Once, when a relationship I loved but struggled with was ending, I felt convinced that if only he and I went to the spot of one of our first dates (a place we had returned to throughout our relationship and where we always felt calm and connected), we would somehow figure everything out. Of course, I didn't suggest we go there, and so we didn't, and the relationship came to its natural end. Looking back I don't think the place could have breathed new life into anything at the time, anyway, but what's striking to me is that, for a moment, I was certain that a place had the power to do so. Such is the power of a couple's secret, private space.
When we're growing up, forts made of blankets and secret clubhouses provide space for friendships and crushes to develop. And if you've seen the movie Up!, you perhaps have some thoughts on how one's childhood clubhouse can - with a little care, fresh paint, and the right partner-in-crime - create space for adult love to bloom.
As women and men grow up and form loving adult relationships, it becomes increasingly important for couples to create a space in which they can relax, be themselves, and grow closer. For many couples, the bed they share may be the place to which they retreat for feelings of safety, comfort and love - not to mention sex. A couple's bed is where they may let down their emotional and physical guards during sleep as well as during sex. In fact, it may be one of the few places where they can make themselves feel entirely vulnerable to another human being.
For some people, trust and security come easy. For others, learning to be vulnerable to another person is a struggle that they may or may not win with time, practice and what feels like great risk taking. Consequently, as damaging as affairs in any shape or form may be, they can feel particularly threatening when a person allows their affair into the bed they share with their partner. Betraying trust by letting someone else into a couple's bed can feel not just hurtful, but devastating.
The bed is such a special place for many women and men that it's not unusual for some couples to say that they have their best conversations with each other when they are in bed. Maybe they wake up on weekends feeling rested and enjoy lying together, just talking. Perhaps before sleep, the ritual of getting undressed, settling into bed and holding one another close allows the conversation to flow more naturally than during the day. For some couples, it's sex that brings them closer - kissing, hugging, touching, and naked passion may be followed by cuddling, closeness and sharing secrets one might never think to share over breakfast, let's say, or watching television.
As relationship-enhancing as a bed or bedroom may be, others places can allow love or sex to bloom, too. A bath tub can serve as a private sanctuary in which some couples dissect their day, share their dreams, or seduce one another. The shower can be not only a place to become clean but a place to start kissing or to have passionate, lustful sex. Some couples find their special place outside the home: a fire tower nestled in the woods in which they can take in an entire forest of autumn leaves, a park in which they can lie down and look at clouds, or a neighborhood hotel that they can retreat to for a night away from the kids and a chance to feel young again. Even a living room sofa can provide comfort and closeness for a couple or family as they huddle together to eat popcorn and watch a movie.
Wherever you find your special place, know that it is important to have one and to visit it with some regularity to keep it alive as a sanctuary and a place that matters. Spaces become alive in the ways that they bring us closer to a partner, a family or a group of friends. As life gets hectic and relationships become stressed, special places can help to center a relationship. Going to bed together can feel calming, sneaking away to your favorite hotel can ignite passion, and drawing a fragranced bath for your significant other may just inspire romance or re-connection. Where's your secret spot?
Inspired by the song Somewhere Only We Know by Keane and the book Two in a Bed by Paul Rosenblatt.
Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH is a research scientist at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, and the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Her personal blog can be found at MySexProfessor.com