Terri Cole is a New York-based, licensed psychotherapist, relationship expert and founder of Real Love Revolution and Boundary Bootcamp, her two female empowerment courses reaching women in over 25 countries.
Prior to her current incarnation as a love and relationship expert, Terri was a bi-coastal talent agent negotiating endorsement contracts for supermodels and celebrities. Her lack of satisfaction in the world of entertainment led her to change careers in her 30’s to become a psychotherapist and female empowerment expert. For the past two decades, Terri has worked with some of the world’s most well-known personalities from international pop stars, athletes, Broadway performers and TV personalities to thought-leaders and Fortune 500 CEOs. She empowers over one hundred thousand women weekly through her published articles and blog posts, therapeutic meditations, online courses, and her popular podcast, The Terri Cole Show.
Terri’s strategies combine practical psychology, eastern mindfulness practices plus harnessing the power of intention to create sustainable positive behavioral change i.e. true transformation.
She has been featured as an expert therapist and master life coach on A&E’s Monster In-Laws, TED X, The Lisa Oz Show, Real Housewives and had a weekly radio show on Hay House Radio. Plus, she regularly writes for The Huffington Post, Positively Positive, The Daily Love, Well+Good, and has been featured in Italian Elle, Forbes, Origin, Vogue, Self and most recently was on the cover of Inspired Coach magazine.
In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- The reasons why we want to have sex so much in the beginning of a relationship.
- The challenges that often cause the frequency of sex to decline.
- Eight practical steps that can help bring back the passion (part 2 of our conversation).
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Connect with Terri:
- Eight Steps to Bring the Passion Back (free download)
- The Terri Cole Show (podcast)
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Terri, thanks so much for hanging with me today.
Sure, thanks for inviting me.
I have been really interested in some work that you’ve done recently; talking about bringing the passion back in relationships. One of the things that I was curious about was, why do we want to have sex so much in the beginning of a relationship, versus wanting less as the relationship goes on over the years?
That’s is a very interesting question and there’s lots of different ways to answer it. We have the biological drive, that’s one part of it. We are connecting with someone who unconsciously, subconsciously and primally, we’re thinking this could help me create more of this species, so this is what we want to do. We want to procreate. This is part of a primal drive, but it’s also more than that. If you look at the science, what’s happening to our bodies when we feel attracted to someone and when we’re falling in love, the same chemicals and hormones that get us addicted to things, are being released during this phase. We actually create more dopamine, oxytocin and all these things that feel so good. So, we want more of that. If you look at it from a psychological point of view, someone like Harville Hendrix – oh my, God. I had him on my show. I was dying. His work is just so brilliant.
He’s a legend.
Oh, without a doubt. Him and his wife were both surprised at how much I was fangirling. They were like, “Who is this chick?” And I was thinking, “Oh my God.” But anyways, his whole theory – which I definitely have seen in action over the twenty-two years of being a psychotherapist, to be true, is that basically our childhood wounds, we attract someone who will in some way mirror them. So, from his point of view, it’s giving us the possibility and the potential to work things out.
The way that I see it, and the work that I’ve done, I’ve found that it’s that and, when you are attracted to someone who you’ve had a similar experience, even if it’s something that isn’t good; let’s say that you had a very authoritarian father and you didn’t like that experience, if you’re heterosexual female, you may find yourself drawn to men who are authoritarian. Because in your unconscious mind, there’s a recognition that, “Oh, that person is appropriate partner material,” even if you didn’t like it.
So, I think that there’s a whole bunch of things going on, but we’re also in that bonding phase. What do we call it? We call it “the honeymoon phase” of a relationship, because our attraction to that person and being with them creates changes in our bodies. Literally our pupils dilate. There are all of these things that happen. Everything related to this person becomes more important than anything else. We just want to be with that person in the same way we are affected when a substance that we might be addicted to gets removed. If they go travel or you have to travel and you’re away from them, we experience that same sense of withdrawal in the beginning. And then when you’re together with someone over time, real life sets in. We still have to pick up groceries and make food. We still need to pay the taxes. We still should go vote. All these things that when you’re madly in love, like, “Hey, let’s have sex in a limo and in the bathroom and anywhere and outside.” It’s a way of bonding, because you haven’t yet created a life with that person. And part of the having so much sex, that what we’re wanting to do.
