Do We Have Enough Chemistry?

For organizational reasons, I’ll occasionally be posting previously written articles here. This way they’ll appear on the side panel under their appropriate category and will be easier to find.

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One of my clients this week needed to discuss the common series of questions from anxiously engaged brides: Am I attracted enough to my fiancé? Do I love him enough? How do I know he’s the right match for me? etc etc. But one question has recurred for her repeatedly: Do we have enough chemistry?

Sometimes – quite often, actually – the wise and insightful women who frequented the message board (now closed) on my website  provide much more thorough answers than I do. After the session was over, I remembered a thread on the boards several months ago on this very topic. For this week’s article, I’ll quote from the responses to this original post:

“I was checking out the articles on the Conscious Weddings homepage and as I was reading through “Marriage is a Work in Progress” I was completely stopped and hugely spiked by the term “enough spark” – here it is in the sentence:

Like all courageous endeavors, marriage can and must evolve over time. We enter into it with the greatest of intentions, hope, and commitment. We spend enough time together to determine if the partnership is a good match in terms of shared values, enough spark, some ability to resolve conflict, and no serious red flags.

I have pretty much always questioned whether or not my husband and I had “enough spark” to make things last. He’s a good, caring, generous, and hard-working man. But I worry because the thought of him or the presence of him (even after frequent absences) does not make my body tingle with excitement. I know that it’s not realistic to want to feel this way all the time, but I am missing the feeling completely. I sometimes feel as if I brace myself to tolerate him, to tolerate what our relationship is, which is good but boring. Even when we do “exciting” things together, I feel like the essence of our relationship is dull. I actually pondered aloud to him a few weeks back whether marriage was the right thing for me or not? Ugh, this is truly an awful feeling.

What does “enough spark” mean anyway? I guess my major concern comes in because I shared A LOT of spark with an old boyfriend (whom I can’t seem to stop thinking about, even after being apart for six years). I wonder if my inability to let go of that feeling and the mental ties to that old relationship is preventing me from being truly intimate and creating sparks with my husband?”

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“Did you read the other article (maybe it’s in the archives on the site) about the “old boyfriends”? Sheryl addresses this too. There is always one super hot boyfriend from the past that we had a sexually charged relationship with that we idealize once married/engaged. But there was a reason that boyfriend was not life-partner material. We tend to forget this when our husband/fiancé doesn’t do it for us. Remind yourself that there was a reason you didn’t end up with this guy.

I have asked myself the same question (is there enough spark?) and worried about the same thing, but I think it’s normal for attraction to wax and wane. For attraction to occur, you need intimacy, and for intimacy to occur, you need to connect with your husband. For me this means long, rambling conversations about meaningful topics like politics, art, family, etc. Whenever I lose track of time while talking to my husband about something stimulating and interesting, I feel like getting it on (for lack of a better description). Our minds are really our most powerful sex organ, and when I connect in meaningful ways it helps foster sexual attraction. Maybe for you doing something together like taking a walk, or talking about a movie that you’ve seen, or cooking together, or whatever you find stimulating would help you feel more attracted to your spouse. I think at this point expecting an immediate physical response every time you see your husband isn’t realistic. That *zing* only happens when someone is still somewhat of a mystery. Your husband isn’t a mystery anymore.

I don’t know if this makes sense, but I wanted to offer my two cents because I think this is a pretty common phenomenon. For me I need to talk a lot with my husband to feel connected, but for some women just cuddling or sitting together works too. Find what works for you.”

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“Also, don’t confuse spark with drama. I had what I thought was “spark” with my high school sweetheart, but what really was just me ALWAYS fighting for his attention. The more he pulled away, the closer I wanted to be to him and the more I chased him. The more attention he gave to other people, the more excited I became when it was my turn to get the attention. I do still think back on our relationship, because I was the one to break up with him knowing the relationship was bad but I don’t think I ever expressed it well or he ever realized just how much I felt hurt by him. I think that kind of “spark” is incredibly unfulfilling because it is that desire for closeness that just isn’t being met, making you continue to go after it.

