What to Do When You Fall Out of Love

by | Feb 23, 2020 | Anxiety, Open Your Heart, Relationships | 34 comments

We’ve all been sold the same bill of goods:

Real love is infatuation.

Real love is a drug-like feeling that sweeps you off your feet.

Real love is the elixir that lifts you out of the pain of life.

When you’re really in love, you’ll just “know.”

Attraction should be effortless.

In fact, the entire relationship should be effortless.

Sex should be effortless and mutually, simultaneously orgasmic.

Desire should pulse through you day and night.

You should always feel excited to see your partner.

You shouldn’t want time alone.

You should know everything about love from the outset.

Well…

Real relationships tell a very different story.

Are there relationships that begin with an exhilarating honeymoon stage characterized by certainty and feeling madly in love? Of course. Are there just as many, if not more, relationships that begin with friendship, hesitation, and doubt? Absolutely. Is there any correlation between the first type of beginning and a successful marriage? None whatsoever.

At some point in every relationship you will have to learn about real love. At some point, you’ll be faced with obstacles that require you both to face your fears, many of which stem from your early blueprint of marriage and your own painful childhood experiences (bullying, first heartbreak, abuse, social challenges, to name a few). At some point, you’ll realize that whether you were “in love” in the beginning or not, you will have to learn what to do when you fall out of love. So “fall out of love” means both to fall from something that initially existed (if you had a honeymoon stage) or to fall from a fantasy about how you thought love should unfold. Either way, the question is the same:

What do you do when you fall out of love?

You have two choices:

1. You can fall prey to the mainstream disposable mindset that says that your relationship is now doomed and it’s time to seek the next shiny new object.

OR

2. You can start learning about what real love is all about. You can learn the Love Laws and Loving Actions that you never learned in school and likely didn’t see modeled growing up. In the now-obsolete village model of living in community, the skill of loving would have been passed down through osmosis by watching and absorbing your parents’ marriage, and if they didn’t have a great marriage you would have seen it modeled between another couple in your village.

In these days of the isolated nuclear family, most people have a faulty initial blueprint and are deprived of any other real-life models so we’re left to look to Hollywood for what love is supposed to look like. And there we find the Disney version where the marriage begins as the couple is riding off into the proverbial sunset. As the forum moderator for the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course so brilliantly said in her recent podcast interview with my niece for Perennials Podcast:

“Fairy tales end at the beginning of the love story. We don’t have the fairytale of Cinderella and the prince after they’ve had a child, and they’re struggling with their finances and whether they want to live in the city castle or the country castle. All of that is never dealt with.” 

Where, then, do you learn about real love?

You learn about it through reading books. You learn about it through actively looking for couples in long-term relationships who embody the essence of real love. You learn about through wading through the weeds of your own relationship, shining the headlight of curiosity and compassion on yourself and your partner as you navigate these tricky realms together. And you learn about it through courses like Open Your Heart: A 30-Day Course to Feel More Love and Attraction for Your Partner, where I lay out the Love Laws and Loving Actions that can shrink fear and grow love.

For here’s the hidden secret about love, the one that Disney and Hollywood aren’t shouting off their cinematic rooftops: The love that you learn about after the honeymoon ends, the love that requires facing your fears about intimacy and identifying the ways in which fear eclipses love, the love that grows from the thin patch of soil that appears cracked and parched but actually holds the seeds for the most luxurious, blooming garden if you know how to water them… this version of love is so much richer than the one you may or may not have experienced in the early stages. No matter how your relationship began, you have to fall out of love in order to learn what it really means to fall in love.

Disney love is fluffy love. Real love is the stuff that lifelong marriages are made of. And real love only grows from real work. Join me as I teach you the roadmap – the Love Laws and Loving Actions – that, when practiced, grow real attraction, real romance, and the real meaning of falling in love. This 16th round of the course starts on Saturday March 7th, 2020, and I look forward to meeting you there. 

