Dear Therapist..."Our Sex Drives Have Changed and We're Out of Sync"
I’m in a loving long-term relationship that has recently hit a rough patch on the subject of sex. Since the beginning, we have had good physical chemistry and aligned libidos. In the last year, this has changed.
From my perspective, he is almost always up for it and suggestive in even inappropriate times – his need for physical contact seems to have greatly intensified recently. It can feel like groping when he is touching me while I’m cooking for example. From his perspective, I’ve gone ‘off sex’ and can be cold and unresponsive to his advances. I don’t see it that way as we are still having regular sex, albeit maybe with a bit less frequency than before. I’m a 47 year-old woman so wonder if hormones are playing a role here too. I love my partner and don’t want this to become a bigger issue than it already is - help!
Dear Sex Stressed,
Your partner’s intensified need for physical connection indicates he may be feeling anxious or uncertain in your relationship. Some people try to forge intimacy physically, although this can make matters worse if the other partner is feeling similarly disconnected in the couple and wants to work back to closeness via an emotional route.
It sounds like you may have a ‘pursuer-distancer’ dynamic emerging. All couples have needs for both autonomy and closeness. Sometimes, one partner has a greater need for closeness – both physical and emotional – than the other. The one who feels his needs aren’t being met can reach out with increasing frequency and intensity which only inspires his partner to create more distance. Which motivates the one who wants closeness to pursue more, which in turn inclines the partner to retreat further. Both end up frustrated, needs not met.
You didn’t mention it in your letter, but the pandemic has exacerbated this dynamic in many couples. The intensity of living and working side-by-side with little outside interaction has provoked some individuals to want more support and intimacy in their couple and others to feel claustrophobic in lockdown, scrambling for time alone. Both reactions are completely understandable but need to be acknowledged with open communication.
You did cite in your letter your age and a query about hormones. Many women report decreasing libido during the perimenopause (years leading up to the menopause). It sounds like you sense this may be a feature for you. I would suggest reading up a bit on the many changes a woman goes through during this transitional period as you might find it reassuring, and also good information to share with your partner so he can be understanding and supportive.
The good news is your foundation of a loving relationship and good physical chemistry. Can you start any communications by underscoring this connection and love? Can you then normalise what you two are experiencing – changes in life circumstances mean libidos ebb and flow. How can we ensure this doesn’t leave one person feeling rejected (often just understanding what else is at play helps here)?
Prioritising activities outside the bedroom that strengthen your loving attachment can also foster intimacy. Equally, how do both partners carve out time for autonomy so they don’t feel suffocated in the relationship? Here, lockdown restrictions easing may be helping already. But it is a longer-term question, and the answers may change and evolve over time.