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Do you understand the push-pull phenomenon that drives most relationships? Do you even know what side you’re on? This basic principle in the dance of intimacy can sometimes feel like a strategy game, but in long term relationships can also become a dangerous pattern that drives lovers apart. Here are some ideas to begin to relate to the pendulum swings and follow your heart to balance in love.

We all remember the late evening strategy sessions with friends, the endless tracking of who called first, the weighing in of when it was ok to call back, what could you do or say to show you were interested but not too interested. This balancing act that characterizes most early dating scenes and not just in high school, often evolves into romantic patterns that plague many ongoing relationships.

In my own marriage, we suffered through years of what often becomes one of the most hurtful and significant battles in a relationship- the initiation question. On the surface, the question is playful- “How about a date tonight?” or “Have any plans around midnight?” But when the requests come continuously from one partner and are rebuffed continuously by the other partner, the question is no longer playful, and the responses begin to reflect all that remains unsaid.

Feeling wanted sexually carries so many meanings, and has a great deal of emotional baggage attached, a lot of it unspoken even to ourselves. The weight of these unspoken messages can start to feel like there is an invisible third person at the party. Shame of rejection is not a lot easier to bear than the shame of chronic lack of desire. We all know this story in some form, and we continue to analyze it, trying to determine responsibility, placing blame is the easiest way to find a way to live with the pain of unrequited desire.

The first thing that helps to stop this cycle is to identify it. Find a neutral time to bring up the topic and agree to look at the issue from a distance, almost as though you were talking about people you both knew. This can be difficult to do, especially if the conversation is overdue. The moment you can both see the patterns that your intimacy falls into, there is a peace that comes from not being alone with it. This doesn’t solve the problem, but it allows you to create a new relationship to it- one of witness and investigation rolled into one- it makes you take the time to learn to separate your feelings from the event.

Once you have both seen the issue from both sides, slowly you can unpack your feelings and start to see, what it means to you and to your partner to be sexually desired, as well as to feel sexual desire. It is really important to keep these discussions in the present tense. Don’t be tempted to justify your behavior and feelings from before, because that will remove the possibility of healing the moment- and keep in mind, by healing the present moment, you automatically heal the past.

This is not a quick fix solution and it doesn’t alleviate the push/ pull roller coaster of living in a relationship, but by working to take out the sting and pain of rejection, abandonment and whatever else has been attached to these swings, you allow yourself the joy of exploring them.

Twenty two years later, my husband and I still pass the weight of relating and intimacy back and forth, on a squeaky but functional pulley that we have both come to understand and appreciate. It’s a relief now that we have the freedom to invite an interlude without the fear that saying no will start another battle. Allowing yourself and your partner this freedom is a gift that will repay you many times over in discovering the joy and spontaneity of taking turns.