My 8 year relationship lacks passion... should we move on?
July 10, 2015 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I am in my early 30s and have been in a loving relationship for over 8 years. We live together and our lives are very intermingled. But the passion is gone, and I am beginning to wonder whether we'd be better apart.

So, firstly, I really love my girlfriend, and I know she loves me. We care about each other a lot. We understand each other, and support each other's lives a great deal. For the past few years our sex life has not been fantastic, and I could put this down to a few things. Time is one, we have been together 8 years. My girlfriend's sex drive is definitely less than mine, and this has often created imbalances in how we approach each other. She is a fiercely independent feminist, intelligent, beautiful, and worth being worshiped in every way (I could not, by the way, imagine being in a relationship with anyone who wasn't a fiercely independent feminist!!), but she is also demanding, and tends to consider sex as something that should be for her pleasure, and if doesn't please her then it is over, or not even instigated. My pleasure often feels less important - or, to be clear, she believes my pleasure is always already a given in sex - because that's how men/I work... right? When our sex is good, the time is right, it can be really good, and in the past it was fantastic. But we just don't do it very much anymore, and that can be very frustrating. I don't instigate sex very often for fear of being rejected by her. It's frustrating, and I really believe that we are both to 'blame' for that situation.

Some of our friends are married, some have kids, but we are not the marrying type, and are both at places in our careers that will mean we won't be really able to commit to children for another couple of years at least. A year ago my girlfriend fell pregnant, and it was just not the right time for us. We supported each other through this and decided that an abortion was the right thing to do. I realise that me saying this here, now, seems like I have not considered it in the wider scheme of things, but though I think maybe it is a small part of why we have grown apart, I can honestly say that us growing apart began before the abortion. It brought us together too in many ways. It was not a nice time, but neither of us regret the choice we made together, and we cared deeply for each other through the whole ordeal (anyone who claims that abortion is a minor thing - like I used to - hasn't gone through it). Many things we did this year - in our personal lives and careers - could not have happened if we had a baby, and our financial situation would have been incredibly precarious. We have talked about it a lot. I think we'd make great parents, one day. We have a dog and that is a big part of our lives together. We already feel like a family in many ways. But yes. The biological clock is ticking, and my girlfriend definitely wants kids eventually. I think I do, but it is not as clear as it is for her. Do I want kids? Yes, with the right person. Is my girlfriend the right person? Yes, she could be. She was. She often is.

I just feel like maybe we would be happier with other people sometimes. That we have grown so into each other that life has become a little stale. I crave passion and romance and to be with someone who desires and wants me, and that is not how it feels anymore. I realise that every relationship goes through stages, and we have to grown with them, but at the same time maybe I am using that as an excuse to not move on, because I feel like "well, this is the stage this relationship is naturally at now, and you should stick with it because things are pretty damn good and you love each other and you should be an adult and embrace this." I don't know.

Maybe part of this stems from my general inexperience. I only had one proper girlfriend before this one, for a couple of years. That's all my relationship (including sexual) experience. My girlfriend is more experienced, but she has never been with someone for as long as me.

I realise this is all too vague to warrant a direct response. I just need to get these words down. It is starting to make me unhappy, because I feel a warmth from other people - women - that I don't get from my girlfriend anymore. I fantasize about being with other women, though I have never acted on that feeling. And... I love her. I really do, and I know she loves me. But it's not a passionate love anymore. And I really feel like that is something that is missing from my - our - life. If we did break up it would be horrendous, but also, I know we'd both do well and I'd be happy to see my girlfriend with someone else, if that made her happy. I am sure that feeling would be mutual. But also, I would miss her.

Is passion worth risking everything for?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Why aren't you talking about your need for passion with her? Or all of these things?

I can't in good conscience say she's better off with you than someone else, especially since there's a huge wall of text of stuff that sounds like it has been simmering---but nothing you've explained to her or talked to her about. But I bet if you guys talked honestly, you'd find she probably feels the same way that you do---that she could use more passion and closeness in her life.

Also are you asking her to do something in bed with you that won't be pleasurable for her so she doesn't want to? She doesn't have to do anything she doesn't feel like doing, but if you haven't explicitly explained it, how is she supposed to read your mind?
posted by discopolo at 7:44 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a totally normal situation in most long term relationships. For us, it led to couples counseling. We found it really helpful to find ways to talk about these types of issues without having to make it seem like a huge deal to start the conversation. I'm not saying it threw us back into the intoxicating feelings of falling in love, but it really helped us see how important it is to reconnect now and then.
posted by advicepig at 7:55 PM on July 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

That we have grown so into each other that life has become a little stale.

