Especially in the early days of the relationship we can feel an electric thrill from touching, hearing or seeing our lover. We have a strong desire to touch them and to be touched by them. For women this is an emotional thrill but for men it causes sexual arousal. When we are young the novelty of the emotions can result in tremendous emotional highs and lows. If we feel overwhelmed by feelings or despondent, confiding in someone we trust and getting their support, can help keep things in perspective.
For a man, sexual activity with a lover is always an erotic experience. A man can feel amenable to sex on first seeing a person. He doesn’t need to know any personal details before he can enjoy a sexual encounter. He has no conscious control over his response. He cannot choose not to become aroused. He can only ignore or act on the urge to make a sexual advance. But for a woman it is a social experience that is hopefully sensual and emotional. For these factors to operate she needs a partner who spends time appreciating the more sensual aspects of sex. A woman hopes for a lover who presents himself as an attractive and romantic (companionable) lover.
We are attracted to others even when we are just friends. Some people have platonic relationships with the opposite sex. Others lose interest in such friendships unless they become sexual. Some people only want sex with a person they love. Others are motivated by lust. Some people find it easy to demonstrate affection. Others are more reserved about showing feelings.
We refer to ‘sexual chemistry’ meaning that we instinctively feel at ease with someone and we are attracted to them. We identify with the sound of their voice, how they look and how they express themselves. Speed-dating works because we assess people within a few seconds of meeting them.
When men are young they feel platonic love for their female relatives. But as they become adults they experience sexual love for women of their own generation. Most men are attracted primarily to young women. This is a biological (subconscious) preference that means that fertile women are targeted. Men are rarely attracted to much older women. Women are not aroused by other people so they always experience platonic love or nurturing love. Emotional factors work just as well with an older man.
One woman can only have a finite number of children. But if a man has intercourse with many women, he may father a much greater number of children. Men are naturally promiscuous because this maximises their chances of passing on their genes. Monogamy is primarily in a woman’s reproductive interests. Women are attracted to men who will support them. They find men’s greater confidence and robustness emotionally reassuring.
Some couples document their relationship by having a legal marriage ceremony. A core concept within marriage, whether a couple has religious beliefs or not, is that once married the couple is sexually loyal to each other. A wedding can be a way of communicating the new relationship to the wider family. A big celebration (as well as being fun) may emphasise the responsibility involved in making a long-term commitment to each other.
Not everyone wants to get married. Some couples decide to have children without getting married. Some couples don’t want to have children. In some societies there can be shame associated with having unmarried parents. There is also a taboo over a child being the result of an illicit affair.
Unhealthy relationships are where people use intimacy, sex or a show of affection to get what they want: to manipulate, to exploit or to dominate. Splitting up a family home is extremely upsetting and inconvenient. So sometimes adults continue in unhealthy relationships. They may want security and continuity. They may believe the other person can’t help being how they are. They hope the situation will improve. They are afraid of change or of being alone. They can’t easily find other accommodation.
Many couples, especially if they have children, try to stay together in the belief that a marriage should be continued at whatever cost. If a couple is always arguing, fighting or unhappy it may be better to end a bad marriage. A couple may separate initially and then divorce, which legally ends their marriage. Couples divorce for many reasons. The key reasons are sexual differences and financial problems as well as general incompatibility.
… there seems to be no single factor which is more important for the maintenance of a marriage than the determination, the will that that marriage shall be maintained. (Alfred Kinsey 1953)