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34 Comments

  1. I LOVE this. As my clarity and love grows, and my darkness and fear shrinks, I see this. After months of intrusive thoughts and relationship anxiety, (that still linger) I finally understand. I understand that my intrusive thoughts have nothing to do with my husband and our marriage, but what needs help inside of me. In the first 3 years of our relationship, we had the butterflies and love and sparks until we got engaged and bought a house then the intrusive thoughts set in. Working every day on my soul and mind is HARD work. The hardest work I believe I’ve ever done, but it’s worth it because I know my husband and our marriage is worth it. Yes, the hooks I’m in such as, “is he really the one for you?” And “he doesn’t have a religion, your marriage is doomed” still linger about every day, but thanks to your work I can manage them and realize they don’t hold water.

    I just wanted to say this in case there is someone out there that is going through what I did/am going through. If you want your relationship to work and you want to be a better you, it’s up to you. You’re okay and the thoughts are lying to you. Enjoying the beautiful weather this weekend, my husband and I felt like we were first time lovers again driving down the road, singing along to the radio, laughing…I knew everything was okay. I know he is my forever person, despite what my intrusive thoughts try to say. This is REAL love. This is forever love.

    Thank you Sheryl for your work. You’re such a beautiful soul.

    Reply
    • Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Lauren. Every word! Thank you for sharing a lifeline of hope. I know these words are lifesavers to those who are still in the trenches.

      Reply
    • I’m struggling currently with being unable to feel love. I needed this and thank you.

      Reply
  2. I feel like my husband and I have fallen out of love. I’m really struggling with this since we have kids and I fear that we have nothing in common anymore and it will lead to divorce, ruining everyone’s life. How can you fall back into love with someone if you feel like the common ground isn’t there anymore?

    Reply
    • As I often say to my clients with young children, it’s a miracle that anyone stays married through those years. What’s interesting about your comment is that you say that you “fear” that you have nothing in common, which leads me to believe that there’s more in common than you think but that it’s the connection that has been lost. We lose connection frequently in marriage, especially with kids in the picture, so the question is: “What actions can we take that will help us reconnect? A regular date night? Time away from the kids? Lunch date?” You might also want to consider the course.

      Reply
  3. Hi Sheryl.

    I’ve been following your work for a little over a month now and I really appreciate all that you do. This article came to me at the right time but I am still scared on whether it applies to me. I am a senior in high school and have been hit hard with relationship anxiety (and feeling like I “fell out of love” and became unhappy), but I have broken off my seemingly happy relationship (there were some problems though) because of it and the fact that I am afraid of long distance when I go to college. Still, I know you said that relationship anxiety can happen at any age, but if you have any tips for me, I would really appreciate it. ❤️

    Reply
    • Dear Andrea,

      I hope you’re doing okay in the aftermath of your breakup. I know it’s so hard to struggle with anxiety when your relationship seems mostly good otherwise. You’ve got this ❤️ I relate so much to your comment because we’re around the same age and have similar fears! I’m in my final year of university, I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for nearly two years now, and I suffer from so much relationship anxiety. I love my boyfriend deeply and we hope to get married in the near future, but long distance relationships are HARD, especially when you’re plagued with anxiety. I love being with my boyfriend and when we’re together, things feel right. But as soon as I have to leave him, I start overthinking everything that happened while we were together and magnifying all the bad things in my mind. Because of that, I often end up wondering if he might not be “the one”, or feeling like I’m not “in love” with him anymore.

