These are questions asked on the front cover of therapist Esther Perel’s book Mating in Captivity. First published in 2006, the book explores the age-old question of how to keep the flame alive in long term, committed relationships.
At first, I thought the title was somewhat deceptive. I expected to read more about studies and theory behind why sex and romance can fizzle out in marriages and other long term commitments. Instead, what we get is a lot of advice and tips drawn from Esther’s practice, using many different case examples.
Definitely there is a lot of good advice here, but the bottom line is to keep something taboo or risqué in the relationship. What exactly that entails will differ from couple to couple. Esther discusses instances where it involved including acting out kinky fantasies, creating scenarios similar to situations a couple was in before getting married/living together long term/having kids (or some combination thereof), even introducing consensual swinging.
Sexless marriages are legend and cause many to fear the institution, and for good reason. Esther talks about how the day to day drudgery of life, being caregivers to young children, and other stages of a committed relationship can sap the energy and eroticism out of the equation. This is not even exclusively the domain of old married couples: It includes gay and lesbian unions, as well as couples that are co-habitating (but not legally married).
Her writing is clear and straight forward, and her objectivity in the subject matter allows her to comment on a variety of situations. She does not judge people who have had clandestine affairs and encourages people to explore their sexuality together. Much of the problems seem to stem from a lack of communication – partners failing to tell each other their needs or to tell each other that they still love and find each other attractive.
Since many of the people who read this website are young women who may be starting out in the world of committed relationships, maybe even involved with their first, Mating in Captivity is a situation where forewarned is forearmed. Now is the time to put into practice communication skills and hone those techniques for keeping things interesting both in and out of the bedroom before things grow stagnant. If the couples who seek Esther’s advice had a reference like this book in the first place, they may have found themselves in bed more rather than on the therapist’s couch.
Mating in Captivity is available for $17 at the Traveling Tickle Trunk.