In her book, “A history of the Wife,” Yalom describes what it meant to be a wife and the concept of love from the time of the Romans through today. (It's not my favorite book but it brings up some really interesting conversations and historical points.) Yalom points out that that in the beginning marriage was a transaction as women were property and what made a good wife was a woman that produced healthy children and was loyal to her husband (and owner). Our modern concept of love simply did not exist.
The concept of women's rights and independence is a relatively knew thing in history as well. It was only 1920 when women in the US were legally allowed to vote. Another forty years later, the women's rights movement started to take root and as we all know it got things started but there is still a lot of work to do.
I bring up the history a bit to point out that what we call love and partnership and even marriage today is an entirely modern and largely feminist (which is neither good or bad) concept. Egalitarian marriages, for example, are an entirely modern and evolving idea. The concept that we need to talk things out is relatively new. And perhaps because the modern visions of marriage, love, intimacy and commit are so new they pose their own unique challenges.
What is the difference between love and intimacy?
Let me stop here for a second to be clear about that I mean about intimacy in this context. When I refer to intimacy here, I'm talking about sexual attraction, connection and interactions.
Love is about a bond, a connection a commitment to one degree or another. When you love someone you want to know them inside and out, you want them to know you and seek you out in the same way. But sexual desire is different. It often thrives in mystery, suspense, unknown and tension (this can show up in many forms). Often couples will talk about how their sex lives were the hottest in the beginning of the relationship. Then as time went on and they knew each other better the sex had more meaning but was not as passionate.
So is our modern concept of love putting out the flame?
Is it putting out the flame or limiting our ability to express ourselves only through words? While it's not may favorite thing, I think there is some real value in the concept of love languages because it allows for more than one way for some to express themselves and be seen. If we limit ourselves to language, it seems as though we are making our worlds and understanding needlessly smaller. Especially for men. Men are not socialized to talk absolutely everything out so a man in a heterosexual relationship is often at a disadvantage to his partner which often makes his actions so much more important to notice.
Men do not always know how to use language to connect and even when they use words, it may not feel as satiating. Let me be clear, I am not and will not tell a woman (or a man for that matter) to engage in a sexual act that they do not want. But I do wonder if there is space for hand holding and embraces that we often discount when we have settled into a routine or a rhythm of life together. I don't think it is necessary or good to limit the expressions of love to sex/sex acts and saying the words, "I love you." We are so much more creative than that.
Oh, there's tension...
Often when I meet a new couple, there is plenty of tension but it is of the anger variety. Just yesterday, a client told me she "just needed to let go" of her resentments towards her partner. While I appreciated what she was saying, if it were that simple she would have done it a long time ago. We typically hold on to resentments towards others for one of the following reasons: they are still hurting us in that way, we have angry towards ourselves for being vulnerable to the hurt in the first place and/or fear that if we forgive we will be hurt by that person again. None of that is easy to simply let go.
In her book, "Come As You Are," Nagoski points out that our brains are our biggest sex organs and likens our desire system to the break and accelerator in a car. When your brain is presented with a thought, feeling or sensation it chooses to push on the break or the accelerator. Simple enough.... Accept that for some, anger, resentment and even fear can allow both he break and accelerator to be pushed. When both are pushed, the system is likely to shut down in a tangle of confusing thoughts and feelings that simply very difficult to talk out.
As always, I’m here. If you are ready to work on having the life you want, call me and let’s get started!