The accepted wisdom about loss of passion and desire in long-term relationships is that it is caused by over-familiarity, busy lifestyles, hormonal problems, or having children – or simply that it is unavoidable in long-term relationships.
But there is another reason, not yet known to many people, which involves a deeper understanding of the nature of the human psyche.
Psychological research, in particular the work of Dr Hal Stone and Dr Sidra Stone, two psychologists from Northern California, shows us that who we are is not as simple as we have thought.
When we explore beneath the surface of our personality, not only do we have a subconscious mind, but we also discover that within our subconscious mind and in the unconscious exist various discrete parts, known sub-personalities, energy patterns or selves.
So we are not one self, but many.
Which self met your partner and which self is around now?
Different selves within your personality are dominant at different times in your life, even at different times each day.
You might currently have a responsible self, a perfectionistic self, an inner critic, a needy inner child and a pleaser, and maybe an inner seeker and an adventurer who you express when you are on holidays. And your partner has his or her inner selves.
All these selves have their own rules, values and desires and their particular way of communicating.
They all play a role in your relationship, with some being primary and running the show, while others take a back seat and don’t get their needs met or even heard.
Your selves, and how they interact with the selves in your partner in bonding patterns, are the reason so many couples experience diminished desire and a host of other relationship problems.
The selves within you bond with the selves in your partner in particular patterns that restrict your behaviour, feelings and desires.
These bonding patterns are natural, psychological blueprints for how we give and receive love and affection, and also for how we express negative feelings toward one another.
There are two types of bonding pattern: positive and negative.
Negative bonding patterns are thus called because the feelings experienced when you are in one are negative.
Negative bonding patterns can range from the mildly irritating type, such as when you are the tidy person in your relationship and your partner is the messy person, to the full-blown world-war-type of pattern where you wish you had never met your partner and can’t imagine what you ever saw in them.
Positive bonding patterns, on the other hand, are when the feelings are positive: good, caring, loving – but where neither person will express anything that might rock the boat.
Both types of bonding pattern place limitations on how fulfilling a relationship can be. The negative ones lead to arguments and worse, and the positive ones lead to stifled self-expression, lack of passion and boredom.
What causes bonding patterns?
The power of these patterns is dependent on two factors:
- Over-identifying with some of our selves, and disowning other parts; and
- Not dealing with our vulnerability.
Being in a bonding pattern is a bit like standing on one leg and having our partner, also using only one leg, to balance us so we don’t fall.
This can feel safe and familiar (a positive bonding pattern) but it requires that each of us stays put to stabilize the other. If one leaves, we both fall.
We then blame and accuse each other (a negative bonding pattern) and angrily hobble around until we reunite in a new positive bonding pattern or, in extreme cases, with someone else.
In a negative bonding pattern each person’s primary self (the part of you that you present to the world and identify with, as opposed to the parts of your psyche you disown or don’t express) is in a state of judgment about the other person’s primary self.
The judgment occurs because there is vulnerability in both people that they are not attending to.
This vulnerable feeling is uncomfortable to your primary self, who knows no other way of dealing with such feelings but to push them far away to where you won’t feel them, so that you can feel powerful and in control again.
The more identified you become with your primary self and its perspective, and the more you push aside your other selves, the less you can see things from any other perspective, particularly you partner’s.
It is like you are glued fast to one end of a seesaw and you can’t move towards the middle, to where you might have access to other viewpoints.
At your end of the seesaw the world looks a certain way, and it is the one and only right way. Your partner experiences the same righteousness, but on the opposite end of the seesaw.
Unexamined bonding patterns lead to the deterioration of relationships
You become like very good friends rather than lovers, and will suppress any feelings that might rock your relationship boat.
The sexuality disappears, or you become attracted to other people. Most relationships stagnate or end because of positive bonding patterns.
On the other hand, couples who break out of a positive bonding pattern without awareness of what is going on will end up in a negative bonding pattern.
That means bitterness and arguing, with long periods of unhappiness, or to the relationship ending.
Three steps to breaking a bonding pattern:
1. First look at which parts of your psyche have become dominant in you
This could be the role of nurturing mother, pleasing daughter, workaholic, responsible father, withdrawn father, critical mother, caretaker, etc.
If you can’t work this out yourself, ask your partner to help. They are likely to have some insight into which part of you has become the main ‘you’, just as you will probably be able to see which selves of theirs have become primary in them.
2. Determine which parts of your psyche have been left out.
It will help to think of interests you had early in your relationship, even before it, such as when you were a teenager or younger child.
Remember the things you enjoyed doing that made you feel alive.
Some of these selves might include a sports enthusiast, skier, dancer, skateboard rider, photographer, theatregoer, hiker, meditator, magical child.
This simple exercise will help to determine what your primary and disowned selves are:
Write down the qualities in other people you judge or over-value.
You’ll probably find that if you judge:
- messiness then your primary self is tidy
- loudness then your primary self is quiet
- wildness then your primary self is sensible
- selfishness then your primary self is generous
- flirtatiousness then your primary self is more reserved
- irresponsibility then your primary self is responsible
- laziness then your primary self is a doer
- emotionality then your primary self is rational and impersonal
If you are in awe of:
- sportiness then your primary self is probably someone not so skilled at sport
- intellectual ability then your primary self is probably more of a feeling person
- glamorousness then your primary self is probably more practical
- artistic ability then your primary self is probably more rational
- serenity then your primary self is probably stressed
- rebelliousness then your primary self is probably more careful
3. Then reconnect with these missing selves.
Find a way of reconnecting with the qualities you judge or over-value in others.
You could do an activity a missing part would enjoy, meet up with an old friend who knew one of the ‘old’ parts of you and see if you can re-ignite that energy, enrol in a workshop, watch a film you normally wouldn’t, read a genre of book different to one you have recently been choosing, wear an outfit you haven’t worn for some time or buy a new one.
If you usually plan outings in detail, try going somewhere spontaneously.
If you usually take responsibility for everything, hand over responsibilities to your partner or children.
If you normally take time to get ready for work, go out with something you’ve quickly thrown together.
If you are always sensible, try doing something a little bit wild.
When you start to integrate the disowned parts of yourself, your whole life transforms.
You’re able to communicate better because you have greater understanding of and compassion for others; you can more easily find solutions to relationship problems; and you are able to make better choices.
The more you grow and develop in this way, the less often you’ll end up feeling negative and angry at your partner and you’ll be able to connect with your partner from a more enriched and whole sense of who you are.
The level of passion in your relationship is a wonderfully accurate gauge of whether a bonding pattern has taken hold in your relationship – if the passion is lacking, then you’re in a bonding pattern!
That’s not a bad thing – every relationship goes through stages, ups and down, and is affected by various life events.
But instead of seeing lack of desire as a problem, we can see it an indicator of where we are at and how we can grow.