Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why don’t I feel romantic toward my husband?

I remember when I was a young newlywed of 21, and found myself attracted to a co-worker. Up till then I thought that when you really loved someone, you only had eyes for him. Wasn’t that how it was in the love songs, movies, and books? Stricken, I confessed to my husband. He just smiled and assured me I was perfectly normal, probably mostly because he’d had the same experience for a lot longer.

Thirty years later, I have a lot clearer understanding of romantic, sexual love. Without doubt it is among the most exciting, inspiring, life-enhancing human experiences...but the part it plays in long-term relationships is much smaller than our culture would have us think. There are times I feel romantically/sexually towards my husband, but more often I feel different emotions that are not particularly romantic or erotic: comfortable, appreciative, secure, content, etc.

In fact, many of the emotions that spring from a healthy longstanding relationship are anathema to romance. In essence, romantic love is fascination with a being who seems both a perfect mate and somehow out of reach. That’s why all love stories tell the tale of the boy getting the girl (or vice versa), and end when he does. That’s why love songs are about yearning, pining, longing, missing, losing, and so on.

From a Jungian viewpoint (aka the one I have, LOL), this fact is easily explained. Romantic love is an animus phenomenon. What I mean by that is, it is always tied in to our conscious psyche yearning for its subconscious opposite self. Before I say something else unintelligible, let me illustrate. My own animus, my subconscious “dream lover,” is completely and uniquely mine (the perfect mate) and yet, being subconscious, is not accessible to me at will. Rather, he projects himself upon whatever person I’m infatuated with, attracted to, etc. Hence he seems elusive, out of reach. And there you have it, the formula: the perfect mate, who is somehow out of reach.

A husband, of course, is not out of reach, or at least not in a healthy marriage. Experience has proven him also not the perfect mate. Who is? Therefore, it’s very difficult to sustain feelings of romantic love, at least the classic “love song” type. You can love your husband, even adore him, you can most certainly be attracted to him and associate all sorts of pleasures with him, but those achy feelings of longing we think of as romantic love? Not so much.

Meanwhile, it is highly likely any given woman will periodically encounter male figures--be they “real people” or celebrities or characters in books, on TV, or in the movies--that provoke romantic feelings. These “animus bearers,” as Jung termed them, just happen to have the traits for which your particular soul yearns. In some women these animus feelings will be relatively mild, perhaps just a lively interest. In others, the emotions can be so powerful as to be confusing, unsettling...even make a woman question if she’s flipping out.

And most certainly make her feel guilty about having more passion for some actor than for her husband.

Such a woman is making two errors: One, she is underestimating the significance of her bond to her husband. The healthy marriage bond is based on a lot more significant things than intense emotion. Two, she is confusing her very real attachment to her animus (that subconscious part of herself) with feelings for an external person she probably doesn’t even know well. I don’t mean that to sound accusatory, we’ve all done it! And in fact, it’s so FUN to do it, I’d actually advise you to indulge, as long as you keep everything in perspective.

This all translates to the following simple answer to the question posed in our subject line:

You can think half the day about Matt Damon / Hugh Jackman / Christian Bale, or whomever, and still have a perfectly normal and healthy love for your husband. In fact, look for romance in your fantasies, and love in your relationships, and you will do pretty well.


Anonymous said...

Very good article. It describes and explains something I've been wondering about for years. I feel enlightened, alas yet unfixed!

Karen said...

How cool is it that out on the whole world web, your blog matched my google search for how to find romance? Awesome post and thanks for letting me know I'm not abnormal. :)