Especially in the early days of the relationship we can feel an electric thrill from touching, hearing or seeing our lover. We have a desire to be physically close and to hold them. For women this is an emotional thrill but for men, the desire is genitally focused and includes sexual arousal. When we are young the novelty of these new emotions can result in tremendous emotional highs and lows. If we feel overwhelmed by such emotions, confiding in someone we trust may help us keep our feelings in perspective.
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 tends to work 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. But women experience platonic love. Emotional factors work the same with older men.
Men can feel intimate with a partner they are attracted to because of their arousal. So men don’t usually need a lead into sex. Encounters between gay men often start with sex. Some men are happy to pay for sex. As soon as a man has an erection, he has a desire for intimacy. Men assume sex is key to adult relationships. Whereas women assume affectionate companionship is key. Most men learn intuitively that women do not appreciate direct sexual approaches. So men often approach women initially offering friendship because they know this appeals to women. A man seduces a woman by being affectionate, companionable, charming and respectful.
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, sex is a social experience that can be (at its best) sensual and emotional. For these factors to operate, a woman needs a partner who can appreciate the more sensual aspects of sex. A woman hopes for a lover who presents himself as an attractive and romantic (companionable) lover.
One woman can only have a finite number of children. But a man may father a much greater number of children. A man can potentially impregnate a (different) woman with every ejaculation (many hundred times in a lifetime). 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 enjoyable) 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 cultures, a child may feel embarrassed to have unmarried parents. There is also considerable 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 control. 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 their partner can’t help being how they are. They hope the situation will improve. They are afraid of change or of being alone. They may not be able to find alternative 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 or unhappy it is sometimes 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. Key reasons are sexual differences and financial problems as well as incompatible personalities.
… 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)