Over the last month or so, I've been working on a new relationship book geared toward people in long-term relationships. Specifically, the book tackles many of the beliefs and behaviors that govern our relationship behavior.
Most of us are or have been in a relationship that loses a bit of excitement after awhile. Many of our attempts to "reignite the passion" work for a short time, then falls flat. This book aims to change that.
I recently finished the first draft and anticipate the finished project hitting the shelves (well, virtual shelves anyway) by the end of August. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting excerpts from the book as a sample of the content. If you like it, find it interesting, or know of anyone else that may be interested, please share!
Comments and other feedback, as always, are welcome. Please keep in mind this is the minimally-edited first draft... there may be a slew of mistakes.
Perpetual Lust: The unconventional no-breakup, affair-free guide to long-term relationship success
The whir of the ceiling fan wasn't enough to cover the sound of their breathing. Ariana and Ben were lying back-to-back. Both pretending to be asleep; neither succeeding. It had been a long night of talking. In years past, they would have went to bed angry. Tonight? The conflict-resolution exercise their marriage counselor taught them resolved the conflict. Or at least extinguished the anger.
Ariana missed the anger. While it never resolved their problems, at least Ben showed passion. Now? She secretly resented the stupid exercise. The meaningless hand-holding, the scripted positive affirmation statements, the forced eye contact… it seemed so mechanical. They've had this same fight countless times over the course of their eight year marriage, and this supposed solution only seemed to make it worse. “What the Hell is wrong with me?” Ariana thought. “I have the perfect life; why can’t I just be happy?”
Ben had a hard time processing exactly what he was feeling, though he knew his thoughts were skewed by his unresolved horniness. He did everything right. He gave her all the signals; did all the prerequisites. He cooked dinner. He did the dishes even though it was her turn. He folded the laundry. He even gave both kids baths before bedtime, which was almost exclusively her job. He lit the candles, poured her a second glass of wine, he gave her a relaxing massage. He skipped preparing her a bath tonight, mostly because he was too distracted by his other chores. Could that have been it? Could that have been why she wasn't in the mood? He silently kicked himself. At least they were able to talk through the conflict. He started mentally preparing his game plan for the next attempt the following morning.
Ariana and Ben both lived lives of silent desperation. They seemingly had it all. Both were college-educated professionals with (mostly) fulfilling careers. They had two wonderful children even if they were a handful on occasion. They had recently purchased a nice house in a neighborhood surrounded with kind neighbors. To the outside world, their marriage seemed perfect.
Indeed, both treasured their relationship. They both genuinely loved each other, which is the reason they were both eager to seek marriage counseling. They recognized their relationship could be in trouble. They didn't fight often. When they did, they remained civil and respectful. Both took pride in their self-restraint. Yet they never seemed to solve their problems. Specifically, they couldn't solve their mismatched sex drives. Ben had a much more demanding libido.
More often than not, this resulted in a predictable scenario. Ben would feel horny. He’d spend a day or two making a plan to get Ariana in the mood. He’d put the plan into action only to be rejected in the end. When he did succeed, he’d make mental notes of what worked to be used next time. When it failed, he used to sulk and pout. He hated feeling rejected because it made him feel unloved. He knew Ariana enjoyed sex, so her rejections never made sense. Sometimes she would get angry, which resulted in a fight. Prior to the counseling sessions, the fights never resulted in a positive resolution. It seemed like they were repeating the same lines fight after fight, year after year. Since they started counseling, they learned to talk through their feelings. While Ben felt less rejected emotionally, he was still horny as fuck.
Ariana had high expectations for counseling. She desperately wanted to understand why she felt the way she felt. Ben was a really great guy. She hated rejecting him, but couldn't seem to break out of the pattern. It’s not that she didn't enjoy the sex. It was quite good, actually. Ben was an attentive lover that went out of his way to assure she had orgasms. She also enjoyed the attention he showered during the buildup. She liked the loving notes he left in her car, the flowers delivered to work, the meals he cooked, the sensual massages. Her friends were always envious of her. She also loved Ben’s openness. He was always willing to talk; always eager to share his feelings. Despite that constant, intimate level of communication, they could never resolve the sex issue. Counseling was supposed to fix that. So far, it only made her feel like more of a failure as a wife.
