Novelty Sparks Passion

I’ve been teaching Gottman to the guys at my internship. At first, I was hesitant to go into a room with 30 men and teach them about relationships.

But I decided to go ahead with it because I’m constantly hearing about baby mama problems, wives being “bitches”, and just general discord between addict and female companion. I was naïve in that I just assumed these guys knew better and just chose not to engage their knowledge about healthy relationships the same way most of them probably knew that heroin was a bad idea.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised when I started teaching Gottman and I pretty much saw 30 minds just explode in front of me. I finished up the managing conflict portion of The Sound Relationship House on Monday and most of them were pretty excited, if not incredibly skeptical about some of the stuff I was teaching them.

Their first concern was that the theory is naturally designed for a couple in couples counseling. I began the group by prefacing that I was aware I was addressing only half of the problem and I knew many of these guys were in relationships in which they felt the other partner was just as messed up as they were. I figured it was better to educate them about a healthy relationship, than to forgo the opportunity all together.

So they ranted and raved about this issue for a while until it was determined that most likely everyone in the room now had the opportunity to change their relationship or for those not coupled, to find a healthy one.

Finally, someone spoke up and said something like, “Jen, this is great and all, but you’re telling us that love is a science. I don’t see anything on here about passion and all the stuff that makes being with someone exciting.”

Touché, my friend. Touché.

My biggest gripe with Gottman is what this guy brought up. I really like his theory and I often use it to understand my own relationship. Unfortunately, Gottman doesn’t directly address the passion issue in his Sound Relationship House. Sure, in the training stuff for counselors he talks about sex and passion and how those things need to be in place and how the Sound Relationship House addresses the underlying issues that may inhibit sex and passion, but he doesn’t make it a focal point and I have a problem with that.

Luckily, I read an article a few weeks ago about the power of novelty in a relationship and how novelty and experiencing new things with your partner builds up that zesty feeling you get when you look at him/her. Seeing your partner in a way you never have before invigorates you and triggers that part in your brain that says, “This person is exciting and interesting!” I reflected that information to the room of guys and they understood. They totally got it.

Then, I read this story, which I also posted on my Facebook. The woman who wrote it described 15 things she had learned in her 15 years of marriage. I liked it because it was real and lined up very much with how I view the future of my relationship. There were two specific things she mentioned that line up with the novelty piece of the puzzle.

1. Get really good at sex.

You’ve got all the time in the world to get really, really good, not just at sex in general, but at having sex with your one particular husband. You should make it your life’s mission to become the perfect sex machine exactly for him. And he for you. There is no reason to hold back, or be embarrassed, or not ask questions and get everything working properly. There’s absolutely no excuse for letting years drag on without becoming fully skilled, gifted sex partners for each other. It makes everything so much better. Does talking about this make you uncomfortable? How uncomfortable would it make you to know that your spouse is secretly, silently “just okay” with your sexual performance? Yeah. You want to last 15 years, remember? That’s a long time to be mildly happy.

2. Move.

Live in different houses. In different parts of the country. Travel. Make it so that you can look back and divide up your life into the years you spent in different cities, or different houses. If you’re feeling stuck geographically or physically, you can confuse yourself into thinking you’re stuck romantically. See your husband in different places, in different contexts, in different countries even. Try it. Take him to a mountaintop and give him another look. Pretty sexy. Take him to a new city and check out his profile. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to change personally, or let your wife change as a person. Don’t worry about “growing apart.” Be brave and evolve. Become completely different. Don’t gather moss. Stagnation is unattractive.

Being open-minded to change and letting new experiences happen are a huge part of making a relationship work in the long term. It’s what creates passion! Our brains are hard-wired to learn and acquire new information. We crave knowing more about our partners and when we do novel activities and have new experiences with our partner, we feel closer to them and we also get to learn more about them. When we have good sex, we facilitate connection with our partner because we release all those brilliant love hormones that facilitate bonding.

One of my greatest fears in my life has been a worry that I’ll wake up one morning and look at my partner and think, “Oh my god, who are you and why am I in this relationship?” I’m personally quite terrified of stagnation and having a relationship that makes me go, “Meh.” In the past, I’ve confused chaos and emotional instability with this need to not feel “meh,” about my relationship. Chaos isn’t necessary to feel passion and invigoration from your relationship – novelty is the answer.

It doesn’t have to be something crazy in the bedroom, it can be traveling, trying new food, trying a new sport or exercise, or just learning something new like how to cook. In another study I read recently, couples actually rated their overall view of their partner and their relationship higher after having to problem solve an obstacle course in which they were Velcroed together. You want to like your partner and feel that zest? Solve a fun problem together.