And so, the challenges to the frequency that you alluded to, are the real life challenges. How does real life get in the way of that? Or how does it decline over time?
Well, there’s lots of very obvious ways. We have life cycle events like having children. A lot of times, if you have a difficult pregnancy, you’re not having sex towards the end of it. Sometimes you are, but a lot of times you’re not. And then you’re not supposed to have sex for six weeks afterwards. And now you have a new human and suddenly sleep becomes way more sexy then sex when you’re in that situation.
Also, if somebody is not well, illness can get in the way. Menopause, that shit is real. I hate to say it. I have my own experiences that I’ve written about and I swear I’m going to actually write a book called Meno-Marathon, because there is literally no pause. I feel like that has gone on for ten years. But there are physical things that happen when you’re in menopause. So, now you have less estrogen and there are things that I had read about that would happen during menopause, “Oh, you might have hot flashes.” Which actually, personally I did not really experience. But what people don’t tell you is that sex can become incredibly painful, even after having two decades of a very healthy, robust, fun and interesting sex life. Suddenly sex becomes painful and now there’s this whole conflict that you’re in. You still want to have sex with the person, but you don’t want to be in pain.
So, yes there are certainly things that you can do and there’s hormone replacement. But those are just kind of an array of life cycle things. And then what I find in my practice is, that unresolved resentments and couples who don’t have great communication when things are rough, can really struggle. There are actually different architypes of couples. There are some that are very avoidant. They never learned how to have a hard conversation. Anytime they have to have a hard conversation, it seems so overwhelming, that they’re almost like the most polite couple you’ve ever met. But that keeps things on the surface, right?
If we’re really in a relationship, there are going to be things that need to be talked about. If you have to make a simple request or something changes, or someone could just get on your nerves because you’re spending lots of time together; these are normal ups and downs. I think back to the psychological aspect of people who are not having a lot of sex in long-term relationships and I find that unresolved, unspoken and unfigured out resentment, it really can kill the libido. So that’s one thing to really look at.
And also, looking at your parents. You have some people who were raised by parents that once the mom became a mom, that was like her primary function in life and you never really viewed her as a woman again. And she didn’t view herself that way either. These are what I call “downloaded blueprints”, we have them in all areas of life, including sexuality. And so, with my clients, I do what’s called a “downloaded sex and sensuality blueprint”. This is where we’re really looking at, “Do I feel like it’s appropriate to be a 55 year old woman and to be sexual or to be sensual?” What does that look like if you came from a very sort of straight-laced family or a very religious family? The answer might be, “No. That that ship has sailed. Now it’s about other things.” So, there’s many things that can get into the mix of why we stop having regular sex.
One of the questions that I hear being brought up a lot is, how often is enough? I don’t know if “enough” is the right word, but how often are other people doing it? Do you hear that from your clients?
Oh, I do. And there’s actually science, we don’t even have to guess, we kind of know what is going on. So, in healthy relationships, having sex approximately once a week is really good for the relationship. The study compared it to people who had sex less than once a month. They had this really weird way to put it, but this was how they put it; that the difference in happiness, satisfaction and fulfilment in the couples who were having sex once a week, they likened it to money. So, they compared it to someone who makes $25,000 a year and someone who makes $75,000 a year. They say that it was more important when it came to increasing a person’s happiness to have sex once a week than make $75,000 a year, versus the $25,000 a year. That the regular sex in their partnership would create more satisfaction, than making the extra $50,000 a year. So, it was this really weird comparison, but it made sense.
So, we’re saying approximately once a week would be great. I actually knew someone once who has been married for probably 50 years. And the conversation at the time was weird, because it was kind of like an uncle by marriage weirdness. But what he said made so much sense. He said that he and his wife institutionalized sex by having sex every week when they came home from church, even when their kids were small. They would be like, “This is mommy and daddy’s private time.” And he said, “You know, Terri. Our friends at the time all made fun of us and thought, ‘How not romantic are you that you’re doing that?’” And he said, “But guess what? Fifty years later, guess who are the only people still having sex and we’re in our 70’s, almost 80. That’s us, and we still have sex once a week.”
