Therapists often see couples facing a very real dilemma: After years and years together, one or both partners no longer feel as “in love” as they were before.
Is it possible to fall back in love? Absolutely, but it takes time and effort from both spouses. Below, marriage therapists offer a short list of advice they give couples at this crossroad.
1. Accept that you may have to work at falling back “in like” with each other first.
Falling out of love didn’t happen overnight. Falling back in love is going to take some time, too, explained David McFadden, a couples counselor at Village Counseling Center in Hanover Park, Illinois. To that end, lower your expectations and ask yourself: What is it going to take for me to even “like” my spouse again?
“Ask each other: Do we need to forgive things that have hurt in the past before we can like each other again? If so, start the forgiveness process,” he suggested. “Recalling steps you took to forgive in the past can help you get on that path again.”
2. End destructive communication patterns.
If you and your spouse are perennially unhappy, it may be because you’re stuck in a negative reactive pattern, possibly the pursuer-distancer pattern, said Jennifer Chappell Marsh, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, California.
In this pattern, the “pursuer” in the relationship increasingly complains about the lack of connection in the marriage. As a result, the “distancer” avoids engagement by withdrawing or going on the defense.
“The chance for real connection is close to impossible in this vicious cycle,” Chapell Marsh said. “Usually, the more quiet one partner is, the louder the other gets and vice versa. If there’s a chance for the couple to get close again, the pursuer has to focus on delivering their message in a softer way and the distancer must start being more emotionally engaged in the relationship.”
3. Ask yourself: What qualities initially led me to fall in love with this person?
You may be able to recapture some of that spark by thinking back on the qualities that initially attracted you to your spouse, said Marcia Naomi Berger, a psychotherapist and author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted.
“I always pose that question to couples who want to stay married during their initial session,” she said. “Think on it, then make a point to re-experience happy courtship feelings by going out on a weekly fun date.”
4. Find some new shared interests.
There’s nothing wrong with growing as a person and developing separate interests. It becomes a problem, though, when you start to live parallel lives. Share some of your newfound interests with your spouse or find new shared hobbies, said Danielle Adinolfi, a Philadelphia-based marriage and family therapist.
“Make a plan to spend time engaging in activities that you both enjoy,” she said. “You and your spouse may have drifted apart, but you can also drift back together. You might find yourself remembering what you used to love about your partner.”
5. Take sex off the back burner.
If you’re disinterested in your marriage, chances are, sex hasn’t been high on your priority list, either. To recapture the spark, make an intentional effort to reach out and touch your spouse. Consider sex and intimate touch as a way to build love, said Melissa Fritchle, a family and couples therapist in Santa Cruz, California.
“It may seem difficult but committing to keeping physical closeness alive is really important,” she said. “Touch releases oxytocin which helps us to feel bonded and relaxed. Many couples pull away from sex and physical affection when they are no longer feeling love, but working at rebuilding sexual touch and gestures of affection is a key piece to rebuilding love and intimacy again.”
6. Do something sweet for your spouse.
Love is about the little things. To remind yourself of that, think back on small gestures that meant a lot to your spouse through the years, then reenact them, McFadden said.
“Make a list of things you did for them when things were going well ― gestures they appreciated and drew you close ― and then, put some effort into doing those things again,” he said. “These positive actions have meaning to your spouse and should bring you closer.”
7. Don’t blame your partner for the distance.
When you’ve been unhappy for years, it’s hard not to feel a little resentful toward your spouse for failing to see the signs. You might wonder, “Why has it taken so long for my spouse to realize our marriage is in trouble?” but don’t get too carried away with those thoughts, Berger said.
“Don’t blame your spouse for failing to read your mind,” she said. “Couples who want to stay married need to learn to tell each other what they want and need directly and respectfully. When spouses feel safe being vulnerable with each other they are likely fall in love with each other again and again.”