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How to Tell Your Partner You Are Not Physically Attracted

Are you having trouble revealing this to your partner?

Simone van den Berg/Shutterstock
Source: Simone van den Berg/Shutterstock

If you were never physically attracted to your partner, you might never be. There is something about initial chemistry—neurotic or otherwise—that packs a punch like no other. If you were once attracted but that attraction has waned, it may be redeemable.

Some colleagues have vehemently disagreed with the first premise. They contend that it often takes time for an attraction to develop—what is needed is a view from “a different perspective.”

A graduate student offered a personal example of this with reference to her newfound love interest: “It seemed to come out of nowhere, but as soon as I was able to stop looking at him as a friend, I began to feel the potential for romance.” This is reminiscent of a line from Mr. Jones, a song by the Counting Crows: “She’s suddenly beautiful.” My counter: I suspect that the attraction was initially repressed, but ever-present in the unconscious. Once released, it only seemed like a change of perspective.

Paradoxically, there are some people who can repress a lack of attraction for their partner. They might initially focus primarily on certain desirable qualities in the prospective mate and fail to consciously consider physical attraction. Much like the graduate student's perceived revelation, the absence of attraction will eventually become evident.

In a clinical setting, it is usually one partner who lacks physical desire while the other appears bewildered. These couples tend to report that there was a healthy attraction in the beginning stages of their relationship. But upon a closer look, something was missing in the partner who lacked drive from the outset: rare sexual initiation; little to no passion during sex; an absence of orgasm; or, as one willing partner put it, “It’s like making love to a zombie.”

In the rare instance when both partners lack attraction, the couple is faced with two choices: They can decide to live without a robust sex life or go their separate ways. A female client told me that she was “too old to look for sex and romance.” Strife ensues when one wants in and the other wants out (or is indifferent).

So, how does one tactfully tell their partner that they are not physically attracted to them?

If you have formed a relationship with someone you have never been physically attracted to, it is best to gently confront the person. Denying this deficit often results in more destructive behaviors, like having an affair or rejecting your partner in bed. Time is also being wasted—time you both could use to find someone who ignites a spark.

Be prepared, however, for your partner to feel deceived. In response, offer a heartfelt apology, even if your partner enabled the dynamic. Express how unhappy you both have been in the relationship. Your partner may deny dissatisfaction, but you can offer evidence to the contrary.

Do not suggest that your attraction will develop unless you truly believe so. This will only feed a fantasy and drag things out even more. If your partner wishes to seek professional help, and you are unsure of your position, find a competent couple’s therapist.

I doubt this process will be restorative, but I always recommend that couples leave “no stone unturned” in trying to save a marriage. At the very least, you both could take some solace in knowing that you did all that you could. There is simply no pretty way out of this situation, but it is still far better than emotionally torturing the both of you.

If your attraction dissipated over time, explain to your partner the reasons. Did an affair or some other trauma throw you off course? Did your partner’s temperament help to erode your attraction? Did your partner’s physical appearance drastically change? Is there something within you that has altered your attraction?

Hiding your feelings will only further detract from your attraction. In some instances, there might be little chance of reconciliation no matter the origin of the problem. For example, a partner who has withheld negative feelings for too long a time may be unable to recover.

Checking in with a withholder may avoid a disastrous outcome. You may want to inquire: How have you been feeling about me? How have you been feeling about our relationship? Is there anything that you might want to tell me but are afraid to?

Remember John 8:32: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

More from Stephen J. Betchen D.S.W.
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More from Stephen J. Betchen D.S.W.
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