Passion ambivalence - committed to relationship when in love with third?
January 6, 2015 5:49 AM   Subscribe

What is more important: having stability with your partner, whom you love (but possibly non-amorous) and whose company you enjoy or the being-in-love with a third person with whom you feel alive, passionate and excited

I have been in a relationship with my partner for 3 years now. Two fo these years, I felt like I was walking on egg-shells: More than being my partner's lover, I was her counselor, coach and partially mum (there is quite an age gap). She was in the middle of her law degree, and "I took care". Nurturing her. My desire for sex went away completely. She loves me, and she still feels the passion.

Then I met and fell in love with another woman. She had been in love with me for some time before my feelings surfaced. She feels like my soul mate. The relationship (long conversations, a bit of kissing, no sex) with her made me realise that I had not been "feeling alive" for a long time (something that good friends had pointed out to me for a while about my relationship with my partner - me ignoring it). It feels like she truely "sees" me.

My partner knows I have fallen in love with someone else. We have since (for the last few months) been working on your relationship (working through books such as "The Passion Ambivalence" and "Can your relationship be saved"), and the imbalance that used to be there has become a lot better. I like the stability, the reliability, and could imagine a solid future with her. The passion has not come back for me, so still no sex. I enjoy living with her, I enjoy hanging out with her, I like having her around - but there is no desire, no passion.

I am not seeing the other person at the moment, as I wanted to give myself and my partner time to work things out. I miss the other person every day, and think about her constantly. I immagine a relationship with her.

My partner will move out now, to give us some space, and initially we won't see one another for 4 weeks, so: I have time to figure things out? Fall out of love with the other one? Feel desire (absence makes the heart grow fonder ...)?

I feel guilt towards my partner for not feeling passion or wanting sex. The longing for the other person seems very raw and emotional. It's been like that for nearly half a year now. Is nurturing love enough for a relationship? Can passion come back (realistically, it was only there for the first few months)? Should a keep trying?
posted by Engel2014 to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think passion and stability are two separate entities in a healthy relationship - sure passion/sex have their peaks and valleys in a relationship, but that's just life. It doesn't sound like either relationship is going to have what you are looking for, I'm gathering your libido is higher then what your current girlfriend is providing/wants/needs and that is something that doesn't really change easily. After so many years, the real question is - could you do this for years on end and if not, then what's the other solution? Some may say open relationship, but that comes with it's own challenges and it sounds like you want both the passion and the emotional connection to your partner.

As for the second person, well, limerence is a hell of feeling but everyone has their own baggage that comes after a while. You feel alive because she is providing something that your current girlfriend doesn't. In the end, this girlfriend's shit is going to stink just as much as the first, the only difference is, you need to ask yourself is it worth it?

The end point is what I said originally, passion and an emotional connection are not two separate entities in a healthy relationship. I vote for getting out of your first one, getting back on your feet, then maybe think about dating. Don't be that guy that can't be single and bounces from one relationship to the next without ever discovering who "they" are.
posted by lpcxa0 at 5:59 AM on January 6, 2015

If you're going to keep trying, you're going to have to try the sex part, as well. If you are 100% disinterested in sex with your current partner, then let her go. However, if you want to rebuild this relationship, you can't do so on an intellectual level and leave the physical for later. Since this is a big part of why you're straying, I would see if you can rekindle that interest by trying with her, not by separating and thinking it over.
posted by xingcat at 6:00 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Very pleasant and comfortable things end. What favors are you doing by keeping your partner in a relationship where she knows she's winning you away from something you want more than her?

Just break up.

Know this though, that the other woman may not fulfill those things you admire in your current partner. You may find yourself pining for your partner and missing the comfort of your relationship with her. Realize that once you let her go, no matter how it ends up with the other woman, that it would be massively selfish and unfair of you to go back to her.

She'll be well out of this relationship, because she needs to find self-esteem. She needs to know that she's not auditioning for a role in your life, but that she's looking for someone to partner with her in her life. She deserves someone who loves her wholeheartedly, who takes her needs and desires into consideration, who realizes that passion is great, but not really sustainable in a day-to-day relationship. You may have bursts of passion, but it's not the all-encompassing feeling like at the beginning of a relationship.

