reason Relationships Fail.”

  1. daz says:

    Relationships are little more than temporary, unspoken, mutual agreements to accept each other. "You mean I'm ok as I am?" – "Wow! I love you…"

  2. anon says:

    super SUPER impressed by this article. ever since my parents divorced when i was 18, i have been actively chasing reasons of why love ends. i've read a thousand articles and books (literally) looking for ways to build healthier relationships so they won't be so susceptible to external strains life always brings. most of what i've read is either obvious or schlock, but there have been some interesting pieces that give me hope about an authentically healthy relationship, such as Dr John Gottman's work and Dr. David Schnarch's book, Passionate Marriage. Ms. Lothian… this article is one of the most heartfelt, self-reflective, and eye-opening pieces i've read so far. thank you for your openness and honesty about the inner work necessary to try understand relationship dynamics. having already endured one divorce myself, i know that deciding to have a healthier relationship does not make a healthier relationship, and that the amount of love alone one has for a partner cannot change an unhealthy dynamic to a healthy one. i really relate to both you and you partner in this situation you describe, and being able to see a different perspective instead of the same old advice is really meaningful. thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you Anon…(yeah, I know your real name is John Doe) for your feedback. I love Schnarch's work as well. The second biggest issue in relationship (blog to come!) is not the Mood of Unlove but the Mirror of Truth. Thank you so much again for taking time to read and commment,

  3. Clement says:

    Great post, Lori. I love the way that you investigate your thoughts and I love the way you articulate them even more so! I'm sure that you have connected with a lot of people here, as you have with me, and that they will benefit from your work.

    Thanks again!

  4. Beautifully expressed and insightful Lori. Many images and instances from my own past relationships came immediately to mind. Thanks for shining your love-light on this issue! :-)

  5. you are welcome…and feel free to share your own images. :-)

  6. James Vincent Knowles jamesvincentknowles says:

    . . . for there to be love between two, there must first be love in one . . . for both. From this beginning, only, can there be the freedom and joy of the sharing experienced in a loving relationship. thank you for your honest and real sharing. namaste

  7. el Carg says:

    Great timing to help through a recent talk that left me wondering what I keep doing wrong. Feeling right now, and happlly optimistic.

    • I wonder sometimes why we think we do anything wrong–which implies a right way. The place of real resolution of any situation happens when we see the possibility for Rumi's field beyond right doing, and wrong doing. The biggest gift I have given myself is permission to be wrong and right at the same time, and my partner I give the same gift. Then, the whole discourse goes from the head, to the heart.

  8. blossom says:

    I was really hoping for the answer to the final question… :(

    The question I will surely dance with from this new self-awareness is just how can I love myself whether I am sexual or not? How can I accept all of me just the way I am? Because only when I can give myself this gift, can I offer it to another.

  9. ecoAly says:

    Yes! Beautiful.

  10. I think we all have days when we are loveable and days when we are not….even weeks perhaps. That is part of being human.

    What concerns me more in what you’ve pointed out is the way in which we withdraw from the relationship that we’re in, as your lover withdraw a part of himself….semingly because he thought he had to in order to remain engaged with you….just surmising what I think you said.

    It’s not easy to do, but the work of David Deida is fascinating on this point. Deida would encourage both you and your partner to remain true to yourself but also to tread into those places where fear might hold you back, or at least that is what I understand him to be teaching. In other words your male friend might not ‘take you’ sexually when you are feeling unloveable but he just might step up to you and hold you closely and let you know that you are in fact loved.

    It is elusive…this deep connection we seek, but we can hope to learn and grow and one day get it right….

  11. Meindabindi says:

    Interesting piece, especially after the one in which you wrote about treating a man’s sexual needs as an obligatory chore like walking a dog.

    I’m impressed at your willingness to suss out the trouble beneath the surface, returning to that only real place, the heart.I wish for you that whomever you choose to partner up with will be as willing as you are to take risks, be vulnerable and meet you in the field. You deserve it.

  12. Meindabindi says:

    Interesting piece, especially after the one in which you wrote about treating a man's sexual needs as an obligatory chore like walking a dog.

    I'm impressed at your willingness to suss out the trouble beneath the surface, returning to that only real place, the heart.I wish for you that whomever you choose to partner up with will be as willing as you are to take risks, be vulnerable and meet you in the field. You deserve it.

