I don’t feel “in love” with my husband all the time. After 9 years of being together as a couple and 4 years of marriage, I wouldn’t say our romance has fizzled out, but more like we are no longer on a lovey-dovey high like a pair of newlyweds.
Are you also experiencing this in your long-term relationship?
Many people around me have either settled for a familial sort of relationship with their partner (i.e. simply seeing their partner as a family member without much romantic love) or are very disillusioned after going in and out of many relationships that did not last.
I started to hear things like:
“I think we no longer have feelings for each other.”
“I no longer feel the same towards him anymore.”
Although you no longer feel that spark, does it really mean the end of your relationship? Is it really time to move on?
I have personally experienced these feelings towards my husband, especially more than a year ago when we had many arguments and were undergoing a lot of stresses and bitterness in the relationship. There were even a few incidences when I had many doubts, and even rationally considered whether I should be staying in the relationship.
But just half a year later, the arguments became much lesser. We were no longer clawing at each other in spite. There were more kisses, more affection, more understanding, more gentleness. And this has lasted for a good six months now.
What happened? What did we do to turn our relationship around?
One crucial thing I invite you to recognise is this:
Our feelings are valid but unreliable
Our feelings change all the time, based on external circumstances, biological changes, internal stresses and so on. There are just so many factors that affect our emotions and how we feel.
Photo by Tengyart in Unsplash
So how can we build the foundation of our relationship on something so unreliable?
I’m not saying that our feelings are not valid — of course they are. There are times when we just feel so frustrated, angry, sad or upset with our partners, and we need to communicate with our partners why we feel so. (Important note: This does not mean venting your frustrations on your partner when you are in the middle of an argument! I highly recommend communicating your feelings only when you have both calmed down. I have learnt this the hard way and I have come to realise that this is the most effective method of communicating your feelings, because it is only when you have both really calmed down that you are able to truly listen to each other.)
Photo by Alex Iby in Unsplash
And unless your partner is abusive, toxic or manipulative (in which case I strongly advise you to end the relationship as soon as possible), it is not necessarily true that just because you have too many arguments, it means you are incompatible.
Marriage and family therapist Linda Carroll wrote about the 5 stages of a relationship every couple goes though, from Merge (honeymoon phase), Doubt and Denial (friction and conflict), Disillusionment (lowest point of the relationship), to the Decision (breaking point), and Wholehearted Love (true acceptance).
They are cyclical stages, and every couple can experience this cycle more than once, but every single time, if you manage to reach the stage of Wholehearted Love, that’s when the relationship is most rewarding. When my husband and I reached this stage (I think this was around late last year), I felt that we had truly levelled up in our relationship journey, when we truly accepted each other while letting go of all the pain and hurt accumulated over the years (we struggled a lot with this and it’s really difficult, but trust me, it’s extremely liberating — I’ll share more about this in another post!).
You must have heard this many times — love is a choice, not a feeling.
How can we choose to love every day even when we feel that our feelings towards our partner are no longer the same as before?
Instead of spending time worrying about why you are no longer having these feelings and whether you should end your stagnating relationship, why not try these three simple steps to revive that connection?
1. Do something nice for your partner even when you don’t feel like doing it
Most of us only do something nice for someone when we feel good about this person. Did you know that this actually works the other way round too?
Our marriage mentor introduced this concept to us (which he has used with his wife as well): Do something for each other even when we completely don’t feel like it, and the good feelings for each other would come after.
How does it actually work?
I’m personally not a fan of cooking — my husband, however, loves to cook so he’s usually the one whipping up dinner whenever we eat in, and I would clean up after.
But there were a few instances when his online meetings overran and it was time for dinner. More than once, I was tempted to just order in for both of us, but because my husband preferred home-cooked food due to health and budget reasons, I decided to whip up a simple meal for both of us, even though I was pretty exhausted.
Photo by Kevin McCutcheon in Unsplash
During all of those instances, my husband would be very touched, and he would eat whatever I cooked with such joy, no matter how simple it was, even though as a foodie he is usually very particular about his meals.
Just seeing this would make me smile and my heart flutter. His responses made me feel that it was all worth the effort.
So start doing something for your partner — the rewards of love and romance would blossom again after.
2. Avoid these at all costs during conflict: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling
How many of these four communication styles have you used?
I have used all, and I can tell you for sure it plunged my relationship with my husband to a deep dark pit, and we used to argue a few times a week.
These four communication styles can predict the end of a relationship, according to research by the Gottman Institute, which is led by researchers and clinical psychologist Drs. John and Julie Gottman. This institute uses science and research to study and improve relationship health.
These communication styles are termed as the Four Horsemen — Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling, derived from the metaphor of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (conquest, war, hunger and death), which depicted the end times in the New Testament.
Pay close attention if you notice that you or your partner start using these Four Horsemen during arguments. Identifying them, however, doesn’t mean it’s the end of your relationship.
It took my husband and me a lot of conscious effort to eliminate them from our communication and build positive communication styles instead.
What’s most important is recognising them and taking real action.
These are the antidotes to the Four Horsemen prescribed by the Gottman Institute (we have applied these and they are really effective!):
Doing these takes practice, and both you and your partner must be committed to it.
Most importantly, when you get into an argument, give yourselves ample time to take a breather first before you come back together to talk about your conflict.
3. Remind yourselves of your shared vision and values
In my previous post on 5 Secrets to finding a compatible partner in a long-term relationship, I shared about the importance of understanding each other’s fundamental beliefs at the beginning of the relationship and building your relationship on your shared values — that’s how you can build your relationship on strong foundation instead of passions and feelings that come and go.
During difficult times when you had really bad arguments or started doubting whether you should still be in the relationship, remind yourself and your partner of your shared vision. It helps when you frame up what your relationship means to you and hang it at a conspicuous spot both of you will notice every day. It can even be a prayer, or your “marriage rules” that you both agree with.
An example of a marriage plaque you can hang in your home(iStockphoto.com)
I don’t have one of these yet, but I have a few plaques on faith, and trust me, seeing these around our home reminds me every day of my beliefs. A few of my friends who have hung up similar plaques also shared similar experiences — these serve as daily reminders of our faith, love, and other beliefs that we prioritise and want to continue prioritising.
Feelings of love don’t magically appear.
That’s not love; that’s attraction, which comes and goes.
Love is not a fairytale; it’s a choice you make every day — it means effort put in by both you and your partner to create and build those feelings, in spite of whatever life throws at you. It’s not sexy nor magical. It’s real, mundane sometimes, and it’s hard work.
But when done right, this partnership of love would also create some of the most beautiful and fulfilling experiences in your lifetime.
Has this post been helpful for you? Do share with me your thoughts and feedback, I would love to hear from you! If you enjoy what you’re reading, you can also follow me on Instagram for more bite-sized relationship content!
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: Alvin Mahmudov in Unsplash