So, the thing that has to shift psychologically is that, when we’re in the beginning of a relationship, we are drawn, right? We are compelled physically to be sexual and to become one with that other person. And as you create an actual life, you might create human beings, you might have children together, whatever it is that you’re doing, there has to be a conscious connection. There needs to be an intentional decision that is made jointly to say that this will be an important part of keeping the relationship healthy. I say to clients, “Hey, sometimes you have sex even when you don’t want to.” And I don’t mean under duress and I don’t mean someone else forcing you.
I’ve been married twenty years, together for twenty-two years with my husband, and every decision I’m about to make, I think, “How will this impact Vic?” “How will this impact us?” I’ll talk to him. I don’t make any major decisions without considering him or talking to him. It’s not like he’s the boss of me, because he’s definitely not. And I’m not the boss of him. But my priority is the health of my marriage, above pretty much everything else. I don’t know that every person has to feel the way that I do, but I do know that we must intentionally prioritize what’s important and keeping your physical life vibrant is very important, and it’s not just sex.
When we’re talking about having sex once a week, there was another study done and it asked the question, “Is it that more affection creates more sex? Or that more sex, creates more affection?” What’s interesting is, they couldn’t really come to terms with what came first. The chicken or the egg? But what they did determine was, that more of one creates more of the other. So, when I’m talking about being sexual, I’m not only talking about just sex. It’s not just about penetration. It’s about intimate time together. It is about affection. It’s about flirting. It’s about remembering that your person is still a person. And if you see them and they look good to you standing in the kitchen, making that salad, you say, “Nice butt.” Those things that you would say in the beginning or that you couldn’t even stop yourself from saying. It’s very easy to become so habituated in a relationship, and habituated sexually. Where it’s like, “You do this, I do that, then we’re done.” That’s definitely better then not doing it. But there’s certainly plenty of ways to make it more interesting than that.
How would you suggest that a couple have this conversation? It seems like a bit of an awkward conversation to have. How would you suggest that one of the individuals bring it up? “Hey, we’re not having as much sex anymore?” Or, “Hey, I wish we had more sex.” How would you suggest that happen?
I definitely wouldn’t do it like that. And here’s the thing, we always want to have the conversation when so much of the time, from a therapeutic point of view, what needs to happen is a different action. So, what I would say to my client is, just get empowered. You don’t need your partners permission to be more sexual. And don’t make it a complaint, unless you’re also going to suggest some really juicy solution or idea. If it’s been a long time – I’ve had clients who haven’t had sex with their partners in four years, so if you can come back from that, you can come back from anything.
Part of it is to start to normalizing affection again. Don’t put the pressure on your relationship. Don’t make it be like, “We need to have sex every Wednesday.” Maybe that Sunday thing worked for that person, but you’re talking about a specific situation with sensuality and sexuality, resentment is built. If you’re in the relationship, instead of wanting to blame your partner and be like, “Well, if they would only do this,” whatever you think that they’re aren’t doing or whatever you think they are doing wrong, if that changed, everything would be okay. Every time you think that, I’m going to ask you to look inside and say, “What action could I take right now that might be helpful? Could I send a flirty text? Could I put a little sexy note with a little lip print on it, maybe in the briefcase or in the pocket of what they’re going to wear?” “Could I say, ‘Remember that time when we were away and we had that amazing night in that hotel? I was thinking about that. I wonder if we could recreate that in our own boring bedroom? I think we could’.” There are ways to talk about it that don’t make it feel like someone is right and someone is wrong and that, “We need to talk.” Because nobody wants to talk whenever you say, “We need to talk.”
It’s about being brave. Because we must risk being vulnerable, if we’re going to increase the vulnerability in the relationship. Which is what increasing sex really is, right? We’re becoming more vulnerable, physically. But let’s say it’s been a really long time and maybe there’s performance issues. Maybe someone is having an erectile dysfunction moment or the wife is going through menopause and it’s painful. It’s really not about genital sex or sex with penetration. There are so many other things that you can do like, “Let’s play a game and the loser has to give the winner a massage tonight.” What they do with couples a lot of time that go for sex therapy, is you basically take sex off the table all together. “We cannot have sex.” So immediately there’s this relief of, “What is the expectation? What is the performance?”
There’s less pressure.
