Falling Out of Love

Dear Shera,

I am in a marriage that I am bored with for several reasons. I have been in a relationship for 10 years, married for 8 of those, and we have 3 kids together. We have experienced many things together and our life has been very thrilling up until now. When we met I couldn’t get enough of him and we would just sit and talk for hours. The sex was great and just seeing him made me excited. But things have changed and present day I doubt that I actually like my husband anymore. It seems like everything he does annoys me and I keep daydreaming about what type of man I should be with instead. I want someone who is more of an intellect and less of a partier. I want someone who takes life a little more seriously and can have an actual deep conversation without trying to escape it through humor. The more he hunts and talks about killing animals, the more distant I become. I want a husband who I don’t have to tell every single week how he can help me with the household chores. Someone who will spend more time with our family instead of constantly having to include his friends. Maybe a husband with some style as well, that wouldn’t hurt. Athletic clothes ALL the time don’t really do anything for me. I could go on… and on… and on… but I will spare you and stop here I am certain you get the point.

We do spend some time together and plan trips, doing all the things families do together; nevertheless I feel like a zombie going through the motions. I am not mentally, emotionally nor physically stimulated any longer. In fact, I feel like I am falling, or have fallen, out of love with my husband. I know so many couples who have gone through the same thing. They fell out of love with their partner and got a divorce. Some of them happier with another partner and some not so much. It seems like this is just what happens to most couples, they just get to a point where they no longer are in love. They grow apart. Then they choose to either stay together as friends without the romance or get divorced to find the romance again. Please help me understand what is happening to my marriage so I can figure out what to do. Did I marry the wrong person for me or is the right person for me just different now than it was 8 years ago?

Thank you so very much,

Falling Out of Love

 

Dear Falling Out of Love,

Being in a relationship is tough, as we experience the ebbs and flows there are various thoughts and feelings that come to the forefront leading us to different decision points throughout the years. It is even more difficult to make a realistic evaluation of our romantic relationships when we are constantly comparing it to other relationships in which we are only seeing their highlight reel. If life were a movie, we would be in the Romantic Love stage the entire time, yet that is not real life. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that what we see on social media and in movies/television is generally not a realistic representation of a real relationship. Real relationships go through stages throughout their lifespan and some of those stages are more pleasant than others. Authentic relationships have moments where each person feels like quitting on each other and terrible arguments occur.  Genuine relationships experience unpleasant feelings. Real relationships include two scarred humans who are not superhuman, just imperfectly human.

There are many scholastic attempts to define the different stages a couple moves through, and they all have their points; however the 6 stages that I find to be the most representative of the compilation of information I have read are; Romantic Love, Reality, Power Struggle, Re-evaluation, Reconciliation, and Acceptance. You can find a more in-depth description of these stages on this webpage here. Based on the situation you have described, it sounds like you are likely in the Re-evaluation stage of your relationship. I will explain that conceptualization and the possible solutions in a bit, but first I will provide a brief explanation of each stage to create the image for you.

1) Romantic Love – From the beginning of the relationship up to about two years people tend to see mostly the good in someone and are blinded by some possible red flags. Excitement, intrusive thinking, fantasy, lust, sexual chemistry and hormones are at a high. The body produces a natural form of amphetamine, oxytocin, pheromones, and several more chemicals that contribute to the passion, romance and affection felt in the relationship. All of this leads to a sense of possibly finding “the one”.

2) Reality Sets – The first major conflicts arise, either through deception, certain life events or just plain and simple differences that come to the surface. This presents the realization that the relationship is no longer a fantasy, the romance movie has ended, and putting work into the relationship is now reality. The disappointment sets in as one realizes that their partner is not exactly who they thought they were. Learning how to handle these new insights in this stage is a focus. Some tasks would be figuring out: how the couple will handle disagreements, how the romance will continue now that the fantasy has ended, and how each person intertwines their real self’s and lives with their partner’s?

3) The Power Struggle – The disillusionment has occurred and it now becomes time to protect and defend as disagreements continue, almost becoming the norm. Avoiding reality and suppressing real feelings can be a likely defense mechanism here, or in contrast, constant bickering in an attempt to change your partner back to who you initially believed them to be is another way couples handle this stage. Each person fighting for what they want and protecting one’s inner self (insecurities, characteristics, flaws, etc.) takes on a whole new existence at this point. As the couple is forced to negotiate for peace, there is a risk for blaming, accusing, resentment, and intense anger. The tasks here are to improve conflict resolution and learn to compromise.