    • There is a story in all of our lives, the one where we let go of the self we imagine we are, to realize that we are truly of a magnitude of love, nothing can hurt us…and everything is welcome.

  13. Andrea Balt Andréa Balt says:

    Beautiful, raw & genuine. Loved it.

  14. Maureen says:

    So so so concerned by your equating being a "manly man" with someone who "just takes you without concern for whether or not you ate in the mood." This is the type of sentiment that perpetuates rape culture.

    • Lelsie says:

      I disagree

    • Liz says:

      True, happens so much in my country. Men feel entitled, as if their wife is an object. A mentality like your my wife and being my wife comes with having sex with me whenever I want, keeping your mouth shut and cleaning the dishes. SO what are you whining about? You just have to lie there. Now shut up and get naked or I'll get you naked. Its not even speculation. I've heard it here many times in many mouths.

    • Rapists are not manly men, they are wounded humans. There is an order of difference between a man taking charge with love in his heart, and a rapist attacking with anger.

  15. Lelsie says:

    your article was lovely and very relateable…in this culture we live in, media tells us as women that essentially we must be everything, do everything for everyone and then make passionate love to our partners…….Be available and ready or step aside for someone else who is ready willing and able……..Your writing is Real, Thank You!!!

    • thank you lelsie–it speaks to many women it seems, but also quite a few men. We tend to polarize upsets into right and wrong, take a stand, win the match and lose the game. I am wanting to win-win. :-)

  16. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    "Somehow I had unconsciously decided that my sexual expressiveness equaled lovability." So stunningly honest, Lori. Yet the tendrils of that sexual equation root deeply into the rocky cultural shores of media messages. After reading your piece, a tagline from a famous perfume brand's advertising campaign of the mid-Seventies (which of course I'm too young to remember) has been replaying in my head: "Want him to be more of a man? Try being more of a woman." The obvious implication: You're lacking something, lady. Here! Buy our product to feel like a whole person who's valued by society. Then maybe your man will love you the way you want. It's a concept that's been shoved down the throats of entire generations of women, one that was derided by feminists in its day but still awaits being universally overcome.

    The ad's text described what being "more" meant (in Seventies speak). For men: "Being strong enough to be gentle" as opposed to just having giant biceps. For a woman the paradigm had apparently shifted even more dramatically. "Being a woman used to mean playing hard to get." But now, the copywriting proclaimed, "it means not acting at all." In a word, being Real.

    Wow, Lori, it's taken nearly four decades but the dawning self-acceptanc you depict may be the lazer that can help us all to bore through those rocks at last.

    • My heart just opened wide reading your reponse Val. I wrote this piece for me, for my own understanding, and I am so delighted and moved by the reception, where it seems to be a bit of a way shower for people. I remember being in my late twenties, writing at an MFA pgm, and being told by one of my teachers (the author of "weddings and wakes" that i had great facitily with language but I was too young yet to know my message…ha, it only took 25 more years to figure it out.

  17. Liz says:

    You and I have wildly different points of view. When I read this " In fact, there was almost something kinky about the idea of being at someone’s beck and call, like a harem wife or a sex slave. Yes master!" you lost me. I immediately knew you had issues with worth being equated with having an idea of yourself as being a sexual spirit and open and pleasuring the opposite sex by doing and being whatever they wanted in exchange for your own self assurance, in exchange from some positive feedback. I've been told indirectly many times that what a woman is "supposed" to do is what you suggest. I don't want to do anything Im supposed to do, I do whatever comes naturally and spontaneously, and what feels right.

  18. HI Liz–I hear you. I suggest the deeper message here is in your "turned off" ness to the article, in that it struck a sore spot in you. I was being playful and flippant with the harmen reference–like most women these days, I have explored polarity games in the form of mild BDSM games, and while fun and erotic, are far from a staple of true intimacy in a long term partnership.

    When you say you "knew you had isssues" with self worth being tied up in sexuality,,,,well, doh! That is the point of the article. Most women do, even as they express themselves to be free spirited, sexually open, available. The article looks at what happens in relationship dynamics when there is this core hidden belief that loveability = sexual expressivenss. It impacts both partners. I am wondering…did you read the whole thing?

