Published: February 17, 2015 – 12:00AM
One of my clients is a 35-year-old man who has been in a relationship with his current girlfriend for about two years now. This is the longest time he has been with a partner – all his other relationships have lasted between only a few months and a year. His initial sexual attraction towards his girlfriends is usually very strong but after a while just disappears.
This time he was convinced he’d found the “right” one. He was very happy because he felt it was time to settle down and was looking forward to starting a family. However, even though he adores his partner, he has again started to lose his sexual feelings for her. He isn’t motivated to have sex with her any more; sex has slowed down to once a fortnight, instead three or four times a week. He doesn’t see himself as sexual or passionate, and he’s worried because his pattern of losing sexual interest means he finds it difficult to sustain physical and emotional connections. Not surprisingly, his partner has started to notice and complain about it.
He also feels he is cheating on her. He has started fantasising about other women and he is now convinced he is unable to love his partner.
My client is not alone. Many men and women experience feelings like this that make them extremely confused. The problem is, they are under the impression that love and lust are the same thing.
In 1979, American psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the word limerence; this is defined as a period in a relationship known as the falling in love and lust stage. It’s driven by the neurotransmitter phenyl ethylamine (PEA) which, combined with dopamine and norepinephrine, creates pleasingly positive feelings between people.
These so-called love chemicals can prompt euphoria, increased energy and sexual desire. They are responsible for intense passion and the rose-coloured glasses we see our partners through. Limerence feels good, but unfortunately it has a shelf life lasting from about six months to two or three years. Its decline is gradual.
When I explained limerence to my client, he agreed this is exactly how he feels in relationships. But this time he doesn’t want to break up, he loves and is committed to his partner and wonders what he could do to help the situation. Meanwhile, she just doesn’t understand what is happening.
Another client fell madly in love and became engaged within a year. She was excited and spent months planning their fairy-tale wedding. The date was set, the venue chosen and their families and overseas friends had booked airline tickets to attend. But three months before the wedding she got cold feet and realised that she and her future husband had little in common and she wasn’t in love with him any more.
She didn’t know what to do. How could she possibly tell him or explain her feelings to family and friends?
Another client realised that the woman he thought was “the love of his life” wasn’t the one after all, but by then they were expecting a baby!
I hear it all the time: “I love my partner but I am not in love any more … what can I do?”
Most people believe the excitement of those early months and years will last forever, but unfortunately this doesn’t happen that often. We live in a society that projects romantic love as the be-all and end-all on TV, movies, popular magazines and novels.
When the limerence stage fades away, a deeper commitment – an emotional intimacy – is needed.
While the emotion of falling in love is intense, the emotions of falling out of love can be as intense, but the signs may not be that clear.
When love/lust seems to disappear, people usually start spending less time together. They start having fights, arguments or stop talking; they may feel unappreciated, and resentment can build up and they drift apart. It’s easy to understand how people become disappointed and frustrated with each other, and eventually will stop having romantic feelings and having sex.
One reason this happens is a lack of emotional intimacy – it’s extremely important for couples to make a habit of spending time together and connecting again.
There is no easy fix, but when you start noticing the passion disappearing in your relationship it may give you an opportunity to discuss what you are experiencing with your partner and find ways to turn things around.
If you know the signs, you can use them to rework your relationship. In the worst case scenario, you’ll know why you need to walk away from a relationship that may not go the distance.
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/sexual-desire-often-fades-in-relationships-20150216-13fzgh.html