Exactly, and then what if you turned your attention to something that you could do, even if it was something short? Maybe it’s not a full body massage, but maybe it’s like, “Let’s just give each other quick hand massages before bed tonight?” Or, “What if I rubbed your feet? What if you rubbed my feet?” “What if I gave you a quick neck rub?” What we’re talking about is reconnecting in a sensual way. It’s about connecting in a way that reminds you that there was a time in your life with this person, when you felt pretty hot about them. For those of you that feel it’s been too long and the ship has sailed, remember there was a time in your life that you had desire for them. And so, if you want the relationship to continue to grow in that way, you’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable. And if you’re the one who makes the first move, that means you’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable, because the person may reject you. So, that’s why I say, don’t make it like a straight up sexual proposition in the beginning.
You don’t have to say anything. You could just start touching your partner more. You could just consciously sit closer to them on the couch, or snuggle up with them, even if you haven’t done that in a long time. And before you know it, this will become normalized. The same way that being super separate has become normalized. You can normalize the closeness again. But for a lot of people, I find that the resentment stuff is a big issue.
I’d love those who are listening, if this is resonating with you, I really would love you to do some kind of resentment inventory. Really think about the negative things that you say about your partner in your head. What are the things that drive you crazy about them? Are there things that they’ve done, that you haven’t told them really hurt your feelings or made you feel bad? Did they betray you or are you coming on the other side of some kind of big betrayal that really hasn’t been handled? Those are all things that really can keep you stuck in that wanting to be away from them, rather than wanting to be close to them. And no strategy that I’m going to give you right now, can replace the work of figuring that out.
If somebody has those resentments, how do they process through that? Because that could be years in the making. How do they unpack those?
We always have to look at our side of the street. Every relationship that you’re in, whether it’s your marriage or it’s another relationship, like a friendship; you are exactly 50% of that relationship. You are exactly responsible for 50% of whatever has gone down in that relationship, even if the other person did something that you consider terrible. Your 50% is not talking about it or not insisting on going to therapy or in just being mean to them for two years as punishment. We all have to take responsibility for our side of the street and look at it honestly. It requires giving up the victim position, even if the person wronged you. Most infidelity is a symptom of something else going wrong in the marriage. Of course, unless that someone is a sex addict or they’re a habitual offender.
A friend of mine, Esther Perel writes quite a bit about this. She’s got a book out called State of the Union. And she has a book out called Mating in Captivity. Her work is just brilliant. She has a great TEDx Talk also. Think about the juxtaposition that we’re put in when we get married. What are we seeking to build a life with someone? Stability, dependability, someone who’s consistent. And what is erotic to humans? What feels erotic? The unknown, mystery, anything can happen. And how do we figure those things out? It really does require effort to do so.
So, back to your question; people who are feeling resentment or feel like they’ve been wronged or feel like they don’t want to be close to their partner because they did this terrible thing, I’d ask you to journal about your side of the street in that circumstance. And to be honest. Because it’s very easy to be in denial of all the symptoms along the way. It’s very easy to say that the marriage or the relationship needed attention. And if you don’t know how to give it the attention and you didn’t know how to have the hard conversation, maybe you lost yourself in Netflix or in drinking or in something to numb your own feeling while your partner wasn’t where they said they were going to be.
Usually when people come in and say, “My husband or my wife cheated on me,” a lot of times I say, “Did you have an inkling?” And they would say, “Yeah, I kind of did.” Oftentimes, we’re complicit in the situations that we find ourselves in. But I would suggest doing an inventory, “I’m resentful that…” Many of those things are things that you just haven’t asked for. You haven’t made a simple request for the person to do it differently. You would be shocked at how much of the time it is small things that make us so resentful.
Okay, so you have these eight steps that you talk about when it comes to bringing the passion back. And that is actually number one; doing a self-inventory for resentment. Can you walk us through a couple more? Obviously, there are listeners at all different stages of life, but we have quite a few women who are in the 30 to 50 year category. They’re in the middle of their marriage and maybe they have kids or the kids are going off to college. What are some things that we can all do to help bring that passion back?
