So many patients I’ve helped say, “I’m not attracted to my partner anymore.” Hate to say it, but this is normal. When we are in disillusionment, our partner seems more toad than princess or prince.
Most of these people have married relatively-to-amazingly attractive others. I know, I’ve met them. But when we have fallen out of love, we’ve exchanged our rose-colored glasses for dark fault-finding ones. Sometimes a person’s narcissism cannot forgive small flaws in their lover. It is intolerable to see human changes in the other which spoil the Dorian Gray self-illusions. And I don’t refer to changes of gross obesity or of letting oneself go. Our culture insists that sexual happiness comes from being with someone very attractive. We breed narcissism. But for many others, suddenly not being attracted to our chosen spouse is a defensive unconscious structure designed to protect us from the vulnerability of love. Sexual attraction is fragile. Interrupting sexual desire seems inarguable. I can’t have sex with someone I’m not attracted to! It’s hard to see how the change is really in us not the other. We cannot give up the illusions of falling in love and we wish for that symbiotic feeling instead of expending the effort to see the other as real and still good, the effort that good sex takes.
When we fall out of love we judging with a double standard—we’ve married the Grinch. Our partner is selfish. They want to spoil our joy. In fact, this feeling clearly identifies a couple as smack in the middle of a power struggles. He or she is the Grinch and ugly. We, on the other hand, are the benign, attractive—if not heroic—Popeye: “I yam what I yam and they knew this when they married me. Why should I consider changing when everyone else likes me as I am?”
No longer flexible like we were when we were falling in love, we are in lock-down. We either withdraw in silent opposition or attack the other for their inadequacy. Controlling and limiting our partner’s selfishness is our modus operandi. Meeting our partner’s demands amounts to self-annihilation. If we change to be the way they want us to be, we won’t be ourselves. Their differences alarm us. How can we be intimate with someone so alien?
Sex every day? We outright refuse. I’d have time for nothing else, we argue. You are asking me to change my lifestyle. An hour for arousal? Why can’t she be like me? If she loved me, it shouldn’t take so long. She is different. Romance? But we’re married now. Taking time, energy and money belongs to “falling in love”. You are trying to rob me of my resources. You want what? I guess, I just keep forgetting that she/he likes that. Or I don’t want to do that dirty thing. You are different. Seduction? But I’m shy. Or I’ve tried that and won’t try again.
Feeling sexual about our partner requires three things (at least).
First, we have to forgive them for being human. They are not the perfect, all-giving, inexhaustible resource that we wanted. We must accept that all human love comes with limitations. And we must see our own warts. We too can be difficult to love; perhaps we are the very reason that they are exhausted.
Secondly, enduring sexual attractedness takes an effort of re-idealization. Living with someone—with anyone—takes the shine off. We think we’re not attracted to a partner in part because we see them sick, on the toilet, elbow-deep in dirty diapers, tired, cranky, demanding. We age. No one can live up to their first impression. But at some point, we have to look through to stellar aspects. They are not the beast or the beauty but both. Seeing the beauty, takes work. It’s a commitment to put on clear glasses that see both good and bad and then focus on the good. Try to see what others see.
Third, love them their way. If it doesn’t hurt and isn’t against your moral code, find a way to embrace their sexual ideas. It doesn’t break the bank to organize a picnic, write a poem, or find their favorite song. Practice touching your spouse 10x a day if affection makes them feel secure. Listen with attention and focus. Ask questions that get them to expand their ideas if love is spelled t-a-l-k-i-n-g. Look up and smile when they come in the room.