Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

Posts tagged “marriage

Sexy Sex and the Other Two Kinds of Romantic Relationship

OFF-blurdance

I’ve been thinking a lot about sex lately. Maybe it’s an “absence makes the heart grow fonder” sort of thing, or a retrospective retelling. I’m not sure it matters which. But in my meanderings someone suggested I listen to this TED talk about sex and desire. She seemed to think I might find some answers to things I’d been writing about. Boy, was she right.

The secret to desire in a long-term relationship | Ester Perel

Did you go watch the video? It’s amazing. And if you didn’t, or you simply don’t have the time right now,  here are my quick notes. Paraphrases from Ester Perel’s talk on desire.

+++ notes +++

“Sex isn’t something to do, sex is place you go, together and in yourself.”

In her studies she asked what made a long-term partner attractive again. Here are the typical responses.

  • when they are away (when we can gain some distance from our mate we can re-see them)
  • when they are being radiant – holding court, in their element
  • when they make us laugh, or surprise us (seeing our mate decked out for a party)

There is a big difference between needing someone and desiring them.
“There is no neediness in desire, no care taking.”

Partners who seem to have vital sex lives later in their relationship also share several traits.

  • they know how to bring back erotic desire (and they work at it)
  • committed sex is premeditated sex (you have to make time and plans)
  • willful
  • focused
  • patient
  • and present

And finally, there are three kinds of love:

  • lust
  • romantic love
  • attachment to a long-term partner

And humans have the capacity to love many people at once, in various permutations of these types of love. And somewhere in between that “attachment” and the “lust” we lose the magic.

+++ end notes +++

Okay, so to apply this new logic to my principle quests here, would be the next logical step for me. How in my marriage did my wife’s “lust” get lost in the “attachment” trap? What parts of our relationship became about survival and not about joy? And why, with a willing partner, did she choose to continue shutting down our sexual connection?

In my marriage, as she headed into a passionless place, I was trying to do everything I could think of to get her back in the mood.

These questions parallel a conversation I’ve been having with a psychologist who deals with couples and sex and divorce. And she wrote a post that caused me to ask her a direct question about my marriage and the loss of our sexual connection. Here’s what she said.

“There are only two healthy choices I see: either work on marriage, including deep look at how you perpetuate the dynamic where a wife doesn’t want sex at all (which is pretty rare- only 11% of marriages sexless which I think def is 10 times or less per year but have to look up), or move on.” Dr. Psych Mom on Facebook.

There was a choice, at some point, that my then-wife made. She chose to believe and inhabit the pattern of exhaustion, loss, overwhelm, depression, anger. And in focusing on those aspects of her own life, she failed to see what was right in front of her. A willing and lustful partner, who also happened to be a long-term attachment. We are all independently responsible for our own happiness. There was nothing I could do, though I tried, to alleviate my wife’s stress, worry, and low-libido.

Again, there’s all this talk recently about how women’s desire begins to degrade over the course of a long-term relationship. Duh! It’s the same for both parties. Sure, sex with a nubile young stranger could be just the tonic your sex life needs, but in a monogamous relationship those things are not longer available outside of fantasy and pornography. Sure does get the heart racing a bit. So women, are now able to admit, “hey our sexual attraction diminishes over time, even if the guy is awesome and loving and supportive.”

She had already exited once via an emotional affair, perhaps now she was planning how to reignite the lust with someone else. A very painful and selfish way to go about rebooting your passion, but those were her choices, and at some point, I had to go along with the decision.

In my marriage, as she headed into a passionless place, I was trying to do everything I could think of to get her back in the mood.  Even if I did all the chores on the list, even if I was making plenty of money, even if she got a good night’s sleep… It didnt’ matter. She was making a choice away from the marriage, sex was just an early warning indicator. It wasn’t about the sex. It was about her.

Long-term monogomy takes work. It takes a willingness in both partners to work on keeping things open, honest, and a bit spicy. When one partner begins to check-out or begins denying the flow between you, there is very little a solo-enthusiast can do to reconnect the lust. Perhaps it is like a faucet. At some point she was turned off by me. The stress, the financial trouble, the extra weight I put on while stressing out at the big corporate job. But that corporate job was the thing that gave her so much flexibility and freedom in her work choices. It was killing me, but it was the thing that gave her security.

I can’t put myself in her head. And today, even the words she said or wrote, seem to indicate she was indeed overwhelmed herself. The “attachment” part of our relationship had overwhelmed and overrun the lust part, for her. I say, that, because I was always willing to spark things up for her, whatever or whenever she wanted. But once we had kids, I can count those moments on one hand. She argued often that it was the chores that made her tired. And my lack of responsibility, or how I could ignore a burned out lightbulb for weeks. But something else was in-motion.

