Go on, give a little

KATHERINE FEENEY
Last updated 05:00 10/06/2013
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Why givers are grinners in the love and sex stakes.

Some people think 'long-term relationship' and see loss. In their view, commitment is not about gaining a partner but losing one's self and the things said self holds dear. Things like independence, individualism, and libido.

However new research has offered further proof that saying 'yes' to forever does not mean saying goodbye to the wonderful things associated with single life. It also stands as a healthy reminder of some basic qualities of successful life partnerships.

But here's the trick - having a loving, rewarding and sexually fulfilling relationship in the long term all comes down to knowing where you sit on thing called the communal-exchange spectrum.

Curious?

Read on.

Many psychologists have come to distinguish successful relationships as ones which sit high on the 'communal' end of the spectrum. This means that both people in the relationship are communal lovers - they feel responsible for meeting the needs of their lover, not because they'll get something in return, but because they value their partner's happiness.

In other words, they're givers. But psychologists will describe them has displaying a high level of 'communal strength'.

To determine your level of communal strength, ask what you'd be prepared to do for the sake of your partner. Would you alter your diet to suit your lover's special requirements? Or would you see their need to restrict what they eat as their responsibility?

If you're more inclined to let them take care of themselves, your communal strength is low. That is to say you're a 'taker'. You're probably only willing to change if there's a high chance of reciprocity. And if both you and your lover are like this, your relationship is one characterised by exchange.

As you might appreciate, there are problems associated with desiring to receive care more than desiring to give. A lack of communal strength in long-term relationships can prevent couples engaging in activities that are mutually satisfying. Studies have also shown a link between communal strength and "intrinsic joy, delight, and satisfaction when making costly sacrifices for a romantic partner".

But it's this study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science which underscores the relevance of communal strength to the sexual domain of relationships.

Tellingly, if clunkyily titled, Keeping the Spark Alive: Being Motivated to Meet a Partner's Sexual Needs Sustains Sexual Desire in Long-Term Romantic Relationships, the paper set out to determine whether being communally motivated to meet a partner's sexual needs could be associated with an increase in an individual's own level of sexual desire.

In short, yes. Yes it can.

But how?

Using a 21-day daily experience study of long-term couples, the researchers found higher levels of sexual communal strength promoted greater daily sexual desire partly because people were motivated to pursue sex with partner-focused goals.

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Furthermore, "the people higher in sexual communal strength at the beginning of the study maintained higher levels of sexual desire over a four month time period, whereas people lower in sexual communal strength experienced declines in sexual desire over time that tend to be more typical of long-term couples."

This is interesting, especially when you consider one of the most common complaints to come out of the mouths of people swept up in long-term love affairs relates to a lack of sex, or a lack of desire for sex. It's also noteworthy in consideration of the recent push towards the development of desire medication for women.

What if you could just think your way to better sex, intimacy and relational harmony?

Of course, altering your psychology is no easy task and a strong will shall only take you so far. Given the complexity of our human life form, there's also biology and chemistry to consider. Not to mention the pressures and conventions of the society we create and inhabit.

For example, we may regard the characteristics of human strength highly. We may recognise that being a giver is good. But as we know, and research shows, there can be a disparity between what we idealise and what we do; couples in long-term relationships sometimes follow exchange norms more than they want to. Sexual economists - as regular readers will know - can offer compelling reasons as to why.

But there's no denying the importance of giving. So it pays to give thought to whether you do or don't and why. And if you've some secrets to share - if you moved from one end of the communal-exchange spectrum to the other - please reveal how you did it!

- FFX Aus

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