So what are you doing to address this? Have you done anything to address this? A relationship is like a car: if you want it to last a long time, being careful isn't enough - you need to get it regularly serviced to stop little problems becoming big problems.

What you have should not be sniffed that, though a little "grass is greener" is understandable and expected in long term relationships (especially, I think, as people move into their thirties, and that wonderful sense of possibility from your twenties starts to evanescence and you face pressure to start locking in choice in career, relationship, financial stuff etc.

From what you've written here, it sounds like you have not shared these feelings with your girlfriend, or instigated any activities/exercise to address your needs or this perceived "slide". I understand. It's hard to talk about our feelings, especially for many men, and especially when it runs the risk of both hurting someone you care greatly for, and hurting yourself in the process.

But it's a pretty key skill for a relationship - and one that's worth investing in because it will yield dividends for years to come. I see a lot of men who don't really have this ability, and they often end up in deeply unhappy relationship because they cannot be emotionally honest with their partners - and by extension with themselves. It can turn relationships into an act of repression and can rob them of intimacy (this is not to say you share everything, balance is good). These guys, also, often end up repeating "Twenties" style relationships well into their forties and beyond.

I'm not saying this is you, or that this will be you, but I do find men in particular often have a real all or nothing mentality with relationships, and there's a lot more ambiguity in there - and also more peaks and lows.

A counsellor could help you define what you're looking for in this relationship, and give you some strategies for articulating it with your partner in a constructive way.

Don't throw out a good relationship because of vague dissatisfaction, in many cases this is addressable. Best of luck,
posted by smoke at 8:04 PM on July 10, 2015 [24 favorites]

I kind of want to say look, 8 years is a long time, and I don't think crazy-hot boning lasts that long for a lot of people. Deeper stuff happens, but it's not all about whether or not you can splash the ceiling every time. Not everyone here will agree with me on that, and I envy them their lives, but not everybody gets that, just biologically. Shit happens. Familiarity breeds. Thyroids get stupid. Apparently neither one of you is on an SSRI.

But this:

I feel a warmth from other people - women - that I don't get from my girlfriend anymore

Yeah, you don't have pay the bills with those warm-ass women, either. They haven't seen you with the flu, or whiny, or with a splinter. They're not carrying around the scars from that fight 7 years ago where you said that thing in the heat of the moment that she never quite forgets. They never implied you weren't as smart as you think you are that one time.

I assume that by "passion" you mean getting off. If the quality of that isn't sufficient for you to stay, pack your shit and go right now if that's the metric that's most important to you.

My sex life is not going to set flammable materials alight anymore, but I would personally tear the throat out of anyone who hurt him with my teeth. My body is his in the sense that I would put it in between him and a bullet. This is not dependent on the sex.

But having actual conversations helps the boning part tremendously. If you're actually thinking about leaving her without having one of those, again, you should pack your shit and go tonight. Otherwise have the hard conversations. At least make that effort first.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:07 PM on July 10, 2015 [77 favorites]

I really think you should talk with her about this well before you decide what to do. And you should both make greater efforts. Only then can you learn what you have and decide what you want to do.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:11 PM on July 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

or, to be clear, she believes my pleasure is always already a given in sex - because that's how men/I work... right?

This is very sad to me, and I would never want to feel like my partner thought this about having sex with me. What do you need to feel pleasure? What's your fantasy life like? Have you shared exactly this with your partner?

I mean, I don't know, maybe it's a super taboo kink that you need and you're worried that you'll freak her out, but I don't get that sense from your question. I get the sense that you want more foreplay/teasing, or more blowjobs, or heck, even just more cuddles, and those are all totally not-scary things to discuss with a partner. Barring something you may not be telling us about.

So - why don't you talk to your girlfriend of 8 years about your fantasies? Couldn't hurt.
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:21 PM on July 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

There is a huge gulf between an unfulfilling sex life and calling it quits. There are books, weekend escapes, conversations, new ways to approach each other, taking breaks and coming back together physically, exploring new sex stuff, counselling (esp. if it's from relationship/depression issues), medication and exercise if it's a physical thing, scheduled sex - couples who want to can very often make their sex life come alive again and again. But you have to actively want to, both of you.

And that means having a conversation. And if you've been together this long and have so much love shared, several conversations. Be brave. Talk to her. Write this down, edit it and write it down again. Talk to a therapist a couple of times to figure it out in your head before you talk to her if you can't quite get there yet. But it is totally possible to have a great sexual relationship as an adult, and for that to take work and effort at times. You were lucky that the first few years were easy, this is probably going to be one of those times were you have to dig in and work. And risk that the work doesn't pay off, and you guys have some gulf that can't be breached.