Ariana and Ben’s story is hardly unique. The story is becoming increasingly common in our modern culture- two people meet, fall in love, get married, have kids, build a secure life, and live happily ever after. At some point, when everything should be perfect, something happens. One or both people in the relationship start feeling a bit empty… like there’s something missing. Life begins to feel like we’re stuck in a rut or we’re on autopilot. Over time, these feelings grow. We try to convince ourselves the feelings are illogical, but they persist. We sincerely love our spouse, but the feeling that we’re somehow missing out on something is unmistakable.
These feelings, which usually begin as vague, sometimes unidentifiable pangs, begin right around the time we really begin assessing our mortality. We realize we’re going to die eventually, and we’re getting closer and closer with each passing day. We start reassessing our lives; we begin second-guessing every major life decision we've made. We start regretting decisions we didn't make; opportunities we didn't explore. We wonder if our situation would have been better if only we had taken a different path.
Most of us seem to have a charmed life from the outside, even if we've had significant obstacles. Most of our friends and family probably assume we’re genuinely happy. This drives us to bury our quiet desperation from most of our friends and family, probably our significant others, and maybe even ourselves.
Responsible folks, like Ben and Ariana, seek professional help. Sometimes that comes in the form of marriage counseling. Other times it comes in the form of medical intervention, such as the prescribing of antidepressants.. Many people take a different route, like developing unhealthy addictions to drugs or porn, frequenting prostitutes, having emotional and/or sexual affairs, or simply ending the relationship. The drive to fill that growing emptiness is unbelievably powerful and will drive us to do things we never thought we were capable of doing.
All of these “solutions” assume we’re personally failing at relationships other people successfully navigate. The problem is us. We don’t have the right personal qualities. We haven’t taken the right steps. We messed up the formula to keep the spark alive. We chose a partner that’s incompatible. For whatever reason, we can’t follow this relationship story. “Happily ever after” alludes us. The problem is exasperated because we see other people supposedly living perfect lives and wonder “Why can’t I do that?”
Of course, we don’t realize they’re probably living behind the same facade we’re living behind.
What if we’re not the problem, though? What if the problem is the story itself? What if we’re all trying to follow a plan that’s fundamentally flawed, yet we all conspire to keep it alive because we need to rationalize our decision to follow it? What if the story is so ingrained in our culture, we can’t fathom alternatives?
This book offers a different way to consider our relationships. For most of us, the old story simply doesn't work, especially over the long haul. I want to introduce a new story. Your story. My goal is to provide an alternative plan that seems rather contrarian and is based on the concept of self-experimentation. My story is based on the idea that we need to take a step back, observe ourselves, observe our significant others, consider our environment and situations, come to some brutally honest conclusions, then set a course of action based on our needs. We create our own relationship story instead of following some predetermined societal expectations. We need to be open to new ideas and brave enough to try unorthodox methods. Of course, this book won’t appeal to everyone.
This Book Was NOT Written For…
When writing this book, I had to consider the potential audience. I had to choose between mass appeal and direct, honest communication to small group that would be receptive to the message. If I wanted to write a book that would appeal to most people, I would have to dilute the message, cut out some of the potentially valuable content, and use “PG” language. I’d have to pull my punches. I wasn't willing to make those sacrifices just to sell a few more copies. As such, there are some groups that will, for one reason or another, completely reject the message and likely be offended at the content. They may even leave a few bad reviews on Amazon. Those groups include:
People involved in new relationships- Most of us go through a distinct “honeymoon” phase in relationships where we’re too distracted by crazy brain chemistry to experience significant relationship problems. The issues this book will help fix aren't typically encountered until five to ten years into a relationship. The younger you are (thus less relationship experience), the more pronounced this will be.
Relationship idealists- If you expect burning, passionate love to automatically last forever once you find your soul mate, your relationship expectations are far too high to consider my message. Wondering if this is you? List your top ten all-time favorite movies. If more than 50% are romantic comedies, you’re not going to like this book.
People that have a strict moral code and see the world as black and white- Some of my ideas… okay, almost all of my ideas, would violate a Puritanical moral code. I’m a pretty open-minded, liberal dude which will become evident as you read the book. If you can’t at least consider the ideas without harsh moral judgement, the book will be of little use.
Asexuals- Asexuals, people that have no interest in sexual activity, may find some value in the general ideas I present, but the major sections of this book deal with sexuality. For non-asexuals, a healthy, fulfilling sex life is usually an integral part of our relationships, hence the in-depth discussions later in the book.
Couples with newborns- Babies are incredibly difficult. They take time and attention, which cannot be applied toward your significant other. Your relationship is going to suffer at least a little bit during the infant years, so save this book until they reach preschool or so.
