Falling out of love – and then back in again
The first flush of love is great. It’s that heady and almost insane time when we think of each other all the time. When the world and everyone in it looks wonderful. When we’re nice to everyone – and, so, they’re nice to us. We go around together admiring the flowers, the sky, other people, and most of all, each other.
The ever-cynical American writer, Ambrose Bierce, described it as ‘a state of insanity curable by marriage’.
Yet, for many people, this happily insane stage evolves into a wonderful, but less-frantic, state of ‘being happy together’. And, for many others, it goes in a quite different direction. Falling in love seems so effortless and ‘automatic’ that we expect staying in love should be just as easy, just as effortless.
Yet if we look at the ‘falling in love process’ it’s not at all automatic – we do work at it enthusiastically. We just stop working at it too soon and that’s when the trouble begins.
The Insanity Phase
This is the wonderfully exciting. We meet somebody and we find them attractive. And discover that they find us attractive, too.
So, we spend as much time with them as possible. And find we have lots in common – same interests, similar sense of humour, and maybe even a similar sense of direction in life. And these similarities boost our attraction towards them. It makes them even more appealing. We have found a soulmate.
We think about them a lot. All the time, perhaps. We talk about them to other people – a lot, too, and maybe even too much (for the other people, that is). We think of all the things we’re going to talk about when we next meet. And what we’re going to wear. We plan what we’ll do together.
And then we meet again – we’re together, at last – gazing into each other’s eyes, touching, smiling, sharing enjoyment, fun and excitement. Life is great. We are happy. They are just perfect! Unbelievably so. They really do seem to be without flaws. And such flaws as we do notice, we quickly and easily gloss over. After all they are perfect. And, in the light of all their wonderfulness how can I focus on a few little trivia.
The Discovery phase
We’re now seeing them more and more. As often as we can. Texts and phone calls keep us together even when we aren’t.
We may even start living together, “just on a trial basis – to see how we get on”.
And we’re now sharing a lot more. Living together. Doing things together. Eating together. Making plans for our the future together – because, right now, anything and everything is possible. In this glow of wonderfulness we’re admiring each other, giving each other compliments and, unintentionally but very effectively, boosting each other’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
After all, loving somebody who you find attractive and finds you attractive is great for confidence and self-esteem. And all the time we’re discovering new and wonderful aspects to them and their wonderfulness.
Yes, of course, we realise they have flaws, imperfections. Well, nobody’s perfect, are they! Those little flaws and mannerisms that we’re now beginning to notice, are quickly glossed over. We want to keep focusing on the good qualities. And if an ’outsider’ dares to remark on one of their imperfections… we rise heatedly to their defence.
Yes, sometimes in unguarded moments, we think “I just wish they wouldn’t do that” or ‘I wish they wouldn’t say those things” or wouldn’t laugh that way – and maybe they could be just a bit more tidy, and a bit less… But, when such thoughts pop into our head, we quickly brush them aside and focus on the person’s many and wonderful qualities and this gets things back into perspective. Yes, they really are wonderful. Perfect, in fact…
The Carelessness phase
After some more time, and it can be months or years or even decades, we’ve settled and grown used to each other. Now there are the kids, and the bills, and the careers, and the social life, and the car repairs, and the question of whether to move house or not.
The familiarity that comes from this time together, and the distractions and pressures of everyday life, we become…careless.
We don’t need to take as much care of our appearance unless we’re out and about. No need for that – we are couple, aren’t we? We no longer need to pay them compliments. Nor tell them we love them (they know this, don’t they – why do I have to keep saying it!)
And we don’t spend as much time planning to do things together, or having fun together, or just being happy together – like in the early days. We may be so busy that we don’t even have time together. We’ve come to recognise that, whilst we are still as perfect as ever, ‘they’ have a lot more imperfections than when we first met. And those little mannerisms or habits, which were so endearing when we first met, now become serious character flaws.
We begin paying more attention to their imperfections. We may even engage in a campaign to get them back into being the wonderful person they once were:
- Do you have to make so much noise when you eat?
- Maybe you could behave more like… (our friend Jack/Jill)
- Do you really have to laugh like that?
- Have you considered going to the gym?
- How come you always wear the same outfit, day in day out?
- Maybe if you went to the hairdressers/barbers…
Strangely enough, these helpful “nudges” are not warmly received. Certainly not acted upon. In fact, as they now tell us, it’s we who should change! Why aren’t we as wonderful as we once were???
These skirmishes turn into battles. And, unfortunately, the battles often merge into an ongoing war. Now we see only their imperfections, we become fixated on these – and blind their good points.
The Carelessness stage is, in reality, the falling out of love stage.
Is falling out of love inevitable?
This slide into the ‘Falling Out of Love’ stage is very common and very sad. And it is not inevitable – lots of couples live happily together for decades.
If it does happen, is it reversible? Possibly, with patience. This largely depends on whether both parties are prepared to make it happen. (And this will be a later article.)
Is it preventable? Yes. If we invest the same amount of work as we did in the Insanity and the Discovery stages.
Avoid the Carelessness stage
We can stop the slide into Carelessness if we notice and put an end to this tendency early in the relationship.
The ‘Falling Out of Love’ stage happens because we take the other person for granted: ‘I’ve found my ideal partner. We’re now a couple. I can relax, at last, and enjoy the benefits.’
- Assume the other person will stay the same forever – habits, interests, appearance, etc. (After all, we haven’t changed – have we?)
- Assume our relationship is now self-managing. No need to plan events, pay compliments, look after ourselves (through they should, of course, continue to do so).
- Assume they’re fine – no need to ask how they feel, no need to talk about ourselves and our feelings.
- Assume we’re both still focussed on, and working towards, the same goals.
- Allow other things like family, career, social life, friends, and so on, to become more important than our relationship.
Stopping the slide means avoiding, or reversing, each of these.
Plus a few more…
(1) It’s up to you to make the start
Some people push back against this. “Why do I have to the work – it takes two to tango, you know!’
And yes, a relationship needs two people pulling together to make it work.
But it only takes one to begin the process. And if you change yourself the other person will change. Maybe not to the degree you’d like. But they will change. And this can be nurtured over time.
(2) Avoid becoming obsessed with ‘glitches’
These are the other person’s little imperfections or flaws – the ones which we determinedly overlooked in our partner during the glowing Insanity stage.
After a few years these can become Serious Character Weaknesses, or even The Final Straw. Because we dwell upon them. And become obsessed with them.
List their perfections, instead. Spend a week or two listing all of their good qualities; the things you would now miss if your partner had left you six months ago. That (formerly endearing) smile, or comment, or way of looking at you, or little gesture, and so on. Then begin focussing on one or two of these per day.
Sadly, for many couples, this only happens after they have separated or divorced. And then they look back whimsically at the wonderful early days, the Insanity stage. Which was not insanity but how we unknowingly created the relationship.
(3) Use what once worked
Back in the early days we focussed on their good points. But we also deliberately made space in our timetable for them. Made plans for our time together. Anticipated what we’d talk about. Shared fun and excitement together. Paid them complements.
So now is the time to reintroduce things that were once commonplace. Things that gave you good feelings together. And discover new things that can now do the same.
Forget about the kids, the career, the bills, the garden fence that needs mending, the overtime. Yes, they are there – but should they be more important than your happiness together?