Relationships wane after initial passion


I am a 29-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 two to three 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 two or three 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,

It’s not just you. Even in a committed relationship, what you're experiencing is common. Maintaining a fulfilling relationship is not without effort though; it requires work and dedication from both parties to ensure that it’s fulfilling both of your needs. And because people change over time, it’s typical for the sexual attraction you feel towards each other to ebb and flow. More to that point, while relationships often start with heightened passion, over time, those high levels of passion may be replaced or accented by feelings of companionship and other forms of love. In any healthy relationship, there’s a place for sexual fantasy and masturbation (either solo or partnered). However, if you feel as if this type of behavior may be hindering your ability to be closer to your partner either physically or emotionally, it’s worth taking time to reflect on it further and determine how you will move forward. Relatedly, the pattern of cheating you’ve described also doesn’t have to doom you to short-lived passion in your current relationship — it’s possible to reignite that initial passion again. By working together with your girlfriend, not only can you find ways to make the relationship fun and exciting again, but ways to be emotionally fulfilled and sexually satisfied as well.

First, a bit more on the natural waxing and waning that can occur in a romantic relationship: 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’s time for each partner to move on separately. Communicating openly and honestly with her may help you both decide what your next steps in the relationship can 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 (and what are your respective needs)? What would each of you have to do to make the relationship more fulfilling? Talking through these questions together will likely help foster emotional intimacy between the two of you.

Working on strengthening your emotional intimacy may actually be a stepping stone to increasing that physical passion you’ve been missing. As such, fanning the flames of that initial passion might also need to be a priority. Here are some ideas that you two may try as you seek to increase the heat:

  • Increasing physical touch. While this can include sexual touch, doing simple acts such as holding hands, hugging each other, or small touches on other parts of the body can also increase feelings of intimacy and feelings of sexual attraction.
  • Changing it up. You could try different kinds of sex acts, experiment (in whatever ways you’re both comfortable) with new ideas and activities, or change your routine towards sex. It may be good to remember that the contact that fans the flames of desire doesn’t always have to be penetrative sex, so this may be a call to creativity for the two of you!
  • Making it a priority in your relationship. Separate your sex life from your daily routine and plan time specifically for physical intimacy.

These types of changes though will require both willing and interested partners, so suggesting some exploration and experimentation (with frequent check-ins) with your girlfriend may be in order.

Lastly, though much of this effort takes two, it sounds like you recognize that there may be a need to do some individual reflection to move towards the relationship changes you seek. You referred to a pattern of behavior (“cheating” to some degree, watching porn, and masturbation) that makes you feel uncomfortable, especially in light of your current relationship. If you want to work towards a stronger, spicier connection with your current partner, it’s wise to take some time to reflect on the possible reasons behind these behaviors and in what ways they impact your personal well-being and your relationship. Doing so may help you inform decisions in the future that bring you closer to the relationship you want to be in and the person you want to be in it. If you’re not sure where to start, it may be worth it to speak with a trusted friend, family member, or even a mental health professional to process your thoughts and address your worries moving forward. You may also consider going to couples counseling with your girlfriend to discuss these issues with the help of a more objective listener (the mental health professional) who can help guide you both to create goals for your relationship and strategies to help you work towards them together.

Again, Sexually confused, you're not alone and there’s no one way to have a successful relationship. It’s not easy taking a critical look at patterns of behavior and considering their impact on your current situation, so kudos for being vulnerable and considering ways to make personal and relationship changes. Best of luck to you going forward. 

Last updated Dec 29, 2017
Originally published Feb 16, 1995

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