Language arts experts- I’m not Thoreau, nor do I pretend to be. Hell, that woman that wrote 50 Shades of Grey will make me seem like a high school sophomore in comparison. I have a conversational writing style. I unapologetically take quite a few grammar liberties. It works for me. It works for my core audience. If you can’t get past the occasional nonstandard word usage, grammar, and organisation, you’ll probably be too distracted to fully appreciate the message.
People that are easily offended- Not only do I use a conversational tone when writing, I also enjoy profanity and juvenile humor. This is intentional; the language acts as a filter of sorts. If you’re easily offended by either, there’s a pretty good chance you’re a fucking prude and not open-minded enough to consider the ideas presented.
This Book WAS Written For…
Didn’t fall into one or more of the categories from above? Excellent! There’s a great chance you’re ideally suited to fully understand and appreciate the messages contained within. Specifically, these groups will find the book extremely valuable:
People that want their relationship to last- Wait, don’t all of us want our relationships to last? Well, not really. How many people are willing to engage in destructive behaviors and/or end relationships if they’re unhappy? Lots. These folks cling to the idea of the perfect relationship to the detriment of making the actual relationship work. If you’re willing to reconsider the very definition of “relationships” in order to create a better relationship, you’ll find the book useful.
People that are in a relationship with someone they love, but feel something is missing- We have a belief that our romantic partners needs to fulfill all of our needs all the time. This lofty expectation is a recipe for failure. Just because our partner can’t fulfill our every need doesn't mean we don’t love them. Nor does it mean we should engage in destructive behaviors or end the relationship. It is possible to eradicate those feelings of emptiness without pushing the self-destruct button.
Fans of my other books- Okay, so that particular group only consists of enough people to field a baseball team. Still, if you’re weird enough ignore social mores and run barefoot, run ultramarathons, or live in an RV with small children, you probably have the intestinal fortitude to buck convention and consider the ideas I present here.
Why Did I Write This Book?
A few years ago, I started a relationship and sexuality blog called “The Sexpressionists” (http://www.sexpressionists.com.) I've been interested in the topic since my undergraduate days training to be a social psychology researcher nearly two decades ago. I also dabbled in the topic during my twelve year career as a high school psychology teacher. When I left the profession, I could devote more time to sexuality blogging. That freed me to be able to talk about taboo topics that would not have been appreciated in the religiously-conservative area I taught.
As The Sexpressionists blog became more popular, people started contacting me with questions and topics for future posts. Most came from people somewhat similar to myself- educated, between the age of twenty-five and forty-five, married for five to ten years, a few kids, etc. I quickly discovered a pattern: Many of these people, despite seemingly near-perfect lives, were secretly miserable. It appeared as though they had the American Dream- nice house, nice car, nice clothes, great career, well-dressed kids, a devoted, loving spouse… whatever.
Some were like Ariana and Ben. They knew they had a problem and they took positive, productive steps to fix the relationship. In most cases they experienced temporary positive results… before sliding right back into the abyss. Other couples chose to alleviate the misery by drinking or doing other drugs. Some sought sex or comfort outside the relationship behind their partner’s back. Some became martyrs, immersed themselves in their children, hobbies, their career, or other such distraction. They ignored their unhappy situation in the hopes it would magically improve down the road. Finally, a lot of these folks decided to break up their families by ending the relationship.
All of those decisions were minimally effective. Still, I always recommended they either attempt to fix the relationship through counseling or end the relationship amicably. This was especially important if children were involved.
My own opinions began to change about a year prior to writing this book. I had been a champion of the modern “ideal” relationship story, at least for most childbearing heterosexual couples mostly because it defined my own relationship. [note- I’m in no way opposed to any other variation of relationships, they just fall outside the scope of this particular book.] That “modern ideal model” consisted of a few characteristics, including:
Our ideal partner is more or less a “soul mate.” Attracting, courting, and committing to that soul mate will result in the best possible relationship. According to Wilcox and Dew (2010), about two-thirds of Americans believe in the idea of soul mates.
Serial monogamy (defined as being exclusively monogamous as long as you’re with that particular partner, but may change to another exclusive partner if the relationship ends.)
Frequent honest communication about anything and everything, which is accomplished with lots and lots of talking.
Both parties in the relationship discard stereotypical masculine and feminine gender roles as much as possible to help assure equality.
