Each week, our agony aunt answers a reader question. This week, a reader who is no longer attracted to her partner.
I’ve been with my partner over eight years now. We met in our mid-20s and moved in together quite quickly. Just over a year after we first met, I found out I was pregnant. The news was a huge surprise but he’s a great guy and I didn’t want to be with anyone else so we decided to go for it.
By the time I was thirty we had two kids under three and were on a completely different planet to the rest of our friends.
It was hard, we don’t have family around so had absolutely no relief from the intensity of it all. We both put our heads down and got on with it but it really affected our relationship. We both work full-time and fought over who was doing more housework, more child minding etc.
Most of the time my partner was doing more and from the start was much more of a home bird. He also has more patience than me and parenting is something that seems to come naturally to him.
I feel like we just about got through those early years and are now out the other side as a lot of my friends are right in it. We both lost our urge for sex over those years and my partner doesn’t seem to be bothered. He’d prefer to read a history book or watch a cookery show.
I was fine with that until I became suddenly aware of every hot guy who passed me on the street. I fantasise about having sex with a different guy every single day and it’s never my partner. It’s getting so intense I’m going to have to act on it soon.
I don’t know if it means the end of our relationship or that I’m having some sort of mid-life crises?
I love my partner but I don’t think I’m attracted to him anymore.
Help! Lust Don’t Live Here Anymore, Dublin.
Welcome! Although it might feel like your lack of attraction to your partner signals the end of a doomed relationship that may not be the case at all.
“Passion has always existed,” says Esther Perel, world-renowned marriage and sex therapist. “People have known love forever, but it never existed in the context of the same relationship where you have to have a family and obligations. And reconciling security and adventure, or love and desire, or connection and separateness, is not something you solve with Victoria’s Secret. And there is no Victor’s Secret. This is a more complicated existential dilemma. Reconciling the erotic and the domestic is not a problem that you solve. It is a paradox that you manage.”
Perel routinely challenges the socially-constructed relationship and family ideals we all seem to believe we’re falling short of; the myth that love and sex and mutual respect should come easy. If you haven’t listened to her incredible podcast, Where Should We Begin? on Audible now is the time. She records live therapy sessions with a range of different anonymous couples, each of whom are working through often universal issues. It’s addictive and thoroughly illuminating as a first step to unravelling your dynamic with your partner.
The fact that you are ready to mount the washing machine ahead of your partner is not unusual. You’ve had an immersive eight years together with not much time for fun.
The process of becoming a mother, which anthropologists call “matrescence” is so under-explored it’s not even listed on dictionary.com! The focus post-partum and beyond is always on the child, not the psychological transition or evolving identity of the mother. Again, the paths new mothers follow are presented as binary – we either slip into our new role effortlessly or we suffer from post-partum depression. This New York Times article by Dr Alexandra Sacks highlights the often profound transformation we experience, which is never publically addressed.
Along with a casual mind-shift, yourself and your partner were both thrust into the roles and responsibility that come with new parenthood, with a tasty side of sleepless nights and social isolation. In the process, it sounds like your partner has slipped on his Uggs, packed his pipe and settled in for the next ep of Antiques Roadshow. Although he may seem content and oblivious to your needs it’s likely that he is feeling as lonely and misunderstood as you are.
It makes absolute sense that you would emerge from this period with a lust for adventure. In its extreme, you view your home life as boring, tedious and predictable, along with your partner. Fantasising about sex with other men may just be a natural response to feeling ‘trapped.’ Desire has no boundaries, anything is possible but it is completely removed from the reality of having an affair.
Talking openly with your partner is a good place to start. Ask him to share his sexual desires or indeed, barriers. Consider establishing a ‘date night’ to start reconnecting and spending some alone time together, away from the kids. I know this is a stock standard recommendation and the last thing you want to do but maintaining a monogamous, healthy relationship is work and connecting with each other is the route to all progress.
If, after gently raising the conversation, he refuses to talk about it or doesn’t want to prioritise your relationship and/or leave the kids one evening per week, then you have two choices. You could either suggest that you find a good couples therapist to work through your differences or you ask for his permission to have a discrete, mutually agreed fling. You may want a few sessions with a therapist before dropping that bomb, however. Even if you do get the green light, there’s a chance your partner won’t be able to cope with the aftermath so this is one agreement not to enter into lightly.
You’re both at a very vulnerable phase in the relationship and are no doubt undergoing huge spurts of personal growth. It would be unfair to write him off at this point, in the naïve belief that every other man on the DART holds the answer (in his pants).
As Susan Squire asks in her book I Don’t: A Contrarian History of Marriage: "Why does society consider it more moral for you to break up a marriage, go through a divorce, disrupt your children's lives maybe forever, just to be able to f*ck someone with whom the f*cking is going to get just as boring as it was with the first person before long?"
And she has a point.
At least if you and your partner commit to rediscovering your erotic selves within your new family dynamic, you’ll have a stronger sense of what bonds you; and a clear course of action if you simply can’t relight that fire.