Why am I feeling less attracted to my partner?
May 23, 2023 10:52 PM   Subscribe

I've been with my partner in a LDR for about 1.5 years. Nothing whatsoever about his appearance has changed since then. But I feel less physically drawn to him. I'm trying to figure out if this is temporary or likely to be more long-lasting, so that I can make the best decision re the relationship.

I want to untangle this, and am happy to hear from people (of all genders/orientations) with similar experiences.

Some things to note:

*We see each other a few times a month and are monogamous (long distance but we both travel often)
*nothing has changed re my hormones (and I'd like comments to not discuss hormonal factors, please)
*my sexual attraction to other people I meet/see feels roughly the same (I would describe this attraction as existent, but not overwhelming)
*my libido/drive feels about the same, too (average to high for a woman my age, late 30s)
*I have lost attraction to a few other partners in the past at about the 1-2 year mark (but this doesn't happen with everyone I've been with, I still find two particular exes attractive)
*It's not that I want sex or physical intimacy with him less, but that when I look at him, I don't feel a sense of excitement or adoration that I've felt with others or that I felt with him in the early phase of dating. Instead, I have started to notice several features about him that I don't like (and then I feel guilty about this)
*The way he treats me has not changed
*I still love other aspects of his physicality, like the sound of his voice and the way he smells
*I do feel more attracted to him if I have had a drink or some THC

Any idea what this could be, and how common it is? How much is attraction supposed to wax and wane in a long term relationship? Is it a bad sign that this is happening relatively "early" on, and in a relationship where we don't live or raise kids together?

I think if this persists, I have to end things, but if it's just part of the normal process of getting more familiar with someone after the honeymoon phase wears off, then maybe I don't.
posted by CancerSucks to Human Relations (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Super common. Just kinda happens this way sometimes, for better or worse. Obviously there’s more to a longer relationship than pure animal lust, but you get to choose your own dealbreakers so it’s up to you how big a deal it is.
posted by rd45 at 12:04 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]

I think this is extremely common in long-term relationships. Given that you have excluded most other culprits, it's just the way our brain chemicals work. Your timing is what I'd expect, not early.

For some insights on long-term attraction, you could check out the resources by Vanessa Marin, a sexual therapist focused on longterm relationships. It's not just about sex but the link to general attraction. A lot of her content is free (podcast, Instagram, etc.) and the paid resources are worth it too, IMHO.

I've been with my partner for almost two decades. From my experience attraction is more like a river, sometimes it overflows and sometimes it almost dries out. It comes and goes and we need to make a conscious decision to stick with our partner during the dry spells, if they otherwise feel like a good match. The only thing that has ever helped me to bring the rain, so to speak, was working on a strong emotional connection. That means creating opportunities to talk about feelings (e.g. "When do you feel most loved by me?") or evoking emotions of connectedness (e.g. looking at pictures of past travels together, making future plans together, daring something risky together).
posted by Fallbala at 1:15 AM on May 24 [18 favorites]

There is a sense of excitement that comes with novelty at the outset of a relationship - you are exploring and finding new things very regularly, you are getting a bit of a rush from limerence, and in general those are things you can viscerally feel - almost like a rush.

But at some point, a partner becomes more predictable and ordinary and so your brain doesn’t get the same rush from seeing things is already knows about. If you have seen someone naked 100 times, it’s not going to hit you the same way as it did the 1st time, no matter how attracted you are to them. It opens up room for negative thoughts too.

The prospect of an unknown person still has that novelty associated with them, which is why you might get the same feelings there but not with your partner. We are all a little intrigued about what things might be like with someone else.

It took me a long time to figure out this shift isn’t a sign of things going wrong necessarily. It’s normal, and if it’s the right person, it opens up space for depth, connection, partnership and communication - the work of a good relationship. If the relationship isn’t the right one, that work will probably feel like work - but if it’s the right one, you find something more powerful that honestly led me to be more attracted to my partner after 15 years than I was at the beginning. I get the good feelings from so many other things than just what she looks like and those translate to a lot of sexual desire.
posted by openhearted at 6:00 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]

But at some point, a partner becomes more predictable and ordinary and so your brain doesn’t get the same rush from seeing things is already knows about. If you have seen someone naked 100 times, it’s not going to hit you the same way as it did the 1st time, no matter how attracted you are to them.

