Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


3 Ways Long-Term Couples Can Maintain Their Attraction

Inoculating partners from a problem that's on the rise.

Key points

  • Sexual intimacy in long-term relationships is challenging, and some couples lose sexual attraction.
  • Weight stigma has been on the rise and is having a detrimental impact on romantic relationships.
  • High compatibility with core values, lifestyle priorities, and evidence of consistent self-care are crucial.
Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels
Source: Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels

There are few issues as contentious as the idea that we can lose our sexual attraction to long-term partners.

It goes against the fabric of commitment we've subscribed to collectively in our society.

In marriage, we promise to commit until death without stipulation. There's typically no clause in our marriage contracts allowing us to dip out if our partner starts living an unhealthy lifestyle, gains excessive weight, or otherwise changes physically in a drastic way.

Yet, many partners find themselves at their 20th or 25th anniversary devoid of sexual intimacy and sometimes attraction, questioning their commitment and fantasizing about other potential partners.

Of the issues that face a couple and their therapist, this may be one of the trickiest to navigate.


Loss of Sexual Attraction Is Complex

First, we have no control over our partner's physical activity or diet. Certainly, a conversation about what's for dinner can influence the kinds of food we're making for or with each other. However, our partner will still eat what they want, exercise or not; rightly so, it's their prerogative.

Second, an explicit conversation about our partner's body or our attraction to them is almost inseparable from perceived criticism or contempt. An example of criticism is suggesting there's something wrong with our partner because of their weight or current level of physical fitness. Contempt suggests there's something wrong with our partner, and we're better, more fit, more attractive, etc.

Third, all of our bodies will evolve and age across the lifespan, and we will certainly look differently after 20-plus years of marriage. Normative changes include more wrinkles, hair loss, graying, etc. While healthy aging doesn't necessarily include excessive weight gain or unhealthy lifestyle choices, rates of obesity are highest among the middle-aged.

Weight Stigma, Social Media, and Dating Apps

A recent review of the literature uncovered increasing weight stigma that has had a negative impact on romantic relationships. Weight stigma includes a range of weight biases, including prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. Between 1995 and 2006, weight discrimination increased by 66 percent in the United States. It is as pervasive as race and age discrimination (Andreyeva et al., 2008).

Some of the greatest criticism over weight and appearance comes from romantic partners and family members, with one study finding nearly 50 percent of participants were weight-shamed by their spouses. This criticism from those closest to us significantly impacts self-esteem and relationship satisfaction (Puhl & Brownell, 2006; Schmidt et al., 2023).

Of course, there are psychological and relational influences that contribute to our level of attraction beyond the physical. Admittedly, though, reducing relational conflict and improving emotional connection will take you only so far when fundamental physical characteristics have changed.

There are two factors in the current relationship landscape that suggest this problem will spread to more and more committed relationships.

The first factor is the impact of dating apps on relationship formation. That is to say, when daters are exposed to thousands of potential matches in their local community, they start a relationship off with a unique sense of their alternatives (accurate or not).

The second factor is the high utilization of social media apps like Instagram and TikTok, whose algorithms are designed to keep you engaged by showing you beautiful and seemingly interesting people. While there have always been beautiful people in TV, movies, and other media, the faux intimacy created by influencers, large and small, has only intensified a "fear of missing out" and unfair beauty comparisons with partners.

3 Recommendations

Here are three recommendations to provide your relationship with a degree of inoculation and help prevent the scenario where you've lost sexual interest in your partner.

  1. Pay attention to the intensity of sexual attraction from the very beginning. Is it where you'd prefer it to be? While sexual intimacy can be elevated through interventions in sex therapy, the fundamental baseline of sexual attraction is relatively stable. For that reason, daters should not ignore sexual apathy or ambivalence. If the spark isn't there in the beginning, there's little evidence to suggest it'll be there 20 years down the road.
  2. Date people who share an approximate fitness level with you and have established healthy habits around diet, nutrition, exercise, and other self-care routines. Research suggests exercise patterns are hard to change and moderately to highly stable across the lifespan (Van der Zee et al., 2019). Don't bet on your middle-aged partner radically changing their diet and working out consistently if they haven't already been doing that at the beginning of your relationship.
  3. Consistently share admiration for your partner, highlighting their beauty and your desire for them on a weekly basis. Create opportunities for dates that give you both a chance to feel sexy, flirt, and be sexually intimate. Couples who do this tend to have a positive perspective bias and focus less on undesirable qualities in each other that could contribute to a loss of attraction.

The truth is that there is no firewall against loss of attraction. Modern life has intensified the challenges of social comparison and the temptation for longer-term partners as they age to allow their focus to drift toward younger, fitter, or more attractive alternatives.

While it is perfectly normal for our level of attraction to ebb and flow across decades of a life together, the best way to prevent the demise of attraction is to improve the level of a match from the beginning. And finally, it is to accept that our partner's bodies will change, as will our own, no matter the match.

Facebook image: LightField Studios/Shutterstock


Andreyeva, T., Puhl, R.M. & Brownell, K.D. (2008). Changes in perceived weight discrimination among Americans, 1995–1996 through 2004–2006. Obesity, 16, 1129–1134.

Puhl, R.M. & Brownell, K.D. (2006). Confronting and coping with weight stigma: an investigation of overweight and obese adults. Obesity, 14, 10, 1802–1815.

Schmidt, A. M., Jubran, M., Salivar, E. G., & Brochu, P. M. (2023). Couples losing kinship: A systematic review of weight stigma in romantic relationships. Journal of Social Issues, 79(1), 196-231.

More from Gregory Matos PsyD
More from Psychology Today
More from Gregory Matos PsyD
More from Psychology Today