I'm not attracted to my husband: Marriage without chemistry?

August 31 | Guest post by Alex
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My husband and I have been together for 11 years, married for five and have two beautiful children whom we adore. We function really well as a family, and have a healthy supportive household. However, right from the start I have not been sure about my feelings towards him.

I have had a terrible past with abuse and relationships ending in heartbreak. I was really insecure and messed up and quite promiscuous. I always went for the bad boys, or the boys who didn't want me — as the chase is what really turned me on. However, when I met my husband I decided that I wanted to get my life together and that I had had enough of un-healthy relationships. So I denied the feelings of my heart, because I lost trust in my heart, and made a decision based on my head.

I did find him really attractive the first night I met him — our eyes locked, and we hit it off straight away. We got on really well and really clicked. He pretty much saved me, and, in a way, I saved him. He has been my rock and I have completely turned my life around. I am now fit, healthy, successful and happy within myself and my achievements. However… I have not been true to my feelings or honest with him that being with him has always felt wrong.

Since the first night my feelings towards him have slowly turned more and more to platonic. When he asked me to marry him I felt in the pit of my gut that it wasn’t right. On our wedding day I almost felt sad, but I listened to my head and not my heart. He became my best friend, my companion, and the perfect father. It's hard to explain, and you may wonder why I married him. I just thought that I could do without the chemistry, even though I'm not attracted to my husband anymore, I though that the love alone would grow.

Instead, I find myself more and more disconnected and un-attracted. And now I've gotten to the point where I can't stand his smell, can't stand kissing him, all his little mannerisms annoy the hell out of me, I can't stand him touching me in bed, I put a pillow between us so I can't smell him… The list goes on. And he is NOT getting what he deserves out of a wife.

I have not had the guts to tell him properly how I feel for 11 years, and it has been weighing on my mind heavily. Until now….

I finally told him, and have told him that I need time and space to sort my feelings out and decide if I'm in this for the long haul — if I'm willing to live without chemistry — or whether or not we are going to just be friends. We agreed on an "in home separation" and, amazingly enough, he is open to both outcomes. He loves me and the kids so much, that he is being completely amicable, and has moved into spare room to give me the time I need. However I still can't decide what to do!

I think the reason why I have been sitting on the fence for SO long is because of how much my husband and I have going for us. We have the same morals, the same goals, the same taste, the same parenting views, and in lots of ways we get on really well. We are open about almost everything (except this topic) and work through things together as a team. However this unfortunately hasn’t changed how I feel.

My husband and I have already talked about the possibility of being apart. We have already agreed on all the co-parenting fundamentals, finances, support, putting children first, sharing duties, bringing the kids up under the same roof etc. Is it possible to co-parent and still function well as a divorced family?
Do I deny my feelings and my heart for the sake of my children?

Do I have unrealistic expectations about a marriage? I mean, can you be in love with your husband long-term or is it okay to not have those types of feelings?

I have read that marriage is mainly friendship, but surely you need chemistry to survive, am I asking too much to have the chemistry as well as the friendship? Are you better off being single than with the wrong man if it means being true to yourself?

I am wondering if anyone is in the same situation may be able to give me some words of wisdom or put things into prospective for me from another angle.

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  1. Oh man, that's a tough one! I'm not in the same boat, but what I will tell you is what I ask myself when I wonder if I'm in the right marriage. "Can I live the rest of my life without X?" Do the journaling, therapy, soul searching, whatever it takes to find your real answer. Only you can find the answer you're looking for.

    For what it's worth, you may want to try couples therapy or a marriage retreat. Maybe just being honest about your lack of feelings will help you work through them.

    12 agree
  2. Good for you communicating your feelings. My mom did not and was miserable for 44 years of marriage before my parents finally called it quits. Granted, my father was not nearly as much of a partner as your husband so it's not quite the same situation, and therefore take all I say with the proper grain of salt.

