I love you, but...
April 10, 2012 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Do healthy, happy couples ever have periods where one or the other feels the ennui of "I love you, but I'm not in love with you?" If so, how do they resolve it? How do they decide if it's worth resolving?
posted by Caligula's Idiot Cousin to Human Relations (12 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

Do healthy, happy couples ever have periods where one or the other feels the ennui of "I love you, but I'm not in love with you?"

Of course.

If so, how do they resolve it?

Weekends away, travel, dining, lingerie, tawdry escapades, porn, and, for the more adventurous, consensual non-monogamy.

How do they decide if it's worth resolving?

Why do you love them? Are the reasons that you love them more important to you than not feeling in love with them? Are those reasons enough for you?
posted by mleigh at 7:31 PM on April 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Tears, talking, fighting, internal dialogue, apologizing, infidelity and regret, jealousy and rage, taking a job far away with idea that your partner will eventually either come be with you, or not, or that you will come back to them, or not, and that it might fizzle away, or not.
Where there's love, there can be in love.
And when all that fails, there's listening to "grand canyon" by the magnetic fields while on a sunrise bike ride to help you believe in it all over again and keep the dim coal of love alive for another day.

At least that's what I've been doing, it may or not be working, but when we look at each other, dammit something's there so I believe.

YMMV, IAMNYLL (love line)
posted by roboton666 at 7:45 PM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

When people say "I love you but I'm not in love with you" there's a lot of things it could mean. Could be "I don't feel butterflies and fireworks anymore but you're still basically my favorite person to be around," or it could be "I care a lot about your happiness and well-being in an abstract sort of way, but when I actually see your face it makes me want to punch something."

Healthy couples spend a lot of time in the no-butterflies state. Healthy couples don't usually spend much time in the I-want-to-punch-something state — it's certainly possible for a relationship to get that bad and then improve again, but it's not something that happens everyday.

The middle ground is where it gets tricky. But as I get older I become more and more of a pragmatist about this stuff. Are you looking out for each other's best interests? Can you tell each other the truth about stuff? When you've got a good story to tell, is this the person you look forward to telling it to? Do you get to have pretty good sex every once in a while? Then what the fuck — you may as well stay together.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:11 PM on April 10, 2012 [48 favorites]

Someone told me about a story about couple that had been married sixty years or something like that being interviewed on the Today show. One of the anchors asked the wife how they had managed to stay married for all that time. The wife said something like, "well, we never both fell out of love at the same time." Everyone around me who had been married for decades chuckled at that. Even a very good marriage can't be bliss all the time.

So I think it's worth resolving. How you get there? I don't know. Being as kind and understanding as you can always helps. Remembering that you made a vow to stick with it in good and bad times. Therapy can help too.
posted by bananafish at 9:20 PM on April 10, 2012 [14 favorites]

Your question needs more back-story.

Married couples who are "in it to win it" see these types of moments lightly, not as Giant Red Flags.

Married couples who are unsure see these moments as Giant Red Flags. And for them, they are.

I think a good bench mark here is that "out of in love feeling" should only last a few days, weeks, or months - not a a year or more. If you can't get it back, and you let it fester on top of that - RUN.

In my experience, that feeling crops up and you deal with it NOW, and never let it fester.

posted by jbenben at 1:38 AM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm sure people are sick of me linking this book, but it is perfect for figuring out if it is "worth it" to stay and work things out: Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay.

Figure out some good reasons to stay and give it a shot, separate from whether you are feeling it or not. For me it was that I knew my husband would be devastated if I left and I really didn't want to do that to him, and also that I was horrified at the thought of getting divorced for a third time. I was willing to go to some trouble at that point to avoid throwing in the towel.

As for how to resolve it:

Communicate with your partner. Figure out if there are things causing dissatisfaction or resentment, and see if you can work out some solutions between the two of you. Be clear, calm and specific in asking for what you want ("I'd like us to figure out a way to split the chores more equitably, would you be willing to take responsibility for cleaning XY&Z without my having to ask" not "You never do anything around here!") Be prepared to make some compromises for them, too.

Try some new things together. Pick a new restaurant the next time you go out. Find things to do in your town that you've never done before, or haven't done for a long time. Go away for a weekend. Find a new TV series to watch together and discuss, or find some games to play together. Do something that requires dressing up a little. You'll see each other in a new light, have fun, and maybe find some things in common that will make you feel more bonded to each other.

