Whether you see it as a sweet excuse for celebration of love or a shameless conspiracy between Hallmark, Godiva, the champagne barons and the red rose mafia, Valentine’s Day is sort of an ink-blot test for relationship. Whatever is working in your life as far as relationship is probably a little more at the surface right now. If you’re not in relationship, you probably sense a little more pressure to get in one. If you are in one, there’s a little more pressure to make it look good.
So to balance out the hype, here are a few morsels of perspective for real people in real relationships, with real issues, real sex, and real love.
In love, the most powerful aphrodisiac behind novelty is trust. Once the pheromone craze of new love starts to invite in the troublesome guests of commitment (of whatever form), living together, sharing money, or other ‘entanglements’, trust becomes the topsoil in which couples grow their sexuality. If I haven’t already landed in your spam bin by using the words ‘aphrodisiac’ and ‘pheromone’, bear with me as I draw out the coy sexiness in this issue of trust.
For many couples, trust doesn’t enter their dialogue until it has been damaged. For others, it exists as an ever-present backdrop in relationship, only to be indirectly addressed by way of agreements around more specific issues like communication, money, and sex.
Because it can’t be bottled, sold, or marketed in the ways sex can, trust hasn’t enjoyed the same celebrity as other components of a thriving relationship.
Often, couples assume that if they can produce passionate sex in their connection, the health of their relationship will follow in-tow. They go about this conjuring - chemically with drugs or supplements, or mechanically with techniques and toys (all of which may have their place) - only to find at some point that they may be over-relying on the aphrodisiac of novelty. So what if passionate sex and relationship health switched positions here? What if we gave trust the limelight usually reserved for sex? Our first gesture could be to trust that our sexual connection will respond to our tending this ground of relational health.
Making Repair, Finding Trust
So how does trust grow in relationship?
First off, it calls for the recognition that you are different people AND that you share a common vision. As partners, you need to see from each other that you hold both of these truths. Moreover, you need to see it in concrete expressions.
It is about creating the experience of safety in each other’s presence. We might think that trust is about the times that we’re apart, when we can’t see what our partner does, who they’re with, where they go… It’s that too, but really it is built when we’re with each other. So much of it happens at a nervous-system level, so no matter what the content of your interactions is, you must learn what shifts each other’s nerves - from meltdown to hunky-dory.
Relationship is a dance of polarity and paradox. That’s what we love and hate about it.
When we resist or dampen the polarity in our relationship, we’re unknowingly squashing the very vitality we then complain is missing. If your connection has ‘gone flat’, look for where you’ve amputated your differences. In order to really see and trust that you’re both “all in”, you need to make space for all of your differences.
Here is an opportunity for repair. Think of one way your partner is different from you, and where you have squashed them for it - trying to make them more organized, less lazy, more into your music, less annoying, more like you….Now you set about crafting the gift of an apology. Apology?! This article was supposed to be about sex, then it ventured off into trust, and now I’m asking you to apologize for something?!
This is a chance to show that you get your lover’s world, so the more specific you can be, the better. And like any true gift, offer it without expectation of anything in return. Bringing repair through genuine apology fosters trust by showing your partner that it is safe for them to be fully themselves with you. As much as we may think we want them to be more like us, novelty is sexy, remember? Nothing is quite as novel as another person being their weird, quirky self.
Finding Presence, Making Love
One common misconception about love is that our relationship should give it to us. In the beginning phase, it seems that life is ready to collude with us on this belief. Once the flow of love in our direction thins out, we might unwittingly eulogize the honeymoon phase with this telltale complaint: “I’m not getting what I need from this relationship.”
What are we willing to give to love, and what does it give us? In this question is a hidden exchange rate we set once relationship gets serious. It ties in with our over-reliance on novelty. If we don’t get enough of the feeling of love in exchange for our efforts to sustain relationship, we threaten to back out of the deal and chase our satisfaction in something new or someone else. This is bad news for trust. But it’s actually possible to cultivate that feeling of love - giving relationship the food of our attention as it feeds us with the buzz of attraction and the sense of deeper purpose.
The good news about novelty is that you don’t need a new lover, a new city, a new car, or a new anything. Mystics the world over have always said that life is renewed in each moment, we just have to climb out of our tired ideas to find the freshness in familiar faces, and the magic of new love. Presence gives us the opportunity for renewed love.
An Exercise in Presence
Ask your partner for a few minutes to just look into each other’s eyes. When you ask, ask for yourself, from your heart - you need this. Being vulnerable enough to acknowledge this to them creates connection, whereas asking like you’re doing them a favor just confuses things. They might even pick up on the hidden strings attached if you feel like they’ll owe you for your well-intentioned relationship trick. Asking your partner for connection gives them the power to meet a need of yours, and this kind of power is sexy.
If they grant your request, look into your partner’s eyes. Actually look. If you’re quiet long enough, this person in front of you becomes once again the mystery who you can love with reckless abandon. This is even more important the more history you accumulate together, and the more you think you know about each other.
As you look at each other, notice as much as you can. Use all your senses. Right before you is a breathing, blinking, heart-beating, feeling person who suffers and loves in ways both similar and different to you. Do you trust them a little more now that you’ve found each other again?
So maybe novelty and trust weave together after all. We call sex “making love”, but isn’t making love a much bigger operation than sex alone? Sure, it’s daunting to follow the trail that making trust leads us down, but there’s more juicy drama in it than that sappy movie you’re probably watching for Valentine’s day. So however you’re making love today, may you find trust and renewal in your connection!