Where is the Life we have lost in living? /Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? /Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? -TS Eliot Choruses from The Rock
“we’re trying for something that’s already found us”-Jim Morrison An American Prayer
As a couple therapist, one of my tasks when I counsel partners in distress is to help couples make a distinction between love and desire. Often couples will attend counselling and one-or both of them-will have experienced low or no desire towards each other over a number of years yet still profess a deep love. Often partners will assume that because their sex life has dwindled that means they no longer love each other. Other couples who have found sexual solace in the bed of another will assume their marriage is effetely over, or that “couples in love do not cheat”.
These are myths that I take time to break. They are also dynamics, over the last decade, to be particularly affecting the late 20s to mid-30s of age.
Why is this? What’s going on?
I think there are many reasons for this: one of the most powerful being that in the midst of the hurly burly that our lives are becoming, a hurly burly which is now being supercharged by high financial demand, less time spent together, the high supply of digital distractions with their low return (most are simple distractions from any kind of life lived at depth and connection), the sheer stress of having a family and not knowing with any kind of certainty what roles a man and a woman “should” take; well, for the millennial generation it’s hard. As a baby boomer, at least we had tradition and polar opposites (even if we did not like them, it gave us a structure to fight!), whereas in the post-post modern world there’s a lot more information and freedom, but often more just heaps up.
Communication is thought of as the most important element in couple relationships. I think it’s second to connection; you can communicate badly but still feel in a viable relationship if you experience a robust connection, but if you feel disconnected, you could be worlds apart and lost.
It is this disconnection, this sense of still being in love with you partner, but unsure of how to reach out and initiate physical intimacy: touch, holding, hugs, caresses, sex. This is not a question of low libido only-lots of couples have high sex drives, fantasising about others and pleasuring themselves, but find it hard to reach out and connect to the one person they most need to connect to, the one person to whom they will get what they most need: deep connection, love, soothing, healing.
It’s as if the life of the body, if not lost, is displaced-remember this age group is not an older one, we can’t justify this as “oh, yeah, sex goes away after a couple of decades or so” -these are couples in their sexual prime.
I’m seeing more and more millennials who are feeling vulnerable, but have armoured up their vulnerability, so to sexually reach out to their partners is to anticipate, to risk, getting hurt. So, they don’t. Aye, there’s the rub indeed! You can’t reach out but you have to reach out but you can’t reach out…and so it cycles on and couples get lost in what I have come to call risk averse relationships.
At heart couples get lost not just in the merry go round of life but in safety conscious and often politically correct sexual relationships, but sex is not “safe” it’s adventure and aggression, it is not politically correct, but rather has a separate set of rules that are more immediate and primitive: it constitutes how we take, give and are taken, bodily. Connection at its most erotic is life itself, opening yourself up to be vulnerable with your chosen partner.
In couples counselling we used to believe that if we got the couples’ emotions back on track sex would magically return; we now know that in fact it’s often the other way around: our bodies have a hunger, direction and wisdom that we long ago split off. It is about-as Esther Perel calls it-the “restoration of the body” and it is about making time for connection, planned time which might go against the grain of the it-has-to-be-spontaneous-to-be-real narrative, but couples who wait for sex, connection or intimacy to be spontaneous will probably find that that bus just won’t arrive.
Here’s how to get the connection you need:
- Make time: literally make sex time, in the calendar. Two hours one night a week.
- Set the scene: make sure the bedroom is not cluttered, sheets are clean, bodies are showered
- Follow you body: let your body, not your brain, do the talking; follow this
- Savour the feeling of flesh to flesh
- The no-fail connection: don’t buy into a sense of failure by thinking it should go a certain way
- Do it again: make a new date
 Esther Perel Mating in Captivity