It’s somewhat depressing that half of all marriages end in divorce. Reasons for divorce range from incompatibility and infidelity to financial pressures and other factors. What’s even more depressing is the crisis within many marriages that happens in the bedroom – the crisis that no one wants to talk about because it’s still taboo.

It’s no secret that many marriages are sexless. One could easily conclude that the diminishing spark is often what leads to those feelings of incompatibility or infidelity and eventually the dreaded D word. This hot topic has been pushing its way to the surface the past few years. Everywhere you turn, there’s a new television show involving sex therapists or commercials promoting products to help with our sex lives. I’ve blogged before on the physical and emotional benefits of sex and why we should be maintaining that connection with our partner, especially as our relationships mature. However, what hasn’t been addressed is how we sustain desire in a marriage or long term relationship – something that is hard to quantify the longer we are in a relationship.

I recently came across a fantastic book by Esther Perel called Mating in Captivity. Perel is a couples and family therapist that asks some provocative questions about domesticity and sexual desire. She suggests that desire exists in that space between us and our partner, but in our need to establish security that pushes us towards committed relationships to begin with, we confuse love with merging. She posits that we have an equally strong need for adventure and excitement, and that desire requires separateness.

Perel takes the reader through case studies of long term couples she has counseled. We learn about couples who are such good friends that they are unable to be lovers; there are those so opposed to scheduled sex that they never have it at all; there are couples who are not capable of explaining what they really need so they go years being unfulfilled and there are those who know they are loved but just long to be desired. She looks at the complexities in a relationship when we look to our partner to provide every need. She examines feelings that accompany love and how they contrast with the feelings of desire. Perel engages the mind in an active conversation about vulnerability and the nature of intimacy. She challenges the reader’s comfortability and mindset on all these topics by getting to the heart of difficult questions such as, “When you love someone, how does it feel? And when you desire someone, how is it different? Does good intimacy always lead to good sex? Why is the forbidden so erotic? Can we desire what we already have?”

As you read, you might begin to think that love and desire are mutually exclusive in long term relationships, but Perel makes a case for the opposite. In fact, her ideas work the reader through how to develop and sustain both. This book is perfect for newlyweds, singles, those just dating, and those who have been together for years.

If you want a prelude to the book, you can see a 20 minute talk by Perel here:   

Source:  Perel, E. (2006). Mating in captivity. New York:  HarperCollins

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education
Chicago Skilled Nursing

Chicago Senior Living