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Flames of Desire

Clients often come to me with dilemmas of desire—-individuals or partners with too much, too little, or somewhere in the middle. Fortunately, we can trust in SCIENCE for direction and insight.

The Fire Triangle identifies three core elements for a hot and steamy “chemical chain reaction”:


“Without sufficient heat, a fire cannot begin and it cannot continue.”

Sounds obvious, right? There needs to be a spark of attraction (physical, emotional, or intellectual) to create an “activating energy” from which a relationship can build. Yet this primal element is sometimes rationalized, denied, or minimized from existence.

These are the relationships where an individual may describe their partner as “my best friend,” “the nicest person,” or “very reliable,” but there is zero to little interest in having a sexual connection.

Heat must reach a critical threshold—the flash-point—before a fire can become self-sustaining, and romantic partnerships (distinct from companionate love) work in a similar way.

Intense attraction at first sight is not necessarily a requirement, but energy needs to build in those initial phases of dating to sustain you through periods of boredom, aging, and long-term commitment.


“Without fuel, a fire will stop.”

The flames of desire require fuel to continue burning brightly. Within the fire triangle, there are various types of gas, liquids, or solids that can do the job—-coal, alcohol, propane, etc.—-with each fuel source differing in cost, efficiency, and carbon footprint.

Understanding the fuel source that best meets your individual needs is paramount to sustaining fire.

Likewise, the Five Love Languages—-Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Gifts, or Quality Time— provide an assortment of ways to nurture and preserve intimate connection. Developed by Gary Chapman, Ph.D, the “love languages” model helps us decode and interpret how people express core emotional needs.  

Dr. Chapman believes that each person has a primary and a secondary love language, which you can explore and assess through this online quiz. Here is a cheat sheet with examples from each dialect:

Physical Touch – holding hands, kissing, sex
Words of Affirmation – compliments, verbal praise, “I Love You”
Acts of Service – cooking a meal, fixing the car, folding laundry
Gift Giving – Red Sox tickets, red socks, anything thoughtful and personalized
Quality Time – undivided, undistracted attention (i.e. unplug your devices!)

Basically, we all express and receive love differently. Understanding those differences, and learning to speak the language of your partner(s), is fuel that can recharge and energize your relationship.


“..too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air.”—Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity

Desire requires some element of space and distance for individual dreams, interests, and passions to exist and thrive, along with those that are shared. I often stress to clients the importance of balancing the “me” with the “we.”

The Brangelinas and Bennifers usually implode, explode, or wither away, making horrible movies in the process.

Esther Perel, a brilliant sex therapist with a seductive accent, has an excellent TED Talk on how to let your relationship breathe and manage your damn expectations:

Through the alchemy of heat, fuel, and oxygen, you create the elements for warmth, passion, and an erotic charge.

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