how to overcome the loss of spark and fear of intimacy
October 31, 2005 9:14 PM   Subscribe

How can my girlfriend and I work past an aversion or barrier to intimacy that has come up in our relationship?

My girlfriend and I started having big troubles in our relationship (there have been threads of this we'd felt, and fought for a while, and made a lot of progress on) right after she graduated from college, we planned a big trip together not far off, and moved in together to save money. We had had problems with too much dependency and closeness at the expense of our lives. At that time we were making great progress on that and things looked good, so I think we missed giving ourselves space to grow in a transitional time on the highs of things getting better. We planned a four month trip to india, that bounded the time we had to work and work together. Moving in our interactions became mundane and mechanical, we started feeling alienated, withdrawing, fantasizing, and checking out of the relationship. Rather than taking space and trying to foster the love while doing self work and keeping some distance, we tried to make it work. I ended up trying to initiate all the time, and being turned down. I think I was trying to force it and play it off as being great to assauge my deep fears of loosing her, and my problems with clingyness. Things got worse and worse until my advances began to make her feel averse (it all felt mechanical to me but I wouldn't let myself think it out of fear), and she lost attraction to me. I ended up getting frustrated and calling for a break without seeing other people. The break got really messy, rife with me freaking out about being left, not loved, not longed after, and her feeling even less attracted and not wanting to deal or put energy into something so unsavory. Some break throughs happened and we are communicating, and feeling emotionally closer. I discovered that i had never been totally pleased in sex or in the relationship, but never confronted it or shared it with her. I always tried to please her, and never let go or let her take me. I developed my life around her, and our relationship stopped us from developing as individuals together with some space. Things could be looking up, and it could work. We both need to look into our feelings and see if we want to try to make this work, or if it isn't the best thing for us right now. I really want to work through this as I realized how much I really do love her, my limitations, and have seen the possibilities for flourishing out of all this turmoil. Still weirdness is in the air. Everything changed when we took the break and being around eachother, touching whatever felt distant and strange. It was as if our history was wiped away and we weren't really dating anymore, except that it feel even more conflicted and strange. With some closeness coming back it feels weird still, not knowing if we can grow past this and kiss, touch, make love, even cuddle, but knowing we'd have to if we were to get together again. She might be more inclined to try, but I get the impression she feels helpless against feeling no attraction for me now, and doesn't have any idea how to overcome that (and thinks we can't have a relationship without it). She's expressed worry about that, and even said she wonders if it is all sex and attraction, and if so what can she do? I think those experiences of wanting sex, wanting to be with me, but then feeling a physical aversion when I initiated have really impacted her and make her scared. I don't want to force anything or get in that position again. We have thought about professional help but don't know who to go to, if we have time, or if insurance will cover it. I bought Passionate Marriage on the recommendation of a previous thread, but it seems like it is dealing with people who both want to but it ends up not working. Any ideas for dealing with this? Can we overcome it? If so, how? I know this must be somewhat common, and want to believe this isn't the death knell of my deep love of many years. Thanks for any help!
posted by aussicht to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

And put an email in your profile.
posted by onalark at 9:37 PM on October 31, 2005

Sorry, that's my fault. I should have been more clear: The "flag" is the little exclamation mark next to the timestamp on every post and comment. Choose whatever reason you want; the point it, flagging the thread will catch the attention of site administrators who can edit your post.

Welcome aboard. And don't sweat your first post: There have been a lot worse. This doesn't even measure as a blip on the screen. ;-)

Problem is, I don't know what to tell you about your situation. My dime store psychology would intuit that your girlfriend's real hesitation has little to do with sex -- but you're asking kind of a deep question about people we don't know.

To answer your ostensible question, however: Yes, I think it's possible to change your feelings. The answer is old advice, which has become trendy in vernacular phrasing but originated from the Bible: "Act as if."
posted by cribcage at 9:47 PM on October 31, 2005

It sounds as if you both have a lot on your plates; some of it you've thought about, other parts are just a swirl of emotions, assumptions, expectations, desires, games, personalities, feelings, realizations. Let me take this opportunity to say: don't repress all of that. AND don't unload it all (right now) on the person in question. Get thee to an unbiased, trained professional who can help you tease apart the issues at stake here.

