Valentines Day is the annual opportunity it seems to openly declare our feelings of romantic love.  Businesses make the most of this opportunity “2 for the price of 1! Aphrodisiac Cocktails: Feb 14” the local cafe/bar advertises blatantly and we notice!  But being encouraged (or pressured) to celebrate this day of love offers a mixed message – why just on this day, why not any and every day?  After all being in love is one of life’s most intense pleasures !      

However, the exhilaration and euphoria of the “in love” infatuation stage is short lived and so too the intense passion that comes with it.  Disillusionment in one form or another is bound to follow as the fantasy of love continues to be propagated.  In fact, that wonderful biochemically enhanced feeling typically lasts somewhere between six months and two years, after which the real work of relating begins.  The invitation to understand desire and your own pathways to passion starts then, whether we are aware of that or not.  And this is all normal!

Furthermore, if a relationship makes it past the disillusionment stage, it can easily settle into that mature kind of love which is often spoken about as being “comfortable”.  That relationship status of course fails to raise the pulse or quicken the heartbeat.  That thrill of passion is often sorely missed and highly sought after.  The inner turmoil this can create awakens in some or is reluctantly accepted/expected in others.

So the big question is: can you maintain the passionate intimacy of sex in an ongoing long term relationship?

The honest answer is, it’s not easy. It is normal for all of us to feel drop in desire from that first exhilarating phase to a new normal and from then on there will be ongoing peaks and troughs uniquely patterned to each of us.  Desire is a wonderous complex experience and involves many factors including our biological processes, our relationship health, our thoughts and feelings about sex itself, our sexual self esteem and our views on our partner sexually. 

So what do we end up doing?  

Some of us try to repeat the euphoria in a range of ways. We know that a night away in a hotel without the kids or a break from the normalcy of daily life enabling couple time together can help.  Others of us try some sexy underwear or some different techniques. Still others of us find all of that  superficial or pressured as the focus is on sex and doesn’t address other aspects of the relationship.  Then there are those of us hooked on sexual passion who may unconsciously stir it up with melodramatic conflict, testing each other and creating mayhem until at some point the scene turns to tearful reaffirmations of undying love and devotion to one another. Passion is reignited, sex returns, but usually this is only for a short time because the energy used up in these behaviours destroys what’s good about the relationship or prevents it from growing deeper.

So how can passion be maintained?

There are more successful ways to generate sustained intimacy in a long-term relationship.  One of these is to redefine what we mean by intimacy and the impact it has on passion.   The very term intimacy is often used as a euphemism for sex.  But it is much more than that!

Intimacy or “INTO-ME-SEE” is about self-disclosure, being honest about your weaknesses and telling the truth about yourself, sort of like a confession. Understandably it’s not an easy task, which is why men and women have so much difficulty communicating with one other.   But if the listener respects what is said and reciprocates at least to some degree then the plot thickens.  Accomplishing this provides such a strong sense of being present, being accepted for who you are and wanted… a potent mix for stirring passion.  Reminiscent some may think, of those first months of falling in love but different in that it is conscious and real, not constructed through the rose-tinted chemical haze or natural tolerance that comes when falling in love. 

There are often male and female differences in intimacy which have occurred though cultural gender training.   In many cultures women have been given more permission and have even expected to open up and be vulnerable, whereas vulnerable men can be (mis)judged as “weak”, risking losing their masculinity.  However, there is a more helpful way of understanding intimacy that enables men to be as capable as women in the intimacy stakes.  It’s about personal discovery.  It requires you to have the courage to get in touch with what you feel emotionally - with what you want and need, and express that. It requires you to communicate these, in that moment.  Put simply, to reflect and show up!  To risk being vulnerable.  Taking that plunge and trusting your partner starts the engines… so adrenalin surges. We come alive as we await our partner’s response.

Intimacy also involves allowing yourself to just ‘be’ with another person, instead of finding solutions and answers in the conversation.  As you find acceptance by that other loved person, you will get more in touch with deeper layers of yourself. 

A process of intimacy emerges, in which you are both present. It’s not about explaining about yourself or your partner, but exploring the feelings and the thoughts and images that are occurring at the time. It requires you to access the ‘true you’ and be completely honest with another person.

More importantly, it’s about talking and listening and learning something new about each other. Even if you don’t like what your partner is telling you, if you share how it makes you feel and resist the urge to reject, punish or pretend, intimacy can grow.   And with this continued growth there is an increased willingness to express this sexually.

Holding on to and keeping this individual sense of self alive is vital to keeping passion alive.  As it turns out, respect for one another, the ability to be open to honest feedback given lovingly, along with shared opportunities for self discovery, have all been known to be great aphrodisiacs.

Helen Mounsey and Paula Dennan