My partner and I have been together for four years. We went through a bit of a rough patch about two years ago. By “rough patch” I mean something pretty drastic and difficult in our lives happened that sent us into damage control and survival mode. Things are better now but I find that we’re still not connecting like we used to. I understand that relationships change and shift. I’m not expecting us to be like we were before. We love each other a lot but our intimacy/sex life is really strained and awkward. It seems like we just can’t seem to get it to click anymore.
So I guess my questions (yes I’m sneaking in a few) are these: How do couples bounce back after prolonged difficult times? How do you find a new normal? What if our sex life never resembles something that I’m happy with? How do you decide if you’re willing to sacrifice that to stay with someone you love?—Hugh-Man-Bean
Anna says: That’s a tall order, Hugh. Or may I call you Ms. Bean?
My last girlfriend and I weathered a lot of tough times over the three years we were together—a parent’s death, another parent’s battle with cancer, moving to a new city where we didn’t know anyone, being unemployed for six months in a city we couldn’t afford to be unemployed in, etc. The worst of it happened all in one year, and while it certainly brought us together and I probably would have collapsed without her love and support, our rough patch also masked and muted many of our bigger problems, problems that I couldn’t see clearly until we were breaking up. One of which was our sex life. To call it “strained” would be sugar-coating. It was more like non-existent. And while the reality of it was far more complicated than can be summarized here, I told myself that her love was enough, that the sex didn’t ultimately matter that much in comparison to the life we shared. Once we broke up, however, I realized that was far from true, and vowed to try like hell not to settle again for what I considered to be an affectionate friendship when what I wanted was passion and intimacy and reruns on Netflix and romance and affection and late nights and even later mornings and burning beds.
This isn’t to say our situations are similar, though the trappings may be. Your life is unique to you and only you have the answers. You might not even root out those answers until something drastic has happened—maybe a break from your relationship, maybe a renewal of vows or faith, maybe something else you can’t even imagine right now—but what you can do is keep asking yourself the questions you asked me in your letter, to keep talking with your partner about your fears and hopes and awkward sex concerns, and to keep striving for your truest version of happiness, whatever that may look like.
All couples have tough times, some more drastic and heart-stopping than others, and sometimes those times bring us closer together, and sometimes they force us to grow quietly apart. I can’t say if either of those scenarios might be the case for you, but I can say that “bouncing back” and “new normals” aren’t something to be found or stumbled upon. They are created from within. Lasting love is something that evolves and changes just as we ourselves evolve and change. But in order for that to occur, you and your partner must also be willing and capable of trying to make that change happen. Talk to her. Does she feel the same way about your sex life? Does she feel you aren’t “clicking” anymore, and is it due to the rough patch, or being ravaged by grief and she just needs more time, or is it something else entirely? What are some things that in the past made you both feel connected and loved and desired? What might you do or say or leave out or temporarily ignore to feel that way again? I don’t mean new lingerie or dirty couples dice games (but I don’t NOT mean them either).
I want you to reach down into the guts of things and root around for the truth that lives in the struggles and the sorrows and the bliss and the ecstatic and be honest with yourself about what you find. My last relationship made me reconsider the importance that sex has in my love life, but it had to break my heart first in order for me to realize it.
You asked me several questions, but I’m turning one back on you: What are you willing to sacrifice to stay with someone you love?