Tending The Garden of Passion
Cultivating a Romantic Relationship
As spring approaches we are surrounded by rebirth, newness and creation. Gardens demand our attention, clearing out the old and anticipating the new, nourishing the ground and planning for what kinds of exciting plants we want to try out this year. We could also see our relationships like a garden, using the energy of the Spring to inspire excitement in also renewing the passion in our relationship.
We can start with the question: “What do we want to cultivate in a relationship?” The answers to this question are varied and often include nourishing a sense of safety, stability, closeness, understanding, and openness. All of these qualities can lead to nesting, merging lives, and to trusting that we can be ourselves without fear of judgment or of being abandoned. Thus predictability is born that enables us to make decisions that nurture the growth of our relationship- to carry a mortgage and even have children together. But those virtuous qualities, once in blossom, can also crowd out the passion. Passion thrives in a different environment. It loves excitement, adventure, mystery and even a little bit of risk. If you are in a relationship with a deep love, respect and commitment to each other but lacking in sexual connection, you are not alone. Many couples fall into the beautiful place of love but this perfect garden sometimes stifles the wilder plants of passion.
Initial Buds of a Relationship: Novelty and the excitement of the unknown are generally what makes a new relationship so alive and fills the first 12 to 36 months with anticipation and lust for each other. As the garden matures, the predictability that we so earnestly cultivated may feel boring, closeness can become claustrophobic, and commitment may start to feel like a ball and chain.
The ensuing question then is how to keep our relationship stable and stress-free while fostering the passion. Esther Perel outlines and answers this question in her book “Mating in Captivity”.
Don’t be each other’s best friend: We need to maintain our individuality. We are not going to always want to pursue exactly the same things in the same ways as each other. We need to tend to our own garden and to nourish each other’s individuality by having other friends, other interests, and time away from each other so that we long to be together again. Many extol the beauty of their relationship by proudly proclaiming that they are each other’s best friend. This goal however creates an impossible expectation for one person to fill and creates a stifling of our own growth independently. Instead we need to cultivate our own garden of interests and friends so that we can bring more dynamism and interesting new plantings in the garden of the relationship.
Give each other some air: Give each other the freedom to explore and tend to individual needs outside of the relationship. This may be taking a course, going out with friends or learning about our sexual desires. We need to feel the freedom to fantasize beyond the confines of the relationship. This is not to suggest opening up the relationship or having affairs. What it means is that we should not feel guilty that we have other fantasies or be offended by our partner’s desires. And we don’t need to know all of the details of each other’s thoughts. Allow some privacy, some mystery about who you are. Allow yourself to dream in private, to use the bathroom in private, to be sexual in private. Uncensored honesty without privacy acts like a wet blanket and can even destroy some of the stability and intimacy you have worked so hard to build. Passion, like fire, needs air and space to grow, in addition to attention to the connection.
Make it Happen: Don’t take for granted that passion will surface all on its own. Think about the effort that you put into your first dates- dressing up, attention to your needs and your partner’s requests, surprise activities, clothes and toys. Think of your partner but also consider yourself. While commitment is egalitarian and considers all parties equally, desire is a little more selfish and primal. Especially if you are not usually the initiator, take matters into your own hands to create your pleasure and feed your passion. Chances are that cultivating the garden will feed not only your own fire but also those of your partner and the relationship as a whole.
Start a conversation with yourself and each other. Just as you take care of the garden, tend to your relationship to allow it to grow into the passion that you once had- get rid of the weeds of resentment and anger, water it with love and openness, and fertilize it with a little daring, a hint of mystery and your own individual growth. Like a garden it takes time, but the buds and sprouts emerge quickly, which rewards our efforts with inspiration, hope, satisfaction, and excited anticipation of the full blooms yet to come.