    There's not much co-parenting to do for a 30-year-old, but I can attest that, should you decide to split, staying friends or at least friendly after an amicable split is entirely doable. As for if this happens with small children (I'm now speculating and not speaking from experience) it seems to me, like any other closely intertwined relationship of any type, communication is key. Make sure you remain on the same page. Of course, that's true regardless of if you split or stay together.

    Make sure the kids are kept on the same page too. Most important: I caution you to complain about your husband to your kids. As a pre-teen (when my parents marriage really started going south) my mom and I would have bash-sessions about my father when he wasn't around. I grew up thinking it was normal for mothers and daughters to compare notes and complain about the husband/father of the family almost like it was an inside joke how inept and obnoxious he was. I still have trouble valuing my father's abilities and not thinking of him as inept to this day. I should also point out, my parents did not have a horribly dysfunctional marriage. My dad wasn't abusive. They didn't have screaming matches or really even fight much at all (that I was aware of). They just weren't right for each other.

    To sum up, at the end of the day do what makes you happy. Communicate about whatever arrangement you have with your children's father. Don't talk down about him a bunch to your kids. Good luck!

    7 agree
  3. Just split up with the father of my kids about 5 months ago. We have three small children and are starting to successfully coparent. We had a physical attraction initially but not much else. I have never really had a healthy relationship and have had a past similar to yours. I feel like chemistry is important and you should definitely go with your gut. You kind of always knew it wasn't going to be quite right, we need to learn to trust our instincts. Once I started to feel better about myself my relationship seemed less and less right for me. I hold hope that I will eventually find the right partner for me but hopefully someone else can comment about how realistic that is. I am actually now quite happy on my own, much happier than I was in the relationship and the kids seem to be doing much better also. The happier you are the better for your kids.

    2 agree
  4. Something worth looking into, which may or may not affect what you ultimately end up doing, is if you've lost all sexual attraction or just toward your husband. When I was married, I thought I had just lost my libido, but it turned out I was on some medication that was messing with things. The marriage ended anyway, but finding out that I wasn't just uninterested in sex helped me sort out my feelings toward my ex.

    23 agree
  5. What about exploring alternative relationship models? I've never been a fan of the idea that one person needs to fulfil another persons each and every need. It's a lot to demand of someone, especially if your needs grow and change over the years. What about an open relationship?

    Or figure out what your priorities are. Can you live without the physical attraction if all your other emotional needs are being met? If you were in another relationship with physical attraction but didn't get one other thing your current partner provides, would that be better? Or worse?

    26 agree
  6. You are not alone AT ALL. I've been with my husband for 10 years and have an infant. I had a similar experience to you, I felt that we were roommates. It took about 2-3 years to get there. About halfway into our relationship we explored an open relationship and it worked for a few years. I had the healthy, stable life at home and a fulfilling sexual life with another man. Everybody knew and it was consensual. However after a while I realized that I wanted it all in one relationship, I felt it wasn't fair for me to be in a marriage where I wasn't attracted to my husband. The spark that I had with my partner and that he had with his wife 24/7, I wanted that for myself. At home, with my LIFE partner. Though my husband said he didn't mind and was happy and in love with me, I thought it wasn't just about me… he deserved to experience a healthy, relationship with someone who was interested in fun, sexual relationship with him. I was tired of the lack of intimacy in our relationship sexual and eventually emotional. We are still together and I find myself asking them same questions as you: are my expectations for marriage to unrealistic? Is this ow things are supposed to be…and am I ok with it? Is this something that we can gain back? I know now that getting married was a mistake but at the time it did feel right…sort of. I still have not decided but know that you are NOT alone. Good luck, whatever you two decide.

    2 agree
  7. Whoa….wow…what about open marriage. Let him get his u get urs. Not fair to him that ur not into him..thats ur issue not his. U get whatever it is u need.. u were wrong for wasting his time but im sure u liked the bennys of a great guy.. its a shame for both of u…just know u cant have ur cake and eat it too…u want him for the perks…but u want ur bad boy too…u cant help who u are…goodluck with all that. Lol

    3 agree
  8. No one can tell you what to do, unfortunately there is no easy answer, you have to decide if you can be fulfilled in this relationship. If even his smell is upsetting you, is it because he actually disgusts you, or is it a symptom of resentment that you may have for feeling like you are missing out on something? This post also makes me wonder can 'chemistry' be learned? Have you considered sex therapy? I do believe you can have a successful relationship without chemistry, however, I feel that you would have to be fully at ease without the chemistry in order for it to work, otherwise it will build resentment; as it seems to be doing for you.