    Last note–men have their own hang ups in the sex arena, birthed by a porn culture and a reaction as well to women who have become independent vs interdependent in the feminist over-shoot. But that is a different article.

    Lori Ann

  19. Urša says:

    copying from James:
    It is elusive…this deep connection we seek, but we can hope to learn and grow and one day get it right….

    hear hear :-)

    love,
    Urša

  20. creativewhimsy says:

    Interesting. I wonder if this is why all relationships I have had start out 'Oh Wow, I am worth loving,' and end up,'Oh well he didn't really get me after all". It's my own self worth in question, not the relationship per se.

  21. paul j says:

    Thank you,that was beautiful,honest n honorable ox

  22. stanster says:

    I am a single guy in my late 40's and this article is fantastic and informative! Here's my thoughts: I struggle with my self-esteem being tied to my sexual attractiveness also. I only recently began to make the connection at how I needed to investigate this and probably work hard to CHANGE my core belief in this area. As men we are probably born with a natural belief that the sexual act is so connected to being "loved". This becomes distorted by society until we find ourselves cheating or looking at porn in our 20's , because women don't seem as eager to jump in bed. We feel "unloved" and seek it in other ways. Both sexes can help the human race to evolve by being more empathetic to how the other sex is wired. BUT it's important as individuals that we take responsibility for how we feel and we work to "rewire" our core beliefs so that we all can experience "Self-Love or Wholeness" regardless of our power, money, sex or possessions! Articles such as this make me believe that the world is changing for the Better and the proof is all around us. Thanks!

  23. [...] elephant journal as a regular columnist, writing on Love, Sex and Relationship. My last post, The Dark Secret Reason Relationships Fail (which intimately addresses my own sexual fears), soared to 11,000 views in one week. The piece was [...]

  24. David says:

    Thanks, Lori Ann, for an insightful piece. What I have observed is that we make these unconscious adaptions, withdrawing aspects of ourselves and thus not being authentically present to the relationship. Add in those unconscious stories of being unlovable unless sexual or not really lovable enough or feeling sex makes them an object or is dirty… those background ideas slowly fester, noticing things that make them right, until they pull the relationship apart. All the while it was us while we blame them for bringing us this pain.

    Such self-reflection and honesty in a relationship is key to working through these things and sustaining it. It can allow the love to progressively deepen over time.

    And yeah – relationships can sure be mirrors for our junk… I find it useful to consider them a great technique for self improvement. (laughs)

    I admire you for being willing to be available to meet his needs. It’s common for there to be an imbalance in libidos. A friend shared how they had an agreement to always make love after a fight had cooled down to reestablish the intimacy.

  25. [...] you had some ideas why he or she stopped calling. But you couldn’t be sure. He clearly had intimacy issues. You knew that from the start. There was always the push-pull. Anytime you showed too much [...]

  26. [...] The Dark Secret Reason Relationships Fail. (elephantjournal.com) Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in daily lessons, in my life, observations on life, the dear ones and tagged family, it breaks my heart, little observations, my life, perspectives, Selfishness, sharing a life, today. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  27. [...] not that the sex gets bad and then the relationship goes down the tubes. It’s actually the other way around. The relationship starts failing when we stop telling the truth, either out of laziness or fear of [...]

  28. [...] as a relationship primer. And this is the ideal book for anyone who simply wants to understand the dynamics of any relationship they may find themselves [...]

  29. [...] a mortgage and deep spiritual growth. But, if you take this thing all the way to the altar, you only have a fifty percent chance of sticking it out. In different terms, you are walking into the hospital with a terminal illness and they are fifty [...]

  30. Mesier says:

    Excuse me for being contrarian, but perhaps we need to get over the idea that we can only love one partner in our lifetime. It’s destructive (and a kind of self-loathing) to see the end of a relationship as some kind of spiritual failure or personal inadequacy.

    The current mainstream cultural model–lifetime commitment/monogamy with that special one person–is very new in the course of human history. And it’s clearly a failure given the unchanging divorce rate and the increasing rates of infidelity for those who stay married. No culture in history has been largely monogamous, why do we expect that for ourselves now?

