Dear Dr Ren,
My boyfriend and I have been together for a year and seven months, and were engaged. We had taken a one-month break a couple of months ago, but are now back together. Somehow in the meantime he lost his sex drive or something! I have been trying different things to be intimate with him, but it’s like now we’re roommates that kiss and sleep together. How does someone just lose his sex drive and how can we get it back?
Even though you ask a straightforward question, your letter suggests a lot is going on beneath the surface that influences the answers.
For instance, you are very specific about the length of your romance — 19 months, which is not coincidentally the outside limit of limerence (new relationship energy), the point when couples know enough about each other to decide realistically if they are a good fit for the long term.
Nineteen months is also long enough to have formed a personal and social bond, and it is difficult and heartbreaking to end it, even when we know it is for the best.
As you had already been engaged, your courtship must have moved very quickly. Would you describe your romance as a whirlwind? Those fiery ones are sometimes not sustainable, alluring as they are.
You tell me that you have taken a break, but say nothing about the reasons for it, who requested it, or how the reconciliation occurred. Those could be important factors in why the new relationship has changed.
Let’s examine the past year and a half. Is your boyfriend’s loss of desire entirely new or have you noticed a gradual disinterest? Were you generally the initiator, even in the early days? Did you see, but ignore, sexual problems that are now undeniable? Was sex terrific three months ago and non-existent or mechanical now?
Can you see how various answers to these questions would suggest different responses to what might be going on?
Couples do not usually take a break when they are doing well. Would I be mistaken in guessing that it was your lover who suggested the time off? Was it generated by slamming out of the house after a heated argument, or perhaps it was framed as a chance to be sure about the commitment?
Were those issues resolved, or did you just miss each other and hate the aloneness and start talking again and after a couple of heartfelt meetings decided to try again given all you’d been through together?
Major changes in behaviour don’t happen in a vacuum. Your boyfriend is the one who has “lost his sex drive” yet you are the one writing for help. Are you feeling desperate about losing him, more needy than powerful, unsure and insecure?
Are you holding back from asking direct questions, afraid of the answers, while your boyfriend is changing the subject a lot and avoiding eye — and certainly skin — contact?
Or, conversely, do you spend vast patches of time processing the relationship but rarely resolving anything?
What does he say about why there’s no luvin’ anymore? Chances are he is telling you in peacekeeping language. Sometimes we spend so much time listening for what we want to hear that we miss what’s being said. Really listen, protective filters removed.
Simultaneously, pay attention to the downward spiral that fear of loss can fuel. Take stock of what you bring to and want from an ongoing relationship. Does this one truly measure up? You have separated once. Why? It sounds like the past couple months have been less than satisfying as well.
If you can separate your needy emotional self from your rational, objective self, you may be able to see more and better options and to choose from among them with better focus. Remember: you are more than this relationship. You want to do what is best for you in the long run.
Going through a rough patch with a long-term partner is difficult. Breaking up is excruciating. The difference between the two is that in the former, both parties are equally committed to resolution and reconciliation. I don’t hear that from you, though your letter is brief, and I could be missing the part about your boyfriend’s dedication.
Regardless, you need to learn why he is not telling you why he has lost interest in sex with you. A therapist or counsellor might be helpful through this discovery process and helping you learn to communicate better.
Once you know what you are dealing with you can proceed accordingly. Now you lack sufficient information. Perhaps your lover is suffering erectile difficulty and is embarrassed to tell you, or has begun another affair, or maybe you have a sexual peculiarity like snorting when you cum that turns him off. You just don’t know.
When all is said and done you really just have to belly up to the bar and be willing to hear the truth, which may be that the two of you have a fixable problem… or may be that you have travelled as far together as you can go.
Either way, you will survive and learn valuable, if painful, lessons in the process. The cost of love is the risk of loss, and it’s worth it.