Love and Relationships

[Two Pronged] How do I keep the passion for my partner burning?

Margarita Holmes
[Two Pronged] How do I keep the passion for my partner burning?
'Just as athletes pass their peak and their finest performances become memories never to be repeated, so those early days of passion are seldom sustainable in the long run'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

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Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

How can we keep our passion burning when we are celebrating our 10th anniversary and are childless?  

Joanne

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Dear Joanne,

It may be helpful to view your relationship with your husband in a similar way to which you view your body. As you grow from an infant to an adult, so your body grows in size and strength. Your love for your husband can also be seen as growing from the moment you first met up (“conception”) to the day you got married (“adulthood”). 

Now adulthood and marriage are not the end of the journey, merely the beginning of new stages. Adulthood and marriage offer the opportunity for further growth as life events such as careers, children, possibly illnesses etc. will all leave their mark until ultimately retirement and death complete the cycle.

Just as our bodies mature, peak, and then decline throughout our lives, so our love for our spouse can also mature. Unlike the body however, love can continue to mature, though of course its nature may change.

A useful model for understanding the various types of love has been developed by Dr Robert Sternberg, Professor of Psychology at Cornell University. His Triangular Theory of Love, illustrated here –

– shows how each type of love interacts and how Sternberg’s ideal form of love, which he terms Consummate Love, is the combination of intimacy, passion, and commitment (read here for further details).

Now, it is in most cases unreasonable to suppose that the early stages of romance can either be maintained throughout a marriage or regained at some point. Just as athletes pass their peak and their finest performances become memories never to be repeated, so those early days of passion are seldom sustainable in the long run. This is as inevitable as the aging process and to recognize it offers the opportunity to strengthen a marriage rather than chase a pipe dream.

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Returning to Sternberg’s Theory, while consummate Love is the ideal, its three components are not necessarily present in equal amounts throughout a marriage. Passion is likely to predominate in the early years, commitment is hopefully present throughout and intimacy should grow as the years roll by. 

Passion should be viewed like a golf handicap. In your heyday your handicap is low and you can manage 3, 6, 10 rounds in bed. As you get older your handicap increases and your rounds decrease until finally, in your old age your exploits on the course and in bed can be just warm and fuzzy memories! However, these memories, at least the bedroom ones, are shared with your spouse and form part of the intimacy between you.

Passion can be rekindled, at a level appropriate to your ages, health, and other circumstances, principally by strengthening the intimacy and commitment between you and your spouse. It may also require extra work, like putting aside time, having a second honeymoon, or whatever else it takes. If you both want it, you need to discuss what will help achieve your aim because this is definitely not a case of “one size fits all.”

Best of luck,
JAF Baer

Dear Joanne:

Thank you very much for your letter.  You ask how you can keep passion burning when it is (already) your tenth year and childless; this gives me the impression that you feel both these factors are impediments to passion. 

In my opinion, Mr. Baer has answered the problem of keeping passion burning with the wonderful (and original) analogy of viewing your marriage as you do your body. 

Thus, I will deal with the fact that you are childless and how this may possibly be an impediment to passion.

Many people would find not having children a boost, rather than a hindrance, to happiness and fulfillment in a marriage. The reasons these people cite are: more time to enjoy yourselves without wondering who will babysit the kids, especially if you want a romantic getaway, and more discretionary income so you can splurge more than you could otherwise, etc.

But all this makes sense only if you didn’t want kids in the first place. And it is wonderful that people can now make this choice and talk about it openly.  

However, for those of us who expected (and wanted) kids, even thinking it as part of what being married meant, not having them is a let-down.  

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I can’t help feeling you belong to this second category, Joanne, if only because you juxtapose difficulty in sustaining passion with being childless. There is nothing I can say to whisk away the pain and/or guilt – not that you should feel guilty at all! But, sigh, society, in laws and thoughtless acquaintances, knowingly or unknowingly rachet up this guilt.

One way of minimizing this is through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which, very briefly, is examining your thoughts (the should’s) to see if there is rational basis for them. For example, I should have children before my marriage can be considered successful or, perhaps, more to the point for some women, I should have children to make myself and/my husband happy. Please examine both these should statements and see how unreasonable they are, Joanne. If your husband, your MIL (mother in law) or anyone else feels this way, that is their problem.  

Easier said than done, I know, but perhaps it can be less difficult if you realize there is nothing you can do (apologize? spend even more at fertility clinics?) to get them to change their minds, if they adhere to these outmoded and, worse, unrealistic ideas.   

In his autobiography Dear Me, Peter Ustinov said something to the effect that: “Yes, life is unfair. Fifty percent of the time it is unfair to your disadvantage; BUT the other 50% is to your advantage.”

If you wanted kids, then yes, life is unfair in that respect. Do you think Joanne, you can find the ways that life is “unfair” in giving you blessings you had no reason to expect but fell, bountifully and joyously, like manna from heaven? I sure hope so, Joanne. And, once more, I hope reminding yourself of this can help.

All the best,
MG Holmes

– Rappler.com