Today, we’re talking about a very common problem within relationships, especially ones that have past that infatuation period of “falling” for your partner. The problem we’re talking about is the dreaded happening of “losing yourself” in a relationship, which happens sometime after the roses and butterflies have worn off, maybe shortly after you’ve said I DO or after children have become part of your daily landscape – or, maybe you’ve just been together a long time. The honeymoon phase lasts from roughly 6 months to 2 years, give or take. We all know this lovely stage- you’re in a somewhat constant state of euphoria in relation to your lover. This stage actually has a real name, called limerence – defined as the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship. This period of the relationship is likely when you’re at your best – you’re on your best behavior, you might be looking your best, dressing your best, you might be totally in your element – feeding your mind, body, and soul what it needs to be an amazing human being. This is hot.
Let’s fast forward to what happens after limerence has worn off and now you’ve settled into the bottomless pit of tolerating. What your life now looks like is a collection of choices and decisions over time that have slowly stripped you of a life filled with joy, passion, purpose, and contentment. Everyone wants a life with these things in it, even if they say it’s not a priority it’s probably because they were told at some point in their lives that those things were frivolous, unnecessary, or selfish. You’ve tolerated innumerable things in your life that feel dull, boring, obligatory, and probably very irritating, many of which resulted from mental programming that was passed on to you from your parents, your spiritual/religious beliefs, the cultural script influencing you how to “do” your gender, and many other factors.
It’s not that you’ve made these choices on purpose or with conscious recognition of what you were doing, you just didn’t realize that over time all of these tacit choices would compound and leave you with a feeling of numbness and emptiness inside. Let’s be very clear here – there is a difference in being alive and not being dead. Which one are you?
You might recognize what I mean if I ask you a few questions. How often do you put other people’s needs ahead of your own even when you’re desperately needing something from them? How much and how frequently do you invest in your mind by reading, studying, and learning? How much do you assert yourself when asking for something you want? Do you even ask for your emotional or physical needs to be met in your relationship? Are your requests more practical and functional, like asking for help with the dishes and running errands, or are they self-loving requests, like asking for a massage or time alone for a hot bath. Maybe you’ve been asking for these things, but either you’re not being clear enough in your requests or your partner has dismissed them. It could be both. If that’s the case my dear, do them anyway. I’ll talk more about how to navigate this a little later.
If this sounds all too familiar, but it doesn’t describe you per say, it describes suspictions you have about how your partner is living, I’d like to re-examine your perspective for a quick minute before we move forward. When one person has lost themselves in a relationship, it’s more than likely that the other person has too, to some extent. Oftentimes one has disconnected to a greater degree than the other, but how each person is living has a direct affect on the other because you are both co-creating the circumstances of your relationship. Whoever takes the initiative to get back in alignment with themselves, their best selves, really gives the other person permission to do the same.
So I’m here with my husband, Aaron, we’ve been together just under 10 years. We got married at the 2 year mark while I was finishing my undergrad in gender studies. And you’d better believe that all my studying about race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and similar social structures had an impact on our relationship. Boy did it ever. We had some firey conversations, sometimes verging on arguments, about our differences in worldviews.
But over time, we’ve educated ourselves a whole lot more, and have learned better ways to communicate and listen to each other. He and I came from very different backgrounds so our expectations about married life and couplehood were really different. He came from a very conservative world and I came from a family of straight up heathens; his parents have been married for 40 years, mine got divorced when I was 5 because my dad was a freakin sociopath; his parents raised him in the church, I church hopped because I didn’t feel accepted and had a hard time making sense of certain teachings. And basically he had a pretty stable and predictable life, while we had a lot of instability because my dad was abusive and there was a lot of trauma in my childhood. All these factors influenced our inability to get on the same page and communicate effectively and compassionately. For one thing, he didn’t see value in me wanting to go have adventures and live life. He didn’t understand where I was coming from. As much fucked up stuff as there was in my youth, my mother encouraged us to explore our creative side and enjoy getting lost in our imaginations. I had 4 other siblings that were just like me and understood the value in being weird and playful. But because I had internalized my external circumstances as being an indicator of my self-worth, I had waayyy more flexible boundaries than he did when it came to asserting my wishes and opinions. And because of that, I found a comfortable place living in his shadow and letting him call the shots.
I know all too well about this subject because I lost myself in my marriage more than once and I will be damned if I let it happen again.
