Just because you’re over them, doesn’t mean it’s over.
We hear it all the time from couples who are splitting up: “We just fell out of love with each other” or, “We grew apart”. Staying together for the long haul isn’t easy – and staying happy together is even harder.
Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term ‘limerence’ to describe the feeling of being ‘in love’ – specifically, the feeling of infatuation that’s the hallmark of a couple’s early days together. You know, that magical time when you can’t get enough of each other, spend hours gazing into each other’s eyes, and get butterflies when you see each other? That feeling, says Tennov, typically goes away somewhere between 18 months and three years into a relationship.
Where’s the love?
It’s important to note that infatuation, or limerence, is only one stage of your relationship. Couples therapist Zoe Hicks says there are actually five stages in total in a relationship – and real, lasting love is the very last of those stages.
After infatuation comes the ‘landing’ stage, when “the veil of infatuation lifts”, according to Hicks, and you see your partner more clearly for who he or she really is, annoying habits and all. Then comes the ‘burying’ stage, where, Hicks says, your relationship gets buried underneath the cascade of everything else in your lives: your jobs, housework, extended families, paying bills, you name it.
The fourth stage is ‘resurfacing,’ when you come out from under all your responsibilities and see each other again, as if for the first time. This leads to real love, which Hicks says can take years to bloom fully. Couples can cycle in and out of the five stages at different speeds, too. So breaking up because you think you’ve fallen out of love, when really you were just in another stage for a while, might be a mistake.
Reigniting the flame
So, can you really get that lovin’ feeling back again? And if so, how? Two words: patience and time. Therapist David McFadden, who works with couples in Hanover Park, Illinois, advises clients they may need to lower their expectations if they think they can fix their relationship woes overnight. He says it might take a while for couples to like each other again, never mind loving each other.
“Ask each other: do we need to forgive things that have hurt in the past before we can like each other again? If so, start the forgiveness process.”
Nobody said it was easy
Falling back in love can feel like hard work. Not only do you have to learn to forgive each other for past transgressions and work through old misunderstandings, you may need to learn new ways of communicating. You might even be trapped in a power struggle where one partner is the ‘pursuer’ and one is the ‘distancer,’ explains San Diego marriage and family therapist Jennifer Chapell Marsh.
“The chance for real connection is close to impossible in this vicious cycle,” Chapell Marsh told Huffington Post recently.
“Usually, the more quiet one partner is, the louder the other gets, and vice versa. If there’s a chance for the couple to get close again, the pursuer has to focus on delivering their message in a softer way, and the distancer must start being more emotionally engaged in the relationship.”
Reach out and touch someone
Okay, not just anyone. You need to touch your partner. In many relationships, sex and intimacy have long ago fallen by the wayside by the time people make a move to split up. But no matter how much you may not feel like getting it on with your once-and-(hopefully)-future flame, think about this: you may not be able to rebuild your connection without getting physical.
“Many couples pull away from sex and physical affection when they are no longer feeling love, but working at rebuilding sexual touch and gestures of affection is a key piece to rebuilding love and intimacy again,” couples therapist Melissa Fritchle says.
“Touch releases oxytocin which helps us to feel bonded and relaxed. It may seem difficult, but committing to keeping physical closeness alive is really important.”
So if you’re in a sex-starved marriage, start taking steps to remedy it ASAP.
Science is on your side
If you’re all about the science of love, listen up: new research has discovered that there may be a way to fall in love again by stimulating certain parts of your brain. By focusing on the things about your partner that drew you to him or her in the first place, and on those qualities that still make you feel warm and fuzzy, you may be able to reprogram your brain and feel more in love.
So try looking at old pictures of vacations or other happy times together, and thinking about what made you fall in love in the first place. Was it his blue eyes and adorable dimples? Her bubbly laugh? Try creating some new happy memories together while you’re at it. Take up a new hobby together, or go on an adventure. You might find yourself looking at your partner in a whole new light.
If at first you don’t succeed…
As the expression goes, you’re supposed to “try, try, and try again” – but when is it time to stop trying? If you’ve given it time and been patient, tried communicating in new ways and unlearning old habits, worked on reigniting your sexual spark, focused on the good stuff, and it’s still not working, it could be time to throw in the towel. Love is almost always worth another try, but sometimes, you just have that moment when you know it’s over, and you have to move on.
If this is you, keep your chin up and remember that other old expression: love is lovelier the second time around.
GIFs via tumblr, lovethisgif.com, wifflegif.com, giphy.com.
Comment: How do you keep the spark alive in your own relationship?