The second thing on the list, we’ve actually already kind of talked about. And that is making a commitment to being physical, even if it’s not initially sexual. So, you can take the pressure off by not saying, “We have to have mind-blowing sex tonight.” Let’s just start with small steps. Start with reconnecting in an affectionate way. Because as that study shows, affection leads to more desire, which then leads to more sex. And it’s also the other way around, which is great.
Another thing is talking. I call this, “being more voluntarily vulnerable” with your partner, which is different than being indiscriminately vulnerable. It’s mindfully wanting to make that connection. I see it with my husband and myself. We’ve spent many years together and I’m quite a talker, so talking about lots and lots and lots. Even if it’s, “What did you dream last night?” Or, “What did you eat today?” Or, “How are you feeling?” Or, “How’s your back?” if I remember something is hurting him. My husband’s a political artist, so I’ll say, “How’s that job going?” Sometimes we’re driving and I’ll say, “What are you thinking?” Now this isn’t the Spanish Inquisition. I’m not worried about what he’s thinking. I’m actually interested in what he’s thinking and I’m interested in him. So, part of it is staying interested and keeping a conversation. This can be difficult when you have a lot of things on your to-do list jointly; children, trying to pay the friggin’ bills and do whatever we need to do to get through life. We hope we’re enjoying it as well, but there are times, especially if you have a lot of kids – we raised three and that’s a lot at one time. It’s easy to just be like, “We’re tag-teaming life. You got this. I got that. Bye.” Especially when you’ve got little kids who are not sleeping. It’s very easy to be completely disconnected and it’s a massive effort to try to have a real conversation.
I always suggest to clients that they do something called a “State of the Union”. Which is that every other week, even if it’s just 30 minutes over a cup of coffee – my husband and I do it on Sundays with the New York Times and coffee in bed. But we just talk about how we’re doing. “How is it going?” We start with gratitude, because that makes it easier about the harder thing, like if something needs our attention that’s not so positive. But we always start with, “Thank you so much. You stayed up with the baby Tuesday and Wednesday and I really appreciated it, because I had that big meeting on Thursday.” Gratitude is another way to be voluntarily vulnerable.
When you become resentful, gratitude is usually the first thing to go away. You start thinking, “I’m not giving them anything, because I’m so mad at them for these things.” But I can tell you, the simple niceties of always being polite with your partner – and I don’t mean formal, I mean grateful. It doesn’t matter when my husband and I get up, whoever’s the last person makes the bed. The other person later says, “Thanks for making the bed.” That may sound crazy and redundant. Every single day someone thanks someone for making the bed? But the answer is, “Yes”. Because what are we doing? We’re adding things to this well of goodwill and when the shit hits the fan, you’re going to need that reserve in that well. So, these are small ways. Whether it’s whoever unloads the dishwasher, “Oh, I was going to do that. But thank you for doing it.” Changing the laundry and all these things.
My husband and I, we live pretty much like partners. We both own our own companies. We both do our own thing. But I’m pretty clear that he definitely doesn’t work for me. So, anything he does for me is a gift. Anything I do for him; he sees it as a gift. And it feels good to be acknowledged. It makes us feel important. It makes me want to do more, and this is how we continue to add to that well of goodwill. Because imagine if every time you did something, the person you’re with was like, “Thank you so much for dinner, it was delicious.” And it’s also something that’s equitable. If my husband cooks, I clean the dishes away. Which is usually how it is, because he’s a better cook than I am. But we’re basically looking at trying to take time to actually talk.
If you’re going to do a State of the Union, start it with gratitude. And then it becomes easier to move into, “I would have appreciated more of a heads up on that thing on Wednesday,” if he put me on the spot or whatever it is. What we’re doing in having a State of the Union is, we’re normalizing having conversations that are not all positive. They’re not all negative either, of course. Because sometimes, you have couples who are just into blame, shame, guilt, blame, shame, guilt. And I mean, nothing kills a relationship faster than that dynamic. It’s just a nightmare.
I was thinking about how this plays out in a family environment. Our kids are 19 and 16 and we have dinner almost every night. We actually have dinner around our coffee table, the TV’s off, but it just works for our family. But we do highs and lows every single night.
