The fire is out, but is it possible to spark a new flame?
November 10, 2015 6:44 AM   Subscribe

I don't feel sexually attracted to my spouse anymore. What now?

I'm female, my spouse is male. We've been together for about a decade, since we were in our early 20's. When we first met, the physical attraction was instant. We dove into a very intense fling, which evolved into a stable and happy long term relationship. I wish I could conclude here with "happily ever after," but things haven't been so good between us for a long while.

As I said, when we first got together, I was very attracted to him physically. He still is extremely attractive, handsome, and fit. I've realized now that I'm older that this isn't enough for me anymore. I've grown to crave intellectual and emotional chemistry far more. I love him, I admire him, and I think we're the best of friends, but we just don't have the kind of connection that makes me tick now.

I know this is so unfair to him. I want to fix it, but I don't know how. I can't make him a different person. I can't ask him to think and talk and act differently. The lack of sexual attraction has started to damage other aspects of our relationship. He has brought it up several times, that he's worried we don't have much if any sexual intimacy. Recently, I forced myself to initiate sex with him. The act itself felt horrible. I didn't want it or enjoy it, and afterwards I felt like crying for both our sakes.

After a few years of thinking my sex drive had gone and died, and that there was something seriously wrong with me, I met someone. I wasn't looking for anyone or anything, our paths just kind of collided, and this sounds so cheesy, but I found what I was missing.

The chemistry I have with this other person is through the roof, it's so insane and so beyond anything either of us have experienced before that we are both stunned by it. I feel like this part of me is awake and alive again. He's able to turn me on like crazy with just a few words, never having even touched me. I'm not going to end up together with this man (the reasons aren't relevant), but I see more clearly than ever that there is a glaring void in my marriage, and I don't know how I can resign myself to never having this kind of connection again for the rest of my life.

It's not novelty, I'm not having a mid-life crisis, this is not just me looking for an ego boost. I'm not just missing the early days of feeling butterflies and infatuation while dating my husband. I've thought long and hard about whether I'm seeing this for something it's not. I'm certain, it's like a new color on the spectrum has suddenly been revealed to me.

Can I fix this? Have you? How? I want my happy marriage back, and I want my husband to feel loved and appreciated as he should, but I'm afraid now that we're not right for each other. I feel so confused, and I'm so unhappy and scared. I know the AskMe standard answer is going to be therapy/counseling, and communication with my husband, but is it possible to talk oneself into feeling sexual attraction again?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

I think so yes. If the lack of attraction is down to a lack of emotional and intellectual connection as you describe above then why wouldn't counselling help?
posted by xx_becky31_xx at 6:48 AM on November 10, 2015

In my opinion, you cannot fix this. It has been over for a while and was finalized when you felt incredible passion for this other guy. It's time to think about how to split up gently, though of course it will be incredibly damaging. But then, hey guess what--you get to feel passion again! And maybe meet someone who permanently does it for you! Don't beat yourself up. But don't prolong the agony either. Good luck.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:50 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can't fix feelings of loathing and disgust that occur during sex with your husband.

How would that even work? It would be some Clockwork Orange reprogramming.

You can talk and start to work towards several goals:

• You have an intimate householding friendship with or without outside sexual engagements

• You break up and/or divorce and/or unwind your intimate relationship

• You help your husband find a second partner

• You have secretive shady affairs and live a double life

• You just disappear one night

• You get a third spouse for both of you to tryst with!!!

• Literally anything else you can imagine.

You might regret any or all of these choices. But you have to make an active choice.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:53 AM on November 10, 2015 [17 favorites]

I think these things can be fixable, but it's not a guarantee. If you're interested in seeing if it is fixable (which is entirely up to you, and you can say, "It's not fixable" at any time during the process, or even now), then a very good, sex-positive counselor would probably be the first step. Being open with your partner about what's happening and how you feel (even if it hurts have to be honest, but of course, in as kind a way as you can be) and that you don't know if this part is something you can get back would also be a good beginning step.

Whether or not you want to try is perfectly okay. If you try and it doesn't work, it's okay. I think the main thing is that you can tell from your question how much love you have for your husband, and if you're honest and kind with him, you both can do what's right for both of you, even though it might be very difficult and sad.
posted by xingcat at 7:03 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is possible to reinvent/reframe that attraction (I'm pretty sure the ability to do so, on multiple axes, is how successful relationships happen, because people change), but the first thing you need to do is reeeeally unpack the resentment and bad feelings and figure out where they're coming from.

