Finding Hope When Your Relationship Changes
Do you remember when you used to think about your partner all day long? You couldn’t wait until you saw him or her next and would get butterflies in your stomach just thinking about it.
Now fast-forward a few years into marriage and you probably have at least one child, a mortgage payment, and a full-time job. Honestly, you don’t have time to daydream about your spouse all day anymore. And sometimes you may even get uncomfortable when you are around your spouse. Because you worry about the conversation turning into a fight. Or you’ve given all your energy to your job or child during the day, and there isn’t much leftover for your marital relationship, or even for yourself.
And before you know it, the person you used to know so well becomes less of your go to person. If this sounds like you, then you’ve joined the many couples that feel like they love their mate, but are falling out of love. Feeling more like roommates is one of the most common reasons people come to marriage counseling these days.
While many people take this as a sign that the relationship is over, I think of it as an invitation to change your perspective about your marriage. There are many ways to think about the changes in your relationship besides it’s over. For instance, changing your perspective can bring a greater understanding of how you and your spouse are co-creating marriage distance and discord while inviting you to work on your part.
Understanding Love’s Changing Seasons in Marriage
First, let’s make sense of what’s changing in your relationship. Know that the change in the intensity of your feelings is a natural process in marriage.
It is normal to be head over heels for someone when you are falling for them. You have rose colored glasses on, and they can almost do no wrong in your eyes. But the longer you are with them, the more you start to see their flaws and the intensity of feelings lessen.
That doesn’t mean that the love is gone, but to sustain the relationship the feelings evolve from romantic to companionate. Partly because you can’t literally be all over your mate and still get stuff done.
And partly, because the “romantic love hormones” that propel the intense falling in love feelings “can only last 12-24 months in a new relationship.” Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of Why We Love, shares her thoughts on how love changes so that the human species can survive. With a team of scientists, Fisher scans the brains of people who have recently fallen in love. Through her research, she discovers that certain areas of the brain light up when we are falling in love. And this is the area of the brain that can only light up for a limited period of time.
So what makes people stay together when they take off their love is blind glasses and real life stressors come into play? Ideally, because you choose to be with this person even when some of the romance and passion disappears. And because you think your life is better with this person in it than not having them in your life at all. In this way, love becomes a choice more than a feeling. A choice of who you want to spend your life with.
Focus on Marriage Patterns More Than Feelings
Choosing to continue to be with your partner gets complicated the longer you are with someone. You both used to tolerate a certain level of closeness. But over time, someone feels like the other person is emotionally “too close” or “too far.” And to deal with this discomfort, people will start a fight or withdraw further.
In turn, predictable interaction patterns emerge that lead to greater marriage conflict and distance. For instance, you may start to avoid certain topics to avoid conflict or avoid feeling hurt. So over time, all relationship partners co-create more distance, mostly outside of their awareness.
And before you know it, you feel more negative than positive toward your spouse. Or you don’t feel as fond and interested in your partner. This is where the “feeling like a roommate” starts to emerge. And typically, the more a person focuses on trying to turn their feelings back on, the more frustrated and hopeless they become. So if it’s not working to worry about falling out of love, then find a new perspective to dig into, such as focusing on your part in the emotional and/or physical distance you are experiencing.
While you can’t return to the original feeling state, you can work on how you think and interact with your spouse. Many people become so negative about their partner and their relationship, that they want to leave the relationship “seeking happiness.” But others want to find out how to be less negative and develop a new level of openness toward their mate. Love’s changing season becomes an opportunity to grow your friendship and intimacy by growing yourself.
Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers both divorce counseling and individual relationship counseling. Whether you are trying to adapt to your marriage ending or find a new way to relate to your spouse of many years, consider working with me. You can start on your road to finding renewed confidence and connection by scheduling a free 15-minute phone consult with me.