The passionate months and years of first love don’t always stick around. Relationships change and evolve over time and that’s perfectly normal. But sometimes couples fall out of love too. We explore the questions, difficulties, and outcomes when this happens.
A ‘couple’ relationship is one that’s defined by romantic love and sex. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the early experience of heady love is the benchmark we should aspire for throughout a long relationship – love will be expressed and experienced differently over time.
It also doesn’t mean that every couple continues to have sex together. But when it’s not happening, it needs to be mutually agreed upon and understood that it doesn’t compromise the couple bond. If one wants sex and the other doesn’t, that’s when it can lead to problems.
Many will mark the uniqueness of the couple relationship through monogamy, sleeping and living arrangements, but that’s not always the case. Some might agree to have other sexual partners, and sleep or live separately.
It doesn’t matter how you slice and dice it, what’s critical is that each person feels uniquely special and significant to each other and can count on a level of loyalty and commitment when needed. This devotion to one another, the readiness to drop everything and be there for each other, the caring and the intimacy, together combine to create the experience of being in love.
While love can change over time, couples who start to say “I’m not in love anymore” are generally describing something different. That can be a game changer.
The questions that come when love wanes
When one person in the couple (or both) says they’re out of love, it comes with questioning the relationship as they once knew it, and recognition of the threat it places on their bond. And generally, it leads to a cascade of decisions. For example, it might signal a desire to leave, to seek something different or find someone else, or to transform the relationship into a friendship. It marks that a couple have changed their status, rather than just their own way of being in love.
Hearing a partner has fallen out of love can be very painful and lead to self-worry about desirability and lovability. That’s because being loved can be attached – sometimes too much so – to our sense of worth and esteem.
Reclaiming your sense of lovability and desirability is not something achieved quickly, although it can be common for some to try and quicken the pace by throwing themselves back into dating. Unfortunately, this tends not to help except in the most superficial of ways. It can soothe egos and offer comfort, but the question, “why did they fall out of love with me?” takes time to process.
Do you really need to know ‘why’?
When you’re in love, it can be easy to say why you love the other person. When you fall out of love, however, it might be harder to explain.
This could be because there is no one event, transgression, or issue that really explains it. It might just be a gradual realisation over time that the big feelings are not there anymore. Or you might have problems, but know that if you were still in love, they would be technically resolvable – such as improving equity and fairness, better sex, or new couple goals. You might realise that even if you did work on the relationships, it wouldn’t lead to rekindled feelings.
Partners who are hearing that their partner no longer loves them will want to know why. Friends and family want to know why. It can be tempting to come up with a plausible explanation that provides clarity and acceptance, but life isn’t always that neat and simple.
If you’ve fallen out of love, it can be the best and kindest thing to state it and just leave it at that. If you are drawn into inventing a good explanation, you might end up saying things that are unnecessarily hurtful and even more confusing. For example, that life has become boring or that they were messy or lacking in some way, when you know in your heart of hearts that doesn’t really explain what has happened. The answer you give will be what your bereft partner will be left chewing over and trying to fix up, and they could be red herrings and quite unfair.
So – should you break up?
Generally, it’s only couples who both agree that they’re out of love who can decide to stay together regardless. And they’ll still need to work out the ground rules. Does no longer being in love change any other aspect like sleeping in the same bed, socialising together, having other partners or joint bank accounts?
Are you officially moving to being friends, and if so, do you need to announce this to anyone else, or is it a private matter? If your friends and family know, what ground rules do they need to have? Should they treat you as a couple, or not?
Where one person is still in love and the other isn’t, it’s most common that the one not in love wants to explore horizons away from the relationship, and generally this is simply too hurtful for the other to stay and observe. It’s kinder to leave and to later be in a position to offer friendship and salvage the bond you have had without further harm being done.