The fabric of dating and intimate relationships has changed in recent years as a result of the increase of social media, dating and matching apps and websites, and reality TV shows focused on dating, relationships, and marriage. Additionally, these outlets typically push the notion that people can and should dive straight into the romantic and/or sexual elements of a relationship without first knowing each other on a level of friendship or companionship. This approach creates an expectation of ongoing high-intensity romance, sexual drive, and heated passion from their relationships. The problem with this approach is that it’s not a realistic or healthy way of starting or maintaining a relationship. Let’s take a look at one of the reasons why this is the case.
We physically can’t keep up.
When we first enter into a relationship, we are impacted on a biological and chemical level. In any new relationship, our brains elevate the level of dopamine produced. Dopamine is the “pleasure” or “feel-good” chemical, and it is released when we experience something enjoyable, such as eating good food, doing a fun activity, or engaging in a new and exciting relationship. Adrenaline also increases when we spend time with or think about the new person in our lives. Finally, serotonin, a hormone that serves as a mood stabilizer in the brain, decreases, and this decrease allows for an increased sexual libido.
This combination of activity creates hormonal “fireworks” going off in the body. Interestingly, the brain’s response to a new relationship feels very similar to the feeling of being “high” due to the similarities the brain experiences when under the influence of cocaine (this is one reason for why affairs and cycles of breakups happen – people crave the “high” that they are no longer getting from their current relationship, and they seek to find the high again in a new relationship).
As you can imagine, this explosion and shift in brain activity is exhilarating at first, but it becomes exhausting long-term. Our brains and bodies are not designed to maintain this state, and the body (again, similarly to the use of cocaine) increases its tolerance. Over time, the new and exciting relationship becomes less exciting and less novel, and our hormones and chemicals return to a normal state. This is a healthy and good progression – if this did not happen, a number of problems would ensue: serotonin that stays too low for too long leads to depression, and we would be physically and emotionally fried if we kept up a constant state of adrenaline-pumping romance. Additionally, a return to a balanced state allows for connection on a different and deeper level in a relationship.
Key ingredients to a long-lasting relationship are forgone.
Sustainable and happy relationships require more than romance and sex. If red-hot passion and sexual drive are the only motivators and components in a relationship, then the relationship will surely fail. A successful relationship requires emotional vulnerability, connection, communication, and companionship.
A close friendship and companionship with a partner, unlike a purely sexual relationship, is enduring, safe, relaxing, and deeply enjoyable, which allows it to last. Further, people who value their partners not just as their lovers or sexual partners but also as their friends can endure conflict and negative experiences with their partners more healthily than people who are solely involved for sexual or romantic elements.
Friendship doesn’t kill romance; it builds it.
As mentioned, safety is key in any long-term relationship. Feeling emotionally and physically safe with one’s partner increases the likelihood of romantic and sexual connection. Consider this: if you did not feel comfortable or safe with another person, would you want to have sex with them? The answer is likely “no.” Many people, particularly females, find difficulty becoming sexually aroused or desirous if they do not feel loved, cared for, or supported by their partner. It has been found in more recent research, including by Rosemary Basson, that women experience increased sexual desire when they feel soothed, relaxed, and secure. In other words, when they are in a relationship that consists of deep friendship and companionship – not purely sexual lovers – their desire for their partner increases.
Much of the work done in relationship/couples counseling and sex therapy includes restructuring and building safety, communication, and connection on non-physical, non-sensual, and non-sexual levels. No sex therapy can effectively take place until the foundational non-sexual elements of a relationship are solid. Encouraging heated sexual dynamics in a relationship without ensuring there is a grounding friendship attached to it would be like putting a kettle on a boiler without any water – it may get hot, but ultimately, it’s dangerous and will cause great damage and harm.
We at Get Centered are here to support you and your relationship. If you are considering counseling services, please reach out to us, and we can guide you in taking steps towards maintaining a healthy relationship or healing it. Making the choice to participate in counseling is an important one. For this reason, Get Centered offers complimentary 15-minute phone consultations before scheduling to answer your questions and prepare you for what to expect on your counseling journey. We hope to hear from you and look forward to joining you on your path to wellness!