While I was one of those people who believed in continuing the pursuit of sexual connection, she was no longer willing to go along with the program. She had exited once, several years earlier, via an emotional affair, perhaps now she was planning how to reignite the lust with someone else. A very painful and selfish way to go about rebooting your passion, but those were her choices, and at some point, I had to go along with the decision.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post really began here:  It’s the Quiet Time, the Alone Time, the Empty Spaces

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Sex: Men vs. Women… Wait, That’s the Wrong Approach

OFF-fk

When the intimacy dries up completely, it’s more about the relationship than it is about the animals in the relationship.

One of my posts on The Good Men Project got a very interesting comment from an articulate and intelligent woman. She was clearly trying to figure out the parts of her relationship (and sexual) experience in marriage. And I hear this a lot, about the fundamental differences between men and women when it comes to sex and sexual appetites. But let’s clear a few misconceptions up. There has been a lot of new science recently that shows women are just as interested in sex, and historically have not always been as repressed as they are today. I’ll get to that in a second, but here is my response to Erin’s comment. You can go read her full comment here on the GMP, but I think you’ll get the idea from my response.

Hmmm… You make a few assumptions that I don’t necessarily agree with, Erin.

1. Sex is about not disappointing your partner. Hmmm. I don’t think that’s the point. Sex should be a mutually desired part of any relationship. I don’t agree with all this stuff about monogamy becoming boring over time. After 11 years of marriage I was never bored or uninspired by my then-wife. Ever.

2. Men are just men and need sex, women can either comply or risk losing their man. Um… Well, some of that is true. But sex can come in many forms. Intercourse is not always the best option for either partner. And it’s true the male of the species has a more dominate drive, fueled by higher levels of testosterone. But both partners should want to be intimate, at least occasionally. Your milage may vary.

3. Sex is not about maintaining monogamy. And men will not necessarily go wandering sexually if they are not getting sex in their marriage. Just as not all women grow bored with sex after being married for a while. It’s simply the average story. But we’re not average, are we?

4. Men deal with the exact same thing, from the other side of the bed. Being constantly rejected for intimacy is hard to handle. I got creative with my requests. I had unspoken attempts. I had happy and playful attempts. I had lustful and passionate pleas. When nothing (and I mean nothing) worked, we were dealing with something other than a difference in libido.

+++

I could tell when she was closed down and when we were close, and some well-thought-out touches and supportive words were often all it took to get her to open up and tell me what was bugging her.

So let’s take as an assumption that men and women desire closeness and affection with the same intensity. And for men, often this affection is driven by the sexual drive inherent in our higher levels of testosterone and our natural hunter instinct. This is biological. BUT… That’s not the whole story, and it’s definitely not the answer for our differences in sexual desire, or desire for frequency of sex. It is part of the story, but in my opinion, not the most important part. Hear me out.

Sex is about hormones and release. Sure. I can agree with that, from an animal perspective. When we were beasts we conquered dinner on the hunt and we conquered women back at home, partially as reward for our prowess and success as a provider. Well, dear women and men, the modern era is much different. The concept of the hungry and sexually frustrated male is convenient, but not all that helpful in navigating or negotiating an equitable balance in touch and intimacy, both sexual and non-sexual.

If we put the imbalance idea on hold just for a second, let’s assume that both partners desire closeness and this involves cuddling, kissing, holding hands, and sexual interactions. If we start with the idea that both partners desire closeness, we can start solving for how to get that closeness, regardless of if it involves intercourse.

What started happening in my marriage to curb our intimacy (and this was just as much about casual touch and holding) was my then-wife began distancing herself physically and emotionally from me. As she got activated by something, anger, fear, frustration, overwhelm, exhaustion, she would withdraw rather than engage. Now, I do understand how any intimate interaction has the potential to become sexual, but that was not the issue. For me, I would’ve been happy with snuggling. But the threat of sex may have kept her from even asking for that simple nurturing.

When I get scared or sad I feel closer and more supported by a gentle touch. That connection, even a hand on my neck, shows me (in some animal – dog-like perhaps) that she is near, she cares, and she is available. Available not for sex but for hearing and supporting me whatever I’m going through.

Sex opens you up to another individual in a human way, that is very different from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some of us are still stuck in the model of that old hunter/conqueror vs breeding partner/reward dynamic.

I can see how in many relationships that are based on much more base, caveman-like, relationships that even a hand on the neck might signal, “hey let’s have sex” but this wasn’t how our 9 – 10 years of closeness had developed. I was as fulfilled by a hug, sometimes, as a good roll under the sheets.

But something emotional was beginning to happen in my marriage that was more fundamental. It was not about sex. It was about being seen and being honest.

