Can a Marriage Have Both, Love AND Desire?

By Audrey van Petegem, Chief Editor

Audrey & Scott, happily married for 26 years

Audrey & Scott, happily married for 26 years

I was recently on a short flight from Toronto to Chicago and sat beside a gentleman from France. I normally have casual chats with the person sitting beside me that either end as quickly as they start or we find a common interest and talk the whole flight.

This chance encounter was different. I do need to preface this post with the fact the I have been happily married to the same man for almost 27 years.

This man ignited something in me that has left me seeing myself in a very different way. In the one and half hour flight we felt intense attraction for each other. Here was this man who was flirting with me and making me feel wonderful about myself. It was neither sleazy nor lewd. He boosted my confidence. He made me feel wanted, not needed. I felt ageless, desirable and worthy of attention. It was quite honestly the most surreal situation of my life.

After I deplaned, I sat in the airport wondering what had just happened. Did I mention that I am very happy in my marriage? I love my husband but I am understanding that desire has nothing to do with love. Desire is about adventure, mystery and the unknown. Love is about security, safety and dependability; everything a marriage is about. I realized that our desire for each other had fizzled and in its place was familiarity and companionship.

Esther Perel, a sex therapist, has addressed this exact topic in a TEDtv session. In this timely video she discusses how difficult it is to have desire in a long term relationship. In her studies that have spanned the globe she has noticed three commonalities in keeping the marital flame burning.

They are:

1) Distance makes the heart grow fonder: It is true that when we are away from our partner and we reunite we feel that desire for each other. When I am away, my husband and I seldom talk and I wonder if this helps. He deals with all the daily issues and does not entwine me in them. The same when he is away. When I return my mind is clear without being dragged into the daily responsibilities. He and I can embrace and connect and I can be welcomed home.

2) There is a reason we get crushes on Rock Stars: When we see our significant other in their element; whether on stage or just across the room at a cocktail party engaging people, we feel proud that they are ours. What is more hot than seeing your spouse confident and in charge.

3) Vacations are a must: Responsibility and desire to not go well together. There is no room for neediness to feel desirable. When you can laugh together and be playful that reignites the desire in each other.

Below is Esther Perel's talk on TEDtv:

Esther states: “We think love comes with selflessness and in fact desire comes with a certain amount of selfishness in the best sense of the word: the ability to stay connected to one's self in the presence of another.

I realized that this man on the plane helped me see that I am an erotic, sexual being and that I am desirable. When my husband and I first met he had the same affect on me. It is much easier to feel sexy and hot when you are young and in a new relationship. Now, to bring back desire into my marriage I need to explore my own desire for my 50 year old self first.

I have shared this video with my husband. We have a lot to discuss but when I came home from my trip I can honestly tell you that I felt true desire for him.


Enjoyed this post?
Subscribe to receive our latest serendipitous lifestyle finds right in your mailbox. 

19 Responses to Can a Marriage Have Both, Love AND Desire?

  1. Susan says:

    Wow, I’m torn between feeling envious and wishing something like that would happen to me (so that I can enjoy the same feelings you describe) and feeling alarmed that if it did happen, I might begin to doubt my relationship with my own husband, which I would describe as loving and happy. I don’t want anything to challenge that, yet it sure would be nice to feel attractive to a stranger. It’s been a while! Great thought-evoking article!

    • Audrey says:

      Susan, I feel you hit a very valid point. If my marriage was not strong, full of love and mutual respect I could see how this could have lead to something else. What happened because of this was for me to look at myself differently and to grow from this experience.

  2. Carol says:

    I love the honesty of this post and the strength of your marriage that you could have this discussion with your husband.

    I do think it’s a challenge to be with someone a very long time–my husband and I were divorced from each other for 27 years and reconciled after that long separation and other relationships. That long break allowed us to see each other anew.

    This has been a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time and it’s still steeping, cogitating etc. So I don’t feel that I have an answer, but I think this is the most thought-provoking question I’ve heard lately.

    • Audrey says:

      Carol, If we lived in the same area, I would love to talk to you about this over a cup of coffee. It is nice to know I am not alone in my struggle to feel desirable as I age. Please keep me posted!

  3. Anne (@notasupermom) says:

    Very interesting. I want to show this to my husband and talk about it with him.

  4. Holly says:

    Great article Audrey. I am working on an article on a related subject matter (look for my post sometime this weekend).

    I am happy that you got the opportunity to see your desireable-self through the eyes of someone else. Sometimes that is needed to remind us that we are desirable & sexy no matter what our age. An interesting thing happens when we experience this…we ‘feel’ desirable and sexy, and our spouses (or significant others) can pick up on this. They may not even know what seems changed about you. I have had my husband ask me if I got a hair cut? New outfit? Something seems different. He doesn’t know what it is but he likes it.

