Valentine’s Day is coming up, think about your passion and connection | AspenTimes.com

Valentine’s Day is coming up, think about your passion and connection

Lori Ann Kret and Jeff Cole
She Said, He Said

Last month, with the start of the new year, we offered a few tips and tools to strengthen the fabric of your relationship. As Valentine's Day approaches, we invite you to enhance your bond by playing with passion.

For many couples, maintaining a healthy, vibrant sex life over time can be challenging.

As a relationship grows past the honeymoon phase and daily interactions becomes more routine, sexual passion can fade. But physical intimacy is important to the health of most relationships and to each partner's well-being.

Jeff: Ladies, did you know that for men (particularly those in a healthy, committed relationship), sex plays a significant part in helping them feel a deeper emotional bond with you? Women often carry a misperception that men's sex drives are only about sowing the seed or pursuing the physical release. But in reality, there is a powerful desire for most men to feel emotionally connected to their partner, and physical intimacy creates this in unparalleled ways.

Sexual intimacy triggers a release of powerful bonding hormones. Oxytocin, in particular, known as the love hormone, plays a significant role for men in feeling safe and emotionally connected. Also, men are more sensitive and vulnerable than women sometimes imagine. Knowing that you want him sexually can have a significant boost in his confidence and self-esteem, while rejection can do just the opposite. We all want to feel wanted.

Lori: Men, please know that women tend to need emotional connection and confirmation of the bond before feeling free to express themselves sexually. A women's brain is wired to regulate desire. Sex is biologically riskier for women because they have more investment in potential offspring than do men. Consequently, women often need more attention and priming than men typically understand.

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Great foreplay for a woman often starts 24 to 48 hours before hitting the sheets (or couch, or kitchen counter). This is the time for spontaneous kisses, compliments, sweet gestures and subtle reminders of how much she means to you. Even with this attention, women can feel neutral or ambivalent about sex. Don't take it personally. Women's eroticism, even within the context of an emotionally healthy bond, can also require a little physical priming. Unless she has told you otherwise, push past the fear of rejection and bring your primal, passionate energy into play. It will be worth the effort.

Lori and Jeff: There are also a few steps you can take together as a couple.

First: Assess your current intimacy strengths and potential areas for growth:

Who is fulfilled? Who is the initiator? Who feels empowered?

Do you experience any insecurities that keep you from freely expressing yourself sexually (fear of judgment, body issues, previous experiences of shame, guilt)?

Is sex in the relationship used as or perceived as manipulation (withholding for power or punishment, used overtly or subtly for bargaining)? If so, how, and under what circumstances?

Do you look to sex to create validation (approval, acceptance) or emotional safety?

How do you enhance or detract from your partner's sexual identity (compliments, criticism or judgment)?

Second: It is helpful to balance your secure connection with some tension. Passion and desire stem in part from curiosity, uncertainty and intrigue. When we assume we know all there is about our partner, there is no excitement and drive to connect further. One way to keep healthy tension is to remember that we never really know the complete inner workings of our significant other. Even if that makes us feel more vulnerable or insecure, it also keeps us on our toes and motivated to show up and put in the effort. Every day your partner has to choose you. It is a choice, not a guarantee.

Third: Bringing new and exciting layers to the more intimate side of your relationship isn't necessarily about new acts, positions or toys. It's more about creating increased freedom to explore each other in physical and emotional ways that, in the past, may have felt too vulnerable or risky.

Most importantly, the best erotic gifts you can give to your partner are a stronger sense of yourself, a willingness to be vulnerable and a curiosity for unexplored physical and emotional adventures. Working on being your best self can do wonders for your sexual connection.

Leading up to Valentine's Day, focus on creating curiosity and playfulness in your connection so that passion can reign supreme and bring you both the pleasures you desire.

Lori and Jeff are married licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Coaching. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.