The Secret Reason Most Romantic Relationships Fall Apart


Lori Lothian reveals the hidden ingredient that spoils most romantic unions.


I thought I had solved our latest relationship problem using my down-to-earth fix-it approach. He wanted more sex, so I chose a Nancy Regan slogan cure: I would “Just say yes!”

Even if I was tired, preoccupied or grumpy—after all, it wasn’t like sex was a chore. Sex was typically pleasurable and invigorating. So what did I have to lose by being available whenever my husband was in the mood? In fact, there was almost something hot about the idea of being at someone’s beck and call, like a harem wife or a sex slave (though I’m not into kink, novelty is always stimulating).

So for two weeks I put up no resistance and even suggested sex a couple of times when I would normally have opted for a more passive approach like falling asleep. This could have been the upbeat ending where we live happily ever after, having regular episodes of enthusiastic sex. However, something tricky happened which I am going to call the “mood of unlove,” a phrase coined by relationship psychotherapist John Welwood, author of Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships.

This mood of unlove is actually a deep-seated and universal suspicion we are not loveable just as we are, a basic insecurity that generates a whole laundry list of bad behaviors.

According to Welwood, despite all the psycho-spiritual relationship panaceas out there, most of these solutions fail because they miss the hidden cause of conflict between couples. This mood of unlove is actually a deep-seated and universal suspicion we are not loveable just as we are, a basic insecurity that generates a whole laundry list of bad sabotage behaviors in relationships:

“Difficulty trusting, fear of being misused or rejected, harboring jealousy and vindictiveness, defensively stonewalling, having to argue and prove we are right, feeling easily hurt or offended and blaming others for our pain.”


What does this have to do with my new rip-roaring sex life? Well, for one thing, it was never about the sex, not really.

I figured this out when the most obvious solution (more sex) did nothing to permanently resolve the relationship tension. While it seemed like infrequent intercourse was originally the culprit, that gripe was a decoy for a deeper grievance all tied into the mood of unlove. I was busy polishing the surface while oblivious to what lay beneath it.

My understanding of the subterranean nature of the real problem (think deep, dark wounded psyche) arose from a kiss. We were dancing one night at a party and ended up in a passionate lip lock that I’d not experienced since our courtship phase. I mentioned this fact to my man and suggested we do a lot more ‘From Here to Eternity-style necking because frankly, I was having a turned-on response.

Where had that assured man gone? Somehow, he had negotiated away a big part of his identity in a bargain for love.

The next day he was distant and reflective, and by that evening a new issue appeared. He realized he had been unconsciously locking away parts of himself to appease me. For instance, he’d cordoned off his swaggering male self that, when we first met had embraced me on a dance floor and kissed me deeply. It was this same unapologetic self that would just make a seductive move without too much concern for whether or not I was in the mood, unless of course I returned his efforts with an outright no. Where had that assured man gone? Somehow, he had negotiated away a big part of his identity in a bargain for love.

Yet I didn’t set this bargain. I wasn’t asking him to be solicitous and cautious as my lover, nor to tip-toe around my tepid desire levels. I missed the strong masculinity I first encountered when he courted me, the man with whom I told my friends I had experienced unparalleled sexual polarity. Post-mortems are rarely fun but they can be useful in determining what killed something. In investigating the demise of a strong sexual current between us, a question arose: Did I play a role in this lockdown of the very dynamic that attracted me to my man in the first place? Because as much as I wanted to blame him for the problem, I was pretty sure my only role wasn’t the one my ego cast me in, that of the long-suffering good sport to my partner’s issues.


So while he was busy figuring out if a counselor could help us get back on track, I read John Welwood’s book and then sat in contemplation of my mood of unlove. How exactly did I suspect I was not loveable just the way I am? And how did this fear gradually erode what had started out as a robust sexual chemistry?

The answer shocked me because my self-image as a sexually adventurous free-spirited type (I’d missed the 60’s but had always imagined the summer-of-love would have been a blast), was suddenly under siege.

My answer? I am not loveable when I am not sexual.

Somehow I had unconsciously decided that my sexual expressiveness equaled lovability. This meant the inevitable times when I am not feeling sexually open (when I am sick, exhausted, preoccupied, peri-menopausal or emotionally distant), my lovability was in question. In fact, not only am I not loveable, I am flawed in that place of sexual ambivalence.

