In my clinical practice, one of the most common complaints I hear from couples is that they have fallen out of love. There are not any easy ways for couples to fall back in love but ending self-defeating relationship patterns is a good first step. Here is how Marissa put it:
“I love Kevin but I’m just not in love with him anymore.” When she shares this, Kevin responds, “I know we don’t feel the same way we used to about each other – but it seems like this too shall pass. I was blindsided when Marissa announced suddenly that she wasn’t sure she wanted to work things out.”
Marissa explains that her lack of being in love with Kevin have been building up for years and she feels guilty because she knows he still wants to be married. Kevin says, “I’m crushed and I’m not sure how to win her back.”
As Marissa and Kevin describe their typical pattern of relating during their eight years of marriage, it amounts to Marissa seeking Kevin out for conversations about their relationship and Kevin withdrawing. Kevin describes his disengagement from Marissa as a way to stay calm. “It just feels hard to meet her expectations for always processing everything. By the time, I come home after a ten-hour day, I’m beat from working with the public all day in sales.”
According to experts, the most common reason couples fall out of love and divorce is because of a pursuer-distancer pattern that develops over time. Dr. Sue Johnson identifies the pattern of demand-withdraw as the “Protest Polka” and says it’s one of three “Demon Dialogues.” She explains that when one partner becomes critical and aggressive the other often becomes defensive and distant.
Connecting as a Couple
If Marissa and Kevin want to fall back in love again, they need to stop focusing on each other’s flaws and spend their energy fostering a deeper connection. In other words, stop assuming the worst of each other, put an end to demanding their partner change, and connect as a couple physically and emotionally on a daily basis.
In The Science of Trust,Dr. Gottman explains that practicing emotional attunement can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means “turning toward” one another by showing empathy, and not being defensive. In other words, both partners need to talk about their feelings in terms of positive need, instead of what they do not need. The speaker is really saying. “Here’s what I feel, and what I need from you.”
In addition, scheduling a ritual of connection that involves twenty to thirty minutes of physical contact or touching can help you feel more intimate. For instance, you could schedule a daily cuddle time in the morning or before you go to sleep to stay close and perhaps share the intimate details of your day.
- Identify self-defeating patterns of relating. This includes ways you might be denying your partner intimacy or coming on too strong sexually. Avoid criticizing each other and stop pointing your finger at him or her. Put an end to power struggles. For example, give your partner the benefit of the doubt and don’t focus on trying to prove point when you disagree.
- Break the Pursuer-Distancer Dance. Distancers need to practice initiating sex more often and pursuers need to find ways to tell their partner “you’re sexy,” while avoiding critique after sex.
- Increase physical affection. According to scientists, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging, and touching releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) causing a calming sensation. Studies show it’s released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones – lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Dr. Michael Stysma recommends couples double the length of time they spend kissing, hugging, and touching each other if they want to improve their marriage.
- Allow tension to build. Our brains experience more pleasure when the anticipation of the reward goes on for some time before we get the actual reward. So, take your time, share fantasies, change locations, and make sex more romantic.
- Make sex a priority and set the mood for your passion and intimacy. A light meal and your favorite music and wine can set the stage for great sex. Try not to let chores, work, and children prevent you from spending quality time together weekly.
- Spice up your sex life. Try a variety of activities that bring you both pleasure and try new things such as gentle sex or erotic sex. Avoid discussing problems, household tasks, and your children if you want to bring back the sexual chemistry with your partner. Have fun courting and practice flirting with him or her. Don’t forget to cuddle on the couch and surprise your partner with a kiss.
Making time to connect and increase affection can improve the quality of your marriage. It can also reduce your stress level so you feel happier, more loving, and satisfied with your partner. Even if you’re not feeling loving, increasing affectionate touch can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond. Try these ideas for a month and if you don’t feel more loving and connected to your partner, it’s a good idea to seek out a couples’ counselor before giving up on your relationship.
Follow Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry