So, let’s talk about SEX for a bit…
I’ve noticed that often when men and women chat with me about past or existing affairs, there is often conveyed a sense of being revived while in this passionate liaison – a feeling of being brought back to life, switched on, electrified in the sexual part of themselves. They are revelling in certain elements of the situation for sure – the grown-up eroticism, the clandestine nature of the situation, the novelty, the risk.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of those people believe that this release of desire within themselves is solely due to the fact that they’ve finally found just the right person. Their initial choice for a life partner was immature, hastily made and bound for failure but this affair partner is really, truly THE ONE.
But is it the new partner alone who makes this sexual awakening possible? I’m not sure they should rightly be given such power. Not when the largest sex organ we have is our brain, where the seeds of our eroticism (things that turn us on) are manufactured, planted, cultivated and enjoyed – even when we’re alone. Isn’t it possible that the married person who is having an affair is just choosing to be a wilder and more adventurous self? Sure it may be in response to the given situation, the right opportunity, the unexpected, zingy dopamine spike that has us leaping into the personal space of someone who seems ‘better’ then our spouse.
What stops us from looking inward and introducing ourselves to our own erotically charged potential and taking that person into our marriage to see what might be possible? Choosing to re-charge our sexual selves while in connection with the person we’ve already learned and built a life with makes a whole lot of sense to me. It may take an enormous effort to shift things up a gear but it just might be the loving thing to do…the thing that allows us to truly internalise the vows we made at the wedding as well as the values we hold dear. The challenge must begin first within yourself.
I think I agree with Alain de Botton in his excellent book, The Course of Love when he suggests that adultery (an old word these days) cannot be seen to be a truly workable solution for an unhappy person in a mediocre marriage due to the nasty fallout. No matter how enlightened it may seem to embrace the idea of a regular upgrade of sexual partners while married, the betrayed person always feels betrayed.
This kind of betrayal slices cold and deep into the vulnerable parts of the self. There is no loving way to do that to another person. Especially one with whom we’ve made vows and/or made children.
You’ve probably noticed that desire changes over the term of an emotionally committed relationship. Once you know everything you know about your partner, you can’t just ‘un-know’ it. And a lot of the stuff you now know is… well… not so attractive. There is a lot of hard work to be done in term of growing up enough to see both the flaws and the strengths in our marriage partner as the years march on. That’s a big part of the work that I do as a relationship therapist. De Botton also suggests that a person might only be truly ready for marriage when they’re no longer hooked on the idea of perfection. Maybe our marriage partner is okay, just as they ‘imperfectly’ are?
Years ago I read that there a lot of people who just haven’t got the guts to have an affair. The context was about those who stay in monotonous relationships with the same boring person with the same boring problems, avoiding the anxiety of getting up and getting out of the ho-hum of that existence. It’s also seen as safe, secure, sheltered, protected, safe, comfortable, safe, dependable and predictable and… did I say safe? There is probably some truth in that statement about ‘guts’ as far as it goes – but I wonder if true courage might really be displayed when a person in one of those safe, predictable, dependable marriages steps up to make a bit of space for originality, creativity, wildness and adventure with the person they initially chose for the role of ‘lifelong partner’. How courageous would that be?
Is it possible to have both security AND novelty? Can a marriage of two or three (or 4) decades weather that kind of challenge? The sexual arena in marriage could be the best forum for this kind of audacious experiment to be trialled. In my work, I’ve observed that it’s possible for ‘comfortable yet restless’ couples to allow for an internal switch to be turned on, for the spark of their sleeping (or previously unrealised) eroticism to burst into flames in a way that can be surprisingly… well… passionate. Beyond their wildest dreams even.
It’s risky of course, to work at introducing heat and experimentation, novelty and eroticism into a protected environment that might potentially be rocked by the very suggestions I’m suggesting. There is always risk and anxiety woven into change and in our intimate lives, the anxiety is expected to surface at a very high level. But if I talk more about all that, I’d be doing myself out of a job now… wouldn’t I?