    7 agree
  9. Only you can know for sure what to do and you are wisely taking the time to think before acting. Something in your post rang a bell though.

    I recognise very strongly the being attracted to people who don’t want me thing. For a long time I couldn’t understand why I kept having the worst luck of continually falling for unavailable people, people with complex issues who meant they couldn’t commit or just people where with other people. I was totally blind to the way that I utterly discounted anything that didn’t have that drama, that for me it wasn’t love unless there was longing. When I met my wife what was very odd for me was that there was no drama, she was totally available and we could just get on with it and give in to our desires. This makes it utterly unlike any relationship I’ve ever had and therefore it’s continually new ground. I’m nearly 8 years in and I am still adjusting to a lifetimes warped view of what real connection actually is!

    I think chemistry is very important but I think it’s different every relationship and it’s not even the same throughout a specific relationship which is why using whether or not there is chemistry right now as a decider can be so slippery. You asked for another angle so here is one, I think sexual chemistry is very important to get things going but what keeps things going is emotional intimacy which is fucking hard and which sometimes actively works against sexual chemistry (as does fear). However when things are balanced, when both partners are getting the space they need and life isn’t throwing to many shit bombs (ie an occasional occurrence not everyday service) emotional intimacy actually starts fuelling that sexual chemistry that got things going in the first place. I think this happens in cycles though which can sometimes be very long and that’s when the fear can set in and make it worse/longer.

    The only person who can know if you are on a cycle or whether it’s stopped completely is you but it may take a bit of debris clearing and attempting to re-start the cycle before you do for sure. Good luck!

    23 agree
    • This is very insightful! I think there's definitely a correlation between emotional intimacy and sexual chemistry. It can be hard to balance the two of these things once you start throwing kids into the mix, etc. My husband and I had much more sexual chemistry before we bought a house, got pregnant, and ended up with all these other real "adult" stressors. We have to work at our sexual chemistry, but the emotional intimacy thing is still there.

      OP, you're not alone. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • I agree with all of this, I would only add that it seems like the OP never really had much in terms of sexual chemistry with this partner to begin with, and that seems like a big red flag from the start. Admittedly, she has an unhealthy attraction to unavailable and unstable men, so I don't know if pursuing her heart is necessarily the best decision. I would suggest individual and couples therapy before making any decisions. Sounds like she has a good life, and an amazing family, and it would be shame to disturb that because of destructive impulses, but on the other hand, no one should have to live a lifetime of unhappiness.

      5 agree
      • Agreed- if the issue really is that she can only be attracted to "bad boys" then that's something therapy needs to address before she'll be able to find any sort of good, chemistry-ful-and-also-healthy relationship. Might as well do that first just in case this already good one can be saved.

        1 agrees
    • Yes, definitely! I find the times that I'm actually into sex and enjoying it mentally as well as physically are when I am emotionally open and connected to me husband. If not though, it's similar to the OP in that I don't want any of the intimatw kissing or cuddling. Just the physical release and then leave me be.

    • I agree with this so much, but I'd never thought about it this way before. I went through a phase of wondering if I should stay with my husband because I had no sexual feelings towards him. I knew that I loved him, but I felt no desire for him. I got into a cycle where I felt angry at him and he didn't understand why. Recently things turned a corner, I managed to let go of the anger and allowed myself to be emotionally intimate with him again. The immediate difference in our relationship was really quite profound, I realised that I had been blaming him for my lack of attraction. After I allowed the emotional intimacy to grow the sexual attraction followed and I am now in a relationship that feels as fresh as it did when we first met. I came so close to throwing that away because I had got myself into a rut and I am so very glad that I didn't.