So, every person gets a chance to talk about their day. It started to be one high and one low, many, many years ago. And now it’s more of a recap of whatever you want to talk about. We’ll kid each other and someone will say, “Okay, how long are you going to talk?” We’re playful with it, but sometimes we end up getting into some challenging conversations. It’s become this almost nightly family meeting. Most of them are super positive and fun and playful and encouraging. But sometimes there are some challenging experiences because there was unmet expectations on somebody’s part. Like just this week, we had a situation where a family member was using a piece of photographic equipment – we’re all pretty creative in our family, but it wasn’t left in the same place. And then somebody else was upset about something. It really gives us the opportunity to create that vulnerability. Not just with my wife and I, but as a whole family. So, this is connected more to love, obviously, not sexuality. But it really helps my wife and I stay on the same page.
That is such a beautiful thing to do. Look at what you’re doing for your children. You’re creating this muscle for them to tap into; being mindful. They have to tap into, “Oh, I’m recapitulating my day, because someone’s asking me. Let me think, how was that? Would I do that differently?” This creates present moment consciousness in a way that if you just were shooting the shit about nothing, it probably wouldn’t. So, it really is a beautiful thing and I think couples can do that too, very easily and in a very non-threatening way. So, if carving out 30 minutes would be too much, how about just sharing the high and the low. Because again, this normalizes, “Oh, I have the floor. You have the floor. This person has the floor.” You know?
Right and it’s institutionalizing it. We haven’t even thought about it in that way, but it’s saying, “No, no, no. This is normal. This is what we do.” And that creates the connection, which is what you’re saying that we want. We want the vulnerability and connection.
So, you say that the fourth step is to shake it up. What do you mean by that?
We all do our relationship dance and we all become habitual. Because this is also part of the human condition. So, to not be habitual around sex, where it becomes, “I do this. You do that. And now we’re done.” It’s so easy to phone it in that way. But if you really want it to be more interesting and to have more desire, there is the need to suggest something different and potentially do something different that you might consider out of your norm. Even if it’s just making out. Even if you’re like, “No sex. Let’s just make out tonight.” When’s the last time you just made out with your partner? We used to do that when we were teenagers, it was pretty hot. But most of the time, we don’t do that as adults. It doesn’t mean you don’t kiss, but there’s something about doing something that would make it different.
If you have kids, then obviously having sex in the bedroom, that’s great. At least there’s once place you can have sex. But if you’re empty nested or if you’re on vacation, do something that your eighteen-year-old self would think was really cool. Let your 50 year old self have sex on the kitchen floor or in the backseat of a car or whatever. It doesn’t have to be those things exactly, I just mean do something different, so that there’s more energy in what you’re doing. And the truth is, it’s more exciting. Because as I was talking about Esther Perel, the thing that makes a marriage solid is the consistency and that we can bring in this sense of mystery into our sexual or sensual life. You can role play. There are so many things that you can do that would make it more interesting. And maybe there are things that you wouldn’t have done when you were younger, but now that you’re older and know yourself better, maybe you’d be open to some of the things. Maybe your partner wanted to try something 20 years ago and maybe now you’re like, “Hey, maybe that could be hot. Let’s see.” So, it’s again, it requires vulnerability. It doesn’t even have to be massive, just different.
What’s number five?
Number five is basically talking about what makes you feel sexy or sensual. It’s having some kind of a dialogue. It could be anything, like when your partner cooks you dinner. I was a couple’s therapist years ago – which P.S., I hated. I did it because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, but it was just so stressful. I would be dripping sweat every time a couple left. I was like, “Why are you doing this to yourself? You don’t have to.” Anyways, the major complaints would be that the men would want more sex and the women would want more connection.
I’m talking about heterosexual couples. Those were basically mainly who I dealt with. So, this is heteronormative stuff that I’m sharing here, I’m not saying this applies to everyone. But I would always say to the men, “If you think about helping her out without her asking you; doing the dishes, keeping your word, doing the things that you know she wants you to do. I want you to think of that as foreplay, because that’s how she experiences it. When you don’t do those things and you get into bed and you feel like you want to put your hand on her thigh, she wants to punch you in the face.” But it’s also looking at, what is it for the wife? What makes her want to be more sexual? And what are the things that don’t? Listen, men are from wherever they’re from. Women are from Venus, Mars, right? That is true. It is a fact that we are definitely wired differently. So, your partner may not know how to best communicate with you. This is also where the love languages can come in. There’s this very famous book, The Five Love Languages, it’s been around for decades. It’s still so relevant, because as humans, we project how we want to be loved. That’s how we love our partner. That’s how we try to love our partner.
