Here comes the rub for committed couples: we have a cultural norm that says when you say “I do,” culture also wants you to say “I don’t (feel sexual attraction for others).” But you do! And when you suppress your sex drive and try to be something you’re not, you begin to resent your man. You may sneak around behind your partner’s back or kill your own sex drive totally.
What is confusing about all of this? What your sexual trifecta is telling you is not wrong. It’s what you do with these conflicting feelings that gets you into trouble. Dr. Fisher theorizes that the growth of the prefrontal cortex (the seat of executive functioning and decision making in the brain), developed in humans to manage the the tension between our need to develop long-term intimate relationships (love and commitment) and our sex drive.
You have decisions to make when your lust is driving in a different direction than your committed relationship. Betraying your partner’s trust with an affair will harm your relationship. Don’t fool yourself here. Somebody is going to get hurt. Killing your sex drive won’t work either. You are going to miss out on a wonderful part of your bond and it will probably poison other parts of your relationship, too. Sex is about more than an orgasm. It is about conveying acceptance, showing your vulnerability, having fun and being creative with your man and refreshing your relationship with novelty and play.
Just like anything in life, there is more than one way to satisfy your urges. The easy answer to bringing a little variety and spice into your life is a new love interest. Remember what it was like when you first fell in love? This is your sex drive talking to you. Committed couples who report a happy sex life for decades are able to balance their need for love and commitment with their sex drive by channeling their urges for variety, spice, and novelty with sexual versatility. Opening up your sex life to playful adventure gives an outlet to your biological needs called the sexual trifecta. It opens up a constructive roadmap in your relationship instead of leaving a path of destruction.
So what do you do with this demanding sex drive that seems to have a mind of its own? Where you can get into trouble is what you do in response to your lust. For example, if you make your man feel less attractive by checking out another guy’s body on the beach then it could hurt his feelings, especially if he feels supplanted. But, if your attraction to another doesn’t make him feel threatened and it heats up things sexually between the two of you, then your sex drive has done its job.
So here is the secret! The sex drive is stimulated and motivated by novelty. If you have sexual versatility with your man and the two of you are willing to bring novelty into your sexual relationship in the form of play and fantasy, then it won’t threaten your intimacy. In fact, it will enhance it. Your sexual trifecta can live in harmony inside your relationship with your man. You can feel comfort and security that love and commitment brings, but it can also be refreshed by recapturing that lust that you felt at the beginning of your relationship.
For the committed couple, the sex drive doesn’t have to work in opposition to your love and commitment. How well love, commitment and lust work together has a lot to do with your upbringing, sexual experiences and expectations. It is normal to be attracted to other people but when we start to heap shame onto those urges, then it can affect your relationship. It is human biology, but what you do in response to your urges is in your control.
Julie Elledge, Ph.D., LMFT is the co-author of the Lovers Exploration Guide, Developing an Intimate-Erotic Connection that is part of the Videos for Lovers series. She and Dr. Hicks teach their theory and treatment model through Academic Alley, a APA and CA BBS approved provider of continuing education units for mental health professionals.