It's okay to move on, so long as you do so honestly, and aren't keeping your partner waiting in the wings. Let her go so that she can find the passion too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:06 AM on January 6, 2015 [34 favorites]

Best answer: It is not natural for a mom to feel sexual desire for her child. You created a parent/child relationship with your current partner, which killed the sex. People who are in parent/child relationships tend to recreate them with everyone they are with. The desire for the new person is hot right now but once you start fixing her problems, it will fade as well. Basically, it doesn't matter who you are with at this point- without changing your behaviors, the end will always be the same.
posted by myselfasme at 6:06 AM on January 6, 2015 [14 favorites]

Do your partner a favor, and set her free to find someone who feels passion for her. She deserves better.

For that matter, so do you, but don't count on necessarily finding that with the new person.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:10 AM on January 6, 2015

Response by poster: @ lpcxa0: it's me who doesn't want sex with my current partner. My libido generally is fine, but I just don't want sex with her. And BTW, I am a woman, not a guy (:-) don't know if that should change things ...). I doubt it is still only limerance with the other one, as it has been going on a bit too long for that. But the getting out of the first relationship is sound, and getting back on my feet as well. Then possibly seeing what I want. I don't intend a rebound relationship.

@ qxingcat: That is interesting, about the intellectual level alone not working. But I have been doing exactely that in the past 6 weeks. It was ok, once I got into it, but "felt wrong". Twice, I thought about the other person.
posted by Engel2014 at 6:11 AM on January 6, 2015

To answer your question directly, of course it's possible to maintain sexual and/or romantic relationship with more than one person; people do it all the time, in ways healthy and otherwise.

But in your case it sounds as if the romantic relationship with your first partner is over, and since she's moving out it seems that you both acknowledge it. Perhaps you and she can continue some kind of friendship in the future -- I, a male, am friends with many of my ex-girlfriends -- but for that to work I'd highly recommend time apart first. I wish you the best in your new relationship and hope you can remain close and supportive friends with your ex.

(Responding to your recent post, it isn't necessarily bad to think about someone else occasionally when with your current partner, but if it's a constant thing, then yes, I'd imagine that's a sign that your time as lovers is probably at an end.)
posted by Gelatin at 6:29 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I doubt it is still only limerance with the other one, as it has been going on a bit too long for that.

Limerence isn't necessarily time-bound; it's more often a state that changes as the relationship evolves. You've experienced nothing but highs with this other woman, so you're really excited about her, but the real test of a relationship is what the lows and the unremarkable regular moments are like. The strong feelings you've got for her right now aren't sustainable.

The answer to your general question - stability or passion? - is that you really need both. It sounds like your current relationship is over, other woman or not. I don't know if a relationship with the new person is going to last or fulfill you in the long run.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:37 AM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

Be aware that the issue has a very real, non-zero, not even small chance of being
"I'm not sexually attracted to my partner, only to my lover on the side/others",
instead of
"I'm not sexually attracted to this particular partner, only to my lover on the side/others".

The worst part is: you are the person in the world least likely to be able to objectively judge your own motivations here. Humans are capable of convincing themselves for decades of... anything, really.

Regardless, the relationship you are in is ruinous to both of you, since a healthy, loving sex life is what you are withholding. Get out of this relationship, and seek one in which you are attracted sexually to your partner. If that one ends up heading for no-sex-land, seek a therapist.

Or seek one now. It's not like they'll harm you if you don't need their help, and their advice can be useful to any of us.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:18 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sounds like lesbian bed death to me. Move on to being friends and pick up with the new one.
posted by zia at 7:22 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If we didn't grow up thinking that a finished relationship equals a failed one this would not be so hard. Ask me how I know. (Literally - feel free to MeMail me).

You loved your partner, you took care of her, you helped her during a part of her life's journey. Now your relationship feels like it is at an end because you have reached another part of your own journey, in that you have needs and desires that you're not able to meet with her (and probably vice versa). That's ok. End it with love and gratitude and compassion. Take time to grieve the loss - and you will grieve - and then start the next chapter.

