How do you know if you need or needed sparks?
October 24, 2011 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out my own nature when it comes to passion in long term relationships. Yes, it's quite a bit late for me to be asking this.

Short story: married a decade, non monogamous (many years ago, both of our choice), no kids, married young with very little experience. Spark was lacking at the beginning but connection was good, and I was too uncertain of myself to listen to any doubts then. Decade has shown us we're great long term companions with good chemistry, closely aligned lifestyle, excellent communication and negotiation, love each other dearly, work well as a couple.

I've had a voice in my head the whole time quietly questioning it, wondering if I've compromised a deep personal need that's never going to sit right: to be, or at least have been at one point just crazy about my chosen partner. Sometimes this voice is faint. Stronger each time I have a lover I'm passionate about (see: non monogamous). It's never silent. I don't know how to answer this voice and it's turning me into a troll of a husband, wondering.

Most conversations here about "sparks" split in two groups: some need it, some don't. I am unsure. Don't know what kind of person I am; married too early to tell, no experience taking that path. Here's my question: if you know you are, or are not, the sort to require an intense spark up front in a long term relationship, *how* do you know that about yourself?

Is there some way I can look at things, people, life, relationships ... some question I can ask myself, for which my own nature, my own needs, might become more resoundingly clear to me in answering? I just want to put the question to rest. I'm tired of wasting everyone's time and patience with indecision. My wife does not deserve a doubting spouse.

Please refrain from lecturing about commitment, monogamy or the nature of marriage; I can guilt myself plenty well for past failures. Just help me know this part of myself, so I can limit the hurt I cause in the future.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If you feel like that spark is lacking and you never had it to be begin with, then you might be one of those people who needs that spark. It's called 'spark' because it's not really anything you can define. And it sounds like you know it's missing, even if you don't know what 'it' is.
posted by greta simone at 4:19 PM on October 24, 2011

Well, you're non-monogamous and have no kids. I'm sure you have a lot of attachments, both physical and emotional to your partner, but drawing yourself out of this relationship and into another one, or even making someone else your primary and becoming more like roommates with benefits with your current partner, are much easier for you than for someone who's more traditionally arranged.

You've felt the spark, and you want it: you have everything to gain and little to lose.
posted by modernserf at 4:22 PM on October 24, 2011

I would need the spark in order to be able to settle down with someone in the first place. I literally can't stomach doing otherwise. But that's me. Some people will preach the joys of settling, or the joys of "the spark came days/months/years into dating the person!" I guess it works if their love nature works like that. But the folks who never had a spark seem to have really sad, flat marriages to me. My parents were one of those relationships. Ugh.

I tend to think that if you're nonmonogamous, the spark requirement probably isn't as bad for you as it is for the monogamous crowd. If you have to get EVERYTHING from one person, then you'd better have it. If you don't, then you don't.

But even in a nonmonogamous relationship, years later, if it's still bugging you? Then, well...I guess it turns out that you do need it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:41 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

To address only the title question, I don't need sparks and I am a drama-avoiding generally low-key type. Maybe you could see things a bit more clearly if you move yourself from the center of the question by one step. How do you react to other peoples' drama? Do you enjoy getting involved in friends' complicated situations or do you try to keep them at arm's length? Do you find strong emotions energizing or draining? Perhaps your reaction to these questions will give you a clue.
posted by Quietgal at 4:42 PM on October 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

my answer is: There are no requirements. You don't need anything other than being alive to have any sort of relationship you may define.

You don't even need a reason. Stop seeking for that and you'll understand.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:43 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

IMHO, the spark's role in a long term relationship comes into play when things get stale; the memory of the spark--how once upon a time you couldn't get enough of your partner's brain and bod--helps keep the relationship warm during the inevitable chilly times. But you already know that you're "great long term companions with good chemistry, closely aligned lifestyle, excellent communication and negotiation, love each other dearly, work well as a couple." The time for the spark is past, but this knowledge indicates that you enjoy its benefits all the same.
posted by carmicha at 6:07 PM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm wondering what the difference between "good chemistry" and "the spark" is for you. I guess for me personally it would be hard to separate out chemistry and passion. New people are always going to have the shiny on them and that is a different thing to me. In that sense I've felt a spark about a number of dudes who ended up being bad ideas apart from that initial excitement.

What drew you to your wife in the first place? Does she still seem excited about being with you? Are you excited to be with her? How much time do you two devote to each other relative to other relationships?

At first I thought it sounded like maybe you and your wife had fallen into the "good friends" thing that can happen with long term relationships that have turned practically platonic, but then I saw your mention of chemistry. I dunno, you basically describe your marriage in positive terms, so why not be happy with that and get as much spark as you want from other relationships? Or maybe this spark is distracting you from your marriage and you need to think about how to deal with that?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:51 PM on October 24, 2011

What are your long-term goals? What are your partner's long term goals? Do they coincide?

I was in a position where I was with someone who was incredible good *to* me, but not necessarily good *for* me. I split, tried staying friends, but I kept wanting sex so I broke it off for good1.

1 I'm having lunch with her, at her place, tomorrow... after a year and a half apart
posted by porpoise at 8:53 PM on October 24, 2011

...we're great long term companions with good chemistry, closely aligned lifestyle, excellent communication and negotiation, love each other dearly, work well as a couple.