Most sexual problems are the result of a lack of intimacy between the partners.
There’s an implicit (or explicit) belief that there’s a degree of “ownership” between the partners, usually expressed in loving phrases like “your heart belongs to me” or “you are mine forever.”
Men were perpetually the sexual aggressors whereas women were more passive and “played defense.”
This modern ideal relationship story has evolved over time. A generation or three ago, puberty hit several years later than it does today. Premarital sex was rare. Kids got married in their late teens to very early twenties. Sex was a duty for the wife. Intimacy was created by fulfilling traditional male and female gender roles. The excessive sharing of our hopes, desires, and fears was almost nonexistent. Divorce was uncommon. Monogamy meant you were with your partner until one of you died. Even then, some believed you should remain celibate until your own death. You know, like we’re living out Leave it to Beaver.
Oh, how times have changed! Today, we hit puberty earlier, widely accept premarital sex, and wait significantly longer to get married. Female sexual satisfaction has become a priority. We talk about anything and everything and frown on secret-keeping. Divorce is easier legally and more accepted socially, which has brought about the acceptance of serial monogamy in favor of lifelong monogamy.
I was acutely aware of this evolution over a relatively short period of time, but I didn't consider the possibility that the modern ideal relationship story may still be evolving. I also didn't consider the possibility that the story may not be keeping pace with the rapid developments of science. In short, we may be expecting too much from an institution that hasn't changed all that much from our male-dominated patriarchal past.
I fell into the same trap most of us fall into- I idealized the elderly couples that had been together since the depression, I watched the romantic comedies, and I bought into the idea of our relationships lasting until “death do us part.” I made the assumption that most of us make- when relationships go bad, someone fucked up. That conclusion was reinforced by the marriage counseling and self-help industries. I was well-versed in the inner-workings of sex and relationship dynamics, but never questioned if my entire paradigm as based on an accurate foundation. Like a fish never realizing it’s wet, I never considered the way we actually think about relationships may be the problem.
Ariana and Ben knew they had problems, so they got help. Their solution wasn't working. Both assumed the problem was them; they had failed at some part of the process. Or maybe, despite the fact that they genuinely loved each other, they just weren't compatible. Neither one thought to question the very nature of “relationships” they had been taught since an early age. Their parents modeled what a relationship was supposed to be. They saw it on TV. They read about it in books and magazines. They saw aunts and cousins and friends all make the same journey. When it was no longer working, they sought help from an educated professional that repeated the same old story.
The Cracks in the Foundation
The seeds for my skepticism toward the modern ideal relationship story has been planted over time from a wide variety of sources. The first seed was planted innocently enough- I started commuting on foot.
Let me back up a step. My wife Shelly and I spent about two years traveling the country in an RV while conducting barefoot running clinics. When we go tired of the constant travel, we settled in a suburb of San Diego. Money was tight, so we lived in a campground in our RV. We could only afford one vehicle, so I walked to work every day. The area was a little rough around the edges. Homeless people, transients, drug dealers, and prostitutes were everywhere, which provided non-stop opportunities for people-watching. Since I was always walking everywhere, I befriended a few of these folks. Through our conversations and observations, one thing became readily apparent- a lot of married folks were traveling from the posh neighboring suburbs to, in the case of males, pick up prostitutes, and in the case of females, buy drugs.
I’m a pretty liberal libertarian-leaning guy and don’t morally oppose prostitution or drug use as long as it’s consensual and done in a safe manner that doesn't put anyone at unnecessary risk. However, as the dealers and prostitutes noted, most of these folks were keeping these behaviors secret despite being “happily married.” Hmmm…
Seed two came shortly after. An acquaintance at my job found out his wife had been having an affair. Distraught, he shared the story with a few of us. He was completely blindsided. He thought they were perfectly happy and had no clue she wasn't content. After he finished his story and we comforted him with awkward bro-hugs,we went back to work. I happened to be working closely with one of the other guys that overheard the story. Let’s call him Joe. Our exchange went something like this:
Me: “Man, I can’t believe he didn't see any signs his wife was unhappy.”
Joe: “Are you kidding? I've met his wife. She’s a perfect target.”
Me: “Huh? Target for what?”
Joe: “Target to pick up. I would have fucked her if I didn't work with her husband. That shit can get messy.”
Joe, who was single, spent most of his free time seducing married women. He was a pickup artist. He went on to explain his methodology in frightening detail..........
Sample to be continued in the near future...