Comfortable distance: the secret to marital bliss?

Everyone seems to want it, but only 1% seem to make it work.

Good love is what makes the world go ’round, why are so few of us experiencing it the way we want to?  I was married for seven years, I’ve now been divorced for eight.  I’ve had some relationships during that time with some really excellent women.  I’ve had a lot of time and opportunity to study this. I’ve found a few things that really resonate not only with my spidey sense, but they seem to be backed up by real world examples. If you think I’m wrong, please leave a comment below and share your perspective.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that most people want a long term romantic relationship that maintains the sexual and romantic intensity of dating. We’ve all seen the opposite happen:  A couple has been married for 11 years, 2 kids, 1 house, 3 cars, 5 jobs and 1 receding hair line.  One day, she wakes up, looks at him and says, “Where is the man that I fell in love with and married?”

  • He’s not out playing golf with his buddies on a Thursday after work.
  • She cut her hair into a mom – do.
  • He’s not at band practices 3 times per week.  He doesn’t even play his guitar that much anymore, despite it being the reason she had the hots for him in the first place, 12 years ago.
  • She doesn’t wear those ass defining jeans anymore, even though she still has the figure for it.
  • He sold the Mustang and bought an Accord
  • She stopped belly dancing with the troupe
  • He gave up the monthly whiskey fueled poker night with the boys so that he could go grocery shopping with her.
  • She stopped writing the novel she started 13 years ago.
  • He quit pursuing the entertainment business and settled for a banal position in a real estate law firm.
  • She hasn’t been on the traditional trip to NYC opera houses with all her girl friends for years.

Here’s where it all begins:

Rewind 12 years. They’ve been dating for 6 months. It’s comfortable, but they are still making some efforts to impress each other.  It’s Friday night, and they are going out on a date.  Dinner plans are being made.

“Where do you want to go to dinner?” she asks.
“Oh, I don’t care, where do you want to go?”, he lies to her.  He knows full and well that he’s in the mood for steak, but he’s perhaps more in the mood to make love later on, and the last thing he’s about to do is start a fight about dinner by clearly stating his opinion.

“Let’s do sushi.”, she quips.  The thought of sushi is somewhere between lackluster and nauseating for him, but he drives there anyway.  They have dinner. She’s mostly delighted, he tries to match her disposition.

They go to a movie (again, one that he wasn’t thrilled about), go home, make love, and wake up Saturday morning, feeling particularly “blah”.

Wash, rinse, and repeat for the next 12 years.

If he cannot be authentic with her about what food he’s in the mood for, how can he ever be authentic about the things that REALLY matter to him in life?  Tiny speck at a time, his acquiescence wears away at the mountains of his passions, just like the Colorado River carved out the Grand Canyon.  She does the same in the name of “being a good wife”.   Looking in the mirror becomes harder to do over the years; the confrontation is too much, so eye contact is avoided with the silver backed glass.  Soon, eye contact with each other becomes sparse.   Deep down, they each know that they’ve sacrificed so much for each other, for the family.  They’ve given small pieces of themselves away, speck at a time, in faith that the trade was for “the greater good”.

Eventually, that morning comes, when one wakes up and realizes the sum total of those transactions.  The aggregate becomes aggravating.  They each individually long for lust, yet it’s nowhere to be found at home.  The disappointment becomes palpable.  She starts into him one day… “You used to be ____(insert the way he used to be when they were dating ____!!”  Tears emerge. He feels betrayed because he DID used to be that way, and he LIKED being that way, but he dealt that deck out, one card at a time, over the years – TO MAKE HER HAPPY.  Resentment boils up inside as he considers her gross ingratitude for his many sacrifices. She feels deeply hurt as the man she’s loved detaches. His anger confuses her. She starts to build a wall around her heart.

What happens next is almost irrelevant.

They may stay together until one of them dies of pancreatic cancer or a stroke.  One of them may take up a secret lover.  The aggravation might give way to abuse of some kind. They might get divorced.  They’ll probably stay “together” for the kids.  Copious amounts of Prozac and Xanax are probably going to become a staple of their diets.  But don’t worry, they will still smile pretty for family pictures and when they go to church & family gatherings. They both finish out life with quiet heartbreak for the loss of that lover they once had in each other.

If you can’t be authentic about where you want to go to dinner, you don’t have any business getting married.

But this was not meant to be a downer article about love and relationships – there is good news!!  In this fantastic TED Talk by Esther Perel, she shares some of the secrets of keeping desire burning in long term relationships:

When are you most drawn to your partner?

“When I look at my partner, radiant and confident – probably the biggest turn on across the board…  It’s when I’m looking at my partner from a comfortable distance, where this person that is already so familiar, so known, is momentarily once again  somewhat mysterious, somewhat elusive , and in this space … lies the erotic… movement toward the other. ”

Go get that steak. Play that guitar. Write that book.

Put yourself first. By doing that, you actually serve those you may have been tempted to sacrifice for.

Be YOU, all the time, for all of your years… I believe this is the way to keep it hot.


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