My fiancé was SO available to me in the beginning that the lack of drama and chase made me feel something was wrong. But it was really just what a healthy relationship was. I don’t constantly have those fluttery feelings for him anymore, but c’mon: I’ve seen the man vomit, poop on the toilet, etc. We’ve been together for almost 4 years. We have a lot of responsibilities and we know each other’s good and bad qualities. He has been working a lot lately and I do miss having him home, miss his company (I also miss the help around the house). But I also like having my space. Even when he IS home, sometimes he just wants to play video games and I just want to watch TV, so there isn’t that CRAVING to be near. I do still feel fluttery moments (not as frequently) but it’s because I’m not obsessing over it or forcing it. He does something sweet or says something and I just feel good, proud to be with him, thankful for who he is and the effort he makes. Just this morning FI said something a little snappy to me about something I did and then a few minutes later when I was trying to explain myself he came out and apologized saying he knew he shouldn’t have done that! This comes just after a conversation about me needing him to share responsibility in our disagreements so I was like, WOW he listened!

What is enough spark? How about, how do you define spark? If you are thinking of that excited feeling of the first touch, wondering if he is going to call, can’t wait until our next date feeling, I would say most married couples do not feel this way about each other after years of dating and then being under the same roof for a period of time. For me, spark is that feeling I get when our eyes meet during a group conversation and we both share a private joke or shared thought. It’s when we have one of those “complete your sentence” moments (they don’t always happen, but sometimes they do). It’s when he backs me up when I’m telling him about an argument with my mom. It happened when I realized he was crying during Marley and Me (and he is NOT a crier) and he got all embarrassed. It’s a different kind of connection from the lusty feelings of the first few months.”

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I addressed the original post with the following:

“Here’s what I meant by “spark” (and I can understand why the word spiked you): I mean that you’re connected to each other, you like each other, there’s a desire to spend time with your partner in a variety of ways. I actually didn’t mean it in a sexual way! When I think of spark between partners I mean that there’s something that draws two people together – and that something can be a lot of different things.”

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Sheryl Paul, M.A., is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998 she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and  has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” and her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally for all types of transitions.

9 comments to Do We Have Enough Chemistry?

  • Thank you for sharing all of this. I do find it funny, though, that no one is willing to admit or address that sometimes we are simply not that attracted to a partner, and that there is no compelling spark.

    Our bodies, creativity, intellect, and sexuality are all connected and important to listen to — not ignore! I’ve talked to so many women (and I’ve BEEN one of them) who have such a distorted relationship with their feelings, body-sense, authentic sexuality, and beliefs about relationships that they just go for what’s available, safe, and boring. There are always unconscious emotional reasons and childhood issues that need to be investigated and understood about this pattern.

    Often times it has to do with seeking a kind of “security” or safety that we are not yet providing for ourselves, internally.

    All the advice and feedback here is great, but let’s not be completely omit the uncomfortable reality that sometimes it’s not a good match, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and do some deep healing and personal growth so that you can love yourself better then find a good match from THAT place, instead.

    • Dana – I agree that sometimes the relationship just isn’t a good match because there isn’t enough attraction. But what I’m saying is that we need to expand our definition of the words “attraction” and “spark” to include the myriad of ways in which we’re drawn to our partners. I’ve worked with thousands of engaged women over the years and the vast majority of them are with WONDERFUL men with whom they have a wonderful relationship but, when they get engaged, begin to question it from every level and compare it to the images that surround us in the media or an ex-boyfriend with whom they had off-the-charts sexual chemistry but the relationship wasn’t built on trust and security. Furthermore, these are women who were initially attracted to their boyfriends before the engagement then, somewhere along the way, the attraction faded. A lot of the work I do with Conscious Weddings is educating men and women regarding what is normal and healthy in a real life, long term love relationship. It’s a hard fall to reality when they realize that a committed relationship is not the same as a fling or even a long-term relationship with no thought of marriage in the future in the sense that attraction waxes and wanes once the commitment is solidly in place.

      I would strongly disagree with your statement that “no one is willing to admit or address that sometimes we are simply not that attracted to a partner, and that there is no compelling spark.” It’s statements like these that spin many anxious brides into a tizzy causing them to consider calling off their wedding and is actually the much more common sentiment in our culture. You also imply that “available and safe” are negative things in a relationship when in actuality they’re the cornerstone of a healthy marriage. And boring? Well, yes, sometimes relationships are boring. That’s just part of the deal! And much more often boredom is a function of someone’s own lack of interest in their life, completely separate from their partner. Another misconception about relationships is the expectation that our partner is supposed to ignite that place of passion within us when actually the passion has to begin within us first.

      Once again, when I use the word “spark” I’m using it to describe attraction on all levels. One question I often ask my clients is, “When you’re not in fear, are you drawn to spend time with your partner? Do you enjoy each others’ company? Is he or she interesting to you? Do you have good conversations? Before the anxiety kicked in, did you have a good sex life?” The answers are almost always unilaterally YES. There is spark, the relationships are solid, and it’s the conditioning that’s preventing her or him from embracing the relationship more than anything else.

