… and how to bring back that loving feeling.
- Couples must be vigilant to protect their feelings of love from fading.
- Discomfort with vulnerability can lead partners to develop toxic thoughts about each other, draining the joy out of a relationship.
- It’s important to remember that there are no ideal partners; everyone has limitations.
Giana and Greg felt like life was magical at the beginning of their relationship. How is it that all their smiles, laughter, and excitement gave way to daily pressures, distancing, and disconnection? Why did they — and so many others who have seen their love fade — lose those powerful loving feelings?
Are you in a similar situation, experiencing broken-down love? Do you forget the good times, rewrite your shared history negatively, see your relationship as defective, and no longer look forward with enthusiasm to a future together? You may be wondering: “I thought things were so strong between us. What happened?”
After 30 years as a psychologist working with individuals, couples, and families, I have seen many couples throw in the towel for one or more of the three reasons below.
1. No longer feeling appreciated, respected, or valued by their partner. Early in the relationship, it feels like love is unconditional, but as the infatuation stage inevitably cools, the tendency is to start taking each other for granted. When your relationship is left on autopilot, the stressors of daily life get in the way of giving compliments, showing gratitude, or even acknowledging caring behaviors. As respect, attention, and kindness wane, so can feelings of love.
Even more concerning, partners too often let their guard down and stop being considerate to each other. When couples are no longer sensitive and protective toward one another, their relationship suffers from negative energy and neglect. Disconnection unsurprisingly ensues.
The fix: While everyone gets caught up in their own world from time to time, looking out for signs that you’re taking your partner for granted is a good way to make sure you don’t fall into the rabbit hole of relationship complacency. Scheduling dates together and taking the time to show appreciation goes a long way in making those highly important deposits into each other’s emotional bank accounts.
2. Not managing toxic thoughts. As partners in a long-term relationship trustingly expose their innermost struggles, they understandably feel vulnerable to the other partner’s rejection, judgment, or criticism. This vulnerability often feels very uncomfortable. As a defense, the person who feels criticized may develop toxic thoughts toward their partner. As discussed in my book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind?, three examples of relationship-destroying toxic thoughts are:
- The All-or-Nothing Trap: You see your partner as either always doing the wrong thing, or never doing the right thing. (“He always has to be right!”)
- Catastrophic Conclusions: One partner exaggerates negative actions and events concerning the other partner. (“She bounced that check and now we are definitely heading to the poor house!”)
- The “Should” Bomb: One partner assumes the other will meet one or more of his or her needs—just because they should know that need. (“You should know how much I hate my job, even though I tell everyone what a great opportunity it is.”)
The fix: While there may certainly be kernels of truth underlying some of these thoughts, it is the extent to which we distort, exaggerate, and overly focus on them that can suck the joy out of a loving relationship. However, being able to look for, and then intentionally dwell on, a partner’s positive qualities and behaviors are the keys to overcoming the inevitable toxic thoughts that pop up in long-term relationships.
The bottom line is that happy, satisfied couples that do not get bogged down in toxic thoughts have a better, more realistic, and healthier way of thinking about each other. It is this way of thinking that enables them to maintain positive communication, address problems, and enhance romance. Managing toxic thoughts and finding ways to continue appreciating your partner is the secret to a sustainably happy relationship.
3. Incompatibility. Research shows that couples with similar attitudes, values, and backgrounds tend to experience more lasting satisfaction, companionship, intimacy, and love and are less likely to break up. As a couple gets to know one another better—and the initial excitement dies down—they may discover that their preferred lifestyles, priorities, and values don’t align, leaving partners feeling discouraged about their future together.
The fix: When both partners are able to be flexible and explore new ways to feel connected, their relationships get stronger. Ways to effectively address incompatibility include:
- Managing expectations of each other. Instead of casting blame and accusing each other of falling short of being ideal, it helps to realize that there are no ideal partners. Just as you have your limitations and shortcomings, so does your partner. So, for example, if one partner has a higher need for intellectual stimulation than the other, the partner yearning for more may benefit from joining a book club or enrolling in a course to fulfill their intellectual needs.
- Building a bridge. Maybe one partner likes vigorous exercise and the other can take it or leave it. How about going on walks together as a compromise to get in some physical activity and time together?
- Find common interests. Be more open-minded about each other by finding areas where you do have common interests. One couple I worked with discovered the joys of playing pickleball together. I witnessed another couple open up an innovative virtual store on a well-known, massive online retailer and form an exciting joint venture together. Another couple was surprised by how bonded they felt by reading aloud to one another before going to sleep.
Bernstein, J. (2003). Why Can’t You Read My Mind? Perseus Books, New York, NY.
Illouz, E. (2019). The end of love: A sociology of negative relations. Oxford University Press.