In the face of my fear of being unlovable, he had stopped loving and I had stopped allowing love in.

All at once I understood my man had picked up on this from me—that when I was feeling sexually unavailable, I was feeling unlovable. With this unworthiness leaking from me, I was probably about as inviting as a toxic spill behind a bolted door. Sure he could swashbuckle his way in like the leader of a hazmat team, but that would require a heroic belief in his own lovability no matter what. So he had backed off from sexual advances unless it was clear to him that the door was wide open. In the face of my fear of being unlovable, he had stopped loving and I had stopped allowing love in. (This is not to say he too does not have his own mood of unlove and carries his half of what goes wrong in our union. But here I am focusing on my side of the story).

The question I will surely dance with from this new self-awareness is just how can I love myself whether I am sexual or not? How can I accept all of me just the way I am? Because only when I can give myself this gift, can I offer it to another.


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Photo: Flickr/Amnesty International

This piece originally appeared at  elephant Journal. 




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About Lori Ann Lothian

Lori Ann Lothian is a sexy daring writer who challenges assumptions about love, sex and relationships in her columns at Huffington Post and elephant Journal and in feature articles at the Good Men Project, Origin Magazine, Yoganonymous, Better After 50 and more. Former editor of the relationship section of elephant Journal, she is now a senior editor at the Good Men Project. Follow her on Twitter andGoogle. Stay informed, sign up for Lori’s mailing list here.


  1. Brava! Such open and brave writing, Lori.

  2. Lori, that was great…and very enlightening. Thank you for sharing this. It happened here too…Your thoughts have helped me understand it a little bit more.

    • Lori Ann Lothian says:

      Thanks Tom. I’m glad to hear my own insights into my marriage dynamic helped someone else or resonated.

  3. Thank you for your thoughts. I used to date a girl that found so much of her self-worth was in being sexually available to me. Although I enjoyed the attention, I could never convey to her that her value to me wasn’t just sexual. When she didn’t have that sexual attention from me, she believed the relationship was in trouble. The relationship didn’t work out for other reasons. This is also the kind of attitude in a woman that creates sluts.

    • Joseph
      ✺ “This is also the kind of attitude in a woman that creates sluts.”✺

      Can you define a slut for me Joseph?

      And how do you know what is behind women’s actions and preferences sexually ?

      This article did not resonate with me at all. I guess some women feel like this, but I have felt like that nor have I met other women like this.

      • Yeah, it didn’t really resonate with my either. That said, there are a million and one reasons that relationships fail.

    • Lori Ann Lothian says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Josepth. It could be any reason for a woman, or a man, to imagine unloveablity exists. Just for me, two years ago (when i first wrote this piece for my FB notes) it was about my sexuality, waning in perimenopause, and yet having been such a central focus of my worth for many post puberty years.

      I don’t know that your “slut” ccomment was meant in the way you intended it. Perhaps you meant that a woman who believes her sexuality/sexual availability defines her, is likely to be very sexually active or have many partners? For me, however, it was not this way…a 17 year marriage, and a handful of lovers. It was not about quantity, but the sense that if in each union I was not a sexual creature, I was unloveable…

      THe beauty in taking back this disowned piece, is now, two years later, I am at home in myself, whether I am sexually active or not. I have simply unwound that old knot of where I unconsciously felt unloveable.

    • @Joseph,

      “This is also the kind of attitude in a woman that creates sluts.”

      Joseph, there really is no such thing as a ‘slut or whore.’ There are only women whom you like or dislike, for a myriad of reasons. Why do you have to tag or label her a slut?

      Even though I would eschew dating a woman who ‘sleeps around’, I would never denigrate her by thinking of her as a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’.

      • Actually the word slut means that a person has a lot of sex with a lot of random people. You can say that the word slut doesn’t exist but the fact is that it does. Men can be sluts as well but to say that there is no such thing as a slut is to deny facts.

