Falling Out of Love?
The realization that our feelings towards our partner have changed can be confusing. Is it for the best? Was it him or I that changed? Was I actually in love or was it all fantasy? This can be one of the most painful processes to undergo. In order to understand where the love went, self-reflection is necessary. The recognition of our own behaviors in relationships that result in distance between us and our partner can allow us to understand ourselves and our interpersonal patterns on a deeper level. Carolyn Joyce states that “we must know ourselves in order to truly fall in love with someone else.”
From the beginning…
The attachment styles we form with our caretakers directly influence our feelings and attitudes towards love. Our defenses, insecurities and fears about relationships are all correlated with our upbringing and our attachment to those who cared (or didn’t care) for us early in our lives. John Bowlby defines three types of attachment styles, beginning with secure attachment. Bowlby refers to secure attachment as being reliable, consistent and flexible within relationships as well as being able to express feelings without the fear of commitment. Studies show that approximately 60% of the population demonstrates secure attachment within relationships and therefore reports higher levels of satisfaction.
Those who demonstrate insecure attachment tendencies are broken down into either anxious or avoidant styles, both of which lead to a struggle of balance in relationships. Mikulincer and Shaver state: “Anxious people’s lack of commitment stems from disappointment, pain and frustration, whereas avoidant people’s lack of commitment stems from unwillingness to invest in a long-term relationship.” Another sign of insecure attachment is the inability to commit and remain faithful in relationships.
Those who are considered to maintain anxious attachment styles often experience ongoing fears of rejection as well as the doubt that others can provide support. This attachment style often results from inconsistent parenting in which the child is unsure of what to expect from their caregivers. According to Maureen Sullivan, this type of attachment style translates into “distrustful yet clingy” behaviors in relationships.
The second type of insecure attachment is described as dismissive and is maintained by the minimization of intimacy by way of strict boundaries that lead to distancing. The type of parenting that leads to this attachment style often is insensitive behaviors that teach the child their emotional needs will not be met. Those with avoidant attachment often expect relationship failure and consider romantic love to be a myth.
What kind of love am I in?
Carolyn Joyce discusses three types of love in her article about losing the spark in relationships and refers to them as “passionate love, compassionate love and romantic love.” Joyce states that passionate love includes intensity and sexual interest as well as feelings of uncertainty. She reports that compassionate love to have a companionship and friendship focus. Joyce describes romantic love to be a healthy combination of passionate and compassionate love that is correlated with higher levels of marital satisfaction. Dr. Lisa Firestone recommends considering love to be a verb and reports that tenderness, compassion, sensitivity and an honest exchange of personal feelings to be necessary in one’s ability to maintain in romantic love.
Sparks Fade when you are falling out of love
A fantasy bond is defined as an illusion of connection and intimacy in a relationship. Dr. Robert Firestone stated “most people have a fear of intimacy and at the same time are terrified of being alone.” A fantasy bond allows the imagination of closeness to exist without true emotional connection. Dr. Firestone and his wife, Lisa, created a chart to help distinguish the qualities between what is considered romantic love and what is referred to as a fantasy bond. These qualities include: the ability to accept feedback and practice open communication, the ability to trust each other enough to be entirely vulnerable, the ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries, a sex life considered satisfactory to both partners, the desire to understand the other person and the desire to allow the other person to be themselves fully in the relationship.
Dr. John Gottman has determined the four most toxic behaviors in relationships after over 25 years of studying the interactions between couples and refers to them as the “four horsemen.” These detrimental behaviors include: criticism (are you blaming your partner?), defensiveness (do you accept feedback from your partner?), contempt (are you pushing your partner away?), and stonewalling (are your tone and body language shut down towards your partner?).
Your happiness is YOUR responsibility and yours alone!
Julie Marah, author of Stay Married or Leave, recommends making a decision to work on feeling better about your relationship to be for YOUR sake, not your partner’s. Marah discusses the importance of asking your partner for what you want as well as being clear about your expectations without the dependency on his/her behaviors for your own happiness. Marah’s article also advises empowerment over one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors in order to create any change in relationships.
Breakdown of Intimacy
The importance of sex within a relationship can be a taboo topic. But when we are falling out of love, it affects out intimacy. Kristina Franklin discusses the reasons for disengagement in sexual intimacy within a relationship including sex appearing to be optional and put on the backburner due to the busyness of life. Franklin reports that sex can also become a form of reward or punishment and the toxicity this type of thinking can have on a relationship. The state of a relationship is often reflected in the sex life and Franklin attributes a lack of sex to be a disconnect on a deeper, emotional life.
Who are you today and what do you want now?
Despite one’s upbringing, reaching a more secure attachment style is possible. This can take place by writing about or verbalizing childhood experiences with the goal of identification of patterns and drawing connections to current behaviors. Studies show that this process can literally rewire the brain to result in more secure attachments to important people in one’s life. Mindfulness and meditation can also contribute to a more secure attachment as a result of providing stability and security.
Therapy can aid in the understanding and healing of the painful experiences individuals endure as well as help challenge and change toxic thoughts and behavior patterns with the goal of healthy and happy relationships.
It’s normal to be confused during this process, but you don’t have to go through this alone. If you find yourself struggling to express your feelings about your relationship, you may find that working with a therapist can help you determine what is holding you back and can help you begin to move on. I would love to work with you to achieve these goals. To see if my approach works for you get started with this short video. I look forward to seeing you soon.
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