Question: What are the key forces that impact passion in a marriage?
Answer: In my experience, the major variables affecting marital passion are a sense of wonder and newness, coupled with a strong desire to please the other. One of the reasons that a new relationship or an affair is often so exciting, is that the couple wants to bring pleasure to each another which stimulates creativity and excitement.
The challenge in marriage is to keep the relationship fresh. A phenomenon that we marital therapists see more and more is the marital brother/sister relationship. A couple falls into a comfortable pattern in which their sexual relationship begins to take a back seat. In marriage, you have to ignite passion. It doesn't keep burning on a low flame. A couple needs to make their sexual relationship a high priority. For the busy two career couple, it may mean scheduling time for their sexual relationship. When it comes to sexual relationships we often operate on the misconception that passion is something that just naturally happens. It's not so. Good sex, like career success, demands commitment, creativity and practice. Too many of us will settle for a less than satisfying sexual relationship or find quick solutions like an affair to break the monotony.
Question: Does the length of the relationship matter?
Answer: The longer the relationship the greater the risk the couple will slip into bad habits. Too many men forget how to romance their wives. A man who treats his wife like a girlfriend is a man who will have a lover for a wife. Passion is not a given. It has to be cultivated and nurtured. It takes skill and knowledge. To develop that skill a couple needs to make the commitment to learn from one another and to discover what is pleasurable. A back rub for one woman may be more sexually satisfying than direct genital stimulation.
During the courting stage of a relationship the focus is on one another. This is enormously satisfying. Who doesn't want such attention? However, once the relationship becomes institutionalized, attention too often shifts to competing interests like friends, work, hobbies and children. It then becomes a major challenge to keep the marriage alive.
Question: Is passion in marriage influenced by whether or not you have kids?
Answer: Children can be a cause of reduced passion in marriage. Often the husband feels his wife's affection shifting from him to the children. He now has to share center stage with a screaming baby who before-you-know-it becomes a demanding teenager. Kids can wear you out (I know. I have four of them) and nothing kills passion like exhaustion.
I often recommend that couples take time out from parenting and pay attention to the marriage. A weekend away from the kids can do wonders for the marriage and will most likely improve their ability to parent.
THE GREATEST GIFT WE CAN GIVE OUR CHILDREN IS A HAPPY MARRIAGE. It's as important to work on creating a loving, passionate marriage as it is to learn new parenting techniques.
Question: Is the passion between a couple affected by their stress level at home or at work?
Answer: Most definitely. Whether the stress is external, i.e., work related, or internal, i.e., marital or parental, it will definitely affect marital passion.
Let's face it. By the time most of us have put the kids to bed, cleaned the kitchen, paid the bills, returned the phone calls and watered the plants, the only thing we feel passionate about is sleep. At best, we engage in obligatory, unsatisfactory sexual contact. More likely, nothing at all - a rather gloomy picture of marital life.
So what's the answer?
Try a bit of common sense, a healthy dose of understanding and a genuine desire to give.
First, it's important for both partners to have reasonable expectations. You can't ignite passion with a flick of a switch, and passion rarely accompanies each and every sexual encounter. Marital passion doesn't burst forth on demand. It doesn't come because you want it. It's what happens when there is a genuine desire to give to one another.
PEOPLE WHO FEEL LOVED RESPOND WITH LOVE. One who is willing to give his or her more exhausted or stressed out partner a massage or some other form of loving, non-sexual contact will be storing up passion points for that quiet Sunday morning when the kids are gone, the dishes are done and the pressure is off.
In a truly loving marriage there are many days of exhaustion sandwiched between moments of genuine intimacy and passion. Those moments of passion are the result of the understanding, commitment and warmth that sustain a loving couple through the demanding obligations of a shared life.
So if you are looking for genuine passion in your marriage, you won't find it in a sex manual. It's the gift that comes from real love. It's the interest you earn from giving. Focus on being other-centered and your marriage will be a lifetime love affair.
Question: To what extent do personality and one's innate affection level affect passion in marriage?
Answer: I hold by the adage that good lovers, like good leaders, are made-- not born. I doubt we can all reach the skill and passion of a Don Juan De Marco unless of course we, like Don Juan, devote our whole life to pursuing the ultimate sexual experience. Nevertheless, we can create passion. Success in bed is achieved as a result of an open mind, a willingness to learn, a loving feeling toward your partner and a desire to give.
I want to say more about the desire to give. Learning to be other centered is, in my opinion, one of the most significant factors in creating a successful marriage - in bed or out. Too often, we focus only on our needs, our desires and our pleasure and forget about the other.
If we could turn the focus of our attention from ourselves to our partner, our relationship, in general, and our sexual relationship, in particular, would vastly improve.
Question: Is it a given that passion declines over time?
Answer: It's not a given, but it often happens. Of course, there are physical factors to contend with. A 60-year-old doesn't have the stamina of a 20-year-old. However, a wise 60-year-old can compensate for his or her decreased energy with experience. The most powerful sexual organ is the head, not the genitals. A smart and loving mind can fire up an old body. I know a number of elderly folks who have a twinkle in their eye for more than just their grandchildren.
It is important to understand that passion is not merely explosive sexual fireworks. It is also the sexual warmth that is generated by a couple who have learned how to love. Their passion emerges within an atmosphere of understanding, acceptance and respect. The most important way to maintain lifelong sexual satisfaction is to constantly work on improving marital communication. Learning how to listen, to accept and to forgive are essential qualities in maintaining a passionate marriage.
Question: Is there anything we can do to increase the passion during those times when it seems to take a nose-dive?
Answer: Recognizing that passion has taken a downward turn is the first step toward correcting it. A couple that is committed to maintaining a quality relationship will monitor it carefully. They will discuss their declining passion and will seek ways to restore aliveness and pleasure. This is a marriage that is in a constant state of creation.
I am fond of telling people that love is a verb not a noun. Love doesn't just happen. You don't "trip" into love and you don't "fall" into love. Real love and passion is something that two people must work at together.
A good sexual relationship is nothing more than good communication. To communicate, first and foremost, you need to know how to listen. To listen you have to get out of your own way. You need to empty your head of your arguments, preconceived notions, expectations and opinions and then be open with your entire being to what the other is communicating.
No small task.
Good sex is a function of learning how to listen. Many of us carry a great deal of baggage into our bedrooms. That baggage might be parental or religious do's and don'ts or some image based on grade Z movies about how a great lover is supposed to perform. While he is worrying about duplicating the sexual gymnastics of some mythical Hollywood lover, she is feeling abandoned.
Both men and women need to let go of trying to prove themselves to one another and learn to satisfy one another. When they achieve that goal, their reward will be a passionate and loving relationship.