Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. –Dr Seuss
Sexual desire issues are an integral part of long-term relationships. In the thirty years of my own marriage I have visited all sides of the desire fence. Whether it was wanting intimacy more than my partner and not feeling wanted by my partner or not wanting my partner or intimacy at all, each machination was painful and created ripples of injury to our entire relationship. The potential for rejection got to be so painful that not asking at all became the discomfort zone we lived in. At the time, I didn’t understand all the meaning that I attributed to our desire issues, I only knew the shame and dwindling self worth that felt suffocating each time we broached the topic.
Over years I came to understand desire as a courageous form of wanting. It takes real courage to want in an intimate relationship because at the root of wanting is a willingness to feel deprivation. This is why wanting someone or something can be so powerfully motivating. Wanting and desire is perhaps our most powerful trajectory of self -fulfillment. When our desires spring from our best selves, it means that you have enough of your self to feel the lack of not having what you want and it means that you trust that acquiring what you want will be fulfilling enough to choose it.
Not all desire is created equal. When our longing comes from our weakness and is driven by a deep internal lack, it can often hold our partner and our relationship hostage. Healthy desire is not possessive and jealous. It doesn’t seek to control and change your partner, it comes from a true longing for the other person, just as they are. In my early twenties, I didn’t have enough of myself to risk this kind of wanting. I needed to be needed more than I wanted to be wanted. This is one side of the classic dilemma that plays out in some form in most developing relationships.
It is often met with the other partner who doesn’t want to want. Instead of actively choosing their relationship, they are drawn into circumstances where someone wants them more so they don’t have to risk longing or rejection.
Many couples never find their way out of this desire conundrum and miss the simple yet essential step that makes desire truly authentic. Perhaps the most critical aspect of wanting something is having the guts to choose it. Making deliberate choices are the building blocks of self -creation. The act requires giving up all the other possibilities and committing to a direction. Many relationships struggle and wither because one or both partners hadn’t been able to choose. When I think of the metamorphosis in my own marriage, choosing was the pivotal moment.
Desire that comes from conscious choice is potent. It carries the potential of real forgiveness, which allows the present to be different from the past. Passionate desire cannot be forced or manipulated, it is a by-product of free choice. This was the doorway to healing in my own relationship. Coming back to my desire without the fears and shame that had long been associated with it was one of the most liberating and courageous choices I have ever made. We get better at desire as we age and do the work that comes with learning to want.