So, the love languages are gift giving, words of affirmation, acts of service…
So, it’s acts of service, intimate touch, words of affirmation, quality time and gifts. When you can figure out what it is – and remember, this is broad strokes, so it can’t be everyone, but men are usually really into acts of service. So, if you told your partner that you would go pick up their dry cleaning and you forget; they’re on a business trip and they come back, their feelings might be hurt in a way that you have no idea.
I know from my husband, that acts of service are important to him, even though he wouldn’t say that. But I know it, and it’s true. So, if I say I’m going to do something for him or even if he sends me a link to watch a YouTube video about something, if I don’t do it, I can see his feelings are hurt and he feels unimportant. So, I always go out of my way, even if I don’t care what’s on the video. It’s not about that. It’s about, he reached out to me in this way.
You know the Love Lab with John Gottman? He’s basically the foremost expert on being able to predict couples who will stay together or who will get divorced within a 94% accuracy, after being with them for 15 minutes. He does this whole thing about the love masters and the love disasters. Basically, with couples, we bid for the other person’s attention “X” amount of times a day. So, when it comes to the disasters, there are different ways that you can respond. So, sending a YouTube link, that’s a bidding for attention. Or you’re sitting on a blanket in the park, you’re reading a book and your partner says, “Oh, hey babe, there’s a cardinal.” You can either positively respond, which is like aggressively positive. Where you put down your book and you go, “Oh my God, let me see.” You get up and you go over. You can be positive and passive, look up from your book, “Oh, that’s cool,” but you don’t get up, you’re still reading. You can be passively negative, which is to be like, “Babe, who cares?” Or you can be aggressively negative, like, “Stop interrupting me. I’m reading my book.”
He goes through this process; that the disasters, seven out of ten times, when one or the other bids for the other’s attention, that it was either a negative response or ignored. The masters of love, seven out of ten times, they gave them some kind of a positive response. And so, this tells us how much that type of communication is important. So, we’re veering from what makes you sexy, but this all comes back to being able to feel sexy. Basically, it’s about being seen. I don’t have to care about the things that my husband cares about the same amount, but I do care that he cares about them.
The amount of classical music my husband wants to take me to, I want to shoot myself because I don’t even like it. But I love him and he wants to share it with me. It’s not enough to be like, “Okay, go. I don’t mind. Spend money on tickets, do your thing.” He wants to share it with me, so therefore, I do that because I want him to be happy. I mean, listen, if it was race car driving or boxing, I’d have to be like, “No thanks.” But classical music, you can suck it up. Go have a nice dinner, meet friends, it’s fine. You can put the links if you want for the Gottman Institute and about all of the studies, his work is so fascinating.
But back to finishing up number five, if there’s something that your partner does that makes you feel great, tell them, “When you do that, you’re my hero.” Or, “When you do that, it makes me feel so loved. It makes me feel really warm inside when you do that thing. I was so grateful to wake up and see that you had taken care of whatever.” Because these are acts of service that make us feel loved. So, it’s giving them positive verbal attention about the way they look or how desirable they are. But it’s also sharing the things that they do, that make us feel desirable.
I’m hearing you say it’s not just feeling sexual, but it’s feeling loved. It’s feeling appreciated, valued, seen and cared for. Because ultimately, the connection is there. I think one of the things that I’m really picking up on in this conversation is, how the view of sex or the role of sex, changes over the lifetime of a relationship. I think back to my wife and I. We met when we were 20. We got married when we were 21. There was a lot of energy, obviously. A lot of energy in terms of sexuality and so forth. I’m not even sure I connected to the vulnerability. I didn’t connect with it about care. It was more of a physical connection. And now, I’m 46 and we’ve gone through lots of ups and some pretty low lows. I’ve been anti-depressants for the last ten years and that really changed my sexual energy. I find that she is actually the one who is more interested in sex now, in terms of our relationship, then I am. I have found that for me, it’s less about the physicality of it and more about the vulnerability of it.
