Although not everyone likes to admit it, we all know this to be true: Sooner or later, every intimate relationship goes through a phase of diminished desire and sexual attraction. Why does this happen, and what can we do about it?
A natural, but potentially annoying, aspect of sexual attraction is that it tends to decrease proportionally to the time spent together.
Simply put, after the initial honeymoon period has passed, the more time we spend with our lover, the quicker sexual attraction declines. It is almost as if attraction requires some distance—a space for sexual tension to arise. To quote psychotherapist Esther Perel, “Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it.”
Intimacy and Attraction.
Here is one of the paradoxes of romantic relationships: We seek closeness and intimacy, but we also want to maintain passion and attraction. These two impulses sometimes go in opposite directions.
It’s true that intimacy can be sexy at the beginning of a relationship, and it can fuel passion and eroticism. Over the long run, however, intimacy fosters trust, understanding and a sense of emotional security, while sexual attraction and passion tend to decrease—unless we consciously introduce some distance.
If closeness reduces attraction, distance can increase it.
Easy enough, right?
Yes, but introducing distance in a relationship is a delicate process.
Too much distance will create other sorts of problems, or even threaten the relationship itself. Each relationship needs to find its own “sweet spot,” or the right amount of distance that can rekindle the fire without killing the connection.
Still, taking some distance, if done consciously and by mutual agreement, can be an immensely valuable tool to bring back sexual tension.
There are three main types of distance that we can work with in intimate relationships: physical, mental and emotional.
Physical distance is the most obvious. Taking a short period of time away from each other is a great way to bring back some passion and attraction. The effects of a short separation, however, tend to be fairly short-lived; if the problem is deeper, some more radical measures might be required.
For example, living in separate houses can be a real boon for the sexual life of a couple. The two partners can “visit” each other as often as they like, without taking for granted that they will sleep together each and every night. Of course, this solution can raise other kinds of challenges if the couple has children, or if living separately is not economically viable.
These are difficult choices to make, but, after all, every choice in relationships involves a tradeoff.
In those cases where physical distance isn’t practical, mental or emotional distance might work instead.
Introducing mental distance simply means having something meaningful in your life that your lover doesn’t know (and shouldn’t know) about. This can be something completely non-sexual, such as one partner joining a theater group, with the agreement not to share what happens there with the other partner.
A certain amount of “opaqueness” towards each other can help revive the mystery and the attraction of the relationship. Being an open book for our lovers is often not the best way of keeping the passion alive.
Mental distance doesn’t mean secrecy. In fact, deciding together what distance to take is a fantastic way to support each other in having some private mental space, while at the same time keeping strong bonds of trust and honesty.
Emotional distance is the trickiest of the three, though it can sometimes be the most effective. It’s tricky, because putting too much emotional distance in a relationship could bring the relationship to a halt; there can be no relationship without emotional closeness. Nevertheless, a moderate, controlled amount of emotional distance can work wonders to rekindle passion.
One of the most effective ways to introduce emotional distance is—brace yourself—having another affair. This new affair can be as brief as a sporadic encounter, or even just a flirtation that does not develop into anything sexual. In any case, in so doing we send a disturbing message to our partner: You are not (always) the only one.
This phrase, which may sound like the very antithesis of romance, is in many cases the solution to the problem of diminished passion.
The reason for this is simple. More often than we would like to admit, we lose attraction for our partners because we feel that we own them. In other words, we take them for granted.
In these cases, the realization that they are not ours, and that they can be happy and fulfilled with someone else, will often cause a shift. Yes, we might feel scared knowing that our partner has had an adventure with someone else, but, most likely, we will also feel renewed attraction and ardor.
Paradoxical, isn’t it?
Sure enough, this kind of emotional distance is delicate. We must take into account the feelings and needs of our partner, but also those of the third person involved. In closed, monogamous relationships, consciously deciding to allow the space for another intimate connection may be completely out of question.
If we look at the matter dispassionately, however, there are countless cases in which an external affair ends up being the key to recovering a relationship that had lost its momentum. This is, actually, one of the main reasons why many couples decide to “open up” their relationship once they realize that the sexual energy has gone stale and that only some emotional distance can possibly bring it back.
But is sexual attraction really important?
Sexual attraction and passion are not equally important for all couples. There are thousands of couples that enjoy a happy and functional relationship, even though their sexual attraction is not too strong.
This is a matter of taste. If we value sexual attraction, however, we may consider consciously introducing some form of distance in our relationship as soon as the passion starts to fade out—or even a bit earlier than that.
Distance, then, instead of being a scary prospect, can become a consensual tool to bring back some much needed attraction and start a new, fresh journey towards one another.
Author: Raffaello Manacorda
Editor: Toby Israel