4) Re-evaluation – The storm has passed and now knowing everything there is to know about your partner (how they fight, how they compromise, how willing they are to give in, their faults, insecurities, personality, etc.); this is the stage people reflect on if they can truly be happy with who their partner really is OR sometimes people continue to go deeper into denial that their partner’s imperfections exist and stay numb in this stage for some time. This is a reflection period within the relationship that turns into more of an individual journey, the connection is distant and the romance and affection is mundane to non-existent.

5) Reconciliation – If the couple survives the previous stages, this is where the partners are re-engaged combined with an interest in re-building a lasting connection. They each made the decision to stay committed during the re-evaluation stage and have come to terms with the realities of one another. There is a new understanding for their differences, recognition of how to handle conflict, acceptance of one another’s individuality, and surrendering to instead of attempting to change their partner. They begin to see their partner in a more positive light through these realizations, not dissimilar to themselves, imperfect, lovable and making an effort.

6) Acceptance – It is estimated that less than 5% of couples ever reach this stage. – Relationship Institute Here there is a complete integration of self and partner with full acceptance of one another. They are very connected yet maintain their own individuality, which is respected and supported by each partner.  They have figured out how to effectively handle conflict and they know what to expect from one another so there is little turmoil and resentment in this stage. The relationship is filled with understanding and approval.

Now that we know a relationship journeys through stages we can now look at the comparison that people make to “love” someone versus be “in love”. All too often I hear, “We love each other but we just fell out of love.” When I hear this I have an internal combustion of emotions! First, let’s discuss what exactly it means to be “in love”. With the information I gathered people generally refer to being “in love” to include: passion, desire, romance, attraction, continued curiosity in your partner, butterflies, looking at your partner with the utmost esteem, wanting to spend all your time together, etc. This is the stuff that comes naturally in a relationship during the Romance stage. So yes, when I hear of someone who fell out of love I want to honestly ask, “What did you expect?” “Did you sincerely believe that you would feel those feelings you felt at the beginning of your relationship for the… rest… of… your… lives… together?” I attribute this false belief to the inaccurate portrayal of relationships by every type of media. They all lead people to believe that being “in love” is supposed to naturally last forever. In reality, the “in love” feeling also matures throughout the stages experienced in a relationship. What starts out as sexual, infatuation, and passion ends up more as a form of respect, honor, affection, acceptance and quality time. The latter is “love”. When people exclaim they still “love” their partner, they are just not “in love” anymore. Well YES, that is exactly what is supposed to happen. Being “in love” happens naturally, without work. Conversely, “love” is a choice and the level of love you have for someone depends on the amount of work you put into that relationship. This article here is also a great read on this topic.

“In love” and “love” are basically stages that are similar to the stages described above, they are experienced as you progress through a relationship. With all that information, now let’s take an informed look at how your relationship may be in the Re-evaluation stage. You have clearly experienced the romantic stage according to the description of great sex and talking for hours! Currently, it appears as if you have great awareness of the many things about your husband that you do not favor so I am guessing you have spent a substantial amount of time in the Power Struggle stage just getting more angry and annoyed by who your husband is not. Now, being in a relationship for 10 years and just now seemingly experiencing re-evaluation has me believing that you might have spent some substantial time in denial and/or are just exhausted by the amount of time you might have spent trying to mold your husband into your ideal mate. Whatever your passage through the previous stages looked like before now, as I would need more information to properly assess, however it is likely the present situation is re-evaluation. If you have put in your every effort to change your husband for years, I can imagine you now are begrudgingly throwing your hands up as you re-evaluate if this man is someone you can be happy with in a lasting relationship.

The re-evaluation stage is the time for you to seriously reflect on your marriage. People who are unaware of the stages get puzzled in this stage as they enter it because they believed, based on some societal misconception of course, that their job was to evaluate beforemarriage and the decision they made was supposed to be what was best for them, forever. However, when we enter this stage of “Is this person really right for me?” and “Did I make the right decision?” it doesn’t mean you made the wrong decision. It means you are normal. In this stage it is typical to question, hence re-evaluate, the person you chose as your life partner. You simply have more information now than you did before, so it is natural to re-evaluate based on new understandings. Questioning the relationship also lends people to the belief that they no longer love their partner. (Ugh… dang movies and Bachelor/ette!) Just know when you are re-evaluating that if you aren’t happy in your marriage ALL the time then you are, again, normal. Even though it can feel crummy, it can be a triumphant stage for you two. You now are at the point where you can look at your marriage with the knowledge you gathered and make a more informed decision about your future. This is often an extra weighty assessment compared to the initial decision to get married because you have more accurate insight into your partner. This decision also has more severe consequences considering who and what it impacts at this point in your life (children, family ties, assets, etc). Knowing how crucial this stage is, I have created a list of some things to consider in your re-evaluation, they are as follows: 1) Complaints, 2) Happiness Rating/Missing Pieces, and 3) Gratitude List.

