NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, February 22, 2021

Relationships: To Rekindle Passion Fire Needs Air

In Esther Perel's book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, she focuses on a common problem that many couples, who live together or are married, experience--too much closeness reduces eroticism and has a negative impact on their sex life together (see my article: What's the Difference Between Emotional Intimacy and Sexual Intimacy?)

Relationships: To Rekindle Passion Fire Needs Air

This isn't true for all couples, but there are many couples where it's difficult for the individuals to relate to each other sexually now that they are "family."  

This dynamic is especially problematic when the couple becomes emotionally "fused" or "enmeshed."  Whereas before they lived together, they could be together as autonomous individuals, when fusion takes place, the sexual polarity is often lost and it's difficult to be sexual.

Relationships: Rekindling Passion: Fire Needs Air
A clinical vignette based on a composite of many different clinical cases will illustrate how this dynamic develops and what a couple can do to overcome this problem:

John and Ann
John and Ann were both in their mid-30s.  They had no children.  When they first met, they had a very passionate sex life.  

John told their couples therapist he remembered the first year of their relationship before they moved in together, "We couldn't wait to see each other, and when we got together, we couldn't keep our hands off each other" (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT)?

Ann added, "All week long, I felt this build up of excitement to see John.  Then, when we finally got together on the weekends, the sexual sparks would fly.  But now that we've been living together for two years, even though we're closer emotionally, our sex life has dwindled down to once or twice a month.  We're still young and I'm worried about what this means for our relationship.  Neither of us wants to be a sexless couple."

As their couples therapist listened to the changes that occurred in the relationship after Ann and John got together, she realized they had merged together in a way where they were no longer autonomous individuals.  

It was almost as if they had fused into one person:  Ann stopped seeing her friends, and she dropped out of the chorus she used to love to sing in.  John also stopped seeing his friends and he gave up hobbies he used to enjoy.  So, they only spent time with each other.  As a result, except for family, they were dependent on each other for all of their needs.

When the couples therapist pointed this out to them, they both said this happened so gradually they barely noticed it.  

In addition, when their therapist asked them when they felt sexually turned on by each other, Ann said she felt most desirous of John when she attended a conference where he was one of the keynote speakers, "When I saw him up there, I thought to myself, 'He's so handsome and in command of his area of expertise.  But as soon as we were together again at home, the sexual desire evaporated."

John responded, "When we went to my parents' house for the holidays and I sat across from Ann while she told a funny story, I felt so sexually drawn to her in that moment.  But when we got home and she changed into sweat pants and we cuddled on the couch, the sexual excitement I felt for her earlier in the day was gone."

Ann and John noticed the patterns and how their perspectives changed when they could see each other with some distance as compared to when they spent all their time together.  

Their therapist repeated a quote from Esther Perel's "Mating in Captivity," which was "Fire needs air."  In other words, when they were fused together as almost one person, there was no distance (metaphorically speaking: no air) so they experienced no eroticism.

She encouraged Ann and John to reconnect with each of their friends and to reestablish their own individual hobbies and interests so they could live together but also function as individuals.  

At first, they were reluctant to make this change, but as they did and they learned to be two individuals in a relationship, their sexual desire for each other was rekindled and they began to enjoy sex again.

An increase in emotional intimacy doesn't necessarily increase sexual intimacy in many couples.  In fact, for some couples, it reduces sexual desire.  Although this isn't true for all couples, it's a problem for others.  

For these couples, a loss of individual autonomy often leads to emotional fusion and, as a result, sexual desire wanes. 

Regaining a sense of autonomy, as in the example of Ann and John above, often provides enough space (air) to rekindle the fire.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been struggling to resolve your problems on your own, you're not alone.  

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that are hindering your progress.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional so you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.