This is why changing the context (like going on a vacation together, or even just a different "date night" than typical) frequently tends to rekindle the limerance/lust. It can recreate that slightly more unpredictable and new feeling, at least for a while. There are a lot of pluses to settling into a comfortable pattern, but deliberately disrupting that and adding new experiences can have a lot of benefit.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:12 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]

This is SO normal, and it's something you can push back against. Like, you may not be able to get back to "the merest glimpse of him drives me wild" -- most couples don't -- but "we get super hot for each other on a regular basis" is absolutely doable. You just need to be deliberate about it. Create situations that you know will turn you both on. Create situations where you can both relax and feel safe, and don't be ashamed of needing that safety to feel sexy -- for most people, danger is only sexy when you're in the throes of new relationship energy. Talk about what turns you on. ("Reminisce together about good sex we've had" is a good engine starter for me.) It works way better to do this stuff if you're both on board and both having fun with it rather than feeling guilty or blame-y. Pop culture teaches us that being deliberate about sex is for awkward ugly dorks, and both of you have to resist that and think of it as an expression of love and attraction.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:36 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Part of a long-term relationship is finding ways to deal with this, because it is inevitable for most people. There are people who swear it doesn't change for them ever, and I believe them, but it is difficult to imagine and I think it is far from the norm.

The primary reason is that attraction is not that simple. The honeymoon days of relationships are not the baseline. You have mistaken that for the entire story of attraction when it is at best the first act and more like the first chapter, over the decades of a truly long relationship. You will have to stretch and grow some as a person, and you may also have to learn more techniques for balancing your life in a human body that ages and experiences stress - the kind of all-around life stress that eases with the application of a little alcohol or weed - with the kind of sexual existence you want.

Feeling early-stage fizzy attraction is deliriously easy with someone you know almost nothing about, or even someone you know well but are no longer obligated to tolerate on the day-to-day. It's basically pure biology at that point. Expecting that to sustain or using it as a total benchmark of attraction is a losing game, in that it's unlikely but also in that you are exercising like a fraction of your actual sexual self at that stage.

There's nothing wrong with recognizing it's not as easy as it used to be and assessing whether there's an issue, though, because attraction - shockingly - wanes when a partner is maybe not the person you had initially hoped he was. If he does not pull his weight in the relationship, if he has revealed a library of disappointing beliefs/values, if he is bad with money or irresponsible in other ways that don't really match up to your ideal of a functional adult, those all put a ding in attraction. If that's the case, you should consider if it's a situation you want to stay in for sure. Attraction is going to wane if you, for ANY reason, are just not feeling like this is following whatever relationship arc you desire. If you feel that, you should interrogate that feeling and figure out if it's time to call it. If you come to recognize you still are into him and are just feeling the general effects of life taking the sharp edges off it, that's a workable situation with communication and effort.

It may also be worth a review to see if something traumatic - even mostly unrelated to the relationship - or just profoundly emotionally affecting has occurred that might be creating a bit of distance between you and your relationship feelings in this particular relationship. Because this is the point where you should be pretty easily leaning harder into "he's not just cute he's a good person with values I share/admire", and maybe you aren't doing that because something is holding YOU back. It might even be that this relationship is resolving into something more serious than you wanted/expected and that is creating fear and anxiety in you. You might also just be plain stressed - we've all been under a tremendous amount of stress for three years and counting, many of us have had a real shift in values and how we see the world, and it might be creating static in what used to be freer and easier attraction for a partner for you.

I do think it's an odd comparison to say "nothing has changed because I still can find strangers and exes attractive", because those are fantasies that are completely safe and improbable versus the actual specific human being that you are partnered with right now. Those are wildly different levels of intimacy, risk, biochemical interaction, familiarity, and are basically two completely different types of arousal. If you haven't read Come As You Are, I highly recommend it, so you can understand the multidimensionality and brain-body relationship of arousal and sexual response.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:02 AM on May 24 [9 favorites]

I'm trying to figure out if this is temporary or likely to be more long-lasting

It might help to reframe this; the part of the situation that is "temporary" is the newness. By definition, newness can ONLY be temporary.

It varies partner to partner, situation to situation. But this is right about the time when your new exciting fantasy partner turns into a real regular human being, and starts being a part of your regular, sometimes stressful, sometimes boring kind of human life instead of a wild escape from it. Yes, even if you don't live together. Yes, even if you don't have kids.

If I had to guess, the reason you feel more of the old attraction when you're a little altered is that it creates a small sense of the escape from your usual human stresses and lets you focus solely on you and him.

Now, some partnerships can't weather it, because they don't have enough good stuff outside the initial rush of attraction. Others can't because the people involved don't or can't start to do the good deep work of really knowing each other. (And I suppose sometimes they founder because once people start doing the deep work, they uncover deep incompatibilities.)

When that happens most people report a completely different kind of attraction, so in that sense, no, you probably won't ever feel exactly the way about your partner that you felt on like, Day 3, again. Maybe in little bits and moments, especially if you work to create some escape and spontaneity and surprise.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:09 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

I think if this persists, I have to end things, but if it's just part of the normal process of getting more familiar with someone after the honeymoon phase wears off, then maybe I don't.

