What we most love about someone, given enough time, we usually come to find repulsive. It is an odd but insistent phenomenon that moves through most all intimate relationships, usually at regular intervals. One useful way to think about this swinging attraction- rejection response is as an energy wave that can spark intrigue and curiosity, keeping your relationship alive and new. Moving beyond the black and white reactions that both sides of the wave create and looking for ways to hold these opposing forces side by side not only leads to cultivating a mature, evolving capacity for love but also contains the seed of passionate intimacy.
Esther Perel’s best-selling work Mating in Captivity describes the deadening of passion that often happens over time in long-term relationships. One of the key reasons she cites is the conflict-averse culture that most of us are raised in that provokes couples to become more like each other and less of themselves. In order to avoid the conflicts that come from holding our differences, we give up what makes us most uniquely ourselves, which is responsible for what made the sparks fly to begin with. Worse still, the more we give up of ourselves to be in a partnership, the more resentful we become and the less authentically we engage. Long-term passionate lovers all share this one key element– they are two deeply individuated people that are committed to living with their differences, even when they are most challenging.
The ability to give your partner the space to be themselves is a gift you really give yourself, especially when it comes to sex. Let’s face it, for most of us, our erotic selves are the least developed and most mysterious parts of who we are. If you are busy trying to become more like someone else or control some part of who you are that sets off a bad reaction in someone else- your access and safety to explore who you are erotically is almost on shut down. When the love container of your relationship is strong enough to hold your differences without threat of reprisal or rejection, than the wild side of your erotic self has space to come out and play. This is where our differences become passionately intriguing.
The mechanism for embracing our differences is simple, although not easy to do. It requires impulse control and an ability to distance ourselves from our knee jerk reactions. Instead of acting out the feelings of attraction or repulsion that often spring from our differences, learn how to wrap your initial emotional response in curiosity. Commit to taking the personal quality out of it; this happens when we realize that our partner’s differences are not about us, and open up the space to wonder about what drives them to do, think and behave as they are. This is an enlightening and inherently sexy process, because adding wonder without any lurking judgments makes relationships more spacious. It gives people permission, even encouragement, to look at their choices and room to change their mind. Because our erotic selves are the hidden seed in the middle of all of our choices about ourselves, this new spaciousness in your relationship translates into a new freedom to express yourselves erotically, as well. Our erotic drive needs judgment- free space to unfold. This is the purest, most animal part of what makes us who we are. In the whole spectrum of human experience, releasing the pent up energy, the push-pull of love and hate into an open jungle of potential passion, all starts with curiosity about why, how we could be so different and still want to ravage each other.