You wrote without paragraphs because you can't think about order or threads right now - it's just all one big ball of chaos for you. Talking with someone who can and WILL help you figure out what's what should be your first step. Anything we say here is just going to be picking up pieces of gravel on a dirt road.
posted by barnone at 10:21 PM on October 31, 2005

Been there...almost exactly there.

The only thing that solved it for me was heartbreak. She dumped my butt and through the pain (a couple years of it, including late night calls to friends and crisis lines and wandering streets so depressed that I was little more than an animal) I learned to stand on my own two feet, emotionally.

An interest in Zen Buddhism helped, as I struggled to understand the reason why attachments caused hurt and why losing the most serious of those attachments while retaining the ability to feel emotions was what I needed to do to help myself. It was a long struggle, but a very worthwhile one.

The best I can offer for advice for you is that remaining in your current relationship status is not going to solve your problem. Getting out of the relationship by your own choice will give you a starting point that I never had and may allow you to heal yourself and learn better emotional skills quicker than I did.

Good luck!
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:21 PM on October 31, 2005

I think the 'act as if' thing could have some power to it, but it could repeat the trauma for her of being another thing she tries to do for the relationship rather than what she wants, which might not fly at this point where things have broken down so much. Then again maybe that is the question: whether she wants to try? The break will probably help that (or will it? will it just perpetuate the uncertainty until we try? will we never know?), and moving out could be a huge step in that direction.

If the desire to try were there, then giving this a shot again could work by opening up space to interact differently and move past the pattern we got stuck in. That is if I tried to open myself to her, was assertive with my needs (which she found hot when I was able to release), and we weren't trying to do it just for the sake of having it happen?

But overcoming the fear to act as if I think is the part she's having trouble with and may be one part of making her feel like not even trying to move forward in the relationship (I don't know, and I don't think she does either, it's a confused mess that is getting clearer but...), and I have a hard time thinking of how to deal with it without putting more demands on her, making her do things she is uncomfortable with, etc. Yet on the otherhand have trouble seeing how we can talk our way out of it, or move past it without giving ourselves positive experiences and practice to reinforce the feelings we do have and redefine the dynamic that makes things weird now.

posted by aussicht at 10:24 PM on October 31, 2005

barnone, thanks. I feel like you read me pretty well, and I am going to think about that more. She was the one who suggested help originally, but it waned as she felt it might hard to find a good therapist we liked, there's not much time, and money could be an issue. I think there are solutions to all those things... I second you're thoughts on restraint about dumping all this on her, I learned that the hard way.
posted by aussicht at 11:15 PM on October 31, 2005

It sounds like you're smart (or at least got the language down pat!) and in a bit of pain right now. I don't know what to say... this isn't a competition; you might not get her and that might be for the best if she can't give you it.

Try and be someone she'd respect and love, but more than that stop doing it for her and take care of yourself. By that I mean friends, making art, music, seeing movies, books, and getting a worth outside her. Maybe you're doing it already, but it'll do wonders if you're not.

A 3rd party councilor is a great idea. It'll go down easier coming from someone else. If you both attend do be careful not to dominate -- you've got a lot of words there that might overwhelm mere humans.

This psychology book I once read said that people pair mental change with physical change. So should you change be sure to make it clear with a stupid haircut!

Good luck dude.
posted by holloway at 11:29 PM on October 31, 2005

Examine the relationship for any problems that haven't been resolved. You might find that she is resenting you, or you are resenting her, for things that you may have sat down and discussed without actually reaching closure on. Just because you've talked about an issue, it doesn't mean that's the end of it.

A professional would be the best person to tease any of these issues out, although if you really try you may be able to identify it/them yourself.

Get yourself back. It sounds like you're absolutely lost in this tangle of a relationship, and I would wager that outwardly you're not displaying a lot of the characteristics that made her fall in love with you in the first place.

Those things may help the relationship -- the latter would also help you personally. However, at the end of the day it looks like some fundamental things have changed (particularly for her), and perhaps it's the end of this relationship. Best of luck, no matter what happens.
posted by teem at 1:15 AM on November 1, 2005

Whew, I waded through all that in good faith, and I'm still a bit confused but here's a few nuggets, which may or may not apply since I'm a stranger on the internet (to you):

1) Sometimes when women stop wanting sex in a relationship (this is assuming the usual can't-keep-hands,etc.-off-of-each-other stage happened at one point, and there's been no sudden physical/health changes accompanying the drop-off), it's not a physical thing, it's a symptom of deeper unhappiness or ambivelance over what's going on in the relationship. Sometimes the body asserts what the mind won't face. ( Or maybe it IS as simple as an attraction/compatibility thing.)