Therapy is the best way to do that. You may also want to pick up an Esther Perel book for food for thought.

What you can't do is assume that your intense attraction for someone else (also a plain old part of being an alive human being) meeeeeeeeans something prophetic and special. It's easy to want to fuck the top layer of skin off someone you don't have to pay bills with, someone who hasn't accidentally hurt your feelings dozens of times (and vice versa), someone you haven't fought with over hard shit.

A lot of the time, people decide that attraction meeeeans something, dismantle their lives to pursue it, and then wake up one morning to realize you can't run away from yourself no matter how hard you try.

In the end, if you leave your husband, leave him for you, not for someone else. But give yourself and the relationship a fair shake first.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:23 AM on November 10, 2015 [84 favorites]

Bear in mind that what you are going through with your new flame right now exactly parallels your experience with the person with whom sex is now disgusting. Lust is a very poor advisor. In other words, don't trust a process already proven wrong for you. Try something different. Try talk therapy.
posted by janey47 at 7:26 AM on November 10, 2015 [52 favorites]

If you are craving "intellectual and emotional chemistry" that is lacking in your relationship, then this is much more than than just a physical/sexual void. Can you rekindle emotional and intellectual attraction to your husband, or was it never there to begin with? I think that this is the important question. This is a tough situation, good luck!
posted by fourpotatoes at 7:32 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow, I think this is eminently fixable. Deep incompatibility on daily living things is much harder to fix. You can't fix it while crushing on someone else, though. That's going to drive a total wedge in your marriage, because your familiar, comfortable husband can never compare. And this doesn't mean he's not worth it -- it's because he's in a different life stage with you. It's natural and normal for passion to wane, and to wax again, over the course of a marriage.

You're wrong that what you're getting with Other Guy is not novelty; that's probably 90% of what you're getting. The fact that he can turn you on without even touching you also means that a lot of what you're getting is the high from having a no-no relationship. These, also, are totally normal feelings -- but they're dangerous to your marriage. So I'd say first, cut off all contact with him. He's exciting, but he's going to ruin your marriage. And if you don't see a long-term relationship with him, at least see that keeping him around will end your chances of having a long-term relationship with your husband.

You can, instead, direct your passionate feelings towards your husband, even though this won't feel natural at first. Not sexual passion, but loving passion. Do for him what you wish you could do for Other Guy. Tell him he's extremely attractive, handsome, and fit, and make opportunities to see him flaunt those characteristics. Tell him he's your best friend, and build on that. Bring in new activities and friends, new places and circumstances. This won't be instant, it won't be crotch-on-fire exciting, but it's a marriage, not a porn movie. Remember what marriage is for, what it looks like when you're 50 or 70, and go for that. It's a long-term, ideally lifetime, bond between two people who complement each other, not a perpetual roll in the hay with Mr. Hotpants. Try to impress and excite your husband, again, the way you did in the beginning. Wear nice things, be charming and light, and it's likely that he'll reach out with a new love that you are totally warmed by.

I know you're feeling intellectually stimulated by Other Guy, so remember that the brain is the biggest erogenous organ. You'll therefore need to find intellectual connections with your husband. What new interests have the two of you sought out together in the last few years? I'm guessing very little. You've likely settled into a comfortable, non-challenging life. Clearly whatever you're doing isn't working, so do something different. Read together, go to talks or museums or readings or political events or church or whatever fires you up, and recognize that you many need to try many different things, and see each other in many different lights, to find that chemistry again.

And finally, remember that for the person in a mid-life crisis, it always feels special, different, not mid-life crisisy. But it's a completely normal, almost inevitable, phase. How you handle it is a mark of your maturity, caring, and character. Don't ask your husband to compare to someone who you haven't seen with the runs, haven't had to argue with over who's going to clean up the big mess after a huge trash bag bursts, hasn't seen you snorking with phlegm during a nasty cold. He's the guy that stuck with you despite all that, and that's kind of sexy. He's solid and loving, aware of the importance of connection in a marriage, and that's also sexy. Reach out, hold his hand, tell him the truth, and work with him to refocus on each other. Lean towards him, not towards Other Guy, because that's where your future happiness and fulfillment will be found.

