Relationships are difficult. Sometimes it seems that the more that you care, the more difficult the relationship becomes. The reason that this is so is, because we are driven by two opposing equally strong forces. No wonder we are confused and bewildered.
We are driven equally and oppositely towards selfishness and selflessness. Love creates the conflict as well as the motivation to craft a path through this minefield.
Understanding what drives us (crazy) gives insight and direction on how to proceed towards happiness.
The drive towards selfishness is not hard to understand when looked at in terms of evolution. We are driven to survive as a species. Those ancestors that were not successful at meeting life’s challenges died off young without reproducing and passing on their genes. The instinct for survival is an obvious relic of evolution. This is the drive that is all about taking care of “number one”, this comes into play strongest when ever there is an emergency, or a threat. But milder versions of this powerful drive are manifested in utter selfishness and self absorption. Being aware of your needs and taking care of them is an important survival skill, however becoming obsessed with ones self might assure survival , but does not lead towards happiness.
Opposite to selfishness is selflessness. It is easy to see how this drive arose in our species when you consider what is needed for babies to survive. Human babies are born helpless and require a lot of work. We have the innate drive to take care of them and to sacrifice our own desires in order for them to thrive. Without this care taking drive, we would not have survived as a species. This capacity for care taking and the ability to put ones own need aside is is basic to humanity.
How do these two opposite urges arise in relationships?
We are usually drawn towards someone for selfish reasons. Fun, sexual attraction, enjoyment, admiration are fundamental to initial attraction. But once you are bonded and care deeply, things change. The drive towards fun selfish activities becomes tempered by and occasionally eclipsed by the urge to build a nest, and more altruistic activities. This can become intensified when there are children (puppies, kittens, property or anything that you love that require a lot of energy to take care of). All of a sudden it is no longer effortless to be caught up in romantic eroticism, domesticity rises to the forefront.
How does the conflict between egotism and altruism show up in relationships?
Diminishment of sexual attraction.
This happens when one or both partners get stuck in the homemaking, domestic urge (which is an outcome of the drive to create a “home” for babies). The urge to nest and nurture is natural, and happens when we have met someone for whom we might care enough to settle down with. This can be pleasant, but it is not sexy. The frequency with which it leads to bed death is frustrating and bewildering to the parties involved. It is especially difficult because it strikes couples that are basically compatible and happy.
How to counteract bed death.
Shake things up! This dynamic thrives on stability, domesticity and the habits it supports. This also leads to habitual ways of seeing each other and treating each other. It is important to break familiar patterns. It helps to be in a different environment doing something unusual, away from the usual domestic distractions. Being comfortable together is essential to the longevity of the relationship, but can leads to habitual to no longer being excited (or surprised ) by being together.
This pattern is especially painful when one partner is stuck for a long period in the nesting mode. The other partner is often frustrated and bewildered: “what happened to the fun loving, sexy, person I fell in love with?”