When Sexual Desire Fades Away
Some months ago I saw a client who was quite distressed. He was 35 years old and in a relationship with his current girlfriend of around two years. Most of his previous relationships had only lasted between a few months and a year. His initial sexual attraction towards his girlfriends was usually very strong but after a while just disappeared. This time he was convinced he’d found the ‘right’ one. He was very happy because he felt it was time to settle down and he was looking forward to starting a family.
However, even though he adores his partner, he has again started to lose his sexual feelings for her. They hardly have sex anymore and he wonders why he has this pattern of losing sexual interest.
My client is not alone. Many men and women experience feelings like this, which can be extremely confusing. The problem is, they are under the impression that love and lust are the same thing.
In 1979, American psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term ‘limerence’, which is defined as a period in a relationship known as the falling in love and lust stage. It’s driven by so-called ‘love chemicals’, which create pleasingly positive feelings and are responsible for intense passion and the rose-coloured glasses we tend to see our partners through.
Limerence feels good but unfortunately it has a shelf life lasting from about six months to two or three years – it’s decline is gradual. When I explained limerence to my client, he agreed this is exactly how he has felt over the years. But this time he doesn’t want to break up; he loves and is committed to his partner and wonders what he could do to help the situation.
Most people believe the excitement of those early months and years will last forever, but unfortunately this doesn’t happen that often. When the limerence stage fades away, a deeper commitment – an emotional intimacy – is needed. While the emotion of falling in love is intense, the emotions of falling out of love can be as intense, but the signs may not be that clear.
When love or lust disappears, people usually start spending less time together. They start having fights, arguments or stop talking altogther; they may feel unappreciated, resentment can build up and they drift apart. It’s easy to understand how people become disappointed and frustrated with each other, and eventually they will stop having romantic feelings and having sex.
One reason this happens is a lack of emotional intimacy – it’s very important for couples to make a habit of spending time together and connecting again. There is no easy fix, but when you start noticing the passion disappearing in your relationship it may give you an opportunity to discuss what you are experiencing with your partner and find ways to turn things around.
If you know the signs, you can use them to rework your relationship. In the worst case scenario, you’ll know why you need to walk away from a relationship that may not go the distance.