Long – Term Relationships – Keeping Love Alive

Once I overcame the fantasy of a beefy stud carting me off on his sturdy steed, the idea of marriage-for-life has always let loose the cynic in me. Marriage as a five-year-contract-with-the-option-to-renew seems a far more prudent idea than committing to death as the only legitimate way of parting with a Mr Wrong.

Don’t be mistaken though; with a fifteen-year relationship under my belt, it’s not the length that scares me so much as what one does with it.

I’ve always been intolerant of being taken for granted and, by definition, signing up for life makes marriage a habit-forming institution. Habits look best on nuns and like the fabric of their garb, the idea of eventually wearing thin is not something I relish in a relationship.

After years of being together many couples complain about no longer being in love and try in desperation to keep the flame flickering by spicing up their sex-life. Some try sizzling knickers, others a stronger chandelier; but even after a night of kinky fun, you still wake up next to that same old snoring somebody in the morning.

One of the biggest issues with relationships is not so much that they become humdrum; relationships are – and always will be – relatively pedestrian. More likely, it’s the illusions associated with love that cause the hiccups and these fantasies whip starry-eyed couples into a frenzy of bogus anticipation. Only when our fairytale expectations start bumping up against reality do we feel out of love, end of story.

If there was ever a list of life’s realities that are governed by illusions, ideas about sex and relationships would vie for top position. Although we can see, touch and sometimes even smell our partners, the truth is relationships live or die in our imagination.

Like everything else about coupling, foreplay sets the tone and although that early can’t-get-enough-of-each-other-chit-chatting may feel so tantalisingly cosy, the reality is far less stirring.

When we think we are getting to know our mate, what we’re really doing is building a picture of what we want him to be rather than understanding the complexity of who he is; dorks and all.

The perfect mental image we create provides the exhilarating thrill initially and by the time we’re ready to settle down, we believe we know him well enough to finish his sentences and predict his moods with accuracy.

At first this may seem like a cute way of confirming how connected our souls are, but it’s a sure-fire sign that something far less desirable is going on. Predictability shows that the only participants in the relationship are the ‘his’ and ‘her’ cardboard cut-outs we created; not the two people whose minds these images live in.

By projecting our wishes onto our partner he literally becomes the screen upon which we play out the fantasy of our expectations. It’s little wonder then that in the beginning he’s so right for us, so gorgeously exciting, and so lovable and, within this princely picture of perfection, it’s even hard to accept that our dream has materialised. For our own sanity (and the sake of any future relationship with him) it’s best not to trust these ideals at all.

When boiled down romantic love is about as realistic as trying to build a meaningful relationship with your television set. As such it is only sustainable for about two years and then the inevitable happens; the screen tarnishes, the mental projector breaks down and you start seeing each other for who you really are. This is when lovers accuse each other of changing or not being the person they fell in love with and/or married.

So, when love flies out of the window, can the door open to a more fulfilling union? If the relationship is based on really liking one another, it sure can.

Liking each other means accepting your loved one for who he is; truly enjoying his company and, after a busy day wrestling with the world, seeing your home as a comforting, soft place to land together.

Compared to the roller-coaster ride, of course this calmer alternative is cold comfort. But when it comes to the reality of what relationships are, this deeper friendship is far more gratifying than losing yourself by falling for him.

‘I love him, but I’m not in love with him’ is how couples often describe this second stage of their relationship. As absurd as this statement is, what you do when you realise that the relationship has moved on will either rekindle the love fires or tempt you to pen that “Dear John” letter.

The truth is good relationships are mundane and when the myths fail, the relationship has a better chance of working; just look at the success of arranged marriages. The difference between these and prince and princess unions is that arranged affairs don’t start out with the expectation that you will be on a pedestal and worshipped forever. They also don’t subscribe to the fantastical nonsense that signing on as someone’s ‘other half’ will make you a whole person.

Instead of relying on your partner to brighten up your existence, the best relationships happen when both people’s lives are stimulating and exciting. Usually this means improving the quality of our conversations and when we natter less about people or dull daily events and connect more around new, exciting ideas, things start heating up again.

It’s well known that the mind is the most important sex organ and good, stimulating conversation is much more likely to get the juices flowing than crotchless underwear.

Men are fascinated by spunky women who are excited about life and who challenge them. Some of the more chauvinistically-inclined may demand that you cook, clean and pick up after them, but ultimately Oedipus will kill your sex-appeal. Most men find it psychologically difficult to be aroused by women who treat them like their mothers did.

The same applies to your libido. Little boys don’t turn women on and if he’s acting like a petulant or dependent child, you’ll probably feel more passionate about giving him a bollocking than you are about having a bonk.

If you want an exciting sex-life, stop calling him ‘baby’ and when he next asks where his clean blue shirt is, tell him it’s on the floor where you left it last Tuesday, dahling!

It’s known that men like variety but novelty is not the sole domain of males. Surprising each other with something unexpected and pleasurable also keeps the love fires burning. It doesn’t matter what you do, but the wilder the surprise, the more energy it injects into the relationship.

If relationships live or die in our imagination, the solution is simple: Living your own life keeps love alive. Spontaneity releases energy and as it is key to feeling fully alive, it can also unlock the vitality in our relationships.

Although you may have felt like a princess when you wafted down the aisle in that white meringue, if you don’t make the illusions of love as transparent as your wedding veil, you risk becoming yet another of your partner’s habits. And habits are worn by the celibate.