People talk about limerence a lot on the site, but sometimes you do actually fall in real love with someone else. Maybe a relationship with this new person might just prove to be the catalyst to ending a relationship that has run it's course and will be short-lived. Or maybe this is the person you're meant to be with and you can enjoy a relationship that fulfills you intellectually, emotionally AND sexually and you will be really happy. Check out Too Good To leave, Too Bad To Stay. Good luck.
posted by outoftime at 7:28 AM on January 6, 2015 [20 favorites]

Response by poster: I am actually seeing a therapist, because I need to find out what is happening, had happened and hence might happen again. It is very helpful and insightful :-)

And yes, I had thought about the lesbian bed death :-). But: it has happened before too, and then I was with a guy. And, as far as I understood that, it means both partners are ok without sex. But my partner isn't.
posted by Engel2014 at 7:35 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @ outoftime: it sounds like the same book as the one I worked with (should I stay ...), he also uses the "run its course". I will memail you later (time difference to Germany, nearly bed time here :-)
posted by Engel2014 at 7:38 AM on January 6, 2015

If you keep building a parent/child relationship with your partners then the desire for sex will fade, as it's a non sexual relationship. I have had a similar problem with me in my relationship, there is a 16 year age difference & so easy for me to mother my husband without thinking. I have had to take a serious step back & go, OK the mothering stops, you start acting like an adult & I start treating you like one or our sex life is going to die.

So we did, it's taken us 18 months to get back to the feeling like we are both equals & our sex life has improved no end, I mean it's not back at the hot & heavy new partner levels, but from once every 3 months to 2 or so times a week, which is a level we can live with. Here's the thing we both had to change, not only did I have to stop "parenting" him, he had to step up and stop being the "child", he had to take responsibility for things, and follow through without me nagging. He had to start taking initiative etc etc. Our definitions won't be yours, but you will need to trial & error & find the things you both need to work on to change your relationship definitions and do the work.

Having said that, neither of us had a shiny new thing we were interested in, and we were committed to fixing the relationship. She deserves a partner who treats her as an equal, you deserve a partner who will fill the roll of an equal, as others have said good relationships end and if you already have your sights set somewhere else, even a little, then maybe an ending isn't a bad thing for both of you, not every person comes into your life for forever & there is nothing wrong with that.
posted by wwax at 8:06 AM on January 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

It's only been two years and you haven't been feeling sexual towards this person for one and a half years?

Break up! You've been roommates and good friends, but not romantic partners.

Also, why wait to be with the person you love? Don't pick at yourself like that. Nothing is wrong. You didn't do anything wrong. You stuck around and helped someone you care for deeply finish law school. That's all.

Every relationship ends until the one that doesn't. No therapy or harsh self-judgement or labeling the incompatibilities that arise between folks will ever ever fix that Life Truth.

You don't need therapy, you need to date the person you're hot for!
posted by jbenben at 8:13 AM on January 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

If you hadn't been "feeling alive", I'm not sure that's a reflection of the *person* you were in a relationship with so much as it stems from the dynamic you two created together. It's primarily a reflection of how you are living your life on a daily basis -- if you are deciding to parent your partner instead of deciding to date them, then yeah, you're probably not going to feel alive. If you are deciding to pursue interests and activities that make you feel alive, then yeah, you'll probably feel alive. If you are only pursuing interests and activities that make you feel alive WITH a person who is not your partner, then yeah, you will probably only feel alive with this other person.
You get it?

The point is, neither of these women is actually capable of *making* you feel alive, nor are they responsible for doing so -- that's your job. You seem to be giving a lot of your own power away to this new person you're in love with, as if they are the source of your new lease on life, but that can't possibly be true. You're generating your own excitement in the presence of this person. So in the end, it's not about making a decision between a person who makes you feel BLAH and a person who makes you feel AMAZING, it's a choice between the life you want to create for yourself on a daily basis.

All this to say, I'd say get some counseling during your break to figure out why you willingly took on a parental role in a relationship. I disagree with the notion that it's normal or okay that you played mama to a grown woman. You said you walked on eggshells for TWO YEARS. That may sound noble, but it's a lot time to choose, on a daily basis, to be unhappy. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to understand the thought process that allowed you to create such a miserable circumstance.

I also recommend taking full responsibility for your feelings, and giving up the delusion that this other lady has the ability to bring you unending joy. You have no idea how a relationship with her will turn out. No matter what you decide, you are the one who is going to have to make yourself feel alive. Maybe also take this as valuable information for the future: If you take on the parental role in a romance, you will not feel alive. So don't do that.
posted by Gray Skies at 9:47 AM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

It sounds like the time when you really needed each other is in the past. If it's time to move forward, then so be it. It sounds like your relationship to your partner has a parental quality anyway. You don't need to stop loving her, but kids do need to leave the nest and go out on their own someday.
posted by sam_harms at 9:52 AM on January 6, 2015

Gray Skies's comment is spot-on.

