You’ll hear many people say “we just aren’t ‘in love’ with each other anymore.” But relationships don’t naturally fall apart, according to Susan Orenstein, a licensed psychologist and relationship expert in Cary, N.C.
Other reasons often underlie a relationship’s breakdown. Below, you’ll find these common reasons along with several helpful suggestions if one hits close to home.
They don’t meet each other’s needs.
At the beginning of a relationship, people are attracted to each other’s traits, said Mudita Rastogi, Ph.D, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Arlington Heights, Ill. But over time their needs go unmet. For instance, a husband may no longer feel wanted by his wife. A wife may fear her husband isn’t going to support her.
Or the very traits they were attracted to have now become intolerable, she said. For instance, one partner loves that the other is sociable and has a similar sense of humor. However, over time, they think their partner is too loud and flirtatious with friends, which leads to jealousy and resentment, she said.
Suggestion: Because partners aren’t mind readers, it’s important to discuss your needs. Ask “each other what makes [you] feel loved and wanted,” Rastogi said. One partner might need a hug right after work. Another might need a date night. Someone else might need a text when their partner is running late. Still someone else might need to hear the words “I love you” more often.
The honeymoon is over.
Over time, the lust, excitement and pride in your partner — the “honeymoon period” — also fades, said Orenstein. It’s normal for the highs of the relationship to level out.
In fact, this is how we’re wired, she said. She cited the work of anthropologist Helen Fisher, who notes that all cultures have a kind of honeymoon period so that bonding and mating can occur.
But because this early phase inevitably fades, couples think they’re not “in love” anymore, and, as bills and dishes pile up, they may start taking each other for granted, Orenstein said. We may “gloss over the positives that our mates do for us, and instead tend to focus on the negatives.”
Suggestion: We are wired for negativity. It’s human nature, Orenstein said, to focus on what’s missing and what others have that we don’t. That’s why it’s important to refocus ourselves on gratitude. If we regularly notice and acknowledge the positive things our partners do to make our lives comfortable and meaningful, we actually rewire “our brain to be in a more positive state of appreciation and gratitude.”
Orenstein suggested creating a list of all the considerate things your partner has done in the past 24 hours. For instance, maybe they quietly got ready for work so you could sleep in. Maybe they washed the dishes or texted you during the day to see how you were doing. Maybe they’re working hard for your family or made dinner that night.
The next day when they do something kind, express your gratitude. “These micro moments are the building blocks for creating a home life replete with affection and appreciation.”
They avoid conflict.
Some couples swallow their feelings because they’re afraid of conflict, said Orenstein. This means that over time, frustration, hurt and resentment build up, which “crowd[s] out the love and joy that they used to feel.”
Suggestion: Orenstein suggested couples find ways they can share feedback. For instance, instead of getting defensive, thank your partner for his or her feedback and consider what you can learn about their needs, she said.
Try to think of your partner’s feedback as an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of him or her. Also, “make sure you’re sharing who you are and what you need.” When you’re honest and open, you not only understand each other better, but you also build respect and find creative solutions to meet each other’s needs, she said.
And if you’re having a difficult time with this, seeing a therapist can help. “An experienced couples therapist can teach you tools for speaking and listening and facilitate these loving conversations,” Orenstein said.
They fight frequently and dirty.
Some couples don’t know how to work together and instead struggle for control, Orenstein said. “These couples are in high-conflict relationships, often finding themselves yelling, saying hurtful comments to and about their spouse, and even becoming physically aggressive.”
They also begin to view each other as the enemy, and feel insecure and unsafe, she said. “Any feelings of warmth and affection are taken over by feelings of fear, anger and shame.”
Suggestion: “Go see a trained couples therapist who can help you and your partner establish ‘rules of engagement’ to stop the dirty fighting and instead share your frustrations in a constructive manner,” Orenstein said. You’ll learn to recognize the signs that you’re losing control, use tools to calm down, cope with conflict effectively and get closer, she said.
If you have fallen out of love with your partner, remember that the relationship isn’t doomed to a downward spiral or breakup. It’s a myth, Orenstein said, that “partners have no control over turning it around.” If you’d like to improve your relationship, try the above techniques that are applicable, or find a therapist who specializes in working with couples.
“Couples really owe it to themselves and each other to ascertain what went wrong so they can address it to improve the relationship or to at least recognize their contribution to the problem so they can create a better relationship in their future,” Orenstein said.
In his book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm described love as a process and a journey, Rastogi said. “It is a series of actions rather than a fleeting feeling. Thus, love is something you create, and not simply feel.”