But that will be better than calling quits for never having the conversations and trying and just quitting.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:52 PM on July 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

And kind of on the flip-side of my original comment: how sexy are you? I feel like men are conditioned to believe that the downstairs dictator simply deserves adoration, and you may not understand how much real life distracts from the inclination to provide the anticipated level of worship.

I recommend Emily Nagoski's "Come As You Are" to women all the time, but it might be advantageous for a man to read in order to speak to a woman about (what is frequently significantly more complex female desire) on an educated level. If you feel like she also does not understand your desire, it might give you the words you need to explain in more detail.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:52 PM on July 10, 2015 [11 favorites]

Personally, I'd stick with it, even if you just think you might want kids. It takes a long, long time to build up the sort of comfort and personal-life-intermingled-ness you get in a relationship of that length. I'm naturally a we-can-fix-this sort of person, though, and it'll be something you both have to really commit to.

It does sound like you have some sexual incompatibilities - my ex had a similar attitude towards sex, eventually, the sort of "hey, you're a dude, so long as you're getting to have sex obviously you're happy with whatever so long as it's happening" thing, and this just isn't true - you both need to have an attitude that the other person's pleasure is extremely important. Why even bother otherwise?

I'd find a sex-positive and smart counsellor and try and talk some of this through. So long as you both love each other and there are no other major road bumps, and you both see some potential from putting the work in and trying to get past this...any relationship is likely going to get to this point, and if you want kids, it getting to that point when you're late 30s vs early 30s is going to be much easier from a fertility standpoint.

The sunk-cost fallacy is definitely a thing, and if there's really no way you both can conceive this working out in the long long term, maybe it's better to part ways amicably, but if you both can, then talk, work, counselling, more talk, trying new things, even more talk - totally worth it if you can see a happy future together.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:09 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

(anyone who claims that abortion is a minor thing - like I used to - hasn't gone through it)

Don't make this assumption, this is another place you should see if you're on the same page as your gf.
posted by bendy at 10:33 PM on July 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

As several people have suggested, if you want to fix this, you need to start talking to your partner. David Schnarch writes about how to takes good communication and willingness to take some emotional risks and to have a really great sex life. I would recommend you read his book on Intimacy and Desire to get some ideas on how to get unstuck.
posted by metahawk at 11:36 PM on July 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

So much of this comes down to emotional and physical intimacy. While it's clear that you support each other, understand each other, and value the relationship in theory, I can't tell from your question how intimate you still are with each other so all I can really offer is a bunch of rhetorical questions that might help you frame things in a helpful way. Only you can determine what you need in a relationship, but physical and emotional intimacy are not unreasonable needs, as long as you're sure you're providing for her needs too.

but she is also demanding, and tends to consider sex as something that should be for her pleasure, and if doesn't please her then it is over, or not even instigated.

Is her pleasure a point of contention because she has had to cajole you into pleasing her in the past, or does she actually have no interest in what pleases you? Does she come first and roll over, leaving you on her own, or is she insistent on her own pleasure because she doesn't get it at all if it isn't part of some pre-arranged bargain? If you asked her, "hey sweetie, what turns me on? what do I really like in bed?" would she know and care, or would she have no idea? What about you, could you do the same for her in the same detail?

It was not a nice time, but neither of us regret the choice we made together, and we cared deeply for each other through the whole ordeal (anyone who claims that abortion is a minor thing - like I used to - hasn't gone through it).

How did you both feel about your emotional intimacy with each other throughout this process? Did the experience bring you together at all? Could you have given a mostly-accurate account of her deepest feelings on the subject, and could she do the same for you? Did you feel cared for and comforted by her emotional intimacy throughout the process, and vice-versa? Is that the kind of emotional support you would like to look forward to if something else terrible happened in your life, or was it lacking in some fundamental way? Do you both feel safe to bring up concerns with each other, even about each other and the relationship?

I crave passion and romance and to be with someone who desires and wants me, and that is not how it feels anymore. I realise that every relationship goes through stages, and we have to grown with them, but at the same time maybe I am using that as an excuse to not move on, because I feel like "well, this is the stage this relationship is naturally at now, and you should stick with it because things are pretty damn good and you love each other and you should be an adult and embrace this." I don't know.

Hmm. How long have you felt this way? You've been together eight years now - is this the first time you've had these persistent feelings, or have you felt this way for a long time? She probably craves passion and romance and being with someone who desires and wants her too - do you feel like she gets this in her relationship with you?

