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The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship

“Why does good sex fade even for couples who love each other more than ever?” This is the question therapist Esther Perel poses at the beginning of her Ted Talk. Another good question: “Why does sex make babies and babies make an erotic disaster in couples?” The audience laughs at this one. What Perel notices after traveling the globe and talking to couples is that most people are in a crisis of desire. It’s the first time in human existence that we’re experiencing sexuality because we want connection rooted in desire. Then why is it so difficult to sustain in a committed relationship?

On one hand, Perel says, we have needs for sustainability, responsibility, and predictability. We all want routines. Permanence. They anchor us.

We also have a strong need for adventure, mystery, risk, for the unknown. For journey.

We have to reconcile both of these in one marriage. This isn’t how marriage was always defined. “Now we go to one person for what an entire village used to provide. Give me belonging. Give me identity. Give me continuity. But also give me transcendence and mystery,” she says. “Give me comfort. Give me edge.” This is our reality. The crisis of desire is almost a crisis of the imagination, she says.

She posed this question to couples in her research: “What makes you drawn to your partner?” Many people said that when they missed their partner it made them feel the most drawn. The second group said when they see that person doing something that they’re passionate about. “When you see your partner doing something in which they’re enveloped, I get a momentary shift in perception.” The third group of people feel most drawn to their partner when they’re surprised. She speaks about novelty in the realm of sex—explaining that sex is about erotic intelligence. She’s very clear that sex isn’t just SEX. Sex is about playfulness. It’s about mysticism. It’s about the imagination.

There’s a lot of other good information here that Perel, who is a wonderful speaker, dives in to. And if nothing else, she uses this Ted Talk to really explore desire and how we can look at it differently.