Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Honeymoon Phase: Don't Get Get Fucked By This Stage of Relationships

I've been spending a fair amount of time perusing stories on the DeadBedrooms subreddit as of late, mostly looking for interesting potential blog topics. The subreddit's theme is sexless relationships. I've noticed a pretty distinct pattern in almost every story, which resonates with me because of prior relationship experience. Of the people that post their stories, almost every couple got caught in the "honeymoon" trap.

Shelly and I also know a few people via social media that repeatedly fall into the honeymoon trap. One woman in particular perfectly exemplifies this. Once or twice every year, this woman will begin dating a new guy, post tons of pictures and status updates gushing over the dude and how she's finally found "the one", then gets pissed at anyone that points out she said the exact same thing last time. And the time before that. And the time before that. No matter how many times the seemingly obvious pattern repeats itself, she always falls into the honeymoon trap.

What is the "honeymoon" trap, you say?

Any relationship can be divided up into discernible stages. For brevity, I'm going to simplify romantic relationships down to three stages: Honeymoon, crossroads, and reality.

The honeymoon phase begins shortly after we make a cursory commitment to another person, even if that commitment is casual, nonexclusive dating. This phase is defined by the electro-chemical cocktail occurring in our brain, including:

  • Dopamine (makes us feel good, also makes us "addicted" to our partner)
  • Epinepherine and norepinepherine ("adrenaline", gives us boundless energy)
  • Serotonin (causes us to obsessively think of the other person, blinds us to their flaws)
  • Endorphines (pain killers that also make us feel a little high)
The result - we get weird, but in a good way. We obsess about our partner. We want to spend every waking moment with them. We don't eat or sleep. We're always on edge. We get butterflies in our stomach and our palms sweat a lot. We think they're more attractive than they really are. We ignore their flaws. We want to fuck their brains out literally all day and night.

My poly friends like to call the subjective experience "new relationship energy" because, well, it feels pretty fucking awesome.

So What's the Problem?

As a society, far too many of us seem to fall into two belief traps. First, we assume that the target of our affection, based on the overwhelming strength of the feelings, is our soulmate... that one person in the whole wide world meant to be with us and only us. Second, we assume the feelings will last forever.

The soulmate fallacy is pretty easy to dispel. There's roughly seven billion people in the world. The fact that there's ONE right person for any of us is, statistically speaking, absurd. We have decent evidence that the honeymoon response increases as a function of genetic compatibility and is communicated unconsciously via pheromones. The stronger we "fall in love", the genetically healthier our children will likely be. 

The "forever after" fallacy is easy to dispel also because, well, every couple in the history of forever has experienced that drop-off. At the most basic level, it's just not physiologically sustainable. The honeymoon phase is tough on our bodies. It would literally kill us if we experienced it all the time. 

We can get hints of the passion back after the honeymoon phase, but it takes a thorough understanding of how and why we experience both passion and intimacy. That's THE major reoccurring theme in No-Bone Zone. Indeed, I wanted to write a book that would give couples potential alternatives when the passion diminishes.

Eventually the honeymoon phase winds down as we get to know each other better which signals the beginning of the "crossroads" phase. Our brains start producing more oxytocin (makes us feel closer to our partner) and vasopressin (makes us monogamous) and less of the other four neurotransmitters. The frequency and intensity of sex begins to decrease. More importantly, we begin seeing our partner in a more accurate light. Their previously-ignored or minimized flaws become more apparent. At this point, we typically choose to continue with the relationship or end it.

If we choose to stick with the relationship, we enter into the "reality" phase. We continue to build intimacy, which often includes kids, a house, and all the other trappings of the American dream. We sort of go on cruise control for a while... maybe a year or three. 

One day, one (or sometimes both) members of the couple wake up and realize their sexual needs aren't being met like they were during that first year or two of the relationship. Invariably, they ALWAYS seem surprised the honeymoon period came to an end. When they first got together, they set the honeymoon phase trap by assuming they would be the couple that proved everyone wrong. Their love was strong enough to maintain the honeymoon forever. 

Of course, they weren't special. They're beholden to the same relationship rules as the rest of us, but the expectations of a lifetime of unbridled passion ultimately results in serious disappointment. At this point, the couple usually morphs into a "high libido" partner and a "low libido" partner. This results in the following common complaints:

High libido partner: "I don't understand what happened. We used to have sex every day. My partner was adventurous and creative, the sex was hot, and they would initiate all the time. Now? I have to practically beg for sex and I get rejected all the time which kills my self-esteem. I've tried everything - working out, complimenting them, doing chores... none of it works. They often make me feel like a complete sex addict or pervert just because I want to be with them. I just want my partner to want me."

Low libido partner: "We used to have a lot of sex and it was great. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I'm just not as attracted to my partner as I once was. Life got really busy and I'm just not in the mood very often, but they still pester me for sex all the time. I hate being the bad guy and shooting them down so often, but they just won't give it a break with the constant smothering. I feel like their every action is somehow angling to try to con me into having sex."

If you've been in a relationship that lasted more than three or four years, you're probably familiar with this scenario and accompanying feelings. Resentment, anger, depression, feeling worthless, undesirable... all are par for the course. One or both of the members of the couple are probably considering having an affair or ending the relationship. This is the point where many of the /r/DeadBedrooms stories pick up. Unfortunately, the advice given on that particular forum is almost always really, really bad. 

So What's the Solution?

The solution is relatively simple: DON'T ASSUME YOUR RELATIONSHIP IS DIFFERENT! 

Enjoy the honeymoon period for what it is - a really fucking exciting rollercoaster ride. When it starts to end and you've decided to stick with the person, talk. Discuss how you'll navigate your sex life in the absence of the manic horniness of the honeymoon phase. HOW exactly you do that varies depending on your personalities, situation, beliefs, etc. 

Naturally, I would recommend No-Bone Zone because the entire book is set up to help couples navigate the post-honeymoon phase. However, some of the ideas might be a little too... edgy... for some. NBZ aside, there are a wealth of resources floating around the Interwebz. 

Avoid This Mindset

The real damaging mindset that derives from honeymoon phase ignorance has to do with the expectation that the honeymoon will last forever with the right person. It never does. It never has. If you love the honeymoon phase, you're either going to be a serial dater OR you get really, really good at manipulating the intimacy and passion dynamic to create momentary honeymoon-esque moments later in the relationship. 

For the rest of us, the post-honeymoon phase can be awesome. We can build emotionally-fulfilling closeness to another person for as long as we choose to stay in the relationship. Once we understand how to reliably create passion in the relationship, we can break up the warm but boring intimacy with the occasional headboard-banging animalistic fuck sessions. 

What do you think? Based on my demographic data, many of my readers are at the age where "dead bedrooms" become an issue. How do you navigate that period? Share your thoughts in the comments section!


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