1) Complaints

When considering the severity of the things that bother you about your partner, it is helpful to put things into perspective by placing a value on each complaint’s importance to you. For instance, your husband wearing athletic clothes and not having the style that you would prefer, that would be an item to apply a severity rating. Think of the acronym SAHND when rating your complaints (just think of complaining about gritty sand in your swimsuit!). These are in order of severity, from least severe to most, going left to right. S= Superficial, A= Annoyance, H= Happiness Hurter, N= Non-negotiable, D= Dangerous. A Superficial rating would mean the complaint is shallow, inconsequential and not carrying much weight in the realm of what is important in life and in a relationship. (Examples: the car they drive and/or the way they wear their hair). An Annoyance rating is representative of a complaint that gets on your nerves, irritates you at times but ultimately it doesn’t lead to you being unhappy. It can be a challenging bother, but is not a deal breaker. (Examples: eating with their mouth open and/or cutting their nails in the shower). Happiness Hurter is seen as a complaint that impacts your overall happiness level in the relationship. (Examples: lack of affection and/or quality time). A Non-negotiable is a complaint that is not acceptable and not open to changing. (Examples: pornography, drugs, and/or cheating). A Dangerous rating is a complaint that is actually physically, mentally or emotionally harmful to a person. (Examples: physically abusive, verbally abusive, and/or gaslighting).

Once you have written down all of the complaints take an honest look at them and write an S, A, H, N, or D next to them. Review the ratings and eliminate all the Superficial and Annoyance complaints. Superficial complaints ultimately are insignificant when considering the important traits of a lasting relationship. In addition to Superficial complaints the Annoyance complaints are inconsequential. There is not a relationship that exists, to my awareness, in which the partners do not annoy one another from time to time. We all have our things that irritate us and we all bring in our own annoying habits into a relationship. That being said, these Superficial and Annoyance complaints are more so items that youmay benefit from working on with regards to acceptance. Moving on to the Happiness Hurter, these are complaints that would require some deep conversations with your partner in order to determine if there was hope for improvements. If you know you cannot be happy with certain complaints in your relationship then figure out if these are ones that you both can improve upon together or if there is no room for growth in these areas? If not, then you have further information in making a decision… thinking about how much happiness this will crush out of your relationship? Is this something that would still leave you 90% happy or 10% happy? Again, to put into perspective, I have not heard of a couple who is 100% happy in their marriage. There is always a desire for more or less of something, more sex, more romance, more attention, more quality time, less nagging, less criticism, less time working, and the list could go on. The Non-Negotiables are more weighty complaints when considering your long-term happiness. This is another area to determine if this is the right relationship. Is there one non-negotiable or seven, because that is a major difference in the potential to still be satisfied in a marriage. Here it is worth looking at a non-negotiable as if it will not change, honoring the description. When thinking about a non-negotiable think about the reasons it is a non-negotiable for you and what feelings it stirs up in you. Your answers to those questions could be very enlightening. Nonetheless, is it something that you will be able to live with for the rest of your life? Keep in mind your worth when factoring in non-negotiables. If any complaints ended up being rated as Dangerous then I would highly suggest to immediately seek help. Depending on the complaint, if it is physical abuse you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799−7233. If you identified other types of dangerous complaints then I would suggest seeking therapy to receive guidance for your individual situation. Outside of the obvious safety concerns, a relationship with a dangerous complaint is unhealthy and unlikely to foster any long-term happiness without professional help. After rating all the complaints you will hopefully have a clarified perspective on what complaints exist in your relationship and how severe they actually are when considering the important qualities of a long-term relationship.

2) Happiness Rating/Missing Pieces

The next step would be to rate your overall happiness in your relationship. I encourage couples to share their ratings with their partners often to check-in with one another. Using a Likert Scale rate your overall happiness level from 1 to 10, 1 = not happy at all and 10= the happiest possible. Once you find your rating then reflect on what it would take to get from the number you chose to a 10. Asking yourself what you would need in your relationship, from yourself and from your partner to be the happiest possible? The point of this rating is to determine what is missing from the relationship. There may be some overlap here from the complaint exercise, which could illuminate important points for you. Once you have the answers here, as to what you need to get from an X rating to a 10, then discuss these with your partner. Are these elements he can work on? What can you work on? Then look at the parts you can improve upon together.

