Editor’s note: this article originally ran June 10, 2019.
Over the course of the last couple months my partner’s sex drive has slowly fallen off, and is now creating tension in our relationship.
We’ve been together for nine months, and true to form, the beginning was full of passion, romance, and sexual exploration. We both seemed fulfilled and happy! Over the last three months life got hectic, your basic new relationship dramas occurred, and the “honeymoon phase” ended. My partner has recently started a very stressful job, and because I work from home I’ve fallen into the caretaker role in our relationship, which only adds to his stress.
As life got hectic and our relationship experienced this shift, sex slowly crept to a halt. In the beginning, I pretended to not notice as we would have sex on occasion, and when it happened, it was GREAT! Our relationship is truly wonderful on all other fronts, kissing and cuddling are still a big part of our routine. But for me it all feels just that — routine — and that we have settled into a platonic love. Now my attempts at sex turn into a tearful conversation about a lack of spark, regrets and wanting to make each other happy.
Recently, the conversation turned to discussion on if we should just end the relationship because of this lack of “spark” and him wanting me to be fulfilled.
So, because ignoring it didn’t seem to work for me, and my gentle attempts have lead to an added pressure for him, and I genuinely don’t want the relationship to end, I turn to you for advice! What do you do when the love is there, but the sex isn’t?
In the Platonic Pits
Dear Platonic Pits,
Often one of the most distressing parts of this classic relationship arc is that it feels like it’s only happening in your relationship, that maybe you’re just not as “meant to be” as y’all thought you were, or that this inevitability means the end. This common internal belief doesn’t necessarily equip couples with confidence in their ability to reignite the spark.
For most people, the reality is that you’re not going to desire sex that you don’t desire to have. Meaning, if we want to have more frequent sex in our lives, we gotta look at the variables that influence our motivation to have it more frequently — whether that’s context, existing relational dynamics, or the content of the actual sex we’re having.
For your relationship in particular, I’m curious about this caretaking dynamic that you mention and the understanding that you’re the one with the higher sex drive, with your partner holding you back.
Is there a way to shift these elements of perceived responsibility for each other? Meaning, make it clear that you’re partners in all of this with different stresses and desire levels but that you’re not entirely responsible for caretaking him and he’s not responsible for satisfying your entire sexuality. Why is this important?
Well, feeling like you’re chronically disappointing someone by not having “enough” sex with them or even feeling like your partner is parenting you via overly caretaking, doesn’t necessarily scream “TAKE ME NOW!”. These elements can be present in a mutually supportive relationship, yes, but sometimes if they take up too much space, there’s no spark space left.
Ask your partner what kind of help you can offer from home that would decrease his stress levels. Reassure your partner that your sexuality can be fulfilled in other ways like masturbation. Or, revamp the way you initiate sex to leave more room for him to be himself (for example, sometimes the higher drive partner can initiate sex more suddenly than a lower sex drive person is ready for and maybe starting with some low-stakes naked cuddling or massage might work better).
No matter what you do, drop the narrative that you’re chomping at the bit and your partner just needs to catch up, because this will only reinforce the idea that you’re both unsatisfied or not enough for the other person which, is what can cause the meta distress about the relationship. Focus on building intimacy with each other without the sex deadline looming. Slow down a little and reassure yourselves that where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire.
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.