“Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex.” - Hunter S. Thompson
We expect a lot from our long term relationships nowadays. Back in the 50s we married for social status, children, and companionship. Now, psychotherapist Esther Perel notes, “We want our partner to still give us all these things, but, in addition, ‘I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot.’ And we live twice as long!”
Is it too much to ask? Researchers have analyzed the data and determined that, in fact, long-term romantic (yes, sexually intimate) love is possible. And this meta analysis reinforces that conclusion and posits a reason to why we all seem to think marriage kills sex.
“The assumption romantic love cannot exist in long-term relationships [comes from] the mixing of romantic love with passionate love (deﬁned as new relationships). By disentangling these constructs...decades of research suggests that romantic love—including intensity, interest, and sexuality—thrives in some enduring relationships.”
So it is possible to be passionate, compassionate, and have sexy-fun-time in long term love. But how do you make sure you’re one of those lucky couples? Here’s what the research says:
Be A Team
While we expect more from our partners, we are also more satisfied when those expectations are met. Most couples who stay together over 10 years report being incredibly happy. The flip side, of course, is that roughly 50 percent of marriages still end in divorce.
Psychologist Eli J. Finkel believes this is because the happy people see long term relationships as a team sport in the game of shared goals and personal growth. He says, “Americans now look to marriage increasingly for self-discovery... and personal growth.”
Not to kill the metaphor, but teams need time on the field together. This is likely why couples who go on “date night” once per week, despite busy schedules, are 3.5 times more likely to say they are “very happy” together. And it’s not just about dinner and a movie. Novelty matters. Couples who play together to stay together, meaning research shows that engaging in fun, novel, or thrilling activities together deepens the romantic bond.
This may seem to be the opposite of the team advice, but it’s about self care, healthy boundaries, and independent esteem. The same study that told us romantic love and intimacy exists long term also says healthy esteem is essential for keeping that intimacy alive: “Several studies report that self-esteem is moderately positively associated with higher eros.” In other words, needy sad sacks do not inspire romance.
Psychotherapist Esther Perel says it’s about staying independent and passionate about your own life, so that your partner can respect you. Her research found people repeatedly reporting that, “I am most drawn to my partner when he is in his element, when she's doing something she's passionate about, when I see him at a party and other people are really drawn to him...basically, when I look at my partner radiant and confident.”
The Gottman Institute studied couples for decades and psychologist John Gottman claims he can predict future happiness in couples with 94% accuracy. What is this accurate prediction based upon? How kind partners are to one another. He says, “Contempt tears couples apart…kindness glues them together.” It really is that simple.
The same study also found that under this umbrella of kindness is the important act of appreciation. Respecting our partners and appreciating what they bring to the relationship and the greater world naturally enhances trust and improves communication.
While you’re being kind, generous, and appreciative, don’t forget to cuddle. Touch is linked to strengthening romantic bonds. And also, laugh together when you go on those date nights because it gets the oxytocin flowing, which increases empathy, reduces stress, and improves communication.
The takeaway? If you want to make love last and spice up bedroom time, it would seem that lingerie and toys are only going to get you so far. Better to go to a dinner party, watch your partner be confident and passionate about some topic of conversation, and then laugh and touch their arm on the way home as you compliment their mad social skills. After you wake up the next morning, all refreshed and whatnot, go grab coffee and talk about your individual and mutual life journeys. Who knows, it might just lead to a little afternoon delight.