When the sexual spark fizzles

shutterstock_637143802web

I’ve been with my husband for 11 years now. Although our lives are crazy with our jobs and two children, we get along well and rarely fight. The problem is I’m just not attracted to him anymore and haven’t been for quite a while. Yet I find myself fantasizing about other men at times. I think it’s essential to have physical intimacy in my relationship, but I’m scared to end the marriage and say goodbye to the good aspects of our partnership for that reason alone. What should I do?

I’ve had clients report to me that they no longer enjoy sex with their partner. To which I counter, “Is it that you don’t like sex altogether, or you just don’t like the sex you’ve been having?”

Your sex drive isn’t dead (if it was, you wouldnt be writing me), its just stalled and wants a jumpstart. Your body is the ultimate truth teller, so listen to what your languishing libido is saying regarding how you feel toward your husband.

You are in what relationship therapists call a “companionate marriage,” meaning you are buddies and roommates, but you want more. You are still a sexual being, which is an important part of overall human wellbeing, even though your marriage lacks passion. Sexual energy sparks creativity, life-force energy and intimacy with another.

While intimacy without sex is certainly possible, intimacy without any form of touch is much tougher. In order to endure stressful phases over the course of a relationship, couples need the release of oxytocin — an attachment hormone — which is triggered by sex and other forms of touch (a hug that lasts at least 20 seconds can do the trick) in order to bond and close the distance.

You and your husband lack this. Which presents the chicken-or-the-egg question: Did your lack of physical intimacy lead to disconnection or the other way around?

As much as you may feel stuck, you’ve got options.

You can choose to stay in the marriage and work to break down the barriers that prevent you from desiring your husband (poor communication, different emotional styles, no longer having anything in common, he’s too available, he’s not available enough, his overall personality triggers you, you’ve simply drifted apart or you don’t like his sexual repertoire — to name a few). Also investigate whether the problem is due to your mood issues, hormones, lack of work-life balance or shaming religious or cultural messages you received about sex as a youth. Sexual issues are really a symptom of a larger issue or issues.

Based on those factors, you may eventually decide to dissolve the relationship in search of someone you feel a sexual spark for. But don’t fool yourself; passion changes over time in every long-term relationship. You could find yourself in this same situation in another 11 years down the road, especially if you don’t look inward and take responsibility for your role in your current relationship.

Another option is to stay together and have an open marriage or polyamorous relationship. This has its own set of complications and benefits.

If youre able to co-parent and be friends while married, theres a good chance youll be able to negotiate the transition to living apart respectfully. That being said, it gets trickier when one or both of you move on to someone new. Plus, finances will change, and not for the better. Many people also choose to stay together once the passion is gone due to finances, children or because they no longer care about whether they have physical intimacy with their partner — because theyre getting that need met elsewhere or theyve shut down that part of themselves.

Let’s face it, day-to-day life isnt particularly sexy, and this is especially true with the demands of small children. The challenge is to stay intrigued and excited about this person whom you see all the time now that the chase, mystery or novelty is gone.

In the meantime, as you weigh your options, find the balance between prioritizing your own needs and self-care while also having playful quality time with your partner. Arrange “play dates” together to engaging in novel and fun activities to see if you can re-ignite the flame.

More in Ask Dr. Rachel