Relationships wane after initial passion

Originally Published: February 16, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 27, 2014
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Alice,

I am a twenty-nine-year-old heterosexual male and have been dating my girlfriend for over four years now. Throughout my life I have pursued women with the intention of having a sexual relationship. I have had sex with over 50 women. I have nearly always "cheated" on my partners, including my current relationship. My relationships have always "faded" away because I believe I am unable to "love" and go beyond the early "passionate" stage. Once that is gone, I lose interest and can't sustain an emotional connection. I am very emotionally independent from my upbringing.

I find myself not motivated to have sex with my girlfriend so much for the last 2-3 years. I don't see myself as being very "sensual" or "passionate" anymore. When I was dating and going through relationships I had much more passion. That's how I hooked them. I truly got more pleasure turning my partner on than from my own orgasm. I still like to holdout until my girlfriend cums, but sometimes she doesn't and then I will. We have sex maybe 2 or 3 times a month and I would like to have more but am unmotivated. I want to get married and have kids sometime within the next five years and I do love my girlfriend. I could be happy with her as a wife and mother yet I need to deal with my issues first.

I fantasize about other women often and masturbate more often than I have sex with my girlfriend. I have even masturbated while driving, which I don't do anymore. I have downloaded some pornographic images from the Internet, which I masturbate to even when she is in the house. I am scared.

—Sexually confused

Dear Sexually confused,

You've lost that loving feeling. And now it's gone, gone… well, maybe not. Even in a committed relationship, what you're experiencing is normal. Relationships may change over time, so the sexual attraction you feel may ebb and flow. Fantasizing about other women does not necessarily mean that you are cheating on your girlfriend. Also, masturbation can be part of a healthy relationship and a great source of pleasure, whether it's a one-man show or with a partner. Which begs the question, what do you define as "cheating"? Kissing someone else? Having sex with someone else? Having sexual thoughts or fantasies about someone else?

According to the "triangular theory on love," a relationship is typically comprised of passion (romance and physical attraction), intimacy (feeling close to your partner), and the commitment to maintaining the relationship. Each of these components may gain or lose significance over the course of a relationship. Often passion is high at first and intimacy and commitment build over time. Passion can wane, as you note, but it can also resurge. Noticing changes in passion, intimacy, and commitment over time gives you the opportunity to discuss with your partner if the relationship is strong enough to weather ups and downs or if it is time for each partner to move on, separately.

It seems as though you detect a pattern of "cheating" that makes you feel uncomfortable, especially in light of your current relationship. While it's perfectly normal to feel a little guilty about fantasizing about other women, you may want to explore, on your own or with someone you trust, how you feel about sex in a monogamous relationship. In the past, why have you cheated (however you define cheating)? Did you feel something was missing? Were you looking for the thrill of a new partner? Do you want to be sexually monogamous? It may also be helpful to explore how your "emotional independence" within relationships may have impacted your feelings of intimacy and sexual desire within these relationships. You mention your upbringing as a possible contributor to your emotional independence: how are these aspects of your life connected?

Finally, have you considered discussing this matter with your girlfriend? Communicating openly and honestly with her may help you both decide what your next steps in the relationship should be. For example, has she sensed your "emotional independence" and how does that make her feel? Do you both have the same goals for the relationship? Does the relationship fill both of your emotional and sexual needs? What would each of you have to do to make the relationship more fulfilling?

If you and your girlfriend would like, you may pursue individual therapy or couples therapy to deal with any issues in your relationship. If you or your girlfriend is a student at Columbia, you can make an appointment by contacting the Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC). You may also want to check out the responses in the Go Ask Alice! relationships archives for more information.

Whatever you decide, keep in mind that getting the groove back into a relationship — or deciding that it is best to end it — takes two.

Good luck,

Alice