It requires regular maintenance once you get it back. Really it has to be a daily practice to stay in tune with yourself, otherwise inch by inch, day by day, you might find yourself drifting especially if your external circumstances change or your internal mental state starts to take a dive.
Absolutely, it’s a process to get back, it really doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, we usually don’t recognize it day to day, but you do in hindsight. We have an innate longing to belong and fit in, and to be a part of a tribe or community even if that tribe is a couple. It’s easier to go along with the inertia of a relationship than to make waves. It feels as though it’s in the benefit of the relationship to go along with what your partner wants, but what’s really happening is the dissolution of a dream.
You get so focused on what the other person is doing- are they happy? Do they look miserable? You start putting so much attention on how the other person is doing that you lose focus on yourself. It starts to feel as though the status and happiness of the relationship is dependent on one person and the other person is constantly trying to fix that and mitigate any factors that might make it worse, as though they’re the one who can fix it when they’re really not. All that effort spent worrying about how they’re doing is exhausting and instead it could be channeled back into you to make yourself happy again.
As the person who had all the spotlight on me for a while, I was thinking, back the fuck off – That’s kind of how it made me feel, like, stop looking to me for signs to gauge whether I’m okay or how happy I am, like, leave me the fuck alone. It’s a lot of pressure because if you have a dip in your emotions or you start to feel shitty or start to feel bad, then the other person comes across as weak and unstable – the person who’s constantly checking in – are you ok? Are you ok? I know this because I used to do that to you, when the roles were reversed. Because I was constantly trying to take the temperature of how our relationship was by checking in and saying, how are you feeling? What’s wrong babe? Following you around the house or whatever after an argument. It really destabilizes things even worse when the other person is doing that. If you could leave the person alone, give them some space, and shift your focus onto how you’re doing then it would really take a lot of pressure off the other person.
That’s where people get confused. They think that being focused on themselves is selfish, worrying about their own happiness is selfish. But I think this is becoming a more common concept with all the famous people talking about it- you know, this idea of self-love, filling your cup before you try to fill someone else’s.
It’s contagious and it starts to rub off. And if the other person isn’t ready to be in a good mood, just give them some distance and they’ll come around. You can be supportive and communicate that you want them to take more time for themselves and feel okay asking for what they want, but ultimately it’s not your responsibility to make someone happy. Those are issues they’re dealing with internally so before external changes can take place, an internal shift needs to take place.
Let’s talk about how this affects a couple’s sex life.
A lot of times a woman loses herself because of the domestic roles she’s taken on- the role of wife, mother, caretaker. These are inherently not sexy roles. It’s not that you don’t find love in these roles. It’s that a woman’s sexual nature resides in her womanhood, in being a lover, not in looking after another person. These are the identities where she gets lost, where she becomes disconnected from herself as a woman. When you’re constantly worried about someone else’s needs, whether they’re fed, if they’re safe, if they’re happy, all these things just take, take, take. They don’t fill her cup back up with a strong, robust sexuality. In its very nature, sexuality demands a healthy sense of entitlement- feeling that you have the right to ask for pleasure for no other reason than just because you want it. And women in this position often oblige their partner’s sexual advances out of a sense of duty, he becomes one more person that she is looking after, this time in the bedroom. She’s not doing it because she wants to, she’s doing it because she’s putting his needs above her own. And many times if she does have an itch to scratch, she doesn’t vocalize it because she knows there’s usually an expectation that she will have to give something in return. If she wants a massage because it will feel good to her body, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she wants to have sex along with it. But unless you’ve both established a precedent saying these 2 events are not necessarily mutually exclusive, she’s going to continue keeping her wishes to herself.
It’s important to have some ruthlessness and a healthy balance of selfishness in sex to give it that spark. The fire of sex comes from a sense of feeling as though you have to have someone, and just as important is being on the receiving end of that.
We want to feel as though our sexual allure is so powerful that this person simply cannot resist us.
When your partner can see that you have a healthy sense of entitlement and can assert yourself enough to where they don’t have to feel 100% responsible for your pleasure and orgasm, then it makes the experience much more enjoyable for both people. It takes the pressure off everyone.
