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  • Writer's pictureNatalie David, LCSW

How Relationships Fall Apart

The Righteous Brothers sang about it- losing that loving feeling. For most couples it happens slowly and discreetly. One day you wake up and realize that you feel excruciatingly alone, even though you are married or in a committed relationship. Your marriage is not what you had hoped it would be. You feel unacknowledged, unappreciated, and actually,unloved by your spouse. You can’t remember the last time the two of you said “I love you” in a passionate way. You do say it, but it is automatic and detached. How did you get here? Can you recover?

The answer is yes.

Do you remember those feelings of falling in love with your spouse? Those early days of a new romance can be incredibly exciting. As you began to fall in love, each partner was acutely aware of all the things they liked about the other person. You may have told your family and your close friends about those qualities, too. You might have said things such as, “He is so kind and funny.” “She is fun to be with and is easy going.” It showed in the way you spoke to each other, looked at each other, and behaved around each other. Your self esteem was high as you saw yourselves through the eyes of your partner. It feels great to be admired! During this initial phase of a relationship, partners communicate their strong fondness for one another, which lays the foundation for the relationship in the coming years.

Over time, couples continue to build upon that foundation of basic fondness for one another (truly liking each others’ personalities and communicating that to each other), by building other areas of the relationship. The other building blocks include trust, intimacy, loyalty (fidelity), ability to compromise, shared goals and interests, and many more. There may be cracks in the building blocks at times throughout a relationship. These cracks can often be addressed and repaired if the foundation is strong.

Relationships are hard work, and maintaining them requires constant attention. You wouldn’t expect your house to stay in great shape without maintenance, would you? Nor should you expect your relationship to thrive without attention. Healthy couples continue to bond in their daily lives by creating shared experiences to strengthen the relationship. Bonding can be accomplished through weekly date nights, finding a hobby you both enjoy, and even just maintaining rituals that enhance your daily lives such as sharing a morning cup of coffee or an evening TV show. It doesn’t matter how you do it- just find something that you can share, and do it consistently!

But, the single most important factor for the longevity of the relationship is maintaining the foundation it was built upon- showing the basic affection you began with and hopefully, still have for each other. If one or both partners stops feeling that affection, or stops expressing it, the relationship is in trouble. Often, people DO still feel it, but they stop expressing it. Perhaps there is a resentment over an unresolved argument and that makes you stop telling your partner that you “like” them at all. Or, maybe there is stress about a work situation that interferes in the expression of affection at home. Or, in some cases, one partner has difficulty expressing affection due to their own psychological issue such as depression. Whatever the reason, that lack of expressed affection erodes the foundation of the relationship and can lead to the breakdown- even the end- of the relationship.

The next time you feel lonely in your marriage, ask yourself these questions. When was the last time you or your spouse:

-Exchanged compliments?

-Expressed admiration for each others’ accomplishments?

-Look at each other with desire in your eyes?

-Bragged to a friend about each other? “My wife makes the best lasagna.” “My husband is so great with our toddler.”

If you felt sad when you read those questions, don’t despair. There is still hope. Talking with your partner about rebuilding that foundation can be helpful. Have a conversation about the things you love about each other and make a commitment to express those things more openly and more often.

If you need help, a skilled couples or marriage therapist can help guide you back to rebuilding the foundation of your relationship.Soon you will both be saying "I love you" passionately again, and meaning it.

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