We’ve all heard the saying, ‘marriage is the tomb of love’. Must marriage be the tomb of love? What can you do to preserve the excitement in marriage? Read on to find out more.
Let me first start with a disclaimer that not everyone seeks excitement and passion in their relationship. Some treasure stability, some treasure companionship, some value excitement, some value tenderness. No one definition fits all when it comes to romantic relationships. Each couple builds and defines their relationship as they spend time together and learn more about each other.
A newly established romantic relationship is filled with excitement and passion. It is often exciting because there is a sense of mystery that surrounds this new person that you have just met and have great feelings towards. You find out about the things that you love about this person, the way he does a quirky little dance when he is happy, the way good food makes her smile, his sense of humour, the way she makes you feel special and smart and so on.
As you spend more time with each other this sense of excitement and mystery are slowly replaced with familiarity and safety. As time passes, you have known this person so well that you know what they were thinking about or about to do from a look that they have. It is because you know this person so well, you don’t expect to see any surprises, hence there is no mystery left, and therefore, no excitement. I’m simplifying it here of course, but this is the gist of how the feeling of excitement turns to safety, sometimes even boredom in a relationship.
When we live with someone for a long time. We are bound to be annoyed by each other’s little habits. It ranges from taking out the trash to something that triggers a fight every time. When we see our partner we often attach him or her with those annoying quirks when you have lived with the person for a long time. Something that we once loved about this person is lost in the sea of annoying little things that we attach to them.
I’m reading a book by Ester Perel titled ‘Mating in Captivity’. She is the guru in romantic relationship therapy. Based on her experience, marriage doesn’t necessarily have to be the tomb of love. The key is separateness. Perel explains that the lack of excitement in a relationship is not caused by a lack of closeness, but too much of it. So much so that it impedes desire. For desire to ignite a relationship needs separateness. This is because separateness brings back a sense of mystery, and mystery is closely linked with excitement.
Separateness can be achieved in different ways depending on what your relationship needs. An example is physical separateness—sometimes when couples spend so much time together to build a life together, for closeness, they become enmeshed with each other(2), where their personal boundaries are diffused and undifferentiated. Take Jean and Jacob as an example (their names have been changed to conceal their identity). They are a young married couple, and they have been married for 5 years. They work together. She used to enjoy lots of outdoor activities like diving and paragliding. He enjoys staying at home and playing online games. He dislikes her participation in dangerous activities, and thus, she stopped going. Hence, she spends more time with him at home.
As time passed, they became very close with each other, but this closeness choked the excitement out of their relationship. They seek counselling because they love each other, but something is missing in the relationship. After a few counselling sessions, we found that what’s missing in the relationship is excitement. Because they spend almost all waking hours together, there was no room for independence and mystery.
The couple is invited to try out an experiment—instead of spending every waking hour together, they have to find activities that they can do separately. Activities that they used to enjoy but stopped for each other’s sake. For Jean, she went out with friends on the weekends, and she started diving and paragliding with her friends again, with the promise that she will be vigilant and double-check all her equipment before every use. And he started to play his online game with his friends.
Desires work in wondrous ways. As the saying goes ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’. Distance creates mystery and mystery leads to excitement. They found excitement in each other again.
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