I know all this because my husband left me for Ms. Hotpants, a year ago, and has recently come back to me, depressed and ashamed for having ruined our amazing marriage. He too felt chemistry through the roof, but he couldn't even manage to live with her for a full lease term. He too felt that he wasn't getting the passion he needed from his marriage, but he didn't try to stoke that passion by focusing on me. He turned away from me, and damn near lost everything. I would have been there for him, as your husband is likely willing to be there for you, even through the tough time of hearing that his wife is totally turned on by someone else. As hard as that is to hear, it's better than hearing, "Good-bye." Be fair to him and give him the chance to understand and meet your needs.
posted by Capri at 7:32 AM on November 10, 2015 [104 favorites]

Passionate Marriage is a frequently suggested book on AskMe for a reason. It would be a good complement to therapy.
posted by ourobouros at 7:34 AM on November 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yes, you can absolutely get those feelings back (even if they strayed all the way to disgust). Maybe not exactly the same, maybe even deeper. I think the counseling would help create a new intimacy, pulling in from who you both now are, rather than who you both were 10 years ago.
posted by Vaike at 7:38 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

For me sexual interest, spark, compatibility is linked with TRUST.

If the trust is lacking - nope. It's not fixable. Unless the trust is fixable. Which depends on how the trust got broken...

Do you and your spouse share trust? If so, is the sexual chemistry broken for another reason??

There is not enough info to answer your question. If your spouse is into cuckolding, your betrayal may actually strengthen your connection. In general, cheating kills what is left of a relationship. There's not enough info to answer your question.
posted by jbenben at 7:56 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

"I've grown to crave intellectual and emotional chemistry far more. I love him, I admire him, and I think we're the best of friends, but we just don't have the kind of connection that makes me tick now."

Sounds as if it's not really about sex. Lack of sexual attraction is the result of a lack of deeper connection. Seems that you've changed and so have your needs. Agree that therapy would hopefully help to sort out your feelings, before you do anything to change the situation.

I'm not your therapist.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:58 AM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Would your feelings be as they are if you had not "discovered" what you think you wanted while still married ? Note that in talking about the other guy you mention mostly or only the sexual turnon and not the many things missing with your husband.
posted by Postroad at 8:52 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

What you're feeling for the new person is just limerence. Do not make any major life decisions while under the influence of limerence because right now you're as rational as someone regularly snorting cocaine.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:55 AM on November 10, 2015 [22 favorites]

"It's not novelty" is a pretty confident declaration from someone in the thick of a new and certainly novel experience. It's not *just* novelty but the freshness of the experience with zero emotional baggage from zero years of living together is a huge part of it. Attraction is cumulative based on experience (or if there is no experience, it's naive and emotionally unconditional by nature, like being drawn to a pop star) and can suffer from slings and arrows over time.

I think it's excellent that your husband has taken care of his appearance, but what has been neglected? Probably something?

If you want it to work out, you do have to remember what attracted you in the first place, and learn to see and appreciate that again today, unless it's completely dead. You can't live in the past but you must remember what brought you together.

And then you have to appreciate the growth and change over time, and if your relationship is full of resentment and sadness, that may not be possible. Certainly I would recommend couple's counseling and even sex-centered therapy. Novelty is not necessarily why you are attracted to the new guy (though I give it 50% of the credit) but you need to figure out what eroded your desire for your husband. How strongly does he make you feel desired? Have you taken the same care with your appearance or do you ever feel "less-than" physically? I was the man on the "less-than" side until recently and it was painful to come to the realization that I'd been expecting my partner to always be attracted to me physically. I don't mean to insinuate anything, but usually there is neglect, and often there is projection, and the responsibility for the downfall can be shared along with the recovery effort.
posted by aydeejones at 9:34 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

You deserve to be happy and you deserve to have a thrilling sex life. But you can only learn in therapy if your marriage has insurmountable problems or if this is just a phase and how to handle it.
posted by Dragonness at 9:34 AM on November 10, 2015

Also I would take it as reassuring that so many people have implied this is totally normal and novelty is a huge component of the attraction -- it's what keeps it roiling around in your head, there's no basis yet to criticize the attraction because it makes you feel alive and good and desired. You do have to stop "emotionally cheating" by indulging in intensive thought patterns and must create the necessary distance to maintain that.

The solutions are likely going to involve deep probing into areas that have been neglected and may have nothing to do with sexuality or attraction. But what about just the superficial physical attraction?

