Q: I’ve been in a relationship with a great guy for 7 1/2 years. He’s a great guy, my gets friend and enjoy spending my time with him. We love each other very much. Sex is a problem. The last time we had sex on Valentines Day in 2009! We have had numerous conversations about sex which I initiate. He says he doesn’t need sex like I do. Last year, I had each of us write “10 things I like bout sex and 10 things I don’t” and we had to read them to each other. He agreed to find a counselor for us to talk to but never did! I am at the end of my rope! Are we just friends and we don’t realize it or are we doing something wrong? I don’t know. As I’m reaching 40, I am beginning to think about what my life would be like without him! I don’t know what to do! Please help! – Struggling in San Antonio
2009? Yowza. Sorry, fellah. That’s a long time to be sitting side-saddle. Your patience and compassion for your partner is to be applauded – and your decision to consider your own needs is as well.
As with most questions I get here, the question asked on the surface of things may not necessarily be the one that requires an answer. You posit a wonderful friendship with your chaste companion and that may well be true on many levels, yet I find it suspect that your reluctant romancer, after the aforementioned numerous discussions which must have clearly outlined this as a painful and ultimately unsustainable situation for you, would both agree to and then fail to follow through on any actions that might have addressed it.
To me, this behavior presents as conflict-avoidant. I see this as a large roadblock in your overall intimacy (which seems to be the larger issue presented in your question.) I pose these questions and suggest you have a nice little ‘come-to-jesus’ talk with yourself. Be honest. No one’s harmed by fudging on this but you.
- How much of your relationship is spent in the status quo? Are you on auto-pilot?
- How often do you engage with one another romantically, independent of sex? Do you hold hands? Are you affectionate? Is there more than chaste kissing? Do you curl up together in intimate physical space? Would engaging in this way feel unnatural to you? Do you think it would feel unnatural to your partner? If you already engage in intimate physicality, where does it stop and is it possible to look at this place together with your partner to see what might be happening emotionally in that precise moment? Is your partner willing to engage in that kind of intimacy?
- Are there other less obvious ways in which your relationship is lacking authentic and engaged connection?
- Do you feel truly loved? Do you trust that your partner has the best interest of your relationship in mind in daily life? Do you feel taken for granted? Are you taking your partner for granted?
These questions may not get to the root of your sex issue, but they can help you answer whether or not it’s worth it to stick around and fight. Leaving a comfortable situation is never easy, especially when there is so much love (as there clearly is with you) involved. I do believe there’s hope for your relationship but that hope lies squarely on you and your partners’ ability to actively engage with one another in a truly intimate fashion — to forge a new inter-reliance which acknowledges that, while neither one of you is responsible for or accountable to the other in regards to your individual happiness, the behaviors that you engage in (or don’t) have impacts on one another. In order to solve a problem that impacts the both of you, BOTH of you must be engaged in creating those solutions. If your partner is unwilling or uninterested in exploring the root of his waning sexual interest then there is nothing for you to do but to decide if a sexless relationship is something you are willing to accept in return for his companionship. It also may be that your partner is genuinely satisfied with life the way it is – not everyone remains highly sexed throughout their lifetimes and some are actually quite naturally asexual. A lack of sexual interest may sometimes denote depression or other intimacy issues but this is not always true. There are myriad possibilities that may lead to either a sexy resolution or a clearer understanding of why things are as they are — but you’ll never know what the truth is unless you’re both willing to dig in and find it. Independent of the sex itself, I’d start with that conversation and move on from there.