About a year into my marriage, I started to realize I was
no longer attracted to my husband. At first, I thought it was a phase. He was unemployed at the time and I had become the breadwinner, while he searched for a job. ("Searched," being a term I use very loosely, because it's hard to search for anything when your days are spent napping and watching TV.) I was so convinced that it had to be a phase, one that would pass once he had his act together, because it didn't make sense to me that the desire I had for him, that was once so deep and insatiable, could be gone.
But somewhere along the line I realized a painful fact: it wasn't a phase and what
attraction I once had for him wasn't coming back. It was far more complicated than he just being unemployed. "Lack of attraction is a loaded dynamic," bestselling author and relationship expert, Susan Winter, tells Bustle. "It’s a lot more complex than attraction to your partner’s physical appearance. It holds deep significance. There’s been a palpable shift in your relationship, and this is the outcome."
Although, for some, a lack of attraction can be a phase, for others, it may mean
your heart isn't in the relationship anymore. But whether it's a phase or isn't, once the epiphany hits, it's time to decide what's next for your relationship.
Realize This Is A Defining Moment In Your Relationship
To be able to see the truth, especially a painful one, is a big step in anyone's life — whether it's about your relationship, career, or yourself — so it's important to see just how paramount this realization of yours really is.
"Acknowledging a lack of attraction to your partner is a defining moment in a relationship," Winter says. "You didn’t get here by accident. Whether you’ve been aware of it or not, a constant erosion of your emotions has brought you to this point."
Once you can clearly admit this to yourself, then you're ready to move forward with what you think is the next right move.
Ask Yourself How Important Sex Is To Your Relationship
Although sex is a component of a relationship, it isn't everything to everyone. It's time to weigh the importance of that lack of attraction and how it might affect your relationship.
"To some individuals, a rewarding sex life is the need (and expectation) of a committed relationship," Winter says. "To other individuals, it isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. True, they’d prefer feeling excited by their partner, but the upheaval caused by
ending the relationship isn’t worth the price."
Understand If It's Lack Of Love Or Just Lack Of Desire
In my situation, I was still in love with my partner, but I just
didn't want to be sexually intimate with him. Again, this was an extremely confusing thing for me, because it was something I'd had never encountered before in any other relationship. I was unsure if the love I felt was one of romantic nature or one of platonic nature. And if it was the latter, what did that say about our relationship? Needless to say, I spent A LOT of time thinking about these things.
"To come to the point of disliking your partner enough to no longer be attracted to them means that something is seriously wrong," Winter says. "Perhaps you’ve
fallen out of love with them. Or, the ongoing anger and resentment you feel have destroyed any desire you may have once had. You owe it to yourself to discover the answers."
Examine What It Means To End The Relationship Over This
Relationships have their ups and downs, and it's during these ups and downs that your attraction, love, or even
interest in your partner can shift. Winter suggests asking yourself whether it's worth leaving, or if you think you should stick it out, waiting for the tide to turn again and be on the positive side of your relationship.
"Growing apart is a natural occurrence in long-term relationships," Winter says. "But vibrant relationships find their couples growing back together again. This is where you need to make a decision whether it’s worth staying (children, family, business partnership) or leaving."
In other words, what are you sacrificing in leaving and are those sacrifices worth it? It's important to be able to answer that, then be comfortable with your decision.
Consider Couples Therapy
While you may not be able to get your attraction to your partner back over night, if you believe your relationship is worth saving, then it's important to make the effort to do so. Which, of course, may mean
going to couples therapy, for starters.
"Going to a couples counselor and/or sex therapist together is a helpful move at this juncture," Winter says. "If you’ve got a lot that’s good in the relationship, now’s the time to work it out with your mate. And it’s the perfect opportunity to undercover the reasons you’re no longer attracted to your partner. Is this a question of you feeling uncomfortable with yourself? Is there an underlying issue in your relationship? These are things will come to light with a good counselor."
Although it may be one of the hardest things you ever say to your partner,
it's time to be honest and come clean about your lack of attraction to them. Whether you do it in couples therapy, with a therapist to mediate, or do it at home when it's just the two of you, it's important to do it. It will also help ease what's going on in your head and heart.
"Honest communication can assist you in releasing resentments," Winter says. "But you need a willing partner who can withstand listening to the ‘uncomfortable stuff’ you have to say. Honesty on this level requires two people headed toward the same outcome. Even though you may be willing to rectify this, you’ll need your partner on the same page."
Realizing you're no longer attracted to your partner isn't the end of the world. While in some cases it may mean it's time to accept that the relationship has run its course, in other cases, it could just be a phase. As Winter points out, it's important to examine how and why you feel the way you do, then decide what you need to do next to either save what you have or just take your leave. Neither choice is wrong if you're doing what's right for you.
This piece was originally published on September 12, 2017. It was updated on July 19, 2019.