If it’s so off balance that your partner doesn’t even know how to semi-enjoy sex without being so completely in their heads, then you can always check out orgasmic meditation. If you practice this at least for a couple months on a regular basis, then it can start to recondition both of you to stop focusing so much on the man’s orgasm and more on her pleasure- especially because orgasm and outcomes are taken off the table completely with this practice. It’s all about rubbing her clit, seeing how much pressure she likes, and reviving her dulled sexual sensations in her genitals. And ps, it’s fucking hot.
Also, when you start to think that your partner is guaranteed to be yours indefinitely, there’s no sizzle, there’s no bridge to cross, there’s no space to find that person, to seek and to find them. A lot of the sexual appeal from a new relationship comes from not knowing what that person is thinking and what they mean to you. When the other person has enough of a separate life going for them, it’s more interesting to be with them because you get to feel privileged enough to be a part of their world, and that’s sexy.
So if you’re the one who is lost, you are on a long journey my friend, really it’s one that continues for your whole life, but there are things you can do in the immediate future to start navigating back to a better place. For starters, you need to get happy now. Don’t wait until you’ve accomplished a full list of things to feel this way because the reason you’re doing all those things is to be happy. You can be happy now without a 180 in your relationship. Think about 3 easy, simple, cheap ways you can do something nice for yourself now. That could be to make plans with a friend, or go get a massage, or go take a dance class. Ok, those are all my ideas of a good time, but maybe for you it’s just some time alone with yourself. Carve out a little time for yourself every day to do some self-care so that you like what you see in the mirror, whatever makes you feel more comfortable in your own skin. Secondly, talk to a handful of people in your life who love you unconditionally, and ask them what makes you so uniquely you – what do they think are your best qualities and what do they think are your gifts to the world. You’ll probably see some trends in their responses. Then ask yourself, what do you want to be known for – I’m talking about character traits – resilience, thoughtfulness, kindness, fearlessness, accepting, and so on. We could take hours upon hours to go into more detail about how to manage your self-care and self-love practices, but we’ll cover those in more detail another day. But the last couple points I want to touch on are self-exploration and recognizing your limiting beliefs. Most people don’t spend much time getting to know themselves, because well, they think they already do. But that’s where they’re wrong, you have no idea how broad your scope is until you get out of your bubble and start doing shit that scares you. I have seen true courage in the hearts of my fellow improv students and Toastmasters. I’ve met people with severe social anxiety who stood up on stage in front of a crowd of people and gave an improv show or made a speech. It was amazing! It’s probably the equivalent of standing on stage naked. The key is to realize that people don’t give a shit as much as you think they do. I heard Tim Ferris say once that you’re never as good as they say you are, and you’re never as bad as they say you are either. But if you’re not quite there yet, at the very least go do something off your bucket list, or a more tame version of it.
This life is not a dress rehearsal people, this is it, so are you going to make it count? When you’re 70 or 80, don’t you want to look back at your life and have one hell of a story? If someone else read your life story to you, would you want to stick around and listen to it? I mentioned limiting beliefs before because we all have them, they are those little gremlins in your head that give you a reason why your dreams are stupid. Well, it’s time you tell them to shut the fuck up. I’m serious though. What if all the reasons you ever thought you shouldn’t try something were completely arbitrary and that you could change the mental programming in your head? A belief is just a thought we repeat over and over, and our beliefs are malleable. You can pick and choose which thoughts and beliefs are not serving you and replace them with ones that enhance your quality of life. I’m going to replace one of yours right now – I hear people say all the time that marriage is hard work or relationships are hard work. Forget that. Instead, replace it with: I love my partner and that’s why I make intentional efforts to keep it alive and thriving. See the difference there? Major difference. It feels so much better to say that.
Be patient, there is hope, it’s not an overnight fix. It’s a process. But the biggest takeaway is, focus on what you can do for yourself to get yourself more in touch with you, to make sure that you have more to offer for your partner. And secondly, do as much as you can to take off what’s putting on their sexual brakes.
That’s it for today everyone, let me know if you have any questions about the episode. DM me on Instagram, and stay tuned for next episode which is going to be our sexy story of the week.
Thanks for listening to, F*ck Like a Woman. If you have a juicy sex story that you want featured anonymously on the podcast, email it to email@example.com. And if you like this podcast and want to show some love, leave a review on iTunes and make sure to subscribe to the show to stay current on new episodes. For more information, visit fcklikeawoman.com (that’s F-C-K like a woman dot com).