My mate and I have changed during our relationship, and now we aren't sexually compatible. What should we do?

Question

So three years ago my mate and I met through Grindr. We hit it off incredibly well and I moved in with him maybe three months after we made our relationship official. I know everyone that reads this will immediately jump on one of those two facts, but bear with me. 
I had just dropped out of school, lost my job and apartment and moved back home. I had been in a downward spiral of a relationship maybe six or seven months prior to my current relationship, another mark against me. There's a lot of three years that a several minute email can't cover, but I'll do my best. 

We've had our share of highs and lows together, some basic tiffs usual of any relationship, some more emotionally complex and trying. Just this year we traveled abroad to the Philippines and Japan, just last month we weathered a rather volatile emotional outburst from him.

Our most recent problems stem from my views on love and sexuality. When we started our relationship it was as adventurously monogamous. I encouraged him to not feel restricted by me, as at the time I wasn't very sexually active (perhaps a product of depression). Jump forward to three years and I find myself in a situation where I love my partner, but I don't feel as though we're on the same page anymore.

I'm unable to really fulfill his sexual needs, but at the same time mine have grown in an opposing direction. I want to keep him in my life, but I understand that my hopes of having my cake and eating it too are likely in vain. We've discussed this before, but unless I approach the subject of splitting up he tends to evade the topic of having an open relationship and instead tries to ply me with ways in which to be more intimate.

I don't know really how to proceed from here. He says he can't live without me, and I admit our lives have become very tightly interwoven. I don't want to shatter the life we've built together, but I don't think it can stand the strain.

Received via email (name withheld)

Answer

The problem you describe is a fairly common one for people who have been in a long-term relationship for a while, during periods of major change in their lives. It sounds like both you and your mate have grown extensively during your time together, but it would appear that you have grown apart, rather than together, at least in terms of your sexual compatibility. I understand that you and your mate love and appreciate each other very much, but it doesn’t really sound like either of you is willing or able to meet each other’s sexual needs at present.

There a few different ways to handle this situation, and it sounds like you’ve already landed on what I would be most likely to suggest — trying an open relationship. An open relationship would allow you and your mate to get your opposing sexual needs met elsewhere while continuing to obtain emotional and romantic intimacy from each other.

The stumbling block right now seems to be your mate’s reluctance to try an open relationship. I think that his unwillingness is something you need to unpack a bit more with your mate; you should ask him what it is he is afraid of happening, should you try an open relationship.

Is he afraid of losing specialness with you? If so, reassure him that what makes your relationship special isn’t the sex, but the shared history and emotional intimacy you have together. You might also bring up the fact that you aren’t having much satisfying sex anyway, so it wouldn’t really make sense for sex to be the thing that is holding the two of you together.

Is your mate afraid that you’ll fall for someone else and leave him behind? If so, try to reassure him that you’ll do your best to make sure that outside connections remain purely sexual, and that you won’t actively invest romantically in your sexual connections with others. Tell your mate that even if you did develop feelings for someone else, you’d tell your mate and decide together what should happen, whether that be moving to a polyamorous relationship or terminating your outside sexual connection with that person. Reassure your mate that he’s your priority, and consider offering him say in who else it is that you see, perhaps even offering him a veto. However, only say these things if you mean them, and only offer a veto if you can respect his veto without resenting him for it.

You might also consider reminding your mate that the relationship at present isn’t working, and something needs to change. Trying an open relationship could result in the two of you breaking up, if something seriously goes wrong, but maintaining the status quo in which you are both sexually frustrated almost certainly will. Isn’t it better to try everything before giving up on the relationship? In my opinion, breaking up should be the last thing you try, not the first thing.

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If your mate simply cannot be convinced that an open relationship is worth trying, you might be forced to end the relationship in order to get your sexual needs met. If you go this route, though, perhaps you could remain in your mate’s life as a close friend. Not all breakups need to be so traumatic that you can never speak to your ex again; in this case, perhaps the two of you simply realize that your relationship has run its course, you now need different things, and it is time to part on friendly terms.

After going this route, you might even realize that you were better off together after all, and coming back to each other after some sexual exploration could rekindle the spark that has been missing between the two of you lately. Not all breakups need to be forever; there is always a chance that the two of you might circle back around to each other after performing some exploration with others.

Hope that helps! Please let us know if you have any additional questions or feedback by using the comments section below or visiting our contact page.

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.