Why do people fall out of love?
I can’t tell you how many couples counseling clients have asked me that question over the years. They remember the powerful feelings of love they felt in the beginning of their relationship — how giddy they were after their first date, how they used to fantasize about each other when they were apart. How every joke was hilarious and every quirk was adorable.
As they sit in my marriage counseling office a decade or so later, they wonder what happened to those loving feelings. At best they’ve been replaced by a warm, comfortable feeling of secure attachment. At worst they’ve been replaced by resentment, annoyance, or the crushing boredom of routine.
Some people believe they’ve fallen out of love because their partner has changed. Others blame themselves and want to know why they’re struggling to feel love for their partner.
Luckily, I can help these folks. Spending two decades as a marriage counselor (and as a married person) has taught me a lot about the nature of love, how love evolves over time, and the relationship mistakes that destroy love. I’ve learned how to appreciate the seasons of love in my own life, and I’ve helped many couples who are feeling disconnected from each other reignite the proverbial spark and fall back in love.
If you are here because you’ve fallen out of love with your partner, I would like to help you, too.
Falling Out of Love in a Long-Term Relationship
Is it normal to fall out of love? Or is there something wrong with me? Why do I fall out of love so easily? Am I with the wrong person?
I can assure you: It is 100% normal and expected to be absolutely obsessed with your partner during the honeymoon phase… and it’s also totally normal for those feelings to settle down over time.
Our brains reward us with a flood of dopamine when we’re falling in love. This is the all-important relationship “chemistry” that we hear so much about. Under its influence, we are in an altered state that makes our whole lives feel more vivid and exciting. We want MORE of our person, much like an addict wants more cocaine. We see our new partners in an idealized light. We find it easy to be generous about their imperfections. We also feel optimistic about the relationship’s potential, sometimes to the point of overlooking red flags.
The evolutionary purpose of this process is to help us form strong, enduring emotional bonds that will keep us paired up for long enough to have children and care for them together. As relationships mature, dopamine is gradually replaced by oxytocin, which creates stable feelings of contentment, safety, and comfort.
The more mellow effects of oxytocin are easier to take for granted. You might miss the exciting zing of dopamine and wonder if you’re still in love. But trust me, your love for your partner is as real as ever, and you will feel it acutely if you ever lose your relationship, or if it feels threatened.
Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.
What Is Love Anyway?
This is the biology of romantic love, but true love is much bigger than chemicals in your brain. It is a choice that we can all make to prioritize the wellbeing of another person, regardless of how we feel at any given moment.
In fact, acting with love often doesn’t feel good. When a man makes a counseling appointment so that he can connect more deeply with his partner — even though the thought of talking with a couples counselor makes him feel queasy — he is acting from a place of love. When a mom stays up late caring for her sick child, even though she’s exhausted and she just wants to sleep, she’s demonstrating true love.
Real love is much more than a feeling. Yet, I’ve worked with people who chased the feeling of “love” to their own destruction. They may have turned to physical or emotional affairs that tore their families apart, or threw away a loving marriage for a meaningless crush, all because they longed for the high of new love. When that feeling fades, as it always does, these clients will find themselves “falling out of love” once again.
Why Do People Fall Out of Love?
But, let’s be real. It is also true that not every long term relationship is as loving or satisfying as it could be. I’ve met couples who’ve celebrated thirty anniversaries and never even considered separating, but can hardly stand to be in the same room. I would not wish that on you. If the love in your relationship is beginning to deteriorate, I hope you will act, and sooner rather than later.
Keeping romance alive for decades requires effort. It does not “just happen,” no matter how much passion you feel for each other at the beginning of your relationship. And when serious problems in your relationship are left unresolved, you can bet that your loving feelings will begin to fade away.
In my experience, there are a few reasons people fall out of love:
- Unresolved conflict — Conflict is healthy, but only when you have the tools to work through it in a way that’s respectful and productive. If you’ve been having nasty, destructive arguments for years, you may have lost love and respect for each other in the process. On the other hand, if you’ve been avoiding conflict completely, and instead growing resentful toward each other, that will also damage your emotional connection.
- Old wounds — After a big relationship rupture, like an affair or another form of betrayal trauma, you can’t just “move on” without fully addressing the emotional wounds. If you try, the partner who felt hurt may begin to emotionally detach from the relationship. With support from a good counselor (ideally one who practices Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy), it is possible to heal old wounds, forgive each other, and fall back in love.
- Avoidant attachment — People with an avoidant attachment style often lose touch with their loving feelings for long-term partners. To reconnect with those feelings, they need a lot of space, both literal and emotional. You can learn all about this pattern in my article and podcast episode on anxious-avoidant relationships.
- Major values differences — If your relationship started on the basis of physical attraction and chemistry, without a foundation of shared values, there is a risk that you won’t find much to love about each other once infatuation fades.
- Hormonal changes — Hormones can affect your feelings of love and attraction. Sometimes people believe they’ve “fallen out of love,” when the problem is really tied to menopause, pregnancy, or age-related hormone changes.
- You’re not friends — Good friends have emotionally intimate, courageous conversations. They encourage and support each other. They do fun things together. And not begrudgingly! If you and your partner haven’t been good friends lately, it’s natural to feel like you’re falling out of love.
- You’re not growing together — Long-term relationships can get a little stale and predictable. When you intentionally grow together by working on yourselves and your relationship, you are doing something new, and strengthening your love for each other in the process. This is the key to keeping a marriage loving (and interesting) for a lifetime.
Have I Fallen Out of Love or Am I Depressed?
Finally, “falling out of love” with your partner can be a warning sign that you’re suffering from depression.
Depression causes emotional numbness, lack of energy, loss of interest in activities, and irritability. These symptoms make it pretty difficult to enjoy anything, including your relationship. If this is the issue, getting treatment for depression can help you feel more connected with your partner as well as other important people in your life.
To figure out if this is what’s happening, consider whether the shift in your feelings is only attached to your relationship, or if it applies to other things. If you are also feeling bad about work, withdrawn from your friends, and “blah” about your hobbies, it would be wise to see a therapist who can assess you for depression.
Support for Close, Loving Relationships
Feelings of love ebb and flow, but love itself is a choice. When you choose to work on your relationship for the benefit of your partner, your family, and yourself, you are expressing love at its very best.
And if you would like support along this journey from a couples counselor on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
P.S. — For more advice on keeping your love healthy and strong, check out our “Growing Together” collection of articles and podcasts.
Music in this episode is by Savage Blush with their song “Coming Down.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://thesavageblush.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
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Why People Fall Out of Love
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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