Since knowing and dating Jesse we’ve traveled to Mexico, L.A., Boston, Seattle, New York, Jamaica, and San Fransisco. We’ve become vegetarians. We’ve moved in together. We’ve gotten a cat together. He’s educated me about music I probably would have never considered before dating and now I really enjoy it. We’ve gone to tons of concerts. He’s helped me start this blog. He’s gotten his master’s degree. I’m getting my master’s degree. He wants to take me camping, which I’m hesitant to do because I like showers and not being bitten by bugs and sweating through the night. He has assured me Washington camping will not be like Florida camping. I’m staying open-minded. He wants us to learn how to sail. We cool new things together. We’ve probably tried 50 new restaurants together. I’ve turned him into a wine enthusiast. He’s taught me about good scotch.

The list goes on and I can honestly say that in each of those moments I learned something about him that I would not have learned if we hadn’t done it together and I liked him just a little bit more. I felt my heart beat a little bit faster when we drove up the PCH for the first time on a foggy May morning to go wine tasting in Sonoma. I was impressed with how calm he stayed as we drove on the edge of a cliff. I was thankful to have him there with me, guiding the way. The first time I visited L.A., Jesse took me on a bike ride to the Santa Monica pier. I felt close to him that day and grateful to have someone in my life who was cool with riding our bikes to the beach. When I brought up being vegetarian, Jesse was open-minded because he knew it was something I was invested in as a lifestyle choice. He was willing to join me.

I don’t worry too much anymore about the whole “Meh,” thing. I’ve got novelty and someone willing to partake in life’s adventure with me. I’ll be just fine.

Sources (1, 2)



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Posted on by Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA Posted in Couples, Mind
Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

About Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

Hi, I’m Jen. I’m a mental health counselor newly residing in Seattle, Washington. I strongly believe in the mind-body connection as the cornerstone of my professional ideology, along with the healing possibilities of puppies, a good glass of red wine, the smell of a new book, and the importance of travel.

  • http://kentuckycupcake.com/ Kalen – Kentucky Cupcake

    Love this! One key thing for me, I think, is that the marital commitment is what pulls me through times of stagnation when traveling/novelty is harder to pull off. I think that’s a problem with marriage today (and relationships in general I suppose) is that the commitment has really become almost a joke. “Unhappy? Leave.” It’s too easy! But with our two babies running around, novelty isn’t as easy to pull off. Sometimes the smallest bits of it help (eating something new for dinner here at the house or even buying some new clothes and trying them on for each other) but the commitment we have for each other will get us through those tougher times, until passion can really be worked on again. Accepting that sometimes things WILL be stagnant and unattractive takes some of the pressure off for us.

    • Jen!

      I agree, Kalen. Marriage is something we’ve all kind of looked at as something in which there is always a way out. In some cases, we shouldn’t be in those relationships, but most of the time it IS about acceptance. It sounds like you guys have a good grip on the whole acceptance piece of where you are at with two kids running around and you recognize that the spark isn’t gone, you have just got a lot of other things in the fire. I’m glad to hear you’re doing the things you need to do to keep it burning and practicing a little self-forgiveness. Things aren’t always perfect in relationships and that’s always important to remember. :)

  • http://twitter.com/PBFingers Julie

    this was SUCH a great post, jen. i totally agree about learning something new together and overcoming obstacles. i remember my boyfriend in high school was reluctant to go on a walk with me one day (“what’s the point?” he said) and it floored me. what do you MEAN!? the point was just getting out of the house and enjoying each other. i wanted a partner that was up for anything and adventurous. it makes life – and relationships – so much more exciting. i’m so happy that you and jesse are doing so well!

    • Jen!

      Thank you, Julie! Yeah, I’ve been with unadventurous types (people who say they don’t like travel… WHAT?!) and have found I enjoy the kinds of people who are down to take a walk. Seems like you and Ryan have adventure down to a science, but not novelty because that would be counter-intuitive ;) , haha. Thanks for commenting! Made my day!

  • Danielle

    If your diploma doesn’t say “Mind Ninja” you need to make your own diploma.

    I’ve really been enjoying your posts. I learn something new every day, not always about myself, but something that makes me go “Aha” and consider other people in my life and what they may be experiencing.

    • Jen!

      Aw, thank you. That made me smile. Maybe I’ll scrawl in “Mind Ninja” underneath. I’m glad you find the things I ramble about here to make sense in your life. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000002461958 Tammy Thornhill Fisher

    Jen, another awesome post! I’m saving this one so I can read it again when I’m healthy enough to be in a relationship. Hopefully I will get there someday.

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