Passion Versus Stability: The Hopefully Never-Ending Battle
My roommate reminded me that I wanted to read Esther Perel's books, Mating in Captivity . I downloaded it last night and was hooked from the beginning. The main question the book tries to answer is how to keep an active passion and sexual desire in the context of a intimate, stable relationship. I'm only a few chapters in, but already it poses some thought provoking material. Of particular note is the interaction between passion and stability in relationships.
Passion being that exhilarating physical and psychological experience often characterized by our wanting to spend every waking minute with our new partner, we can't stop thinking about them, our body feels electric when we are with them and yearns when we are away from them, and we are, for all intents and purposes, "crazy" about them. Because we are getting to know each other, many things about the relationship, our interpersonal interactions, our personalities, our lives, our sexual interests, etc. are all somewhat unpredictable and, because of this, exciting. Perel points out that "eroticism," or sexual passion, "thrives on the unpredictable." That's what makes this time so exciting.
According to popular conceptions, this roller coaster ride has to come to an end at some point. Depending on who you ask, this happens because of the desire for stability, the culmination of built up exhaustion from the passionate ride, the flame dies down, and other reasons. Research suggests that passion is often high in the earlier stages of relationships and "gives way" to a more stable, predictable love. At some point, you start to wonder, "Could this be something more than just having fun?" This provokes questions about commitment, security, and stability in a relationship.
Stability is the physical and psychological experience we have when we feel safe and secure in a relationship because we have built this with our partner. This occurs because we've have spent a significant amount of time getting to know the person, their thoughts and feelings, their habits and proclivities, their routines, etc. Stability comes from knowing and understanding the other person enough to have some trust and predictability about the future of the relationship. We enjoy what we have gotten and want to hold onto it. The comfort that stability brings gives us security in our relationships.
Passion and stability are often assumed to have an indirect relationship with each other: as one goes up the other goes down. The experience of each, to a large degree, is the opposite of the other. This dynamic, as Perel points out, challenges couples to reconcile, "the need for what's safe and predictable with the wish to pursue what's exciting, mysterious, and awe-inspiring."
Perel offers the advice that we need to be able to bring a sense of the unknown into familiar spaces. Despite couples thinking that they know each other very well, this is not always the case. We settle into seeing our partners, literally and metaphorically, in certain ways because it is stable and predictable. However, every once in awhile, we are reminded of who we fell in love with and why. Perel offers a great case example were a wife is watching her husband interact with colleagues across the room and she is reminded of why she fell in love with him in the first place. We get so caught up in the predicability and stability of everyday life that we forget that passion is really just under the surface.
I believe that people tend towards stability in relationships because it is more predictable. With predictability comes the perceived ability to control our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and relationship as a way to avoid hurt, rejection, and vulnerability. There is an assumption that once a significant commitment has been made that all of these things are no longer issues. But, relationships grow because of instability, whether this is inside the relationship or external to it. The experience of instability reignites people's fear as well as the excitement of the unknown. "When we resist the urge to control, when we keep ourselves open, we preserve the possibility of discovery. Eroticism resides in the ambiguous space between anxiety and fascination. We remain interested in our partners: they delight us, and we're drawn to them. But, for many of us, renouncing the illusion of safety, and accepting the reality of our fundamental insecurity, proves to be a difficult step."
The question then is, how do you take that difficult step?