      Thank you for voicing your thoughts. I look forward to hearing others’ responses.

  • Maya

    There seem to be so many different reasons why relationships work…everything from passion to comfort! Fascinating, isn’t it? So I find it so funny that so many people have such a black and white view of it and think that because something applies to them or has been their experience that it suddenly becomes an absolute general rule for all relationships. We humans are a very complex species, let’s not be reductive 🙂

    When you have no spark, as Sheryl defines it, you usually, unless you have intimacy issues, know early on in a relationship. It just doesn’t work, usually doesn’t last more than a few dates or a few months at most. What anxious brides are talking about is not that spark but lust, attachment or codependency. Some relationships run on this, but most long-term ones do not, it’s rare.

    So, many people choose a comfortable and “boring” marriage over the thrills (and equally intense despairs) of polygamy because those are the options. Many choose what is good and available because it’s easier, because life is hard enough as it is, because in their opinion there is no better, only different. Why begrudge this choice, what is so wrong about this? It’s just a choice, really, one that brings many benefits, including companionship, security, stability, help raising children and an opportunity to cultivate those special qualities that make us human and not animal.

    If our feelings and bodies and intellect and whatever are all connected and are also to be trusted as true, how does one explain why they lead us to do so many unhealthy things?

  • Maya

    *I meant polyamory, not polygamy…though polygamy might fit as well, lol!

  • Sol

    Great article Sheryl. That makes a lot of sense. I am going through all these transitions after the wedding and it has been a difficult time for me. I sometimes get anxious thinking about my ex too – but then I realize that I also think about other transitions and losses in my life. I have never loved anyone as much as I love my husband and I know he is the one for me. However, I get scared sometimes thinking about losing him and maybe that is where the anxiety about the last relationship comes in. I guess it is more about the ending of a relationship that causes the anxiety…

    • Yes I think at the core of the anxiety is the fear of losing the relationship. Many of my clients are eventually able to identify that it’s actually the fear of loss and the fear of the unknown – will the marriage last? will something happen to us? – that triggers the anxiety. When we learn to accept the unknown and settle into the uncertainty of the transition – and of life – a lot of the anxiety is eased.

  • Sam

    As the original poster who questioned the meaning of “spark,” I felt compelled to chime in here. When I wrote that post, I had a lot of things going on in my life (living long distance from husband due to work, selling my home, being laid off from work, dealing with sending my child to college, etc) and they caused anxiety and fear which I projected onto my relationship. I also have a tendency to think in extremes… as in “I’m missing the feeling completely.” It may have been true at the time I wrote that post (fear and anxiety have a weird way of making you catastrophize things) but let me be clear, it certainly wasn’t always the case and hasn’t always been the case since I wrote that statement.

    Now that my husband and I are back under one roof, our home is sold, college plans are falling into place, and we are settled, I am happier than I have ever been and I’ve noticed a marked spike in our “spark” department. Everything from simple “how was your day” conversations, to sharing laughs while watching TV, to having sex, our relationship has grown and improved. Not surprisingly, the “ex” thoughts have faded to non-existent levels.

    It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but as Sheryl said above, I know that I need to look inside of myself for happiness — not expect that happiness be handed to me on a silver platter via my husband. And I also need to recognize when stress is causing anxiety/fear so that I don’t immediately point to my marriage as the problem. “Spark” was never really the issue at all, it was the scapegoat.

    As for Dana’s statement, “no one is willing to admit or address that sometimes we are simply not that attracted to a partner, and that there is no compelling spark,” I would have to disagree with this as a blanket statement. Certainly it’s true sometimes, but as Maya states, we tend to know this relatively quickly, not something that blindsides us after marriage. I believe that what is most important is the recognition that this feeling of “boring” or “no spark” is a normal, natural part of being in a relationship – with a spouse, friend, parent, sibling, etc. It can be caused by external factors weighing heavily on us… or it can serve as the impetus to do something that stokes our own internal flames.

    Sheryl, your work has been immensely helpful to me – not only in my marriage, but in dealing with many different transitions in my life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your wealth of knowledge and for your guidance on my way to finding self-love and acceptance. These tools (gifts, really!) have allowed me to find happiness and love within myself and in my relationships. I know it’s always a work in progress, but right now I feel a deeper sense of awareness, happiness and fulfillment than ever before. Thank you.

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