    • Well done for slut shaming, Joseph. Just what we need more of in this world *sarcasm*. Men have also made themselves sexually available over the years in a different way, would you call them sluts? I suspect not because the double standard you are preaching is clear enough in this instance

      • hahahah….ummm I don’t have a double standard. I have been known to call some of my man friends sluts and man whores. I have also said that of women. My definition: people who sleep around with multiple partners for sport. Have I meant it in a demeaning way? No, more so as a descriptive word. It’s the words I add do it such as….well I won’t get too vulgar. I call it like I see it, man or woman. If that person finds it offensive, maybe its because their actions cause cognitive dissonance.

  4. Thank you for posting this.

    Post-mortems are rarely fun but they can be useful in determining what killed something. In investigating the demise of a strong sexual current between us, a question arose: Did I play a role in this lockdown of the very dynamic that attracted me to my man in the first place? Because as much as I wanted to blame him for the problem, I was pretty sure my only role wasn’t the one my ego cast me in, that of the long-suffering good sport to my partner’s issues.

    This is an issue I see pretty clearly in almost any relationship around me, and one that I’ve tried to take up to discussion in almost any relationship I’ve been in, when I’ve felt that intimact and attraction have started to wane.
    How can we really expect our partner to keep up a behaviour that first caught our attention, the thing that we first found attractive, if we (when everyday life of relationship sets in) 9 times out of 10 show nothing but aversionand weariness to that very behaviour??
    Do we really expect our partner to be that INSENSITIVE to our feelings based on the way we choose to display them?
    Or do we just expect them to be mind-readers, and only show whatever it is, in the exact moment we desire to see it and nothing else?

    • @FlyingKal,

      ” if we (when everyday life of relationship sets in) 9 times out of 10 show nothing but aversion and weariness to that very behaviour??”

      Why would you begin to show aversion and weariness to something that you clearly enjoyed? Was this just a fantasy? Was it immature infatuation?

      I really do not get this argument.

      I am not sure I get this concept of ‘mood of unlove.’ I need to read this a third time I suppose.

  5. Cont’d
    All at once I understood my man had picked up on this from me—that when I was feeling sexually unavailable, I was feeling unlovable.
    Because whenever any of my ex-GF’s turnded me down and told me to stop making an idiot of myself, for doing something that used to swoop them away. What I picked up from this wasn’t that they felt unlovable (because I loved them…!), but that I was unlovable for not conforming to their standards of my conduct!
    So I mellowed down. Tried to not impose myself! Which leads to the opposite reaction. “Why don’t you ever do X anymore? You’re not the same person I fell in love with!”

    Well, duh…

    • @FlyingKal,

      LOL! Not laughing at you but with you. It seems like a no-win situation.

      • Hi Jules,
        Yes it truly was.
        But isn’t this very much like the situation yourself, and most of us within a committed relationship seem to find ourselves in?

        • @FlyingKal,

          “But isn’t this very much like the situation yourself, and most of us within a committed.”

          Yes, I have to agree. I have been with my girl friend now a year. Things are still going well. One thing I have done with her is to place limits on my emotional availability. Not to be selfish. Rather, to protect myself.

          She certainly has noticed this ‘limited availability.’ Of course she thinks it is related to my prior marriage and all the emotional and mental issues I suffered. She said he knows I can give her more. But, she said she was going to remain patient because I am a very good man who is caring, loving, giving, and passionate.

          We shall see.

  6. Excellent article Lori. Courageous. I believe the core human condition is this feeling of being unloved and unlovable just as we are. And from this stems all kinds of expressions of suffering that we can see around us every day in every area of life.

    This feeling seems to be so deep, this feeling of being unlovable, that it can get to seem that it is actually who we are and not just founded on a belief about who we are. A conversation to be continued I suspect …

    • Does it stem from a fear of (or a sense of?) being abandoned as a child?

      Because as a little child, the only thing we have to connect us with our parents, our family, is love. And then it is literally a question of life or death!

      • Lori Ann Lothian says:

        Without getting into public psycho-therapy, it stems from living out a family system anti-script. Well, it did. What is not clear in this piece, is that two years have passed since writing it. I guess a follow up article is in order.

