relationship conflict

How to Sustain Desire in Long Term Relationships

"I find myself fantasizing about other people. Is something wrong with me?"

"I can't remember the last time we had sex."

"It just feels like a chore."

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We know you love your partner. You've been together for years. But something feels as if it's missing - there's a spark, an energy, a passion that's been gone for years now.

How do you maintain desire in long term relationships?

Pioneering sex therapist Esther Perel says that in her research, she finds two common themes. Couples find their partner most desirable when reuniting, when he/she is in his/her element, and when there's novelty

Reuniting with your partner means they've gone out and done something. For a while, I can anticipate what he or she is doing, where they are, and even long for their return. I missed you. 

Seeing our partner confident, self-assured, and in his or her passion where we find tremendous desire. My partner doesn't need me to do anything for him/her. Look at how confident she is on stage. Do you see all the people gravitating toward him?

And finally, bringing something new, original, or unexpected to the relationship brings us desire. I find my partner desirable when he surprises me. 

Dis-satisfactory sexual relationships happen and, while there's opportunity to implement these practices in your relationship, a trusted therapist can help guide the process. 

So, what is it you practice anyways?

This first in a multi-part series exploring the types of therapy I practice.

I've been a big believer in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) since studying it in graduate school. The simple premise behind CBT is that your thoughts influence your feelings, which influence your behavior. Understanding this pattern allow you to change it, right at the core.

Say you're in a meeting with your boss and she's not saying much. 'Is she annoyed with me?' you think. 'Maybe what I'm saying is totally off base.' These thoughts might make you anxious and start second guessing everything you're saying. These emotion-filled thoughts are called automatic thoughts, and they pop up based on beliefs about ourselves and the way the world works. Instead of automatically thinking your boss was annoyed, wondering if your boss was tired or preoccupied may change how you behave.

Automatic thoughts rely on perceptions about yourself and others called core beliefs. Core beliefs are developed from childhood experiences, cultural influences, your environment and more. Common core beliefs often follow themes of abandonment, un-lovability, defectiveness, helplessness, and entitlement.   

I have to be in control to be ok.

I'm unsuccessful.

If I don't succeed, I am worthless.

It's not ok to ask for help.

I'm stupid.

I'm bound to be rejected.

Challenging these automatic thoughts is the key to accessing and changing these core beliefs. Asking yourself questions like "Am I jumping to conclusions?" or "Am I condemning myself as a total person based on a single event?" or "Am I using all-or-nothing thinking?" can help challenge these thoughts. 

Noticing these automatic thoughts and changing them to a more realistic view can relieve distress. Changing the thought pattern from 'My boss is thinks I've done a terrible job; I'm worthless' to 'She's had a busy day and isn't saying much; Can I ask for feedback?' will change your behavior.

CBT is effective in treating:

  • alcohol use and abuse
  • substance abuse
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • chronic fatigue
  • eating problems
  • health problems
  • relationship problems
  • sleep problems

It's a short-term, problem-focused therapy that aims to systematically change the way you think about yourself and the world. 

Relationship Activity Questionnaire

When relationships are in crisis, we often forget how or why attraction started in the first place. Use this worksheet to learn more about your partner, turning the focus temporarily away from problems.