If you have sex in a full and open way, you begin to see deeply into the other person’s nature. (I’m not talking woo woo here.) You begin to feel more connected and in my case, you crave that connection, that transparency. I could tell when she was closed down and when we were close, and some well-thought-out touches and supportive words were often all it took to get her to open up and tell me what was bugging her. And most of the time this was not about sex. I was sincerely opening my heart to hers to hear what was hurting her or freaking her out. And more often than not, in the earlier stages of our marriage, it was about external things, or someone else who had done something hurtful.

But… As we began to experience more stress in our marriage, due in large part to the financial collapse of everyone’s economy including ours, she began to avoid being close. If she got scared she would often withdraw. When I had energy and passion for her I would frequently seek her out and dig in my heels until she let me in and told me what was going on. This was the equivalent of a housekeeper making sure nothing was getting swept under the rug. And this type of closeness rarely evolved into sex. It was not about sex, it was about closeness and intimacy.

After a while, however, as things continued to slide, she was harder to reach. And she began to express uncontrollable anger, that would pop out from time to time as a “fuck you.” It was shocking the first time she just blurted it out. The second and third time I had the impression she was bottling up so much anger and rage (in her mind it was 100% about me) that she could no longer contain it in her isolation. But she was so withdrawn that I couldn’t talk her down either.

In some ways maybe she was avoiding sex too. But I think the sex we had was so open and opening she was avoiding sex in order to not be revealed. Whatever she was afraid of or angry about was so frightening she didn’t want me to open her up. She didn’t want to tell me what was really going on. And in the end she really didn’t want to tell me she was consulting an attorney and trying to figure out her best options in asking for a divorce.

So sure, she was withdrawn and withholding of sex at this late stage. But it wasn’t about sex. It was about the closeness that often opened us both up to each other’s deep feelings. She didn’t want to share her hurt and pain. She didn’t want to tell me she was actually considering divorce and not just randomly shouting curses as me. She was so far gone she didn’t want me to see into her at all.

Sex opens you up to another individual in a human way, that is very different from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some of us are still stuck in the model of that old hunter/conqueror vs breeding partner/reward dynamic. That no longer holds true, if you are consciously coupling and relating with all of your intelligence. I do know that some relationships are not based on honesty and sharing, and I’ve seen examples of the caveman mentality too often to count. But that’s not us. That’s no you. That should not be your default understanding of the man vs. woman equation.

And it’s not the way it should be with sex. Sure we men want sex more often. And it is the woman who is the gatekeeper to her own body and the gift of that intimacy. When the intimacy dries up completely, it’s more about the relationship than it is about the animals in the relationship.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

reference: Good Sex: Or Five Ways to Avoid Bad Sex – The Good Men Project

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Learning About “I Need You” vs. “I Want You”

image: take my handWe’ve all got needs. And when we were younger, and wanting children, we had needs that involved another person. And for many of us, that meant getting married so we could procreate and live happily ever after. As the story goes in this modern age, many of us find that “ever after” is not as long as we thought. As plans changed between one of the partners in the marriage, so went the change from “need” to “want.”

I believe my ex-y “wanted” something different for her life. She had gotten the need for children taken care of, and tried to remain a loving and committed wife, but much of that pretense was for the children. When the desire died for her, whatever the reason, she began to think about wants rather than needs.

And as adults restarting the world as singles, we have to make some clear distinctions between wants and needs. I think I slipped into my second marriage still needing to be healed from my first marriage. I overlooked signs that today would’ve been huge red flags. But I was in need of healing, I was in need of a child-bearing and willing partner. All of those things were instrumental in creating the rose-colored view that allowed me to fall in love with someone who was much less able to express emotions than I would’ve preferred.

We can’t change what happened, but we can learn from our past and try to evolve a bit in our next choices. And that for me has become a distinction between want and need.

“What’s important is, do we want to spend time together? Do we like being together? And then, for me, is this a possible relationship.”

As I have started dating, or spending time with, a new woman, I am more conscious of that distinction. She has some wounding to get through before she’s ready to open up to the relationship idea. That’s okay, I tell her. I’m in no hurry.

And while I mean what I say, what I really am saying is that I WANT her but I don’t NEED her. I prefer to spend time with her than pursuing many of the other goals and aspirations in my life. I want a relationship.

“And if the relationship doesn’t have the potential to be long-term, I’m not really that interested,” I said to her, yesterday.

“That sounds pretty serious. How is that casual?”

I tried to clarify, while treading love landmines and old hurts. “I am looking for a relationship. I desire to be “in-relationship.” If you were to tell me you were really only interested in friendship, that would be okay, but I’d probably start dialing back some of the time I’m spending with you. I don’t really need any more “do something together” friends.”

She seemed a bit unconvinced.

“I don’t think we need to be together. I want to be together. We are pretty good at being alone. And we already have children, so that’s not an issue. What’s important is, do we want to spend time together? Do we like being together? And then, for me, is this a possible relationship.”