      • It’s a complex relationship between emotional intimacy and sexual chemistry for sure! I think you can lose sexual chemistry when the emotional intimacy lessens but also you can lose it when there is an excess of it too, when the partner you are intensely emotionally bonded is to, is almost over familiar.

        It’s not as simple as only new things are sexy and exciting but there is no denying that a shiver of lust and shiver of the unexpected often come together. It’s hard to get that spark going when most of your interactions are (unavoidably I know) about daily chores and always take place in the same location too. It’s also not as simple as adding in a date night will solve your problems but changing things a bit can do loads for breaking old habits and working out if they are just habits or real problems. I did once read a great piece of advice about trying to see your partner differently, in different places, like meeting them at their work, if practical, and seeing the whole other side of them you don’t usually have access too. I have to confess I love occasionally meeting my wife at work and seeing her walk across the lobby in her work persona.

        1 agrees
  10. I've found sexual chemistry with my partner of 12 years to ebb and flow. We've gone YEARS where I really wasn't interested in him sexually, as in: we rarely had sex and I didn't enjoy kissing him, and then found myself becoming attracted to him again. We're in a high-attraction phase right now, and we have fabulous, regular sex. Sometimes it is related to medication, or hormonal imbalances, and sometimes it is because we've grown apart psychologically. Also, our tastes evolve over time. I'm changeable when it comes to turn-ons, and I go through phases where my husband's "look" (handsome as he is) just isn't what I want at that time. So we both go without for a while. That's how we've decided to deal with the issue, openly and honestly, and still stay married.

    The thing is: Marriage is about a lot more than just sex. There's no law that says you have to want to have sex with your spouse. You and your partner have to negotiate what role sex is going to play in the relationship; as long as you agree, everything and anything is possible. Sex with each other, or other people, or no sex at all–these are all fine. They don't mean your marriage doesn't "work" unless you aren't on the same page.

    Is it okay to be in a completely attraction-less marriage? I have no idea. That's for the individual to decide. Is it realistic to expect yourself to be sexually attracted to your partner consistently for 30+ years? No. Those relationships are unicorns. If you leave the marriage because that's what you want, you will be disappointed. Hopefully, the pair of you can come to an arrangement that suits your family well and makes you both sexually and emotionally satisfied.

    33 agree
  11. I completely understand. Been there. Done that. So I am thinking maybe you outgrew your relationship or maybe in the beginning it was a stabilizing event in your life and security was perhaps a huge factor. Husband. Home.
    Career. Savings. Positive credit and reputation. Family.

    These are treacherous waters to be swimming end. No matter what you chose to do there will be a huge price.

    I was in a similar situation. We made great roommates and parents but I was not attracted to him any more after 18 years and 4 children. He turned into a monster. The last thing he did from his death bed was to stiff me. He was very industrial practicing PAS therefore I have not had any relatiinships with my children in the past 20 years.

    So I advise a different approach in your endeavors. Be warned though anger is a secondhand emotion. The original emotion is anger. There is no way to bypass the inevitable. Sorry.

    I kept myself in a similar prison. Reguardless of the fallout, it was a must for me. I look back today and I realize I was alone and lonely all those years.

    We were awesome at co parenting, school functions, holidays but under all of that civility was his rage over rejection.

    Just know research and seek help for what the fallout will be. If he has pensions make sure you are the irrevocable beneficiary and you have an air tight QUADRO in the divorce degree. Things get really hard as one reaches their 60s.

    Peace and Grace.

  12. I believe you can have a marriage without intense chemistry. Because for me too, chemistry equals intense head-exploding lust for the wrong kind of guy. I have never had this with my husband, possibly because we grew up in the same circles and he was my friend for several years before he asked me out (while I went through a string of abusive, drug-addicted, or in one memorable case gay (but deeply angsty back then before he figured it out) boyfriends.) So there was never a WOW intense beginning. Just a "let's try this" moment.