    Let’s stop equating all sex with love and spiritual practice and just accept that we are primates who desire novelty and change. Sex can be a friendly kind encounter that does not mean deep spiritual connection. One can also have a deep spiritual connection through sex, but that does not mean it will last a lifetime.

    I’m not arguing against lifetime monogamy as a choice, though. I’m simply stating that we need to get past the idea that getting divorced, or breaking up with a longtime partner is a spiritual or personal failure on the part of either person. All relationships end at some point, and many if not most, will end before someone dies. Let’s just accept this and learn to love fully and deeply no matter the circumstances, even if those circumstances mean leaving the relationship.

  31. Lori Ann Lothian says:

    this is so germane, and yes! "
    Let's stop equating all sex with love and spiritual practice and just accept that we are primates who desire novelty and change. Sex can be a friendly kind encounter that does not mean deep spiritual connection. One can also have a deep spiritual connection through sex, but that does not mean it will last a lifetime."
    I do not see you as contrarian…but adding to the dialogue

  32. [...] became less frequent as the stress of our new life’s situation fell on us as a heavy shroud. The sexual dynamics of our relationship changed (after all, I was the sick one) and the decrease in our sex life left me feeling alone and [...]

  33. theaallison says:

    Don't like this I LOVE IT. Courageous, spot on writing Lori Ann. Going to share this through my blog as it says so much that I have been uncovering through my writing and recent experiences.

  34. Anne K. Scott says:

    Fabulous. I got a lightbulb moment reading this.Tx you

  35. niki parsons says:

    My husband and I are newly wed, and I really had thought that at some point someone would approach me with some advice on marriage. A few people, that were asked, said things like, "it's about compromise," or "have a date night to keep romance alive," and this is quite unsatisfying. We have been together for 5 years already. We got the nuts and bolts and glue! Now this article has given me the type of insight I was looking for! I feel I just found a shining thing in the grass. That same feeling I got when I realized a knot can sometimes be more easily loosened by pushing than pulling. This is how a paradigm shift feels to me.
    Thank you.

  36. daniel says:

    the question…what happenned with this relationship ?

    • angelgal3176 says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Are you two still together, or did you break up? You mentioned a "post-mortem" – is the relationship dead? As you went on in the article, I had to question which way it went. And examining myself and my own marriage – there have been times I've wondered if it was better off to leave – even kicked my husband out last summer – but the spark is still there. We're still working on it, I know I have A LOT of work to do on myself and my ego, etc – but I'm sticking with this same man I chose 18 years ago, and do once more every single day. It is a choice – and I truly pick him above all others everyday. And there has to be a reason.

  37. Joyce says:

    Good job looking at your part in the problem and dealing with it. Too many look to their partner as the problem. From my experience, it is crucial to pay attention to our stories and how they are playing out in our relationships. Whenever we are feeling emotionally triggered or 'off', usually our past is playing out and is wreaking havoc in our relationships. So, your answer of "I am not lovable when I am not sexual" is likely tied to some event or series of events in your past that became the story and/or set of beliefs you brought to your relationship. We all have stories that play out in a variety of ways. The key is to pay attention when our emotions are off and get curious about why. Once we understand our triggers, meet our emotional needs, and speak candidly about our stories with our partners, we actually have a chance at undoing our past and ending unhelpful patterns. This is an amazingly freeing and empowering feeling. Relationships are…or at least can be…the gateway to connecting to our divine, authentic and magnificent selves. I am always in awe of the opportunities my relationships have given me to undo my past, end unhealthy patterns and connect me to my greatest self.

  38. davaceta says:

    of course…

  39. Amy E says:

    Sometimes "being/feeling" sexual is like a trick question. If I say yes, will I be classified as easy? I want to say yes, because of "unrequited lust/sex" and it's been a long time, and I'm about as much of an adult as I will ever be…but, should I say yes? Having several male friends, I know I feel likeable when I'm NOT being sexual. It takes the pressure off the situation…not going there! But in a love interest relationship, it's more complicated.

  40. JeK says:

    thanks for sharing this wisdom :) although it is an idea that i may have, in some way, come across before–the way you presented it offered a great new perspective. this will be incredibly helpful in how i choose to continue down my healing journey, in my relationship with myself and my partner.

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