        • Hi Lori Ann,
          I was actually thinking of this behaviour on a general level. Because I can see it playing out in so many areas. Sorry I wsn’t more clear on that but I didn’t intend to Point at you or anyone else, specifically.
          My apologies./K

  7. says:

    Wonderfully written and insightful. Lori Ann Lothian, I live with health issues and I am currently really being willing to break the “how can I feel ill below a certain level (and be unable to help) AND be loveable”. Whilst there have been people who have helped me create this belief, like yourself I am aware that it is there regardless of the behaviour of others.
    I find the first step in letting go of such beliefs is to allow the belief to be by bringing to bear a gentle awareness and acknowledgment.
    “Oh look, here I am playing that belief again. I welcome all these thoughts, feelings, beliefs and images.”
    Only then to play with…
    “I am willing to let this belief go.
    I love myself when I am (sexual)
    I love myself when I am not (sexual)
    I love myself.

    With the Love we are, Katherine

  8. Hello Lori,

    You can wear glasses, hat and moustache, but don’t you think I’d recognize your hair among one thousand? :)

    I agree with all the ones praising your writing, I like the way you write too. But talking of the core of the topic, I think that something escapes you.

    First preliminary observation: At some point you seem to say something like “I indulged in the previously missing sex for two weeks and couples issues pertained, so it kinda proves it’s not about sex …” Buzzzz !!! Untrue! Just let me tell you something that everyone knows, men for sure, but women too. The fulfilling sensation that you take away from sex, doesn’t only come from the fact that you had your amount of pleasure and your count of orgasms. It’s in a fully shared and deep felt rash of desire. Why do you think that flesh is said to be so sad in all the places of paid sex? In short when the sex drive is only one way, we are not talking of the same thing at all.

    Let’s come now to the question of Love. This thing that you talk about let’s call it “Lovability out of sex expressiveness” makes no sense for me. And here again I feel like you miss a central point. “Lovability out of sex expressiveness?” it happens all the time! I have friends that I really love and strongly. Do I need their “sex expressiveness” to love them? Not at all! And admittedly even less so when they are men! :)
    But that is where lies all the difference, “love” involving us as sexual beings and “love” which doesn’t, it’s the same word but not the same thing at all. And I’m adamant on this, without sex, that first occurrence of “love” just dies, because it needs loving bodies to express itself fully.

    Let’s try to sort it this way: Who is “your Love?” (See I put a capital L for the 1st kind) It’s the one whom you are merging with “body” and “soul”. You read me well? BODY and soul! You want to remove merging bodies from the equation? So be it but you just came out of what I’m calling “Love” and sorry to say it, but also out of what all Love stories were calling “Love” since like ever.

    So let’s say that we really want to face the core of the issue. My own take is this: If one in a couple has really lost his or her sex drive, to the question: “Can they still love each other?” I’ll answer “yes.” To the question “Can Love passion survives this?” I’ll answer “no.” Because “Love passion” needs two lovers that will be merging bodies and souls, and not one sexually nursing the other because she or he cares so much for the other.

  9. I would agree with Leo above that this basic feeling of “unworthy of love” is one that plagues many, if not most, people, male and female alike. And most people aren’t even aware they’re grappling with it. It took therapy for me to really see how the origins of my insecurities and how this played out in my life. I wasn’t conscious of it, but deep down in my psyche, I felt like my lovability had to be proved over and over and over again, and that any time I screwed up, that made me less lovable. So when depression rears its head and makes me feel like a giant screw-up, you can bet my sexual expression, desire and performance simply TANKS. And giving me more love is not the cure, it simply drives me further into denial of my worthiness, almost like I’m being taunted with my unlovability. The conscious expression of this unconscious belief is often anger, hostility, coldness and shutting down, and finding every other thing to blame.

    And honestly, the more I’ve sat with this knowledge and begun using it to confront my demons, the more I recognize these tendencies in the people around me (which could just be confirmation bias, of course). I do think it’s integral to the human experience, at least in this society/culture where performance and achievement are weighted so heavily – one must always be PROVING one’s worth, and worth can be taken away in an instant as soon as you screw up. This is an exhausting pattern to maintain over a lifetime.

