What Happens When Love is Gone?
Follow These Five Steps to get it back.
We all know – directly or through someone we know – that love doesn’t last forever. Even couples who seem close and very much in love with one another at one point, may later complain that their feelings for each other have faded and have been replaced by anger, disappointment, detachment, and even indifference.
Can love feelings just disappear like that? And, if so, can they come back? Let’s explore these questions and see what happens when love disappears, and what can be done to bring it back.
Love is a complex emotion that is not static but dynamic, being affected and in turn affecting events and experiences that occur to us, coloring them in special ways and giving them specific meanings and value.
When we are in love with someone, we tend to focus primarily on the positive, noticing and emphasizing the assets, good qualities and talents the object of our love has, while minimizing his or her shortcomings and problem areas. Acknowledging these assets and strengths at the exclusion of everything else, in turn, feeds and increases our feelings of love for this person, in a process that is self-maintaining and self-reinforcing.
This moment in time, when all these elements are aligned and fit in perfectly with one another, as beautiful as it is, is only temporary, however, and thus unsustainable for a long period of time.
Something happens that interferes with this process – our lover may hurt and be insensitive to us at a time when we needed him or her the most, or shows us an aspect of his or her personality that jars and conflicts with our earlier view of him or her or, just by being with this person day in and day out, we notice traits and behaviors that make us disappointed, disconnected and doubtful.
Any of these situations makes us shift from an idealized view of this person to a more realistic one. Consequently, our feelings are affected and begin to change.
This transition can be experienced in a negative way, because the way we feel lacks the intense, obsessive and all absorbing traits of when we felt in love. This transition is even more difficult when couples don’t expect these changes and thus are not prepared for them; or when one partner changes while the other doesn’t’; or when each partner changes at a different speed.
In these cases, the sense of unity and deep connection that existed before gets threatened. When this process of shifting feelings is not acknowledged or addressed, it acquires a subterranean life of its own, gradually chipping away at the previous unity and fueling feelings of resentment and disappointment.
Partners may feel deserted, betrayed and frustrated. They may focus elsewhere to replace the previous feelings for each other – like on a child, friends, work, or another lover – in this way further widening the gap between them.
Can something be done to stop or re-direct this change?
Yes, if this process has not been allowed to go too far and/or for too long. There is a point of no return, as we all know, but, before getting there, there are many intermediate points where this process can still be reversed and positive and sustainable ways of being together can be created.
The first step is to take inventory of what is going on emotionally and acknowledge not only the negative feelings for each other – anger, disappointment, frustration, apathy, powerlessness and rage – but also positive feelings for each other that may still be there.
Because, as we said earlier, love is a complex emotion made up of many different feelings, we cannot be in touch with all its emotional components at all times. Rather, we tend to be most aware of those emotions that are most pertinent to what is going on at each particular juncture.
So, if our partner has treated us in ways that felt unfair and undeserved, we may feel anger, hurt, disappointment, frustration, but not tenderness, longing for contact, gratitude, fondness, appreciation, feelings of companionships and security or sexual attraction for him or her.
Yet all these emotions, and more, are part of love and they may, quite possibly, be still there, though they are not as easily accessible as the negative ones. This first step, thus, requires shifting from negative emotions, like the ones generated by the last argument, to positive emotions that come from thinking about our partner as a whole person and over the course of our lives together.
Ask yourself what was it about your partner that attracted you at the beginning. Which qualities of his or hers did you value and were attracted to? Might these still be there?
After you identify positive feelings for your partner, the second step involves reaching out to him or her in those areas where these positive feelings can still be felt and expressed. Perhaps you both liked going to the theater and talk about it afterwards, or taking trips together riding your motorcycles; or hiking, working in the garden together, or going fishing, to a concert or yoga classes.
Whatever the activities and shared interests, these areas most possibly are still the least conflictual ones, the most pleasant and the least likely to create negative responses.
So, this is where you need to begin the process of reconnection. You may discover that your partner, far from hating or being indifferent to you, may actually be pleasantly surprised by your gesture and may respond with warmth and openness, or at least not reject your offer.
Once you and your partner have made some initial re-connections, albeit superficial, it is time to take the third step, which consists in getting in touch with those emotions that may be buried under tons of resentment and hurt. This is possibly the most important and the most crucial, yet the most difficult step to take.
It requires facing emotions that may make you feel scared, uncomfortable, uneasy and confused. These emotions affect the way you relate to your partner and he or she to you. In our book, “Couples at the Crossroads” we call these emotions shadow emotions because they stay in the dark, in the shadows, meaning that you may not even be conscious of them, or may not want to face them.
They often have to do with fear, hurt, shame and other similar emotions. However, even if unconscious of unacknowledged, these shadow emotions affect your feelings, thoughts and actions in intimate relationships.
Once you and your partner have re-connected by sharing shadow emotions, you may be surprised to feel much closer to him or her. However, you shouldn’t expect to feel passionately in love with your partner again, at least not yet at this stage, as there is still more work that needs to be done before those feelings can be felt again.
Both of you may still feel bruised by the battles you have been fighting and are hesitant about getting too close to each other. So, don’t pressure yourself; don’t watch constantly to see how you feel, but let things happen in their own time.
At this stage, you need to relax and enjoy whatever happens without thinking too much, without reaching conclusions too soon, and without making assumptions before you have enough information to know what is happening externally, internally and interpersonally. You need to shift from dysfunctional patterns of interacting with one another to healthier ways of being together.
It takes time for loving feelings to be felt again, but they have a better chance of coming back when you feel emotionally closer and safer with your partner and when trust is beginning to be rebuilt.
So, the fourth step consists of focusing on those behaviors, actions and decisions that reinforce closeness. This is the time to work on forgiveness; on reconnecting sexually, on re-discovering one another, in this way rebuilding trust together.
When you give yourself and your partner a chance to get to know each other again, with an open mind and a warm heart, the rest will follow in due time. And this is, indeed, what most likely will happen when you take the fifth and last step.
Here you will be able to show and express appreciation and gratitude for one another and for all the work you have done to make your relationship healthy and happy again. You will work here at creating shared meanings of what it is to be together and how you see your lives and your future. A renewed commitment to your relationship will pave the way for love for each other to be felt and expressed again.
About the Author:
Daniela Roher, Ph.D. has been a psychotherapist for over thirty years. She studied at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford in England, and the United States. Daniela has a private practice in Arizona and she has just published a book, in collaboration with friend and colleague Susan Schwartz, PhD, titled, “Couples at the Crossroads. Five Step to Finding Your Way Back to Love.” You can find out more about Daniela by visiting her website, www.DRoherphd.com or by visiting her book site, www.CouplesAtTheCrossroads.com.