What humans crave more than sex, is reliable, deep, and rejuvenating emotional intimacy. The feeling that you can reveal even the most vulnerable parts of yourself and there will be someone else who will truly listen, care, and be honest with you. To be – and stay – with someone whose only agenda is to partner with you on the human journey toward Enlightenment. Now that is rare yet what can make darkest moments of life bearable.
To find someone with whom you feel safe enough to reveal the parts of yourself that even you cannot accept – now that is a pleasure that is beyond words. In fact, the word pleasure does not do it justice. The better word would be Joy, which connotes something deeper than happiness.
Esther Perel is revealing some of the grittiest aspects of what it people really struggle with when they try to remain faithful, not only to their partner, but to themselves.
I highly recommend you watch the two TED talk videos below, as she cuts to the bone and elucidates the conflicts and contradictions that modern-day people face as they try to engage in a sustainable romantic relationship, without cheating.
It can feel quite difficult to find a person who can over the long run satisfy you – after infatuation, the First Blush, and the Getting-to-Know-You periods pass. As the years pass by, humans realize that sex is not all it is advertised to be, because it is what emotionally happens before, during, and after sex that matters the most. Not the sex act itself. Each person’s sexual needs can often be mirrors of deeper psychological issues. In other words, physical desires – especially in long term relationships – become more and more about having nuanced emotional needs met.
As Perel points out, the most meaningful and deeply gratifying Journey of the human spirit is not about a sexual odyssey into the every nuance of physical pleasure. Rather, it is about exploration into – and the healing of – those darkest aspects of ourselves that tend hold us back from becoming our best selves. Our best selves, reaching our True Potential, does not come from base physical intimacy, but from when you feel safe enough to bare all. Not in the physical sense but the psychological sense. It is then we feel liberated from our secret burdens.
While sex can be marketed as something you engage in as if it is an Olympic Sport, the Gold Medal of fulfillment goes to those who know that intimacy is best defined by engagement on a much deeper level than the physical one.
Ironically, breakthroughs into higher levels of emotional intimacy in relationships often come from arguments driven by anger, sadness, despair, unmet needs, and times of life when we have trouble finding meaning, have trouble feeling any positive feelings. Because often feelings must literally erupt in order for us to realize we have been ignoring issues that have simply continued to build up pressure in the Psychological Underground.
Let’s face it: the most meaningful journey for humans is not one about highlighting your strengths, achievements, and best parts; it IS about shining light into, understanding, and refining your most primitive, undeveloped, ugliest, most unattractive aspects. That is how we become Whole. And often, it is at various stages of monogamous relationships that problems with sexual interaction actually represent deeper problems with emotional disconnection. Not just with others but with ourselves. We feel like our True Self is not present in the Moment. And if we are not connected to ourselves how can we connect to someone else?
Real emotional disconnectedness demands gritty and persistent focus to address all of the nuances driving the disconnectedness. For those couples who are willing to trudge through the swamp of thoughts and feelings that are driving the disconnection, a deeper relationship is at the end of that tunnel. But we live in a culture of immediate gratification, and as couples have been together 10, 20, 30, or more years, there has never been more pressure to leave that person. There has never been more opportunity. Divorce no longer is shameful. There is not a moral pressure to not get divorced.
We grow the most not by building our resumes and portfolios, but rather by having the most meaningful relationships with people with whom our relationships are so deep, that they care enough to be honest with us about what we need to work on.
One factor that disallows people from improving their emotional intimacy is the fact that humans tend to be the most defensive about sexual issues. And yet humans are deeply sexual creatures, more than the vast majority of people want to admit. This is probably why most parents avoid any kind of talk about sex with their children, and rather, offload that responsibility to the school, or now the Internet. That is a dangerous way to handle things, kind of like playing with fire.
Marriage has gone from being a primarily financial relationship, to being one where we expect everything from our partner or spouse. As Perel points out, we used to grow up in villages where the broad variety of our needs would be met by different people in the village. Now we expect our partner or spouse to be our complete village. They need to be our best friend, the best lover, sometimes a financial contributor, etc. etc. Because we tend to put pressure on our spouses to be everything for us, to be Our Village, it has never been more difficult to have a long-lasting monogamous relationship than right now.
I highly suggest any adult watch the following two talks, especially with your partner, and use these brief videos as a springboard into meaningful conversations about how you can keep the flame alive:
Above and beyond the billions of “relationship corpses” littering the earth stands a beautiful and eloquent Truth: those who are engaged in a long-term, loving, relationship infused with emotionally powerful intimacy tend to be the most joyful, deeply fulfilled people on this planet. A compelling body of social science research overwhelmingly substantiates this.
When you seek the gaze of another, as Perel points out, you need to be aware of what inside of you is not being addressed. When is the last time you have had a conversation where you are completely honest with your partner or spouse? How often are you seeking the gaze of another?