Regardless of whether we prefer monogamous, open, or relationship types that fall somewhere in between, it’s fair to say that most of us seek general commonalities in a relationship. These include a sense of security and belonging, a foundation of mutual adoration for the other’s personality that could potentially evolve into love, physical attraction that makes for a healthy sex life, and shared interests and goals that allow the couple to grow together. These components are essential for the health and longevity of the relationship, and while great sex is possible separate from emotional attraction and security, it would be difficult to build a relationship on this pillar alone.
What happens when two bodies meet who essentially seek the same qualities in a partner, however an experience gap exists in the relationship domain? This is not to say that the emotional stability or general maturity of the less-experienced individual is any lower than the other, but he simply has had few to no relationships to base a preference for interaction off of. How can one really know what he wants without having experienced relevant failure and success?
Have you ever met someone who has seen enormous success in their career and has built a blooming and supportive social/professional network, however they cannot seem to manage an intimate relationship to save their life? Conversely, how about those who filter all their time and energy into their relationships, draining their resources to pursue ambitions separate from their significant others?
We all learn how to manage our relationships at differing speeds, however one variable that plays a significant role in determining our ability to manage both our interpersonal and internal emotions is emotional intelligence. Generally speaking, this includes our ability to recognize our own emotions and those of others, the ability to channel these emotions into problem solving and other tasks, and the ability to regulate these emotions.
In one study published in Personality and Individual Differences, researchers discovered that some invaluable components of emotional intelligence can be taught. More specifically, participants in the emotional intelligence experimental group showed improvement in identifying their feelings and the feelings of others, and managing and controlling their own emotions.
Although varying research and theories speculate about the rigidity of IQ, one thing remains certain; the ability to regulate emotions can be learned.
How can one learn how to regulate interpersonal emotions specific to an intimate partner if he has had no prior experience? Can this type of emotional intelligence only be learned through trial-and-error and reflecting on failed relationships?
Although it seems cliche to make the blanket statement that one learns from every failed relationship, I find this to be mostly accurate. As I have matured in age and relationship experience, I have noticed that my own ability to regulate interpersonal and intimate emotions has evolved. The emotions themselves have not changed, but the stimuli that prompt them have, and in turn, my response to these emotions has changed as well.
I do believe, however, that someone who is less experienced with relationships has the capacity to succeed in a partnership with someone who contrasts this experience. I would attribute this to general interpersonal skills, social intelligence, and recognizing the value of effective and honest communication. Although failure gives us a unique event-specific opportunity to learn, I doubt it is necessary for developing emotional intelligence.
We Become Accustomed to Sex
When we are repeatedly exposed to the same stimuli we produce a very human response – adaptation. It is in our innate nature to learn from past experiences and adapt to prepare for new ones. In some ways we become desensitized to novel experiences, urging us to seek new twists or different versions of these same experiences. Sexual behavior is no exception to this rule.
Many couples experience years of incredible monogamous sexual behavior, during which they undoubtedly employ creative twists and methods to keep their sex lively and interesting. However, most couples experience a decrease in the frequency of sex and sexual interest altogether after the “honeymoon” period is over. Just as good sex (or lack thereof) feeds into holistic relationship health, the slowing of a couple’s sexual habits can take a serious toll.
We Never Become Bored With (Real) Love
While one form of intense obsessive love founded on passion and physical intimacy we sometimes experience toward the beginning of a relationship has no sustainable long-term plan, if we’re lucky, we share common interests, goals, and values on which we can build “companionate love.” According to psychology Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, successful couples stay together by building this kind of love together, which is comprised of intimacy and commitment. If the formation of this love does not supplement the physical intimacy and intense passion experienced during the honeymoon phase, the relationship is likely to fail.
Separating Love and Sex Could Be Beneficial
There is an important distinction to be made between the physical act of sex and sexual intimacy. While intimacy is an emotional state that an individual reserve for one person (a significant other), and sexual intimacy acts as the physical embodiment of the love a couple shares, sex as a physical act can exist separate from intimacy and love.
Although this argument can be used to sway one partner in accepting the terms of an open relationship, what is more useful for the couple is coming to terms with the possibility that their sex life might dwindle. Having an open mind and being prepared to take on new approaches to sex (however these may manifest) in order to keep things exciting might be essential in saving their sex life.
A Word About Open Relationships
One study published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy measured the sexual activity and overall happiness of over 1200 respondents to a poll administered in the US. The findings indicated that non-exclusive couples were not only happier, but maintained better health, had more sex (obviously), and were more likely to get tested for STIs on a frequent basis.
However, having an open relationship is not necessarily the only answer to a couple’s sexual creativity. Staging surprise scenes, incorporating toy play, and choosing unusual places to hook up can also prove beneficial.