3) Gratitude List

Now that you have the complaints and the missing pieces to your marriage, it is time to acknowledge the many wonderful components of your relationship. Instead of daydreaming about what you could have, switch your thoughts to reviewing the wonderful things about your marriage and the amazing traits your husband does demonstrate. Think about pieces that make up a lasting marriage such as loyalty, trust, dedication, respect, security, compassion, humor, affection, communication, and conflict resolution, to name a few. The best way to appreciate the good in your marriage is to create a gratitude list. Important steps to a gratitude list are to stop and notice the good as it happens daily. As you notice these positive occurrences jot them down somewhere that is easily accessible. Then take it a step further and write the reasons you are grateful for the particular item you wrote down. Add an entry to your list every day for at least one month. Then at the end of the month look at everything you have a grateful heart for in your marriage and with your husband.

An entry may look like this:

9/15/18 – 1) Action: making me coffee in the a.m., Reason: let’s me know I am special, 2) Action: complimented my mother, Reason: shows he has a compassionate heart, 3) Action: felt secure in our relationship when discussing the future, Reason: I can trust him, 4) Action: adore how he played with our son today, Reason: warms my heart knowing our son has a playful father. The list doesn’t have to be enormous or perfect, just let it be what comes to you. It can be helpful to remember the beginning of your relationship, in the romantic stage, and reminisce about the appealing attributes you saw in your partner and what initially attracted you to him.

Having gratitude is vital to a lasting relationship in today’s society. It is a daily battle to be in a relationship today and not get caught up in comparing your marriage to others you may see on social media. Remind yourself that you are seeing the very best of other relationships, so play the same very bestreel in your head for your relationship. This can be your gratitude list on replay. Once you consciously change the way you think about your marriage you may be surprised how your happiness level may increase.  Positive thinking is scientifically proven to bring more joy into your life.

After reflecting on the points I listed above and having some complex conversations with your husband, hopefully you will have more clarity on the best way to move forward. However you move through the steps I provided, a crucial factor in making a constructive decision for your relationship is communication. Your husband may be in a different stage than you, he may not be aware of your thoughts about him and your marriage, he could even be totally blind to how unhappy you are, or he could feel exactly the same about you.  Either way, communicating provides him the information he needs to make his decisions. This also gives him a chance to change. For example, I had no idea my husband was annoyed by how I placed the coffee spoon facing up. To him it was gross because it collected old coffee in the spoon. It only makes sense to him to place the spoon down so the coffee runs off the spoon. If we had never communicated about small annoyances, this would have gone on forever. But thankfully we did and this small thing made no difference to me so it was something I was happy to change! Communication is a key to a happy marriage and imperative to getting out of an unhappy state in your marriage. So go ahead and rev up the conversations.

I think it is noteworthy to mention that I am not against divorce. I think it can be a very positive action when it is more beneficial for everyone involved. That being said, there is definitely a side of me that sees couples who divorce prematurely, when there is more effort to put in and other available avenues to being happy in their marriage. Most people I know who have been through, or are going through, a divorce had no idea how miserable and taxing it would be. I think numerous people have the mindset that divorce is a fresh start, a weight lifted, and the key to their newfound joy. It is exactly that for some, however there are others who are highly disappointed when reality sets in and they are a wreck. I say all of this to caution people thinking of divorce. Ask yourself, “Have I tried everything?” “Do I fully understand what divorce will entail?” “Will this be the best option for me even if the grass doesn’t end up being greener on the other side?” Like you mentioned, some of your friends were not happier after they got divorced and that is the situation I wish for people to avoid. Nevertheless, divorce can eventually bring more happiness to people who were previously married. It is important to figure out what is best for your individual situation.

All things considered, falling out of love is an uncomfortable feeling yet at the same time it is not unusual to feel in a marriage. Lust is easy, but love… loveis a choice. Love takes selflessness, commitment and hard work. Love is the reward to putting in the effort required of you in a relationship. With re-evaluation you might find that the complaints you have are minute compared to what is essential in a life-long loving relationship. It is also possible you might discover that maybe you did marry someone who is not right for you. While rating your happiness I wish for you that the score illuminates ways for you both to add more joy into your marriage. With the gratitude list, there just may be a fresh perspective on what you already have.

Ultimately, there is a challenging road ahead of you regardless of what you decide. The path to your decision may not be traveled without some tears and heartache.  Take your time and put in the work that is needed of you to get to your decision. I am hopeful the tools I have shared will help you find the clarity that you are seeking. Feel free to keep me posted on your progress. Best wishes on the conversations ahead and as always; the most strength is in asking for a helping hand!

Your fellow married woman going through the stages,

Shera

 

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