2) It sounds to me like some time off would not be a bad thing. If a relationship is way, way too much work than it should be (particularly if it's not over issues like kids, finances, health problems, etc.), that's a big red flag. (Sometimes.)
posted by availablelight at 6:14 AM on November 1, 2005

An ideal relationship progression might go like this:
1. I am alone, and while I wish I had someone in my life I am very happy with who I am. I am independent, I have hobbies, I have a life, I can keep myself entertained.
2. I have met someone new. This person makes me even happier. I feel so lucky to know this person. I love being around this person. But I still have my own life and interests.
3. My love is integrated into my life. I have shared some of my hobbies with her, she has shared some of her hobbies with me. We complement each other. But we still hold on to the identities we fostered before we knew each other and spend time on personal pursuits without the other.

It sounds like your relationship went something like this:
1. I am alone and I wish I had someone in my life. I still have a lot of issues I need to deal with, though.
2. I have met someone new. This person makes it easier not to deal with my problems, because I can forget all about myself as an individual and bury myself in codependence. When I need to worry about problems, I can worry about her problems and our problems, not my problems.
3. I can't separate my identity as an individual from my identity as part of this relationship. We're miserable together, but I'm afraid to be alone.

Is this relationship really worth hanging on to? It sounds like you've both caused each other a lot of emotional pain, she's not attracted to you anymore, and you don't want to let go because you're afraid of being alone.

After many years of being in an emotionally dependent, unhealthy relationship, you should practice getting to know yourself without this girl. She can still be your friend, if you know you can both hold on to the friendship without harboring regrets about the end of your romance. If you can't, you should take a break from being friends, even.

Once you've figured out who you are on your own, then you can think about dating again -- not this girl, necessarily, just dating.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:40 AM on November 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you are in the city listed in your profile (I won't post it here), look up the website for the Psychology or Social Work department at the local main university and find out whether or not the Ph.D. (or Master's) program students offer sessions to the public for a lower cost.

I know our local university does -- they need training, you need help. Especially in this case, where it seems that it's not terribly threatening. I don't mean that to be demeaning, obviously you are hurting and would like to fix this, but from the post alone, it doesn't look like there are major glaring severe issues, and they'd be able to at least be your first line of defense. Make sense?

I would even suggest that just you go to some sessions somewhere - certainly couples counselling can be part of this, but individual time will really help you as well. That takes care of a) some of the cost and b) whether or not you both like the person.
posted by barnone at 6:44 AM on November 1, 2005

Your query reads as though it came out of you in one big rush. No paragraph breaks, lots of run on sentences. I second the suggestion that you seek help from a therapist, but in the meantime I'd recommend that you take what you've written and edit it. It always helps me to see a situation more clearly when I can give its narrative some shape. Give the events and issues space by giving them each their own paragraph. Give this story a beginning and a middle and that might help you to see where you are now. That way, when you get in to see the therapist, either with or without you partner, you'll be prepared to get at what's really bothering you.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:47 AM on November 1, 2005

You're overthinking all this.

Sex can tolerate some thinking, but sooner or later, good sex is about rubbing bellies together, not cerebellums. More thinking, especially if there is already too much thinking, isn't going to help sex. Working at the relationship won't help sex. I don't mean to seem crude, but at some point, each of you has to have a glandular response towards the other, at about the same time, and then get your glands in as close a proximity as possible.

It's nice if your hearts come along, fine and even tantric if your higher conciousness is taking the ride too, but absent the sweaty urgency of testosterone looking desperately for estrogen, whatever you wind up having is something short of sex.

What would it take to check your brains at the door for 20 minutes? When was the last time she saw a swelling in your pants and fire in your eye, and didn't hear a word coming out of you, and didn't need to? When was the last time you smelled like a man, and she tasted like a woman, and it was enough for both of you?

People get into habits. Habits aren't always good. From the gush of words of your original post, that speaks of work, and progress, and effort, but never of the taste of her salt in the creases under her breasts, or the smell of her hair, or the softness of her lips, this relationship sounds like it's all head and heart, and no, pardon my choice of phrase, dick.

You love this woman? Great.

Don't forget to be a dick.
posted by paulsc at 11:36 AM on November 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

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