Then I met and fell in love with another woman.... The relationship (long conversations, a bit of kissing, no sex) with her made me realise that I had not been "feeling alive" for a long time (something that good friends had pointed out to me for a while about my relationship with my partner - me ignoring it).

In the future, pay a lot more attention to what these Good Friends that you are fortunate enough to have in your life are telling you about how they see you - like your new love interest, these Friends also seem to understand you and are probably a more reliable gauge. Also give some thought to the defense mechanisms you have going on in yourself that caused you to ignore your friends' correct assessments about how you're presenting to the world.
posted by hush at 11:29 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

She really doesn't need you and likely won't ever regain trust in you. The passion she feels---she'll realize it's in her, that it has nothing to do with you. Trust me. She'll fall in love with the right person.

With you having fallen in love with someone else, to stay with you would honestly be settling for her, in a really miserable way. She might feel scared and think she wants you in the short run, but she really, truly doesn't and she'll know it in the long run. She's just going to be afraid and sad and mourning out of panic. Short term panic. She'll be fine.

Because it's impossible to truly want someone who treats you like an option. It's just a basic self preservation thing. She'll look at other couples who are in love and just yearn, she probably already does.

But bottom line, she doesn't want you really. You want her to want you, but since you were able to fall in love with someone else---her discontentment with you was borne that day. You aren't really making a choice. Love disappears very quickly in the absence of commitment and loyalty. And many women who don't feel fully loved and committed to sense it and yearn for the person who will every time she looks at you. Because, at the end of the day, there's nothing that indicates that her self esteem is so low that she would be willing to settle for a guy who was uncommitted enough to fall in love with another woman, no matter what he did for her.

TL;DR She's way better off without you, no matter how much she leaned on you emotionally and says she is passionate about you. The passion is in her and she'll meet her match, and you can go be with the other woman, no worries.
posted by discopolo at 4:02 PM on January 6, 2015

Best answer: I can't claim any expertise in this because I'm not polyamorous, but if you are getting different things from different partners and it feels okay to you except that it's hurting the partner(s), you might consider examining with your therapist whether monogamy is really the best fit for you. It doesn't solve your immediate problem, and it doesn't help your current partner, but the way you're framing this as an either/or (passion or stability, sex or reliability) sounds like you have two very different sets of needs and desires that might not be answered by having a single partner going forward. It's not that people can't have passion and stability in the same relationship, it's the fact you're finding it a dichotomy that makes me wonder this.
posted by gingerest at 5:09 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The split of wants, needs, and desires among separate partners is not the problem.

It is the lack of transparency in your dealings.

There is a discrepancy between how you are living and how you want to live. Another in how your live-in partner feels about you and how you feel about her.

I once lived with a partner with whom I had an intense, artistic, emotionally connected, nurturing and completely sexless relationship. At the same time, I was wildly in love and having great sex with another women who I considered my "soul mate."

I lived for a long time this way, content to move between spheres. When I finally broke up with my live-in partner, it was because I discovered an imbalance in our truths. Romantic desire had bloomed in our beautiful desert. But it was one-sided — my partner knew I could never return their affection. So in a desperate bid to preserve our connection, they hid their longing for me, secreted it away; and the burden of lies became like a cancer between us.

Had they admitted their desire when it first arose, we could have dealt with it as adults. I could have moved out, given them room to forge other relationships. In time perhaps we would have resumed our artistic kinship, which I still miss and prize.

Honesty bridges the gap. It is possible to have both — passion and stability. Maybe not with these two, because history is wretched, but in the future. Stop trying to force your heart. It's okay to want different things from different people. It's okay to be daddy for one, lover for another. Just be real with yourself — lift the veils off your expectations.
posted by fritillary at 6:05 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @ gingerst and fritillary: very interesting comments. And so true: Absolute honesty, or at least all of a polyamorous relationship consenting to the same set of rules, is important. I have given the polyamour some thought. For a while, after I hear of it the first time, I felt great, as that seemed to explain my dilemma.

@ hush: you are so right. I need to pay more attention to my good friends. And mum.

I think one thing that helps me is letting go of the thought of a "failed relationship" and seeing it as a "relationship that has run its course". Because one reason I stuck with my current partner was me not wanting to acknowledged that I had managed to "f*ck up" yet another relationship.

Thank you all of the others for your insightful and thought-provoking comments!
posted by Engel2014 at 9:51 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

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