Should I seek intimacy … elsewhere?

Here goes nothing.

I'm a 32-year-old dude who has had an off-again, on-again relationship with this one lady ("Emmanuel" -- not the adult movie character) for several years. It's been on again for the past couple years, and we've been living together for a little more than a year.

Here's the conundrum: I'm not getting what I need now. Very little affection (she's very buttoned down), very little reassurance -- even men need that sometimes -- and very little physical intimacy since shacking up, when she used to be on the other end of the spectrum.

But she's the ultimate life mate. She's been there for me through a number of personal and professional crises. Our views match up on almost everything (kids, money, aspirations, senses of humor) that matters to me. (That's all you have after the spark dies off anyway, right?)
She says to me that she doesn't feel attractive enough (why would I be living with her?) but that I can't help her. Friends (including those of the female variety) suggest discreetly finding sex elsewhere. She is going through a lot of stuff now, so I feel torn on just walking out, but I need to make a decision on something, and soon. I've asked her a couple times whether she wants this to end, and she says no.

I guess I feel like I have the Bill-and-Hillary relationship, manifested in real life. Should I seek some on the side in a manner that will protect her and help me? Is she getting some elsewhere? Bite the bullet and move out? I feel like I'm at a life and relationship crossroads.

– North Shore Sucker

First of all, NSS, let us not make any assumptions about Bill and Hillary and what they do behind closed doors.

Second, do not seek sex elsewhere. I don't believe that anyone who cares about you would actually advise you to do that. Having an affair doesn't "protect" anyone.

You say that Emmanuel is going through "a lot of stuff." I have to wonder ... does she need professional help while dealing with said stuff? Does she know why stopped feeling attractive? I fear that she might be depressed. You might want to ask her whether she needs some (drum roll) therapy. Does she understand how much this is affecting your relationship? Is she concerned?

I'd also be very clear with her about how and why you want her. Sometimes just hearing, "I'm desperate to kiss you" can put a person in the mood to be kissed. Sometimes hearing, "I'm sad when we don't cuddle" can remind us that our partners need support. (Notice that I used "I-statements" in those examples. I love the "I-statements.")

If she doesn't get help and isn't interested in fixing this problem, you have to move on. I don't know why you guys were hot and cold in the past, but perhaps those off periods are relevant to what's going on right now. Relationships take work. If she won't work, she's not the ultimate life mate.
Readers? Is she the ultimate life mate? Why doesn't she want to be intimate? What can he do to deal with this problem? Intimacy on the side? Help.

– Meredith