Fake it til you make it. "Acting as if" you are in love with this person can cause your feelings to fall back in line. Kiss more, and like you mean it. Say "I love you." Send flowers. Cook a special dinner. Do some of the little things you used to do for your partner in the beginning, even if you're not feeling it now like you were then.

Compliment your partner sincerely. Not only will it make them feel good, but it also reminds you of what it is that you like about them. Or start a gratitude journal in which you list x number of things you like about your partner and your relationship. Changing your focus to the positive can change your whole outlook on the relationship.

Learn to accept what you can't change about the relationship. Some things, are, as Dan Savage says, the price of admission to this ride that is your relationship. There is a surprising amount of peace in finally letting go of expectations that your partner be a certain way. Tell yourself whatever you have to tell yourself to get over it, and go back to focusing on all the things you love about your partner and become aware of and appreciate the ways they show their love to you. If you don't think they do show love to you, read The Five Love Languages and see if you don't come away with a new appreciation for some of the things your partner does that you never realized were an expression of love.

Make sure you are not mistakenly blaming a general dissatisfaction with your life on your partner. If you're bored or unhappy in general maybe you need to get a hobby, or make some friends who like to talk about X thing your partner doesn't care about, or go back to school. No one person can meet your every social and emotional need.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:28 AM on April 11, 2012 [20 favorites]

1) The passion cools over time. If this is your first deeply intimate long-term relationship, it's a bit disorienting when the passion cools. It usually happens at a year, 18 months. When the chemical romance fades.

At that point, the chemical romance can be replaced by a lifestyle romance. That is, your life is generally, overall better with this person around than without them. Perhaps you have shared friends or you have made an investment together or had children. There are new structures that keep you together.

Being married is not supposed to make you happy, it makes you married and from there comes a leaping-off point into a totally different style of life. A life of stability. The relationship is a foundation for the personality. No longer are you one person going through life, now you are two. You consider another person and they consider you. It's a whole different experience, with different costs and different benefits.

How do you decide? If the passion is replaced by something else, then continue. If it's not, then cease. In my own experience, amazing things are possible in deeply committed relationships. You can do a lot of self-improvement when you have that foundation. You can improve together. They can improve. If that is not occuring, perhaps it's time to move on. And that's okay. It may be hard, but it's okay.

In my current relationship of three years, I am constantly amazed by the deeper levels of being that appear as we proceed together over time. We continue getting to know each other, we continue getting to know ourselves. We evolve together, we evolve as individuals. It's really amazing. Maybe it will last forever, maybe not. Sometimes the passion rises up -- especially on vacation and sometimes it ebbs -- when one person is completely focused on something else.

In fact, the passion seems to be a gauge of the overall relationship at this point. If the passion is low, that means usually someone is not being fully present in the relationship. Rather than looking at the passion as an input, now it's an output. When we're aligned, sometimes it feels like we just met. We can't wait to be together. The world fades away. When we're not aligned, we notice. And we self-correct.

As said, I am constantly amazed by the deeper levels of meaning that are emerging. There's not even any effort required beyond remaining committed. As the passion faded a bit, there was a transition and I started looking around a bit. And I found that I was not interested in just passion. For now, I have companionship. Friendship. A totally different kind of love.

It is probably very different if the passion exits completely. I haven't experienced that. If the passion were to exit completely, I would give it some serious thought. But it hasn't happened. If anything, there may be less moments of passion, but now the intensity has really ramped up. When it's on, it's completely absorbing, for there is no self-consciousness or fear. Just complete absorption.
posted by nickrussell at 5:34 AM on April 11, 2012 [20 favorites]

I think those periods are okay, even necessary. They are checkpoints. The chemicals have ebbed for a time and you can take stock rationally. So objectively think about your relationship. What's great? What's acceptable? What needs work?

Then maybe pick a couple things that need work and talk about them and work on them together, with kindness and consideration (not shouting). And what is interesting is that having those conversations and making those efforts to improve a relationship often do lead to a rekindling of the "in love" spark. They're an affirmation that the other person is invested in success as well, that they care about your feelings, and that you both agree that a future together is better than a future apart. Much, much more so than trivial gestures like vacations or gifts.

And if working together doesn't rekindle that spark and you're mostly thinking, "ah fuck why bother", that's data you can use also.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:17 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Serene Empress Dork's response wins. That response contains the recipe for "the work" that two people need to do when they are in a relationship. It's not rocket science.