How do you remind yourself that you are both sexual beings who brought each other into each others' lives? I don't want to get all "PUA" or "game" on you but sometimes it helps just to know that your husband is attractive to other people too, he's "still got it." Try getting all gussied up for a night out and joke to each other when you catch people checking you out. If there's a major imbalance in attractiveness (real or imagined, and I know ageism is a factor) between you this can be uncomfortable, but it can also be very playful and fun.

Take notice of your husband's scent after working out. Does it disgust you? Do you remember ever liking it? What cologne, if any, did he wear in the past?

Back to deeper issues: does he take you for granted? How much emotional labor and house-keeping-type-stuff are you stuck with? Does he "help" around the house or is it a shared living environment where "help" is not the issue, you both simply are responsible? Have you stopped communicating about that? Often there's a huge anxiety component that keeps you from delving into the solution and the possibility of starting fresh with a new partner looks irresistible because the attraction has no "detraction" and it seems like a near zero-effort task to start over. A clean slate! And you found this person while still paired up with someone else, and didn't have to go at it alone and build confidence first! But without knowing what got you here, you have no basis to confidently know that a new relationship is the answer.

You definitely deserve to feel desired, appreciated, and cared for in a way that doesn't leave you feeling neglected.
posted by aydeejones at 9:48 AM on November 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your question, as it is phrased, focuses only on the unfulfilling sexual aspect and not whether you are happy in other areas of your relationship/ marriage.

I'd say, if you are 100% happy with you husband in all areas except sex, then you might want to listen to or read a bit of Dan Savage and see if you and your husband can discuss the concept of being "monogamish".

I know a lot of people don't like Dan Savage, but I do think he has some very interesting ideas about opening up relationships - only if both of you are fully on board and only if you are truly happy with your partner in the rest of the relationship. He says he knows of many couples who have saved their marriage by opening up the relationship here and there.

Of course, if it's NOT only the sex, and you're fundamentally unhappy with your partner in general, then I'd say it's probably wise to start thinking of moving on and what that would mean for your life.
posted by JenThePro at 10:06 AM on November 10, 2015

"I've grown to crave intellectual and emotional chemistry far more. I love him, I admire him, and I think we're the best of friends, but we just don't have the kind of connection that makes me tick now."

This part confuses me because you generally don't love or admire someone you don't have an intellectual or emotional bond with. Can you imagine having a best friend that you didn't find emotionally or intellectually interesting?

Are you attracted to him, but only in a friends way? Do you feel like you're too comfortable or too alike that there's no (good) tension? This is probably something that therapy could help.

Or, if you look long and hard, do you find that even your friendly love comes from nostalgia or obligation, rather than genuine love for the person he is right now?

Therapy may help you sort out which is which, or if it's something else. But I would explore the idea that you wouldn't be "best friends" with him if you didn't have SOME connection.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:08 AM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sometimes we forget the things our partners give to us, because we've gotten used to getting them. We focus on what our partners don't give us because those become glaringly obvious. Make a list of the things your partner does do, all those things that you've forgotten or now take for granted. I bet it's a long list once you get started.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:54 AM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

You can, instead, direct your passionate feelings towards your husband, even though this won't feel natural at first.

I really like this. In my own implementations of it (not just in the arena of romantic relationships), I call it "Act as if." I actually think it's an incredibly helpful mental trick for moving your life into the zones you target it to hang in, but might not know how to transition it to, if that makes sense. I have built this concept from 2 primary references, the first being a quote from Ben Affleck's character in the movie Boiler room:

There's an important phrase that we use here, and think it's time that you all learned it. Act as if. You understand what that means? Act as if you are the fucking President of this firm. Act as if you got a 9" cock. Okay? Act as if.

The second is from CS Lewis' chapter on Charity in Mere Christianity:

Natural liking or affection for people makes it easier to be "charitable" towards them. It is, therefore, normally a duty to encourage our affections - to "like" people as much as we can (just as it is often our duty to encourage our liking for exercise or wholesome food) - not because this liking is itself the virtue of charity, but because it is a help to it. On the other hand, it is also necessary to keep a very sharp look-out for fear our liking for some one person makes us uncharitable, or even unfair, to someone else. There are even cases where our liking conflicts with our charity towards the person we like. For example, a doting mother may be tempted by natural affection to "spoil" her child; that is, to gratify her own affectionate impulses at the expense of the child's real happiness later on.

But though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. Some people are "cold" by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you "love" your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.

