My partner and I have been dating since October and from the beginning have had really intense sexual energy for each other (like every day, sometimes multiple times). But in the last week or two it’s sort of died out for a number of reasons.
I can’t help but feel unattractive to my partner when I’m ready to go and he’s not. But, at the same time, I never ever want to guilt or manipulate him into having sex. Further, as a woman, I feel like I’ve been brainwashed into thinking that no sex = the sign of a failing relationship.
What’s a girl to do??
— Rolling in the Heyday
At the start of a relationship, it’s quite common to be in the thick of limerence — that short burst of time between a crush and a relationship where you and your new sweetie just can’t get enough of each other. You find yourself dropping plans, letting deadlines drift downstream, and bodily fatigue be damned — sticking it in as many times a day you can fit it in.
Not only do you get along but you get along great and oh my godddd we have so much in common and hmm I wonder what our babies would look like (helloooo probably super duper cute, right?!).
This New Relationship Energy acts much like a drug in your system because, well, it kind of is. This phase is fueled by our brain releasing neurochemicals including those that are released when we’re high such as dopamine, phenylethylamine (a natural amphetamine), estrogen and testosterone. This naturally occurring chemical cocktail is TASTY and produces the euphoria of new physical, sexual, and emotional attraction.
All limerence phases fade in all relationships and honestly, it’s a good thing they do because none of us would be able to sustain that relational pace and also keep our jobs, friendships, and y’know, maybe more than four hours of sleep a night. You’re right that the common cultural tale is that once “the spark is gone,” we’re screwed (well, or, really not screwed).
But as a couples therapist I can tell you — all relationships move through predictable cycles including:
(1) the limerence phase of “Look at how much sex we have and how much we get along! Isn’t my new partner The Best??” through the next phase of
(2) “Oh, wait, we are actually different than each other? And we have to try at our sex life now? What do you mean the sun isn’t always shining down on the kingdom of our Unique Connection??” and then
(hello, this is where I see you for couples therapy) through the next phase of the challenging work of (3) recognizing your differences while putting in the effort to maintain your emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual connection.
But then if/when you get through this tunnel you get to (4) the sweet place of deeper connection because of your differences and hard work (woo!).
It’s important to recognize first and foremost that there’s no avoiding this cycle. In fact, a little over six months in, and you’re exactly where you should be, meaning the sign of a failing relationship heyday. This isn’t the predictable fading of your effortless sexual connection — it’s what you do with this part of the cycle that matters.
Talk about your sex life!! Applying pressure to your partner for sex is not good, you’re right. But telling your partner about your vulnerable fears and hopes surrounding your sex life isn’t inherently coercive. State your feelings clearly without expectations or demands. Do some work around your sex life and self-worth as a partner that doesn’t involve him at all, too. Pick up some new masturbation routines, get some clarity around all the ways you’re attractive to your partner that don’t rely on sex, read Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski and It Takes One to Tango by Winifred Reilly for more in-depth info about predictable sexual/relational cycles.
Whatever you do, don’t be scared off into hiding from your sexual relationship just because it looks different than it once did. Recoiling from the discomfort of change in relationships is a surefire way to accidentally change things in exactly the ways you’re hoping to avoid.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.