    So I am happy that you had this experience, while still being a ‘happily married woman’.


  5. Neil Boyle says:

    Audrey as a favourite friend of mine I was engrossed by your story. Having just separated and divorcing and dating for the first time in over 19 years I read this from 2 perspectives, from within my ending 12-year marriage and now within a dating situation. I never lost my desire but I know that taking each other for granted and losing that feeling of the spouse as your ‘champion’ was critical. I don’t think men and women are very different in terms of what we crave in a relationship. But as individuals we all differ greatly in terms of how we communicate and what we ultimately want to accomplish in our lives and as an older dater those factors will weigh heavily in the equation, not just physical attraction and an easy connection. And it IS exciting being with new people and discovering that sex at 50 is intense and romantic and powerful!!!!

    • Audrey says:

      I made a comment on your post. It is an interesting process when we are in a loving relationship and want to explore our own desire. As mentioned, love is all about selflessness; of putting your partner first, where desire is about selfishness. Communication is definitely the key. In order to explore your own desire your partner needs to know that boundaries have been set and to trust that nothing will happen to jeopardize the relationship.

  6. Have you seen my husband?? Seriously have you?? Desire comes to me everyday and not only because of his outward looks. All his actions come together to make him a TOTAL hunk eveyday! LOVE THIS MAN!

  7. Even for unmarried women I think there are times when we feel less desirable–life gets in the way or we stop giving ourselves that attention which nurtures our sensuous/ sexual side. It’s not necessarily based on who our partner is or how we feel about them…it’s about our own attitudes and feelings.

    Isn’t the flirtation delightful. This man gave you a true gift!

    • Audrey says:

      Walker, I gave myself the gift. Feeling confident in my marriage and knowing if I was going to grow as a sensual being I needed to explore this without guilt.

  8. esther perel says:

    Post My TED talk, I came across a book that is a perfect companion to this discussion
    Being French! A Frenchman’s Guide to a More Sensual Life (Kindle Edition)
    by François ROLAND.
    He will address the anxiety some of you speak about.

    “Our partner’s sexuality does not belong to us. It isn’t just for and about us, and we should not assume that it rightfully falls within our jurisdiction.” – Esther Perel

  9. Hi Audrey,

    Interesting discussion indeed! And all my thanks to Esther for catching your attention on my book which addresses all of this from a Frenchman point of view.

    So yes, in Being French (see my URL for more on the book) I address a lot of topics like: Marriage, Novelty, Flirtation, Freeing oneself sensually or even Naughtiness. I point out how sex is everything but an expandable part of life, be it only for good health and longevity.
    In her own book Esther Perel is showing so well how a committed and secured life with someone is so often contradictory with the pure erotic feeling which drives the most satisfying sex. In “Being French” I also talk about the way I went myself, and as a married man, through all of these contradictions, still managing to have a wonderful and fulfilling sensual life.

    Audrey, you nicely told me all the good this book was doing to you, and since I had many other reactions of that type (some women told me they changed their life after reading it) I start to think I should make a little anthology of these feedbacks to advertise the book 🙂
    Anyway, it’s all good because it was exactly the purpose of this book giving Anglo-Saxon people a new vision of their sensual self and freeing them from all the guilt, shame, etc … weighing from American culture on all sex matters.

    • Audrey says:

      Francois, I am very thankful that Esther brought your book not only to me but to all of our readers here at The Succulent Wife. I feel that both you and Esther, among others, are leading us Americans into a new sensual coup d’etat here in the United States. Not to be confused with the sexual revolution that happened in the 60s, where it was all about free love, sex and birth control. This is a personal journey to self discovery; releasing our inhibitions, self doubt and taboos. Quite frankly, seeing oneself as desirable simply makes me feel good about myself. I take extra care when getting dressed, I put on my favorite scent everyday rather than saving it, I bought new lingerie (in particular panties ;)). And the best part of all – I am doing it just for me because it makes me feel good! This Frenchman on the plane has no idea how he has changed the way I look at myself! I would be honored and happy to write a testimonial for you. Oh wait, I think I just did!

  10. Of course you did Audrey and I thank you for the nice and delightful way you did it! 🙂
    Well if you really want to make my day, go write a review on the book on as soon as you have read enough of it, because I think it’s the place where it’s maybe the most useful for the purpose of convincing more people to read it.

  11. Pingback: Defining My Own Beauty Now That I’m Fifty | The Succulent Wife

Leave a comment