  10. Lori,
    There is lots of excellent insight in your article and I commend your efforts. I see the problem in a different light. First, which many have touch on is the definition of sex and it’s role in the marriage. I feel for many sex has become confused with love. It’s become the only way for some to give and accept love and that feeling of “love” has begun to rule their lives. It forms a core belief that dictates to them that sex is their number one need in the marriage. This need for sex is really a cry that says “connect with me”. So many of us suffer from idoltrus relationships where the words or actions of our spouse determine our value. The truth is our value is determined by the one who created us. Further I challenge any woman who feels the need to submit sexually to her husband to study what Paul is really saying in 1 Corithians 7. I write about this more on my site at the link below.

    • I don’t think it’s our value (as human beings) that is determined by the words or actions of our spouse. More like our significance to that person, who is supposed to be a special one in our life.

  11. Great article Lori, thanks.
    From my experience (I’m a psychotherapist who specialises in working with men) this kind of thing is a huge factor in struggling relationships. I’ve also experienced it myself, both from partners having self worth attached to sex, and my own beliefs about being unlovable.
    Will definitely check out the book.
    Exploring the underlying motivations to our actions is such a key element in having great relationships – thanks again for sharing so openly.

  12. Lori, wonderful insights from intimate experience! Helpful to all of us.

  13. ‘So what did I have to lose by being available whenever my husband was in the mood?’

    Depending on the man (it doesn’t seem to be the case for your husband), he’d be less caring about what you wanted and only thought about himself. There is a danger is making yourself completely available at all times. Some men won’t hear the word no anymore and will assume that your job is to be there for him whenever he wants. On a more serious note, some women have been killed by their partners for not making themselves more available to a demanding need. So what can you lose, depending on the man? Your agency at best, your life at worst, sometimes nothing at all. I over analysed I know but that line just bugged me. I also don’t find it hot to be someone’s slave in any form but that’s just me

    • If the “man” you are with turns into a raving lunatic simply because you start to say “yes” more often for sex, then you already had a raving lunatic and its better you know now. As you said when you contradicted yourself half way down, women have lost their lives for NOT being more available… it really has nothing to do with the woman and everything to do with the man. Frankly i believe both partners, so far as they can, should be open to the needs of the other, otherwise you have a relationship of selfishness, often infidelity (again something that would have to be an underlying possibility, but a much more likely one than a murdering spouse that only becomes a raving lunatic once his wife begins to say yes to sex) insecurity and a feeling of distantness (at least thats what ive been told by friends and relatives who keep coming to me asking what i do in my 21 year relationship that is different from their string of failures, to which i tell them.. start with the right person, and then give everything you are to that person and expect no less from them) What you are describing is your desire or need to keep control of your significant other out of fear that giving up that control will turn them into someone else… that makes no sense, and i wont speculate on what kind of past may have created those ideas, cause that way lies monsters on the net heh. But you might want to look at it yourself. Sex is not and should not be a weapon or a method of controlling your partners thoughts, actions, or desires, it should be a loving and giving expression of YOUR feelings, thoughts, actions, and desires. When you try to use sex as a lever or a hammer, you take the joy out of it, and it becomes something less than it can be.

  14. This is immensely interesting, providing loads of food for thought. Thank you.

  15. I really appreciate the journey you take us on with your writing. Keeping a long term relationship alive and vital in every department might be about this kind of self regeneration and reflection… also humility, intelligence and a tendency to care deeply.

  16. I’ve known women like this, and I myself have fallen victim to this mentality – that your sexuality, your body, is what’s importan. It’s what you have to offer. I’ve come to realize that the sexual identity some women embrace is a big part of issues they face romantically, and otherwise. I see these same women still sporting pencil skirts and spike heels, representing themselves as fantasy billboards for men, thereby creating the very environment that harms them. I believe if the women who do this, as I once did, focused more on who they are and what they can accomplish, leaving the “sexy” at home, these problems will slowly begin to diminish. We’ve been taught throughout history to be submissive to men, and in our modern world, that submissiveness has become cleverly disguised as our “sexual liberation.” I think the more ‘like’ the sexes realize they are (rather than cat and mouse), the less distance there will be between us, and the more connected we can become.

  17. There’s a difference between assertive and non consensual. Shit definition of masculine

  18. Have you heard of Steven Stony and his work? ( I believe he boiled it down to feeling one of two things underlying negativity in relationships: inadequate or unlovable. His solution is for couples to support each other in feeling adequate and lovable in different ways including telling your partner that they are adequate/lovable and why. And through other means.

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