Connected to too much familiarity with one’s partner is being emotionally fused with them. Emotional fusion describes a state of emotional oneness or ‘stuck togetherness’. A couple is emotionally fused when they are operating out of a need for approval and validation, or from a fear of rejection. When this happens, it is difficult to have arguments or even discussions as two separate, unique individuals because there is little room or tolerance for differences. Over time, this pattern becomes entrenched and you end up with two needy people who are highly dependent on each other yet stifled by their lack of psychological space. Again, Perel reminds us that the way we construct closeness often collapses into fusion which impedes the sense of freedom and autonomy needed for sexual desire.
If you have noticed that your partner has checked out emotionally and sexually, you will need to create a safe space to inquire about how have they have been feeling about you and the relationship
Mutual erotic attraction requires that each partner views the other as being separate from him or herself. This explains why sexual desire is usually at its peak at the beginning of a relationship when both partners still view themselves as two distinct entities.
If you are emotionally fused with your partner, you will need to start working on reclaiming more of your distinct self within the relationship. Paradoxically, good sex will return when you are more emotionally and intellectually separate. This may involve cultivating different interests from your partner as well as developing separate friendships. If you normally retreat from conflict you might need to learn to hold your position in an argument and express your true feelings with respect (for yourself) and clarity rather than allowing them to be dismissed. By learning to define a clearer self in your relationship with others, you will get in touch with your life energy and ultimately feel a resurgence of libido.
In summary, if you’ve noticed that your feelings of sexual attraction for your partner have faded, don’t assume that you will never get it back or the relationship is beyond repair. In some instances, there might be little chance of recovery because sadly, long-term resentment has eroded all of the goodwill which once existed.
If your attraction has dissipated over time, then you need to have an honest and open conversation with your partner. This is understandably going to be highly uncomfortable but hiding your feelings will only serve to drive them further underground and detract from your sexual attraction. If you have been avoiding sex due to withheld negative feelings, you will need to start a conversation to express your feelings and explain the reasons to your partner. This will require an approach of openness, softness, curiosity and above all empathy and a willingness to take responsibility for your own attitudes and actions.
However, generally, it is possible to revive the feelings of attraction in a relationship but it requires a commitment from both partners and honesty to examine, and work on the underlying issues
As this process will feel overwhelming and too hard for most individuals and couples, the help of a couples’ counsellor or relationship therapist is often necessary to make the requisite shifts from long-term, entrenched patterns.
Harriet Lerner is a clinical psychologist and an internationally renowned author of numerous books on the psychology of women and family relationships including The New York Times bestseller, The Dance of Anger. I find Lerner’s work particularly useful as it is based on family systems theory, a therapeutic model used to understand individuals and their problems in the context of their relationships with significant others and their role and place in their family of origin system.