I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this from clients:
“I love my spouse but I’m not in love with him (her) anymore.”
Often this is accompanied by a sigh and shrug of resignation. Sometimes the client wonders if the time has come to call it quits and move on to more exciting potential partners.
Losing that delicious feeling of being in love can be a common hazard in long relationships. In becoming family with each other, you fall into routines, old arguments, endless distractions like the kids and their ongoing needs and the long hours at work. All too often, it begins to feel that somewhere in all this daily living, the love you once knew has faded.
But there are many marriages within a marriage, times when you reinvent yourselves as individuals and as a couple, times when growth can mean loss – or delightful rediscovery of each other.
What can you do when you’re not quite feeling the love, but longing to revive a relationship grown tired?
Stop, look and really see each other. It’s amazing how rare it is to truly see each other in our busy lives. Do you ever stop for a moment and look at your spouse? What do you see? Perhaps you catch a glimpse of the young person who once enthralled you. Perhaps you see weariness or sadness superimposed on that beloved face. Perhaps you can sense that once sparkling smile or the winsome vulnerability or the wicked humor lingering below the surface, ready to return with the right words or touch. Perhaps you see a calm maturity in your once scattered spouse or a depth of love you had never imagined possible as he soothes a distressed child or she turns to you with sudden concern. Looking at your beloved in unguarded moments may remind you why you fell in love in the first place – and why, despite the challenges of building a family and a life together, you choose to stay. Let tenderness and wonder suffuse your spirt at the sight. Instead of nursing bitter regret at the sometimes bumpy road you’ve traveled together, delight in your spouse as he was and as she is: a mixture of sweet youth and wiser maturity.
Do one thing different today. Especially when you’re feeling that you’re living parallel lives, it’s time to try one thing different today. Warm up your connection. Greet him or her with a smile. Give an unexpected hug. Listen instead of planning a response or rushing off to take care of someone else. Tell your spouse that you’re glad to see him or that you thought of her during the day and remembered something lovely from your past together. Give a compliment. Bite your tongue before coming out with a sharp reply or criticism. “We both felt we were growing apart,” my friend Diane told me recently. “Then one day, as we were getting ready for bed, my husband started playing some Doo-Wop tunes on his iPad, grabbed me and we started dancing. We hadn’t danced in years! It was wonderful and helped make us feel closer both physically and emotionally.”
Break out of your old routines and try something new. It doesn’t have to be a big, expensive vacation It can be a few minutes, an hour, a day to be together in a new way. Yes, work schedules and kids’ activities fill large chunks of your time. But try carving out time together. Linger over coffee after dinner – just the two of you – one or more evenings a week. Plan a date night or a weekend day of adventure – the hike you’ve been meaning to take, the local sights that tourists never miss but that you’ve never managed to see, a meal out together, a lovely brunch or dinner cooked at home (when you usually subsist on take out or frozen dinners), a time together to share favorite music from the past or to re-watch a movie that once meant a lot to both of you.
Ask a question and stop to listen for an answer. Questions that sound boring and routine may become something entirely different if you stop and show that you care. A friend of mine, recently divorced after many years of marriage, told me sadly that his wife never asked about his day when he arrived home from work and never asked how he was feeling. Did he ask her? He nodded and said that she would say “Fine.” And turn away. But “fine” isn’t enough. If that happens with your spouse, stop and ask again: how are you really? Ask about a specific project or challenge. Let him or her know that you’ve noticed him looking worried or tired and inquire about his or her feelings. Don’t be put off if your spouse’s response isn’t immediate. Old routines can be hard to break. Let him or her feel that you really want to know, that you care how he or she feels and that you’re there to give loving support.
Show and express appreciation, not simply by saying “I love you!” but being very specific about what you value in each other. It can be all too easy to take each other for granted and forget to express appreciation for what each of you brings into your life together. There are so many things to appreciate: the way your spouse does what you can’t do or forgot to do or hate doing; the way he makes you laugh on days when you thought that wouldn’t be possible; the way she cares and comforts you when you’re feeling less than loveable; the ways that he helps you to feel young again when you were starting to feel seriously old; the times when a word, a touch or a smile can take you back through the years when your love was new – and can make you experience, once again, that thrilling moment when you felt that your love was forever.
Columnist: Psychology Today | Kathy McCoy Ph.D