Susana has a background in psychology, counseling and ran a website all about Dream Interpretation for 8 years
Can your marriage survive when you fall out of love?
Falling out of love with your husband, wife or partner is a very troubling experience. Even worse is when our partner says he or she has fallen out of love with us because it feels like a massive rejection. We ask ourselves questions like:
- "Does this mean the marriage is over?"
- "Can we get the feeling back?" and/or
- "Shall we keep working at this relationship?"
To understand falling out of love, we first need to look at what's happening when we fall in love and the typical stages that marriages and love relationships go through.
You're going to find out why we fall out of love and why it's well worth persevering with relationships and marriages beyond that point.
What Comes After Falling in Love?
Many of us are not aware that relationships go through several distinct phases. This is why a huge number of us give up and start looking for someone new when we begin to have a sense that we're falling out of love and/or areas of conflict arise. But, persevering through these stages can open us up to a mature and steady love relationship that in the end is even more satisfying, and has greater longevity, than the falling-in-love stage we began with.
The Stages of a Love Relationship
- Falling in love—infatuation!
- The biology of love—hormones!
- Getting through the difficult phase—conflict! (This is usually where spouses or partners may feel they are falling out of love.)
- The beginning of real love—intimacy!
Falling in Love or, in Other Words, Romantic Love
So what is romantic love? Well, we know that it's often characterised by:
- Feelings of falling in love,
- Sexual desire and gratification,
- A merging of two people,
- A removal of boundaries,
- A feeling of oneness with the other, and/or
- Seeing the other as perfect in every way.
These kinds of feelings are no doubt pleasurable, but also they may all stem from our biological make up rather than from anything mystical.
The Biology of Love
From a biological perspective, our main drive is to procreate. So, what better way could there be to make babies than falling in love, seeing the loved one as perfection incarnate, and then having a deep need to make love as often as possible? What a fantastically clever mechanism for us to overcome our normal arms-length distance from each other and actually get close enough to procreate.
There are definite biological changes that take place when we fall in (or 'out') love:
- Oxytocin. Cortisol, testosterone and oxytocin rush through our bodies creating the familiar feelings of butterflies in the stomach, tingling, excitement and rushes of emotion. Research has shown that oxytocin (known in scientific circles as the cuddle chemical!) promotes pair bonding, which is why it is produced in huge amounts during birth and lactation. It is also produced during an orgasm—of course, most of us know how cuddly we feel after that.
- Hormone levels dropping. Another factor in the research is that these hormones drop to normal levels after 12-28 months of being in a relationship, which coincides directly with the feelings we have of falling out of love.
Romantic love has been exalted to an untenable position which is very unlikely to last more than a few years. People fall out of love and the relationship is usually over±divorces, break-ups, and subsequently damaged families are the normal outcomes. We've become addicted to the hormone rush fueled by the media hype and don't know what to do when it's over, except to find someone new. But there is another choice and that is: to make a commitment to love instead.
The Difficult Phase
Think about your husband, wife or partner. The rush may be coming to an end. No longer is he or she seen through the rose-tinted specs furnished by hormonal love as perfect beings capable of fulfilling our every need and desire. Instead, we see the faults and negative characteristics more and more clearly, and even more scarily—they see ours. Usually, during this phase of the relationship we argue and fight. No longer do the two wish to be merged into one super being.
What's happening on a psychological level is that we are reclaiming our individuality. This phase takes patience and negotiation and also the firm realisation that this is a normal part of a relationship.
- Do your best to be loving, even when you don't particularly feel like it.
- Develop the friendship side of your relationship.
- Try not to be critical of the petty things like when they leave their dirty underwear on the floor or forget to put the trash out.
- Remember that this other person is a separate individual with their own thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours just as you are.
- Be willing to compromise, accept changes and try to find mutually satisfying solutions to your difficulties.
This is where good communication will really help support your marriage through to the next stage. If you're not sure where to start, I recommend taking a look at this communication tool, which will help you identify the relationship areas that need discussion.
Above all, during this difficult phase of your marriage, do not resort to nasty tactics such as cheating, lying, being abusive or playing psychological games. Be honest about how you feel and take the risk of being vulnerable with your partner. Be aware that if these "rules" are broken, the relationship is unlikely to weather the storm because trust will be irrevocably damaged and that is the one thing, no matter how hard things become, that needs to stay intact if you're going to make to the next stage of your marriage.
The Beginning of Real Love
You may have thought that with the earlier explanation of how biology plays a role in love, and how we get confused between real love and romantic love, that real love doesn't exist. But, it does. It's a case of being aware that real love—love of the ordinary quiet type, doesn't really start until the hormone rush is over.
Real love is a choice we make—it's not based on feelings.
Anyone who has been in a long term relationship will tell you they don't always like their partner and they don't always have loving feelings toward them either. In fact, being loving in the absence of these feelings is real love because it requires effort.
Skeptical? Remember the times you have been up with your child in the night or, if you don't have children, a night when you have slept poorly. You feel tired and exhausted, maybe a bit emotional because of the sleep deprivation. All you want to do is curl up in a cosy blanket and go to sleep. Typically, unaffected by the lack of sleep, your child is crawling around full of beans and wants to play. Or a friend calls with a problem.
What do you do, then?
I would guess that most of you would put your own feelings aside and play with your child or talk your friend through his or her difficulty, even though you don't really "feel like it." If you've ever done so, this is a loving act indeed! You've made a choice to love not based on intense feelings but because you want to be loving.
This choice is what loving, long term relationships and marriages are based on. You can be guaranteed that the giddy infatuation will wear off. The hormones will subside. So long as you have followed the rules during the difficult period and have not broken the basic trust between you, you will find that infatuation is replaced with a deep abiding respect for one another—a trust and level of support you have not known before and an intimacy that will surprise you in it's ability to fulfill and sustain you.
These joys only come to those who are willing to ride both the storms of hormones and of conflict, but they are well worth the effort. Falling out of love really isn't the end unless you let it become so—it's the beginning of a whole new chapter in your marriage.
- Hormones Converge for Couples in Love (New Scientist)
- Oxytocin: The Love Hormone
- Romantic Love: A Mammalian Brain System for Mate Choice
- Limerence: Obsessive Love
- The Neuroscience of Romanticized Love Part 1: Emotion Taboos | Neuroscience and Relationships
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.