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The 2 Real Reasons You've Fallen Out of Love

What to do after you hear, "I love you, but I'm not in love with you."

Key points

  • People tend to believe that falling out of love "just happens."
  • In reality, there are predictable patterns in relationships that falter.
  • Recalling what made you fall in love and learning new relationship skills can help keep love alive.

Are you someone who wants to end your marriage because you’re no longer in love? Or perhaps your spouse was the one to utter these dreaded words to you. Either way, there’s something you should know about losing that loving feeling.

People usually think about falling out of love the same way they think about falling off a ladder: It just happens. It's an accident.

But actually, falling out of love doesn’t just happen. And it's hardly an accident.

There are very predictable actions people take—or fail to take—that rob relationships of the passion and intense connection felt early on. And because these love-busting behaviors happen over long periods of time, the incremental damage to marriages is almost imperceptible, until it isn’t. That’s why falling out of love feels as if “it just happens.”

The Number One Reason You've Fallen Out of Love

The first real reason people feel they’ve fallen out of love with their partners is that they stopped doing what they were doing when they felt deeply in love. I work with couples on the brink of divorce and when I ask about the early part of their relationships, there are palpable changes in the room. Even the most polarized, contentious couples soften and lighten up as they reminisce about meeting and the early parts of their relationships, resulting in laughter, tears, and smiles.

Couples recall fun times, conversations until dawn, passionate lovemaking, and just hanging out, doing nothing in particular. They remember how little it took to make them happy; they just wanted to be together. The rest of their lives faded in the background because their relationships were everything back then. These romantic flashbacks always transport couples to another time, another place.

Although those memorable times might feel like magic, it really isn’t magic at all. Early stages of coupledom are typically characterized by an intense desire to place relationships in a primary position, taking priority over everything else in life. Couples spend lots of time together. They find new and exciting activities to do together. They share their inner thoughts and feelings. And strong physical connections flow from these moments.

Then, over time, for varied reasons, people stop investing in their relationships. They tell themselves there are more important things to do. They assume they’ve checked the relationship box and it’s OK to put their marriages on the back burner. Spouses take each other for granted. Conversations become exchanges about logistical information. Sex becomes less frequent, less creative, or stops completely. Kids take front and center stage, leaving no time for adult interaction. Quality time gets replaced with the use of electronics during meals or in the evenings after the kids go to sleep.

Relationships are like plants; they’re living things that need nourishment. Stop offering life-sustaining nutrients and they die. Research suggests that “gray divorce”—divorce in marriages lasting 20-30 years or longer—is on the rise.

Often, that’s because people assume they can put their relationships on hold. They believe that, similar to that good friend you haven’t seen in a long time, but can immediately pick up where you left off, marriages will wait. But marriages don’t work like that. Love fades. People fall out of love.

The Number Two Reason You're Falling Out of Love

The second real reason people fall out of love is the combination of hurts, resentments, anger, and disappointments that have gradually accumulated over the years. Life throws couples challenges—infertility, kids, financial stresses, unemployment, interfering relatives, medical and health concerns, sexual differences, infidelity—and they feel blindsided. Each stressor triggers bigger disagreements and more painful disconnection, weakening the marital bond with each passing year.

The problem is, most people blame their spouses’ characters, personalities, and misguided intentions for these divisive times, rather than see the real culprit undermining their relationships: skill deficits.

No one is born knowing how to create successful relationships. It’s not a trait that gets passed down in our DNA. We learn about relationships as kids from watching our adult caregivers. And if we weren’t fortunate enough to have fabulous role models, and many people aren’t, there is absolutely no reason in the world we should know how to navigate life’s messy curveballs. And when hard times are handled badly, we think the people around us are vindictive, self-centered, and uncaring.

The truth is, people often don’t know how to respond to life's enigmatic hurdles. They lack adequate skills. Maya Angelou once wrote, “People do the best they can with the tools they have. When they know better, they do better.” It’s the truth. And the good news is that there is a great deal of evidence-based information available to couples about the skills needed to create and maintain loving, even exciting marriages.

So, if you’re someone who is thinking about ending an important relationship because you love that person, but you’re not in love anymore, think again. You can fall back in love.

And if you don’t believe me, consider this. Think back to that magical time when you first met and fell in love. If someone told you then that your love would be short-lived, would your starry-eyed self have believed them? Case closed.

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