I Used to Do All the Cleaning. Now I Don’t Fancy My Partner

'Things feel more equal now, but this has come with a downward dip in my attraction.'

by Sophie K Rosa

10 April 2024

A man and a woman make a bed together
Photo: Adobe Stock

This is the eighth edition of Red Flags, Novara Media’s advice column for anti-capitalists. Inspired by our columnist Sophie K Rosa’s book, Radical Intimacy, Red Flags explores how capitalism fucks up our intimate lives – not just our romantic relationships, but also our friendships, home lives, family ties, and experiences of death and dying – and what we can do about it. To submit a question to Sophie, email [email protected] or, if you’d like more anonymity, fill in this form.

Dear Sophie,

Is losing attraction for a long-term partner just inevitable?

Me and my partner have been together for a while. Although it has been wonderful, for some of our relationship it felt like I was always doing the cleaning and housework. Lots of arguments have circled around chores and feeling like I take on the mental load around the house. For context he is a cis male and, as a cis female, this is very difficult.

It’s got better and things feel more equal now, but this has come with a downward dip in my attraction towards him. I used to love being intimate with him, but now not so much. Is it time to rip off the plaster? And will I ever find a leftist partner again?

– Losing Attraction

Dear Losing Attraction,

I am currently living with my partner temporarily. The other day, while cleaning his bathroom, I asked him if I could throw away a collection of reading material that, to my mind, was simply gathering dust beside the toilet. We briefly disagreed about whether these items deserved to remain in their years-long resting place, or should be thrown away immediately. 

Among the artefacts was a ten-year-old sex supplement from The Observer, which he ended up reading before he binned it. One article considered: “The generation of women who had won the battle of having husbands and partners share domestic and family responsibilities, but who perhaps lusted toward them a little less as a result”. I didn’t read the article myself and don’t care to, but it came to mind because of your observation that: “It’s got better and things feel more equal now, but this has come with a downward dip in my attraction.” 

A lot of research suggests that men doing their fair share of domestic labour leads to increased sexual desire in their female partners; it’s interesting to note apparently contradictory evidence. It’s unclear from your letter what you think has caused your declining attraction, though – it seems likely that rather than it being a turnoff that your partner is now doing more of the chores, the psychological laboriousness of getting to that point could have had something to do with it. Sometimes, having to argue for what we need means it’s already too late.

There is, to me, a harried tone to your letter, which could reflect your present experience. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I sense frustration mixed with resignation. These feelings are characteristic of heterofatalism – the idea that, for some women, heterosexuality is beyond saving – that being a straight woman is a sad fate, inevitably so. I don’t know that you feel this way (and I don’t know that you are straight) but I wonder if there’s something of those pessimistic sexual politics in your question. 

Not to say there’s no sense in pessimism. As you write: “He is a cis male and as a cis female, this is very difficult.” Being partnered with a cis man as a cis woman is its own special flavour of difficult – at worst, its own special flavour of dangerous. Doing the lion’s share of domestic labour as a woman in a cohabiting partnership with a man can never just be a matter of fairness – in a patriarchal society, this kind of inequity is directly linked to gendered oppression. Men often claim they just don’t have as “high standards” as women when it comes to cleaning, cooking or childcare; usually, they’ve just become accustomed to women making life happen, making life nicer, without them noticing. 

As such, arguing about the hoovering is never just arguing about the hoovering. And him doing the hoovering because you’ve asked him to is never going to be enough. As you write, when it comes to domestic labour, it’s as much about the mental load. That is to say, who thought to do the hoovering and decided it should be done? It sounds like for much of your relationship that person has been you. And unless you get off on tradwifedom, or comparable kinks, that doesn’t sound hot. So, I am glad things feel better around domestic labour – and I hope your partner is not only doing his fair share, but taking initiative and learning about the feminist significance of housework

You also ask: “Is losing attraction for a long-term partner just inevitable?” Even disentangled from the domestic labour dilemma, this isn’t a straightforward question to answer. I think there are convincing arguments to be made that it both is, and isn’t. And I don’t have nearly enough information about you or your relationship to be able to explore this meaningfully. I don’t know what specific factors – other than housework – might be at play when it comes to your attraction, so I’ll share some broader observations and reflections. 

I notice you don’t mention sex, but rather ‘attraction’ and ‘being intimate’. I’ll acknowledge here that it is possible you don’t mean sex at all, but platonic intimacy – perhaps you both prefer a non-sexual relationship. But if I am right in imagining you are referring to sexual desire and sex here, I wonder why you didn’t spell it out. I wonder, in turn, how much you are spelling it out (or not) to your partner. Do you two talk about sex? Do you name it? Do you want to?

As the psychotherapist Esther Perel considers in her seminal book Mating in Captivity, eroticism requires a certain separateness – which can be difficult to maintain while cultivating the potentially wonderful closeness of long-term love, especially when cohabiting. “Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery … Love is about having; desire is about wanting … fire needs air,” she writes.

I certainly think that sexual desire can be maintained over the long term – but it doesn’t usually happen by mistake. Assuming you want to – and bearing in mind that “fire needs air” – what could you and your partner do to stoke the flames? 

Familial domesticity has a way of dampening desire. Can you create the space to discover the ways in which you and your partner remain unfamiliar to each other?  This could mean infinite things. You might witness your partner in a new setting, they could surprise you in such a way that you see them anew. 

Together, you could expand the terrain of your erotic life – which might include letting each other in (if you want to) to thus far private desires or fantasies. It is unlikely to be exciting, long term, for the imaginative realm of a sexual relationship to start and end with the dyad always and only – whether or not you are monogamous. “Our ability to tolerate our separateness – and the fundamental insecurity it engenders – is a precondition for maintaining interest and desire in a relationship,” writes Perel.

That said, whilst enmeshment is a common reason for waning sexual desire in relationships, sometimes a lack of togetherness, as in emotional closeness, can be a blocker. I don’t know which – if either – is happening for you. 

In response to your final question: “Is it time to rip off the plaster? And will I ever find a leftist partner again?” There’s nothing you write that makes me think you might be better off ending this relationship immediately – it’s generally difficult for other people to advise well on such things. But I am asking myself what’s making you stay. I hope there are more reasons than the thought of never finding a leftist partner again. 

Sophie K Rosa is a freelance journalist and the author of Radical Intimacy.

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