Anyone who gets married thinking that "in love" feeling is going to be perpetual and pervasive is terribly naive and possesses a ticket on the divorce pain train.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:59 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having been married 24 years, I can say that the love that matters is the love you choose, not the love you feel. These "ennui" kinds of periods are signals to my wife and I that we need better focus. We need to get out of ourselves and our "sense of fulfillment" and concentrate on making the other person feel loved and cherished.

All of the great relationship books out there -- the Five Love Languages, Hot Monogamy, How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About it, etc. -- all come down to this: At some point you step out of yourself and make a choice to do what the other person needs to feel loved and alive.

If you are a woman and your partner is a man, this most likely means intimacy of a kind that doesn't involve "talking about the relationship." Usually you find time for fun companionship, for loving touch, to affirm him for all of the things you find powerful and masculine about him and the affects they have on you as a woman. If you are a man and your partner is a woman, most likely you'll get best results from devoting time to face-to-face intimacy, conversation, thoughtful gestures that say "I was thinking of you when you were not with me" and to affirm her for all the things you find beautiful and feminine about her and what affect they have on you as a man. Yeah I know men have sensitive sides and women can be powerful, yadda yadda. I'm just sayin that to stoke the "in love" romantic feelings, a man tends to want to feel "like a man" and a woman, "like a woman."

Here's something to try. Sometime during the day, reserve 20 minutes, take off all your clothes, get into bed together, hold one another... and don't have sex.

Use the time to tell each other what you see in them that attracts you. The formula I use is 1) Physical feature that speaks of my wife's feminine gifts 2) What unique inner gift of hers that feature brings to my mind and 3) What affect that has on me as her man and what that makes me want to do for her.

For instance I will tell my wife that her smile brightens everything, especially as I walk through the door at the end of the day, that I've seen her smile make others feel similarly at home, and that I am proud to be married to a woman who is such a welcoming and hospitable person. It makes me want to be a better man for her, to make her feel loved, to make it easier for her to smile. I tell her that this or that place on her person speaks to me of her comfortable softness and enticing beauty, and it seems as if it beckons for my kiss, as if it was made for me by God for that purpose. My wife, for her part, focuses on things about me that speak of my masculine "power" -- broad shoulders or a wry smile and a twinkling eye that suggest a strong intellect tempered with a sense of humor. Yeah, I'm a sucker for that stuff too. My wife and I do this almost every day. We call it "skin to skin" and it is our time to be both physically and verbally focused on one another.

And all without sex. Of course, after the 20 minutes are up, what you do after that is up to you on your own time. :)
posted by cross_impact at 7:49 AM on April 11, 2012 [21 favorites]

Look at pictures from happy times together. Listen to songs that remind you of happy times. Our song from our wedding dance makes me cry every single time. Look at your partner while they're sleeping. Aren't they beautiful or handsome? Do nice things for them even when you don't really feel like it. Sometimes you have to "fake it" until you make it. I don't mean lie and I certainly don't mean forcing yourself to have sex, but do the things you did when you really felt in love. Surprises are great, even little ones. My husband hates hates hates folding laundry, so one day I folded everything and organized his closet. It made me feel good and it made him feel appreciated.

If none of this works, if you feel like you'd rather be with someone else, or you feel like roommates and not lovers, then it's time to reevaluate, especially if the other person feels the same way.
posted by desjardins at 8:26 AM on April 11, 2012

Those are the times that call for a really honest talk. When you feel less "in love" there are usually issues beneath the surface that you are either too afraid/polite to say or have been swept under the rug for so long leading to distance, resentment, and fantasies of plan B. There's a line in Scenes from a Marriage after the husband has "fallen out of love" and plans to run away despite the fact that they clearly still have lots of love for each other. The wife blames the fact that they have been polite at the expense of being honest. I think this is a common pitfall in otherwise "good", healthy relationships. You may sometimes hurt the other person's feelings; not by design, not abusively, but because you have to go through some hurt feelings on the way to honesty, openness and working through the issues. This, for me, is what the heretold vague "work" of being in a relationship is.

I don't know what your relationship is like. If you can trust each other to fight fair and not be abusive, maybe it's time to really be brave; be honest with each other and put it all on the table.
posted by Katine at 9:56 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

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