Intimacy, Chemistry and the Power of Imagination
How to balance the conflicting forces of desire and security in marriage.
“It is our imagination which is responsible for love, not the other person.” – Marcel Proust
Esther Perel, a popular marriage therapist, is well known for her ability to rekindle love amongst even the most challenging of relationships.
She suggests that imagination is a strong tool that can repair and sustain relationships. She spent years exploring the tension between every person’s need for security and freedom, within the framework of a marriage.
Security and freedom are two desirable characteristics within a relationship that often clash. We crave security, but it squelches desire. Freedom, on the other hand, is the space to feel alive.
Today, we expect our spouse to wear many hats. We desire love – which offers security, stability, comfort. Simultaneously we crave romance which provides novelty, excitement and vigor. This creates a burden; often a person who is dependable and provides stability in our lives is not usually overly exciting, vigorous or romantic.
How do we bridge the gap between the need for love, which is sometimes boring and requires endless giving, and the desire for romance, which lends itself to spontaneity, creativity and surprise?
Perel believes imagination is that bridge and it is precisely there that desire can grow and rekindle intimacy.
Perel asked couples in twenty different countries the following question: When do you find yourself most drawn to your partner?
A few answers kept surfacing, irrespective of religion, culture, or gender.
The first group of answers shared a theme of distance. For example, “I am most drawn to my partner when she is away, when we are apart, and then when we reunite.”
When our partner is not physically present or available, a space is formed for imagination to flourish. When either spouse gets in touch with the ability to imagine him or herself with the partner, desire can rekindle.
Perel relayed in a recent TED Talk, “When imagination comes back in the picture, and a couple can root it in absence and in longing, the flames of desire can grow. Space, or distance, is the oxygen to that fire.”
The second most common answer had to do with self-sufficiency. Some answers participants shared:
“When my partner is radiant and self-sustaining.”
“When I’m looking at my partner from a comfortable distance.”
“Watching her doing something she is passionate about. Seeing her in her element and succeeding, like on stage or performing.”
Perel explains, “Here again, the partner seems somewhat elusive and distant in this space, and the imagination can spark.”
This group of answers emphasizes self-sufficiency. There is no neediness, and the partner is capable, strong, and self-reliant. Perel explains that caretaking undermines romance, and is a powerful anti-aphrodisiac.
The third type of answer contained elements of surprise and novelty.
“When he surprises me.
“When we laugh together.”
“When we share an experience that is new or exotic.”
When vacationing to a foreign destination, every part of the experience can become an adventure, and the senses, especially visually, are enticed. That same vacation, the fourth time around, won’t elicit the same pleasure.
The common thread amongst these answers is the power that imagination holds in our relationships. When we are apart from our spouse, when he or she seems confident and capable, and when there is novelty present, our imagination lights up, which enhances pleasure.
The Torah gives us a framework for creating positive distance and cultivating imagination within a marriage: the laws of family purity. Short term separation during the menstruation cycle provides oxygen to the flame of intimacy and allows for a renewed excitement every month.
This monthly distance space, as Perel suggests, sparks imagination and rekindles chemistry and desire between spouses, leading to an enhanced monthly reunion within marriage.
Too much of anything physical can actually create discomfort. A delectable dessert can increase joy, but eating the same dessert every night will eventually become monotonous, even nauseating. Everything, including physical intimacy, is best enjoyed within measure; when we temporarily abstain from something physical, it gives our minds time to process, imagine, and crave again.
After experiencing space, a couple reunites and both romance and love become enhanced.
Distance can rebuild the imagination serving as a powerful tool that can be utilized to build closeness in any relationship.