Anyone is a relationship knows that partners have the uncanny ability to bring out the best and worst in each other. Accordingly, whether newly married or celebrating many years together, partners can find themselves overreacting in a way that rarely happens anywhere else in their lives.
An extensive study by Tim Wadsworth, including 27,500 men and women aged 40-80years in 29 countries and using the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, found a relationship between frequency of sexual behavior and happiness. The more sexual frequency—the more reported happiness.
While this study confirmed the findings of earlier large sample studies with regard to the correlation of frequency of sexual activity and happiness, Wadsworth’s study added another dimension. He found that when respondents compared their frequency to the sexual frequency of others, their happiness decreased or increased depending on whether their frequency was lower or higher than others in their reference group!
What Does this Imply?
If we consider statistics as starting points for thinking, than these findings invite self–reflection and mutual consideration of sexual satisfaction and social comparison for ourselves and with our partners.
The Frequency Factor
There clearly is evidence that when we control for age, physical health, gender, educational levels etc. sexual activity is associated with well being and happiness.
But is the happiness from sexual activity only a function of frequency?
Yes and No. When you work with couples and look at the findings from other couple studies it seems that active ongoing sexual connection does matter; but, it is more complicated than just numbers.
Most couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words. Be it walking the dog together, cooking side by side or listening to music–it is the silence of connection and love.
Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “ We just don’t talk anymore!”
If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the special interest of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then we understand that this is a silence that can start to feel emotionally deafening.
Why do couples who once had so much to say end up feeling this way? Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage? Is there a way back?
Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.
Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality, but if couples are curious rather than blameful about the silence between them, they may find some reasons and remedies to speak together again.
If we look closer at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of the couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing or what has happened to shut down the verbal connection.
Here are some possibilities:
While the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.
A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.
Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.
What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”
Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?
You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.
You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.
Neurochemistry supports …
We have once again been faced with a high profile marriage scandal. This time the lovers included the CIA director, a married and much decorated military officer and his biographer, a married women, herself an Army Reserve intelligence officer.
What is predictable is the media focus on the man. In this case the articles addressed the question of military code of conduct, possibility of security breaches, the explanation of male infidelity in terms of power and narcissism, and the apology and compassionate sentiments to the betrayed wife.
What is curious is how little focus was given to the married woman in this affair. Other than a redundant account of her school success and running time, she was rarely seen as more than the idealizing audience to the man. There seemed little interest in her motives and even less in addressing the broader question- Why do married women have affairs?
Perhaps we don’t ask the question because culturally we prefer not to know the answer. After all, with matters of infidelity, the stereotype is of the married man in an affair with an unmarried female. In the case of married women the presumption is that women are more monogamous then men. They are – but not as much as we may want to believe.
Having worked for many years with men, women and couples trying to hold on to marriages, recovering from betrayal or caught up in the pain and passion of an affair, I suggest …
If you are human, in a relationship and living on this planet there will be decisions to make and problems to solve. They may be intrinsic to your circumstances, imposed upon you by outside factors, or a function of your personal needs and goals.
For most couples issues related to jobs, residence, children, socializing, religion, sex, money, in-laws and more demand decisions but often invite dissent.
If you want a clear example of the type of behavior to avoid when problem solving as a couple you have only to take a look at the presidential hopefuls.
Recognizing that they are, of course, contenders and putting aside the specifics of their platforms or the campaign engines that drive their rhetoric, they nonetheless offer a glimpse of the type of the exclusionary thinking and reactivity that erodes collaboration, jeopardizes problem solving and risks relationship success.
Dynamics to Avoid:
Consider avoiding the following as you and your partner build the platform for your life together.
It can also be just as shocking to observe the public interaction of a couple only to wonder, “Why are these people together?”
Having worked many years with couples, I’ve come to understand that no one but the partners involved really know the differences in the private or public versions of their relationship.
While some differences in the private and public versions of a couple’s relationship are inevitable and even desirable, differences that cause or hide pain, rejection and disdain are destructive.
How different are the private and public versions of your relationship?
In this fast paced world of expectations, social media, instant communication and blurred public and private lives, it’s worth accessing whether the differences in the public and private versions of your relationship are desirable or destructive.
The Private Version
Are you trusted confidantes?
Can you hold on to your relationship ties despite outside family demands?
Do your friends know how important your relationship is to you?
The Public Version
We all have a public version of our private self that is adjusted to fit the role, demands and expectations of our public lives. While your public “image” might be at times very different from your role as a spouse or partner, it shouldn’t disqualify it. In the …
There is nothing small about “small talk.”
Defined as polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially used on social occasions, small talk has often been seen in a pejorative or dismissive way.
Actually, small talk has a much broader meaning. Whether we love it or dread it, whether it serves us as a “ tool or trait,” we use “small talk” for meeting important psychological needs. We use it to make connections, to regulate anxiety and to facilitate the interplay between these two necessary functions.
When you met your partner or spouse for the first time, did you open with a question like: Will you marry me, sleep with me, and have my children?
More likely, you used what would be deemed small talk to show some interest and bridge an initial connection:
“So you are the new guy in the office.”
“What’s a female with a Yankee hat doing in Boston?”
It is also likely that whether shy or outgoing, you have found yourself in a hospital waiting room, a delayed airplane, or the crowd outside a funeral home engaging in small talk – and that it helped you.
When you take into account the effort, the planning, the stolen moments, the affection, the creative communications and the anticipation of connection – you have to wonder what having an affair with your spouse could do for a marriage.
The likelihood is that it will do great things.
Having an affair with your spouse is something I have recommended to couples for years. It is an antidote to what Esther Perel describes as “Mating in Captivity,” the neutralizing of connection, the tendency to take each other for granted, the need to prioritize the kids, the jobs, the house, the money…. over the romance.
Does having an affair sound irrational, unlikely, possibly erotic and without guarantees? Yes. That’s the nature of affairs…only this one has a real chance of a happy ending.
What Do You Need to Have an Affair?
Here are the ingredients for having an affair – Do you have anything to lose?
Recycling is a good idea, except when it comes to relationships.
Regardless of what people tell themselves about the time invested, the good times missed, the great sex, or the feeling that things will be different; in most cases the re-connection with an ex rarely brings a better outcome.
Research tells us that rekindling a relationship decreases happiness. Studies of college grads as well as larger national studies of older couples reveal that those people who cycle back to relationships, often over and over again, experience less satisfaction, more uncertainty and more disillusionment in their relationships than non-cycling partners.
Let’s face it – breaking up is hard to do. When it has happened there is usually a good reason on the part of one or both partners.
Why then do people look backwards? Why do they imagine it will be different?