So, as you’re talking about vulnerability and you’re talking about connection, you’re talking about love. Anybody who’s listening to this conversation, they’re probably not going to be in their 20’s, because they’ve got the physicality behind their relationship right now. But if you’re talking about bringing the passion back, it’s because there’s a history there and there have been some ups and downs and twists and turns, There’s history of emotional challenges, physical challenges, kid challenges and all of those things.
What I’m taking from what you’re sharing is, there’s so much inner work that is connected to bringing back the passion. There’s the physical aspects of it, but there’s a lot of inner work in ourselves and inner work in the marriage, “How do I make sure that I’m communicating how I feel cared for. And am I’m listening to how she feels cared for?” Am I right here?
Yes, it is different. And what I’ll add to what you’re saying is, that I have so many clients and myself also, who have experienced this sort of resurrection in eroticism after putting in the effort. For me, it was menopause that made me say, “Where did my libido go for three and a half years? Oh my God, this is terrible.” And I didn’t tell my husband that I was feeling that way because I thought it would hurt his feelings. And then he wouldn’t want me to do it just to do it for him. I was like, “Listen, it’s going to pass.” I went to my doctor, talked about it. And then about a year and a half into it, he says, “I feel like something’s wrong. You seem like I’m hurting you.” And I was like, “Okay, so I wasn’t telling you, but it can be kind of painful at times.” He just said, “Terri, why didn’t you say something?” And I said, “You know babe, I just thought it was going to pass and I just didn’t want it to get all weird. To where it’s like, ‘I’m afraid to touch you. I don’t want…’, I just thought it would pass.” And he’s like, “But you know, Terri, the whole time I sensed that there was something wrong, but I didn’t know what. So, as much as I’m sorry that there’s pain, now together, we can work it.”
So, I made a choice because I thought I was protecting him, maybe protecting my own ego, I’m not sure. But as we’ve been through that, now about a year and a half, this whole new resurrected sense of eroticism and connection and adventure, it’s amazing. I’ve seen this with many of my friends as well. You go through those low lows and then if you stay in it long enough and if you stay interested – because it requires a certain amount of not being lazy. You know how people say, “Ah, you get set in your ways when you get older”? There’s truth in that. And so, part of it is, if we’re ever in a hotel, I’m like, “Always hotel sex, yes. Let’s take advantage of the situations that we’re in when we’re on vacation.” So, really being mindful of having more sex and having different sex and wanting that connection. But again, so much of it has to do with, how are you the other 23 and a half hours of the day?
That’s where the communication, the vulnerability, the affection and the flirting; all of those things come in. Affirming that your partner is still desirable to you, even if you’re not having sex. But affirming that they still look good. Now, one last thing, because there’s this thing that a lot of people have written into me about, saying, “I’m in really good shape. I’ve been with my husband for 25 years.” “I’ve been with my wife for 25 years. I’m the person who’s healthy and they’ve let themselves go.” So, they’re not well. They’ve gained a ton of weight. They can barely get around. All they want to do is watch TV. They’re drinking too much. So, what do you do in those situations? And it’s like, listen, you can only take care of your side of the street and there is nothing wrong with saying, “Your lack of health is negatively impacting us.”
Before I got married, my husband’s ten years older than me, and there was another boyfriend I had who I really, really loved. But I just knew that he was never going to be in good shape and that it would be a deal breaker in about 20 years. So, I broke up with him. I knew it that it was his lifestyle. So, I said to my husband, “You are already ten years older than me, you can never, ever let yourself go or be out of shape. You just can’t. You can’t suddenly become a late in life alcoholic. That’s not going to work.” Because that lack of health, really does profoundly impact a union.
It does. It absolutely does. Okay, so there are several more steps here that I definitely want people to be able to get a hold of. You have a URL on your website where people can go for a free download. It’s in the notes, but if you just go to www.launchyourself.today/passion. You will be forwarded right to Terri Cole’s website and you can get the Get Your Passion Back Cheat Sheet.
You definitely want to download that, because you share some really great insights. I really appreciate you sharing your own life experience and all that you’ve learned through not only your education, but your twenty plus years as a therapist and working with couples. I think this is super helpful for people and I’m excited to see how it can benefit people’s lives. Thank you so much Terri.
And thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.
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