I have all that, and unless this missing "spark" means sex, then I certainly wouldn't need it.
posted by General Tonic at 9:55 PM on October 24, 2011

Some people are never happy with 'settled'-- that is, will always think of possibilities, require the passion of the new and overwhelming, thrive on discovery, etc. It's hard to tell if you're that sort of person without knowing you. However, you asked for a question. Well, how do you relate to non-relationship-related commitments? Are you devoted to a career or are you a dilettante? Do you work for money or for love? Do you have a hobby you've been into for a really long time? What's your cycle like in terms of motivation to progress in it?

Passion is such a deep thing. Not 'spark' or sexy-times, but passion. Most people, I have to be honest, mistake hormones or butterflies for passion, which is kind of sad. It isn't actually hard to define or to understand, but it's simply rare for people to sustain: passion burns using you as fuel. It's that simple. A lot of creative people can tell you all about passion, and how it burns them up. Why do you think so many talented artists die young? Same reason relationships grow bland. As they say, you go out with a bang or with a whimper.

So, I think that ultimately the way you find lasting passion depends on your own strength of spirit rather than luck in finding the right pot-cover for your pot. Can you sustain intensity of feeling about anything? Do you have the capacity to transcend the mundane or perhaps instead to glory in it? Do you have the ability to really understand someone and allow them to see deeply into you without fear? How loyal are you to those that matter? Do you feel the instinctive need to experience the world jointly and merge your ego with someone else's a bit?

Most human beings cannot sustain intensity of feeling about anything except their kids and maybe sports [or insert-tribal-affiliation here], cannot and do not want to understand others deeply, and have more ego than they know what to do with, but are loyal and enjoy stability and comfort, which is why people have stable yet dull marriages and their passionate couplings fizzle. Do you value wonder over security? Do you value truth over comfort or even basic necessities? Do you have some source of inner courage? If you do, it will still be solely tested by any source of life-long passion, and in return you may not get much except pain and hardship, but passion is ultimately its own reward for those that burn.
posted by reenka at 10:32 PM on October 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

I don't need the spark because I felt it before and it meant nothing except that I was badly burned.

I require a strong degree of surety about romantic partners, though. This I would never define narrowly as "spark" but needs to be pretty extensive...IE, I really need to think about the details, even write down and keep track of the positives and negatives in a relationship, research and analyze it like my life depended on it. I am capable of logically convincing myself of pretty much anything, though. What's most important to me is that I feel sure. The spark may help this along, but even if it's there, it cannot override the necessary logical thinking-and if it's not there, it doesn't matter much because I feel like some things compensate for it.

Uncertainty is an unpleasant feeling, and if you don't confront it, it will eat at you over time. You can wait for certainty to descend upon you, or you can reach into your mind and wrestle it to the ground.

Other things that occured to me while reading this that may or may not be helpful: People with the "spark" come and go and that's okay. They inspire you while they're there and then their memory inspires you after. That might be enough for me. If you've never experienced "the spark" that's a bit of a shame, but I'm not sure you really NEED the spark and marriage to go together. And you already have a sweet deal for exploring it otherwise without overturning the boat. But then, maybe you just feel like you could have a better wife/marriage regarless of the spark, and don't know how to articulate that to yourself.

TLDR version: Writing stuff down and making lists can help organize your thoughts.
posted by Nixy at 10:57 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

...we're great long term companions with good chemistry, closely aligned lifestyle, excellent communication and negotiation, love each other dearly, work well as a couple.

I have all that, and unless this missing "spark" means sex, then I certainly wouldn't need it.

I think a lot of people confuse 'spark' with sex, or sexual chemistry. Sex can be a part of it but for me spark is more about mental stimulation, being inspired, sharing wonder. Being with someone who didn't connect with and excite me intellectually, or creatively (or both!) - even if there was a strong sexual and/or emotional connection - would feel at least a bit suffocating, and years of it would probably make me very unhappy.

For some people the spark might be the ability to make eachother laugh to the point of helplessness, or inspiring eachother to achieve what couldn't be done alone. Maybe if you could define what 'spark' means to you it might help clarify what you feel is missing.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:26 AM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

My wife does not deserve a doubting spouse.

Please don't fall into this trap of thinking. None of us is without doubt. If you were without doubt, you might be a sociopath or a televangelist, and I am certain your wife doesn't deserve those things. Learn to accept your doubt. Learn to grow thanks to your doubt. Your wife deserves is the opportunity to be there with you while you grow if she so chooses to be.
posted by jph at 8:15 AM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am unmarried and have had a more then a handful of long term relationships. In every relationship that I have ever been in, the sequence of emotions has proceeded as such:

lust -> attraction -> attachment

Each time the spark has faded and been replaced with strong companionship. My point with this is that if you choose to divorce and go with one of the partners that you feel "passion" and "spark" with, then you risk ending up in the exact same situation that you are currently in five to ten years down the road.

It could even be worse as once the "spark" fades you may not end up with someone who is:

Decade has shown us we're great long term companions with good chemistry, closely aligned lifestyle, excellent communication and negotiation, love each other dearly, work well as a couple.

Like your current wife.
posted by Shouraku at 4:00 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

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