Again I am trying, learning, to parse out need from want. And sometimes I am aware that my needs are getting in the way of my clarity of mind. Lust of course is a powerful driver in relationships and coupling. And both of my marriages had a good deal of lusty passion early on. BOTH of them transformed into something less connected and more business-like.

I don’t need a business partner. There may be some advantages to being a married couple, financially, but the unravelling afterwards, if things veer off course, is much too painful to repeat for tax advantages. No, what I want is a passionate partner who also wants to be with me.

I want to want her. I want her to want me. And it’s important that she can express that she wants me. And express what she wants.

We don’t need each other, we crave each other. But after the lustful beginning is burned off, there is a lot of just being together that needs to be engaging, honest, and emotional. I needed a wife, today I want a partner. I will keep trying to remember that the sexual chemistry, while critical to the survival of the relationship, has to be backed up by a genuine joy and the ability to express it.

I’m ever hopeful.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: take my hand, gisela giardino, creative commons usage


What’s This About: Marriage?

creative commons usage: marriageWould you do it again? What’s the point? Is it symbolism or security you seek? I don’t know, but I’m willing to ask myself the questions about why I would ever want to get married again.

It came up in a recent discussion. “I don’t think I’ll ever do that again,” she said.

I noticed my reaction. “Hmm. I wonder what that’s about.” But I quickly turned the observation inward to try and parse out what I would want from marriage. Let’s see…

  1. I already have kids, so it is not about them or having a mom.
  2. I did love the ring. I loved what it symbolized. I cried the first time I took it off. I was a proud husband.
  3. Financially there are some advantages.
  4. Security. (Hmm. This is the hardest one.)

In the end, the marriage did not provide any security within my relationship. I mean, perhaps she would have decided to seek greener pastures sooner had it not been for the legal and financial wranglings that were required to divorce me. But from my side, perhaps I was a bit blind-sided by my unrealistic trust in the “marriage” part of our relationship.

So what kind of trust could be won from getting married again? Would it make our bond any more secure?

The woman I was chatting with responded to my financial comment by asking, “Is that really something you considered when getting married?”

“No,” I said, “But I would have to consider it a reason now. I mean we both have kids, so it wouldn’t be about them.”

And here we are, at the crux of the matter. Would MARRIAGE, the ring, the ceremony, the step-kid thing, give either of us more security? I don’t know. Is it part of my plan? Perhaps, but it is certainly not something I think of in the early months of a relationship. Although she did catch me saying, “If a relationship doesn’t have the potential of going long-term, then I’m not really interested.”

“What does that even mean, long-term,” she asked, with a sly smile.

“I don’t know.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: creative commons usage: marriage day, sami ben gharbia


The Death of Desire

I have to be clear here, there was never any loss of desire on my part. But I wonder how it must’ve seeped away from my ex-y’s side.

desiring my wifeIs there some point at which the longing for connection is killed? Can it be killed on purpose, or through weeks and months of anger? There was never a time when I didn’t long to connect and join with my former wife. In fact, there was a moment six weeks ago, when I seemingly asked her to reconsider her decision.

I understood at that moment that I was really not asking her for a reconciliation. What I was telling her, and confirming for myself, was how much I still loved her and wanted our separation to end. Of course the separation I was hoping to fuse back into a relationship had been gaping for quite some time. And the request was more about setting the record straight, even one last time, that I was not in favor of the divorce. The tearing of our family fabric was the worst cost I could imagine.

People have been saying in response to my revelation about the completion of my divorce, “Well, at least it’s over. I mean, you may not have wanted it to happen, but if it had to happen, at least you guys didn’t drag it out.”

But that was not when the desire was extinguished. I cannot put my finger on it for her because I was not aware of it’s departure. For me, I can still feel a longing for her beauty and for her strong soul.

No we didn’t drag it out. After a week or so of furious negation, I agreed to give my wife a divorce. Just when we were in a position to leap forward in our relationship she was bailing out. Just when we had refinanced the house for 23,000 cash out, she was deciding to go for a divorce. Just when she was preparing a path for a new full-time job for herself, she was convinced she had given it her all and was done.

But that was not when the desire was extinguished. I cannot put my finger on it for her because I was not aware of it’s departure. For me, I can still feel a longing for her beauty and for her strong soul. And I guess I will continue to recognize this desire in myself until I have found a new person to join with.

Love is a celebration. Sex is an affirmation. Closeness and touch in and of itself is enough. When desire dies perhaps the soul of a relationship dies with it. And if the death is one-sided, perhaps it takes a very strong will to convince the other person that it is over. I know I am not convinced as much as resigned. After all, I now have a copy of the registered decree. Everything between the moment she asked for the divorce and this time was more about mechanics than passion or pleasure. And through the mechanics of the divorce I have accepted the need to refocus my desire on things I can influence.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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