It’s rare for intense sexual chemistry to last. “We don’t talk about it enough,” says the relationship therapist Cate Campbell, “but it’s very normal for attraction to wane in a long-term relationship, especially as people get older and bodies change. Even if you love and care for your partner, you may fantasise about other people or wish they were younger or fitter. Mother nature tricks our brains into only seeing the positives when we start dating, but that wears off over time.”
Some people find that loss of sexual connection is a dealbreaker, especially when it’s accompanied by other problems in the relationship. “If couples get out of the habit of being intimate,” Campbell says, “it can make them more critical of each other’s flaws.”
But it is possible to keep love alive, and even reignite that sexual spark.
According to psychotherapist Kamalyn Kaur, nothing is more important in relationships than old-fashioned communication. “If you find the sex is missing, have an open conversation about it. Try bringing it up in a non-pressurised environment – like when you’re walking or cooking together. This creates a bit of space so you don’t have to answer questions right away.”
Taking the time to think about what’s caused the physical rift helps couples engage with what’s going on, and consider other forms of intimacy. It’s something that worked for Claire, 36, who has been with her partner for 10 years.
“When the sex went from our relationship a couple of years ago, we talked about it openly,” she says. “He told me that he didn’t fancy me, and I appreciated his honesty. We got together after running a business together so we’d never had that intense honeymoon period. Our relationship was built on mutual trust and enjoying each other’s company, but it got harder during Covid because we had the stress of trying to keep the business going.”
They separated briefly, but soon realised they didn’t want to be apart. “Ultimately, we are partners in life and have always supported each other in everything. For me, being able to have honest, open communication in a life you’ve built together is more important than sex.”
Share your memories and achievements
With so much history behind them, Claire found that focusing on their memories and achievements strengthened their bond. “Our relationship is based on achieving things as a team. To support that love, we’ve continued being intimate in other ways, such as hugging, sharing a bed and spending quality time together outside work.”
After two years without sexual contact, the intimacy between them is starting to grow. “It might come back even more when our child leaves home later in life. But for now I appreciate what we have, how well he treats me, and how he supports me through mental health challenges. People think the grass is always greener, but it takes time to build lasting intimacy and I don’t want to throw all that away.”
Kaur agrees that celebrating milestones can be a fantastic way to stop partners from taking each other for granted and recognise the evolution of their relationship. “It can be anniversaries or things you’ve achieved as a couple, such as having children or buying a home together. I recommend writing these things down because it encourages reflection and it helps to build positive memories. You can also try writing down your partner’s best qualities to remind yourself why you were drawn to them in the first place.”
Tackle the weak spots in your relationship
Unlike food and shelter, sexual chemistry isn’t No 1 in the hierarchy of human needs. Relationships coach Katarina Polonska, who specialises in supporting high-achieving couples, says that grappling to achieve the “big ticket” items in life, such as a good career or building a home, can mean people deprioritise their partner, leading to a loss of sexual interest. “To feel in love after the honeymoon period is a choice – it’s not something we can expect to last,” she says. “To make that choice, we have to make room to feel desire and love. The first thing I ask couples when they’re losing desire for each other is whether there are any other stressors in their life, such as work or caring duties.”
For couples who identify this as a problem, making more time for each other can help them reconnect and regain that sexual chemistry. “Another common reason that people stop fancying their partner is due to past resentments and unresolved relationship issues. These can be tiny microaggressions, but over time they grow into something bigger.”
She recommends that couples take at least 30 minutes each week to try the “three things” exercise. “You share three things you appreciate and three things you need the person to know, for example times you didn’t feel seen or heard, or something that has rocked your trust. Then you share three things that you need, such as acts of romance or help around the house. It’s important not to judge, but give each other space to share.”
Build an intimacy routine
Intimacy is often associated with sex, but Campbell points out that it can be so much more than that. “To keep a loving relationship going without sex, it’s important to build an intimacy routine, for example hugging and kissing before you go out. Sometimes applying a sex ban can be helpful to take the pressure off completely and see what happens when you try holding hands or just cuddling on the sofa.”
She adds that if partners still care about each other, spending quality time together is likely to improve the relationship, and those feelings of sexual chemistry could return – even after years without it.
For some couples, practising intimacy exercises can bring them closer together. Clinical psychologist Dr Patapia Tzotzoli says that mindfulness during intimate moments can help to rebuild attraction between couples. “Hugging meditation involves taking a deep breath and visualising your partner 200 years from now. This mental exercise helps people to appreciate that life is precious and enables them to cherish what they have right now.”
Through the simple act of staying in the moment, couples shift their attention back to each other and their relationship. “It can help them to replace the negative feelings with more positive ones and make them more able to interact with each other with kindness and patience.”
Try something new
One of the reasons that attraction between couples can dwindle is the lack of variety. The mundanity of day-to-day life, coupled with the stress of working can leave little time for excitement. Tzotzoli recommends taking up a new hobby or trying something different. “By focusing on personal growth, you’re nurturing your own sense of fulfilment. It can enrich each partner’s individuality, which will contribute positively to the relationship.”
Over time, that renewed sense of self can lead to increased attraction and appreciation for each other. She also suggests trying new activities as a couple, such as dance classes, cooking classes or anything else that pushes you out of your routine.
Some names have been changed