It's a little concerning that you want to base this decision on some kind of imaginary standard. If you are happy with this person, why would you end it? If you want to have more sex or better sex in the relationship, go for it. But you aren't saying the sex is bad, so I think you need to delve into your feelings about this person.

To answer your question, it is normal for sex appeal to wax and wane. But if you love each other, desire goes beyond just a physical attraction. I am wondering if this relationship is fulfilling to you in other ways.

So, I might be completely off base, but my sense from this question is your relationship may have run its course. Because overall you describe a fine relationship....but you don't seem to be that happy, you seem kind of bored. Remember, it's okay to break up just because you want to.

Good luck.
posted by rhonzo at 7:14 AM on May 24

Also some people just prefer short- to medium-term relationships! Maybe you're one of those people. You don't have to do the relationship escalator to a decades-long marriage; you can just date folks until you don't. (Of course, you need to be honest with and kind to those people, don't let folks believe you're in it for long-term attachment if you're definitely not; and if you're not sure, be honest about that too.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:17 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy reading Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel, which attempts to take a deep dive into this topic.
posted by TurkishGolds at 7:42 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]

I think you've got good advice, but one thing that hasn't come up is that if I'm reading you right, this whole relationship has been long distance, and it's not clear that there are any plans in place to change that - it might be worth asking yourself if part of the problem is that all the aspects of a LDR that are work (i.e. travel) are now starting to really feel like work, and if that's impacting your attraction level. Perhaps the long distance works for you, but I can definitely imagine how it that could be something that would eventually strain an otherwise solid relationship.
posted by coffeecat at 8:03 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]

"when I look at him, I don't feel a sense of excitement or adoration that I've felt with others or that I felt with him in the early phase of dating."

I feel like I hear other people say this a lot, and I've never understood it. Like, of course this happens? When you're absolutely parched, that first sip of water is pure bliss, but your seventh glass of the day is pretty unremarkable. It doesn't mean you stopped enjoying or needing the water.

People aren't water, obviously, but to extend the metaphor, you're not by any means required to keep drinking water out of the same glass or at the same temperature. Maybe you decide that without the excitement of a novel relationship, it's time to switch over to mineral water, or maybe you decide that you do actually like your current hydration setup. Maybe it's time for tea, I dunno.

As another data point, while I'm now in year 16 of a relationship after several other shorter relationships, I've never in my life experienced particularly heightened sexual chemistry or attraction at the beginning of a relationship, so I can attest to it not being a prerequisite for continued sexual and romantic satisfaction. Nor does it seem reasonable (to me) to expect that I find a partner desirable in exactly the same way forever – I don't even like my friends for the same reasons after a decade, but they're still my friends. The thrill of novelty might prove to be more important for you, but like We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese said, novelty can't ever last, so the options seem to be that you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is coincidentally faultless, choose short-term relationships, or learn ways to become comfortable with the normal process of novelty wearing off.
posted by wakannai at 8:08 AM on May 24

Maybe you’re not as into the relationship anymore? For me, loss of physical attraction goes hand in hand with loss of desire to be with that person.
posted by kapers at 6:13 PM on May 24

Not wanting to discount any of the above comments. What you describe does seem very common.

So an aside.. how does he smell? Is that any different now?

Has his diet or similar changed?

Could he shake things up a bit with some new subtle fragrances that work with his natural body odours and with you?
Maybe a date trip to a local fragrance counter and see if any of those new combination smells help?
posted by many-things at 2:09 AM on May 25

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all of these thoughtful and kind answers.

What stuck out to me the most was this from comment:

"if he is bad with money or irresponsible in other ways that don't really match up to your ideal of a functional adult, those all put a ding in attraction"

Because it IS the case that this started when I learned he had lots of credit card debt. And in other relationships with waning attraction, I had also learned similar information about the person being financially irresponsible (in one, her housing situation was unstable, in another, he lost his car after not keeping up with payments). This is somewhat of a revelation to me!

But it also makes me feel bad that my attraction to people is so tied to this specific factor - especially knowing that people's financial behavior and circumstances can change throughout life.
posted by CancerSucks at 4:51 PM on May 25

There's a psychologist named Sheryl Paul who has a whole practice (and online courses, etc.) around attraction--what true attraction is, why we sometimes find our partners unattractive, etc. Here are some of her resources that might be helpful:

1. www.conscious-transitions.com
2. Her podcast, Gathering Gold, episode #47 "Redefining Attraction."

Hope this helps.
posted by ygmiaa at 11:56 PM on May 28

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