    I am attracted to him, but I do have to fan the fire, if you will. Sex is good and satisfactory, but he definately has a lower libido than me. And he is NOT the very dominant bed-partner I sometimes want (which translated into generally not-good people out of bed). This is not to say he is not a good lover, just that sometimes he's not exactly what I need. But I am quite aware of this, and have an active fantasy life and like was already pointed out, urges ebb and flow. The compromise is well balanced by the rest of our relationship and definately worth it.

    He is and always has been my partner and friend before we added the benefits. We've been together eighteen years, got married after fifteen.

    All that said, I don't think what you are expressing is lack of chemistry. If his every move makes your hair raise, that goes beyond lack of chemistry into disgust. I think you need to find the source of why he's bugging you just by existing. Like anon put it,I am getting vibes of resentment too. Is he working too much? Is he not putting full effort into your couple (letting go of your marriage too easily without a fuss) Are you feeling unconsciously less "good" (don't know how to put this) because he's got it all, he's Mr Perfect, successful, a good father and it's still not right for you? There is something therapeutic about being rightfully angry, especially if you have a past seeing yourself as a victim, and he's not giving you that oppurtunity. You will have to put on your bitch-panties and take responsability if you decide to break up your family and that's tough. He's forcing you to make the decisions, and he's being fucking agreeable and reasonable too. (Gosh, Does any of that ramble make sense?)

    12 agree
  13. I haven't been in the same situation as you,but from what I can tell, yes, you have unrealistic expectations for marriage, to be blunt. By your own admission, your husband is perfect in every way and he is your best friend and co-parents. This is the best thing for a marriage. Don't blow it up just because you want to feel the rush of being in lust again. Lust is often confused for love, but will not make a stable marriage. I am concerned you are starting to fall back into the same old destructive habits. You should definitely explore why you are starting to despise your husband so much. Medical changes, hormonal? Some therapy is undoubtedly in order, both for you yourself and for you as a couple. Hopefully you can pin point those issues and work to counteract them. Then hopefully your marriage counselor can also work with you to better appreciate and possibly love your husband in a way both you and he deserve.

    12 agree
  14. Have you thought about multiple partners?
    I myself am not polyamorous but maybe somebody with more experience in this arena can chime in?

    1 agrees
    • I was in a polyamorous relationship for 5 years. The thing with polyamory is that it isn't for everyone. I've got friends who identify as polyamorous and say that it's the best thing that ever happened for them. I personally felt like a closeted monogamous person in a relationship style that didn't suit me, and I'm very happy to be in a monogamous relationship now.

      I can see why polyamory would seem like a solution to this situation, but I don't feel like it would be the best idea. What if OP finds someone she has AMAZING chemistry with? What becomes of her husband? Is he going to cope with continuing a relationship with her whilst seeing her be truly fulfilled by someone/s else? Will he fell like an outsider in his own marriage? (This is why my poly relationship failed.)

      If OP finds other partners that fulfil her sexually, will she feel satisfied enough to reinvest in her relationship with her husband? If her relationship with her husband is already complicated and unfulfilling, adding additional partners will just make it much more complicated.

      You can't fix an unstable house by building another floor on it. You should only expand a stable house when you (and your present partner) feel ready to welcome more people into your lives. I personally think OP needs to ask herself whether she truly, in her heart of hearts, wants to continue a relationship with her husband, or whether she's allowing logic (he's a good husband/father) override her feelings again. Once she has the answer to this question, if she feels that her desires and needs are as important as the needs of her family, and whether she wants to continue this marriage at all, then she should decide what action can come next.

      12 agree
  15. I can't imagine splitting a two parent family with children up for anything short of abuse or infidelity. He may not be your dream sex partner, but you have presented him as an ideal father.

    1 agrees
    • As the child of an extremely dysfunctional couple, filled with anger and resentment and manipulation who stayed together "for the kids" and because of Christian ideology, I can't agree with you. Everyone in my family would have been MUCH much happier if they'd just been honest and split. We were kids, but believe me we knew there was no love between them.