I don't ask all these questions about reciprocity to make you feel bad or to imply the problem is yours at all. I have just seen this pattern a lot, where the partner who is doing less of the emotional intimacy work paradoxically feels emotionally disconnected or passionless, precisely because s/he's already checked out of the emotional and/or physical life of the relationship.

Anyway, as others have said, you can start by having a good, honest conversation about how things have been feeling in your relationship for both of you. Definitely tell her that you have been feeling this way as soon as you can so you can start trying to solve the problem together. Most importantly, just don't stay ambivalent forever - that is an awful poison to a relationship, to always have one foot in and one foot out. Best of luck.
posted by dialetheia at 11:49 PM on July 10, 2015 [11 favorites]

I could have written a post similar to this ten years ago. I had a perfectly nice boyfriend of six years, we lived together, we had fun together, but our sex life was negligible and we weren't looking to the future at all. I used to look at other couples doing passionate snogging and feel consumed with jealousy. I left my nice boyfriend and my next serious relationship had all the passion I had been craving. Said next relationship was also with a really horrible person, and I am sad to say that relationships with really horrible people tend to be more passionate than those with nice, normal people. Did I regret leaving the first ex? Not in itself, we weren't right for each other, but given that if I'd stayed with him I would never have opened myself up to the world of hurt that came with the "passionate relationship".

I'm not saying don't end your relationship, but I am saying tread very carefully and think about why the passion has gone and if there is anything you can do to repair it before you move on.
posted by intensitymultiply at 3:46 AM on July 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

These sound like repairable things if you speak up and say what you're feeling, if you both agree the relationship is something you want to save, and if you are both willing to work on it. Good relationships don't just happen, they take work and maintenance. Good luck.
posted by cecic at 6:41 AM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is passion worth risking everything for?

I think it's very worthwhile to risk your relationship on an attempt to improve it. Right now you have a stable relationship that's Hershey's chocolate good, but you don't have to resign yourself to staying with the status quo. Bring up these hard things and advocate for your needs and your wants because you want to stay, but stay better. If this doesn't work out, if she's not the kind of person who can adjust to a relationship that better fits your needs, then you can still break up. That option doesn't go away. But even if that happens, the experience of doing the brave thing and trying to break out of the rut you're in will be valuable in relationships down the line. Otherwise you could fall into another relationship with the same end point.
posted by foxfirefey at 7:23 PM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

This reads to me like you are a thoughtful, reasonable person who secretly wants out of his relationship, and wants the experience of fucking new people, but currently lacks sufficient cause in your own mind to pull the proverbial trigger. Is that really you? (See "Wanting To Leave Is Reason Enough" by Dear Sugar for more on this-- and by the way, I don't always agree with her particular bit of advice when people are actually married and/or have kids, but I'll note that you do not meet either criteria, so read away then.) Not to be crass, but you sound a bit like the target advertising demographic for Ashley Madison: wants passion and novelty except with the illusion of total primary relationship security. If that's you, own it. No shame-- I applaud your honesty, and I dare you to show this anonymous Ask to your girlfriend and start unpacking these issues together, perhaps with a therapist.

I've favorited loads of comments here and agree that if you truly do want to continue in this relationship, you are majorly under communicating with your girlfriend in an unfair way. You're also doing that thing where you have not told your partner pretty much any of this deep stuff you are experiencing, and if you don't change this fact, eventually she will continue to fail most or all of your unspoken tests, sexual metrics, and expectations and then you will do something to sabotage the relationship like blindsiding her with an affair with a fungible young woman who makes you feel good short-term. And you'll blame your partner for it, and will make it all so much harder than it ever needed to be. She wants kids! Don't wait until she is 35 or over to figure your stuff out and finally torpedo your relationship. Give her time to have a child with someone else who truly wants to be with her.

A loss of passion over time is actually not a 100% universal thing in relationships, even though that narrative is definitely a dominant one in our culture. I would not be ok with it personally, and would knock down the doors of any therapist available and work crazy hard to thwart it, but I am not most people. I've been with my husband for 14 years and we have been parents for 8 of those years, and we are just as passionate today as we were in our easier mid-20s when our busy professional careers were our only real responsibility. But maybe we're unicorns or something. Still. Finding a truly good match for yourself (whether with your current girlfriend or a future one) is never going to happen until you start daring to bring your truest, most authentic self into your relationship. You have got to start keeping it real with your girlfriend, or break up with her now and stop wasting her most fertile years-- you know she wants a kid and you don't and I cannot stress this enough-- you needed to start discussing that yesterday. Maybe there's a reason neither of you think of yourselves as "the marrying kind" in the context if this specific relationship. You'll never become "the marrying kind" until you start truly showing up emotionally for someone.
posted by hush at 9:59 AM on July 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

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