Love’s beginnings are typically hopeful, and yet divorce rates and distressful marriages are up the roof. Therapists offices are full, and couples therapy is increasingly accepted as a normal occurrence in the history of a relationship.

A primary cause of this breakdown of love’s dream is that the needs of long term passionate relationships are paradoxical in nature. While love desires closeness, desire is fanned by distance, and a thriving, passionate, long term relationship wants both love and desire in its mix.

The thrill of newness and novelty makes love exciting, but when the newness turns into familiarity the relationship can feel mundane, and expectations can turn into disappointments. The throes of love are fanned and gradually cooled by repeated closeness. Soon enough the familiarity that love strives for is achieved, but as a result desire begins to wane as it loses the anticipation it once had. As intimacy increases the sense of safety and trust in the relationship increase, but the passion and urgency of longing likely decrease.

Over time relationships can become dull as their spark and novelty fades. Contrary to a common assumption that sexual difficulties stem from the couple not being close, often times the problem is quite the opposite.

The attempt to collapse all the distance, and bridge all the gaps, can lead to airless closeness, which in turn can snuff out desire. Sexual pleasure requires individuals to retain an autonomous sense of self apart from the union of coupledom. A balance of closeness and intimacy, with distance and newness is essential to maintain sexual desire.

The connection between love and desire is complex, and does not have a clear cause and effect pattern. Rather the two aspects of coupledom – love and desire - traverse and effect each other in different, intricate ways, while also being clearly, individually distinct.

A goal of love is to know all aspects of the other, but desire feeds on mystery. Love attempts to close the gap, while that very gap is essential to invigorate desire. The human need for closeness is speckled with the excitement for the unknown. A large distance leads to lack of connection, and on the flip side too much closeness leads to fusion and the loss of the distinctiveness of individuality which is essential for healthy relationships.

Intense emotional and physical closeness is experienced in new relationships when desire is strong and boundaries between the two individuals are still defined. In the early stages of a relationship one does not need to foster individuality because the separateness already exists. It is this very space in a new relationship that allows for the integration of the two worlds.

As the individual worlds are integrated, the separateness is reduced and fusion occurs. Fusion breeds familiarity and comfort, but not desire. Paradoxically, space is needed between the two individuals in order to sustain desire. The ability of individuals to tolerate anxiety that might arise from cultivating a sense of self apart from the partner is essential to nurture their relationship.

A strong and distinct relationship with oneself is essential to the health of the relationship with the partner.

The work of a couples therapist often includes helping the couple to create and sustain the distance that breathes life into their closeness. This is the very distance that during the initial stages of their relationship they worked hard to close.

Author's Bio: 

Founder of, specializing in Couples Retreats and Couples Therapy, Dr. Patel has a Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy, a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a second Masters in Human Development. With over 15 years of psychotherapy experience, and having researched Love in Contemporary Life, and Conflict Resolution in Relationships, she brings this research, insight and experience to her work with couples.

Checkout more about her couples therapy retreats and relationship counseling in orange county, CA