      10 agree
  16. I have no advice, I just want to say that I relate. I almost walked out before my wedding because everything was horrible and some days I wish I had. My husband isn't the perfect partner you make yours out to be and we have no children, and I see a lot of red flags I wish I hadn't ignored because I sometimes think I should never have married him. But I don't have the guts to tell him how I feel. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to see other people and sometimes I even casually mention giving him a "hall pass" because I just hate having sex now. I feel so guilty all the time. It's a mess.

    • I urge you to explore your options now. Divorce without kids is usually just a simple splitting up of property. If you are this miserable, you don't deserve to stay this miserable just for your partner.

      6 agree
  17. I'm 31, have only been in the following relationship 5 years but I do have a psychology degree. Here are some thoughts. What you said about self-esteem problems struck a cord with me. I have had some of the kind that meant my teens and early twenties were mostly spent pinning over men I didn't dare give any indication I was attracted to. When my now partner asked me for my number the first time he met me and later claimed to have fallen in love with me at first sight. Asking myself "Do I like him back?" was a baffling new experience. Like you I can't fault him for personality. I don't have conventional taste in men so I know I can't rely on other people to tell me if he's attractive. In fact why should anybody. He's provided me with support and helped me on the way to a more functional life. That's the most a lover can do for someone with emotional problems. When I'm depressed and anxious I'm a loser who just wants to believe a plain, unexceptional man is an amazing conquest because she has nothing else and he's so going to get fat this year. When I'm happy I have the Benedict Cumberbatch lookalike of my dreams who treats me right and I can face the future with.

  18. Oof. That bit about the pillow in your bed really wrings my heart — I want to give you a giant internet hug. You say that you're not really sure what you want to do. I would observe that when you're in the habit of thinking that what you don't want sexually doesn't matter — or maybe even more than that, when you're in the habit of thinking that's it's wrong to expect other people to respect and understand what you don't want sexually, figuring out what you DO want in ALL other areas of life is just considerably harder. You have a lot of different options ahead of you – but I suspect that all of them will work better if you expand your vocabulary in boundary setting. I do have a specific book I'd recommend a chapter from – Barbara Carrellas's 'Ecstasy is Necessary' has some explanation of and different exercises for creating and respecting ongoing, evolving sexual boundaries in non-charged ways that I think is great, and I've found extremely helpful. If not that particular book, I'm sure there are other good resources for that out there that probably approach boundary-setting from a more serious therapeutic perspective. If it were me, I'd start there, before anything else. Good luck, and much love to you in your journey!

  19. Can I ask a weird question? Are you, or were you at the beginning of your relationship, using any sort of hormonal birth control? There's evidence that messing with our hormones can affect the way we read chemical signals from mates. I think that's how I ended up in a mostly-good-but-somewhat-chemistry-less marriage, personally. Once I went off birth control I became less and less drawn to him.

    2 agree
  20. Companionate marriage? It's basically what you have now, except you both know you both sleep with other people– how much or how little details you share are up to you. You keep everything going well, and outsource what's not.

  21. I was once in a relationship like this – although we were not together for long. I started dating this woman after being single for a very long time. I was desperate to be in a relationship. Very quickly, I knew we were not compatible. Almost everything she did made me mental. She embarrassed me in public, she dressed slovenly, she odd mannerisms. I even found her dog annoying and I am a DOG person. For me, this dynamic came down to power – I had it all and she had none of it.

    At one point she asked me when we could move in together. Given that lesbians generally move in after the 2nd date, the fact that she had to ask the question was telling. I said, maybe at a year. I got a card from one day that stated: "only 267 days to go." I threw up and broke up with her.

    In healthy relationships power ebbs and flows. It seems to me that you have all the power. You say that your husband is fine with either outcome. I doubt that's true. I am sure he's invested.

    Now, I could be totally wrong about your situation. In the case that I am correct, I don't know if there is any coming back from this kind of situation. How can you be with someone when you can't stand his mannerisms and smell? The other thing is that you and he make think everything is fine on the surface and your kids don't know but they know.

    I think taking some time figure things out is good. I would also see a counsellor. I wish you good luck and I really hope it all works out in the way that's best for you – because that will be what's best for your kids.

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