I find that in many cases, acting out the behaviors that don't come natural to me, I come to find them becoming more natural and effectively helping me actualize something that I couldn't otherwise find a way to without playing something of a part. Anyway, I think it could be an incredibly useful tool for you in this scenario.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:10 PM on November 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

Crazy attractive and unbelievable this guy seems right now, he will not, after you get to know him better. All relationships require work and end up in a rut which is what your relationship seems to be in. Maybe your husband isn't that interesting intellectually but are you, to him? Seems like a talk is in order. Maybe you both need to find pursuits together that help you grow closer and grow in ways that make life more interesting.
posted by stepup at 3:13 PM on November 10, 2015

For me, I tried to convince myself for years that it could be repaired, when I knew on some level it could not. When it was finally over, I felt like it had not been a great use of time to do all the exercises, adaptations, therapy and such; but it felt necessary to be thorough. I probably would have beat myself even longer if I hadn't tried.

Good luck. This is hard no matter how it goes. Try to be gentle and kind to yourself and your partner.
posted by ead at 4:49 PM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Something doesn't quite add up.

Physical and intellectual chemistry go hand in hand. If you meet someone with whom you have amazing physical chemistry, but no intellectual connection, the relationship is doomed. Think about it, how are you going to date someone you can’t have a conversation with for more than five minutes? The same goes for someone you connect with mentally, that you don’t connect with sexually. If you aren’t connecting with them sexually, you aren’t getting everything you need from the relationship. (from this link)

You describe having had intense physical chemistry with your husband from the beginning, so your problem must be the former - no intellectual chemistry. Ok, but then I question, just like the quote above - how did you have a "happy marriage", a "stable and happy long term relationship", for so many years? How can your "best friend" be someone you can't have good conversations with?

Some questions to ask yourself:

- Were you perhaps deluding yourself about how happy you were in the early years?
- Were you settling for something less than you needed (and maybe not even aware of that fact)?
- Or DID your husband at some point challenge you intellectually and that has just waned over time?

If yes to the last question, then good news - you can likely get it back, probably even stronger than it once was! But if it was never there, and you're realizing now that you need it...I'm sorry, I don't think you can create it. It's a tough position to be in, and I feel for you. Good luck whatever you decide.
posted by yawper at 7:37 AM on November 11, 2015

Miko's canonical answer has a lot of overlap with things here, and is very wise.
posted by lalochezia at 11:44 AM on November 11, 2015

"Talk oneself into feeling sexual attraction again"? As in, logically argue yourself into having sex with your husband for the good of all? Possibly, in the short term, but sounds miserable. On the other hand, if what you mean is actually talking and communicating and flirting with your parter and connecting emotionally and intellectually- yeah, that can also qualify as "talking yourself into feeling sexual attraction again."

Periods of no sex or little sex in most long term relationships are IMO quite common and do NOT mean inevitable failure or natural incompatibility. It is more of a question of getting the spark back, which it is possible to do- Google any number of articles about walking over rickety bridges, watching horror movies, working out together, spending time apart, engineering "a first date" again, etc. -but you have to want to try those things.

One strike against you is "together since early 20s" - possibly a sign that you outgrew each other. On the other hand, I just had dinner with a very happily married couple who met in their early 20s, so that's not a catch-all indictment either.

In my experience, chasing "intellectual compatibility" actually led to dating a lot of grandiose pricks. They might just want me to listen to them talk about obscure art and stroke their ego or whatever. That stuff is great for lecture halls and less wonderful for emotional intimacy. Given the choice between Brilliant Exciting Guy and Kinda Dumb But Extremely Loyal and Attentive and Emotionally Mature Guy, I will pick the latter 100/100 times. (In fact, I did make such choices in my dating history which in retrospect were correct.) Something to consider. Intellect really isn't everything. Yes, I will say this even on Metafilter.
posted by quincunx at 1:59 AM on November 12, 2015

This is very simple and you're overcomplicating it. Do you want to be married or not?

If you want to be married, then you'll go to therapy and try to find the root cause of your feelings. It takes work that you need to put in. Then, maybe, down the road, you go to counseling with your husband.

Ultimately, however, you have to take the first steps. Because this isn't your husband's problem. At least, not yet. It's your problem.

If you don't want to be married anymore.....well, it seems you've already mentally laid the groundwork for that scenario and just looking for permission or validation for your decision. If you feel that strongly about leaving your husband, do so humanely.

Good luck.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:20 AM on November 13, 2015

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