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My Partner Has Been Less Affectionate Lately - What Gives?

My boyfriend and are have been dating for about 2 years and we are in our early 20's. Most of our relationship is absolutely amazing - we are great friends, our communication is wonderful, and our sex life is incredible. But lately, my boyfriend has been avoiding kissing me and being affectionate/loving in general. We still have great sex, but he seems distant and whenever I ask him about it he makes up an excuse like "oh, my breath is bad right now" or something. Am I approaching it correctly by being open? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks for your question! I can think of a few potential explanations for the situation you describe. One part of your question that stands out to me is the length of your relationship. It’s pretty common for couples to get less lovey-dovey around the two-year mark. As relationships grow, feelings of intense, “new love” passion tends to decrease.1,2 Ideally, that loss of passion is offset by the development of a deeper, more companionate sort of love that's based on friendship and attachment.1,3 You say that you’re great friends and that your communication is wonderful – that sounds like a healthy, attachment-based love to me.

This being said, if you’re unsatisfied with the amount of affection you’re getting, then it is an issue that you should probably address. If this hasn’t been going on for very long, then I wouldn’t rule out life demands as an explanation for the distance you are feeling. Is it possible that your boyfriend has been stressed lately about something – work, family, friends, etc.? Distancing and disengaging are common responses to stress, especially for avoidantly attached people.4

If you think the problem is situational, then you could try a couple of things. One great approach – which you seem to be using already – is to talk to your boyfriend to see if you can figure out what the source of the problem is. This conflict-solving strategy is called “voice”: bringing up the issue and seeing if you can work on a solution together.5 For example, if something is stressing him out, then maybe you can do something to make him feel better. Or, if there’s something specific about the relationship that’s been bothering him, talking to him about it will allow you to identify the problem so that you can both work on it. However, sometimes this approach fails because your partner may not want to talk about things. In that case, you could also try giving things some time and seeing if they return to normal by themselves. This equally useful conflict-solving strategy is referred to as “loyalty:” patiently and supportively waiting for a partner to come around. Sometimes all the person needs is a bit of space and understanding. Only you can judge which of these two strategies – voice or loyalty – is likely to be more helpful for you and your relationship.

Perhaps you’ve tried these strategies – you’ve talked things over, you’ve given it some time – and things still haven’t improved. If so, then another possibility is that things have generally been getting a bit stale in your relationship. Do you and your boyfriend tend to spend a lot of time together, doing the same things all of the time? If so, then you might need some breaks in your routine. When couples do novel things together – stuff that gets them engaged and takes them a little bit out of their comfort zones – they tend to feel closer to their partners, less bored, and generally more satisfied with their relationships.6 So if you think the relationship might be getting a bit too habitual, then my suggestion would be to mix it up a bit. Start a new project together, sign up for a class together, or go someplace you’ve never been. These sorts of activities are bound to make you feel reconnected with each other.

Finally, if your partner doesn’t seem open to any of these suggestions – if he won’t talk about it, if he won’t try new things with you, and if the problem doesn’t seem to be going away – then another possibility that you may need to consider is that your partner just isn’t as into you anymore. People do tend to distance themselves from their partners when they’ve lost interest in the relationship and are thinking about getting out.7 Again, I want to stress that this isn’t the only explanation for the situation you’ve described. But, if you’ve tried all of the above (you could even try offering him some mints!), and he still won’t kiss you or otherwise be affectionate with you, then it might be time to think about going your separate ways.

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1Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119-135. 

2Tucker, P., &Aron, A. (1993). Passionate love and marital satisfaction at key transition points in the family life cycle. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 12, 135-147.

3Berscheid, E., & Hatfield [Walster], E. H. (1978). Interpersonal attraction (2nd ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

4Feeney, J. A. (1998) Adult attachment and relationship-centered anxiety: Responses to physical and emotional distancing. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rhodes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 189-219). New York: Guilford Press.

5Rusbult, C. E., Zembrodt, I. M., & Gunn, L. K. (1982). Exist, voice, loyalty, and neglect: Responses to dissatisfaction in romantic involvements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 1230-1242.

6Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., &Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 273-284.

7Battaglia, D. M., Richard, F. D., Datteri, D. L., & Lord, C. G. (1998). Breaking up is (relatively) easy to do: A script for the dissolution of close relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 829-845.

Samantha Joel - Science of Relationships articles
Samantha's research examines how people make decisions about their romantic relationships. For example, what sort of factors do people take into consideration when they try to decide whether to pursue a potential date, invest in a new relationship, or break up with a romantic partner?

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Reader Comments (3)

Might be a problem with her breath too, so why not asking him if HER breath is ok. There is a certain taboo around this topic after all and HE avoids her kissing. H. pylori infections or something like that will not be perceived by the person infected but causes bad breath.

April 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUli

Two year mark! Right. More like the 7 month itch for these 'twenty-somethings.' All they're doing is simply making monkey motions for the real experiment later to come around for them. Eh, yeah, I'm talking marriage.

May 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterchas moffett

That was a wonderful response. I am going through a bit of the same thing, currently at 1.5 year mark and things are starting to fizzle. I have tried talking about it, and I get very little as of late, I have tried changing things up (ie: wearing sexy clothes, suggesting dates that we've never tried, and even trying to make mundane things more intimate) I have made sure to give him space (I need a fair amount of space myself) I have even proposed we talk about if the relationship is even working out, making a break up easy for him if that is in fact what he wants; but he was terrified of that and insisted that that is not what he wants he is just adjusting. I am waiting it out, it is really hard. Unfortunately, though, I don't think I can wait forever. I need affection, intimacy and to feel like I have a partner not a roommate; I don't know what my breaking point will be but I am not quite sure what to do but wait.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterabby
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