      I think what I would say to you, especially if you do ever end up in a long distance relationship, is this. My boyfriend and I formed a strong friendship over the months before we started dating, and I knew before we started dating that, even if he didn’t have romantic feelings for me, I would still want to remain friends with him, because he was just such a good, fun person who I clicked with really well. Throughout our relationship, we’ve practised and developed strong communication skills. If there seem to be problems, it depends on what they are. Are they real red flags – cheating, doing drugs, drinking to excess, etc. – or are they personal differences that you can work out with him? If the latter, that’s where communication is so essential, especially in a long distance relationship. When there’s a problem, it has to be brought up, not left to simmer. With relationship anxiety, it’s so easy to overthink problems and blow them way out of proportion. I do that so frequently, but then I bring it up with my boyfriend and he calmly explains his side of the story, making me think about it from a different viewpoint and putting it more in perspective. You may eventually unearth a problem that you simply can’t come to terms with, but cross that bridge when/if you come to it.

      People talk a lot about the importance of following your “gut feelings”, like having an intuition that something’s not right even if everything seems to be perfect. From my experience, however, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish intuition from anxiety. Instead of ineffectively trying to reason myself out of anxiety, I do two things. First (if you happen to be religious), I constantly pray that God will lead me in the right direction. Second (which applies whether you’re religious or not), I try to take it one day at a time. Don’t look back or too far forward; learn from your mistakes, but move forward purposefully, trying to grow in love for your boyfriend. If your constant purpose is to love your significant other (in other words, seeking what’s best for him), it may help to uncloud your judgment and relieve some of the relationship anxiety. It gives a bigger purpose to your relationship, which I think is helpful because anxiety is focussed interiorly within yourself, whereas focussing on another person takes you out of yourself.

      To summarise this extremely long comment: First, good communication and a strong friendship (whether it’s developed before or during a relationship) are VITAL. Second, take it one day at a time and try to live in the present moment. I hope this helps you! ❤️

      Reply
  4. Your words inspired me when I was in the throes of intrusive thoughts. With the help of The Wisdom of Anxiety, an excellent therapist and journaling, I still have uncertainty (no one can predict the exact date of the next thunderstorm, the precise timing of the rain) and with it, I have hope and clarity.

    “Being in love” requires the anxious heart to learn to simply “be” – and consciously choose loving actions that bring us authentically towards the light.

    So much love to you, Sheryl!

    Reply
    • Beautiful, Em. Thank you for sharing your process here. x

      Reply
  5. My parents divorced when I was 13 years old. I didnt realize how much my parents divorce affected me until I got married and especially after having my first son. I have had to learn SO MUCH about relationships and how to manage my anxiety about relationships. I have read so many books (including yours), taken your course (thank you!), been to therapy and have really tried my best to challenge everything that I think I know and to learn what a healthy relationship looks like. I am still learning.

    This fall i had a major breakthrough in regards to why I chose my husband (or at least part of why). There are some aspects of him that are easy for me to dislike. And I would get (mainly internally) angry about it, and say all kinds of mean things (in my head) but it has likely came out to him in my demeanor. But then I realized that I used these aspects of him to project my anger of my parents divorce onto him. He became an easy target. This revelation literally stopped me in my tracks. And since this past fall I have been going down the rabbit hole of my parents divorce and processing alot.

    I have peeled layers before regarding my parents divorce but the past few months have been intense.

    I am now dealing with my issues around sex. When my Dad left (the single most heartbreaking day of my life), my mom bashed him alot. She also told me all kinds of things that a 13 year old shouldn’t hear about her dad and I wont repeat them here. Some were about sex. I only JUST realized that I think part of the challenge I have with sex is because I view it as shameful and hurtful. Oh the tangled webs we weave!

    Obviously i need to deal with this! Do you have any (book) resources to suggest?

    Reply
    • Come as You are by Emily Nagoski was a real blessing for me.

      Reply
    • Dear AV,
      Thank you for your comment. I sense the clarity you have. I became curious when I read that you realized that your anger towards your partner was really about your parents. I am, just like you have, gone around being internally very angry with my boyfriend. I am experiencing him as domineering, powerful, angry, and in those moments, not very aware. It takes one angry comment from him, with a harsh voice, or him talking about me in an angry way, for me to totally spin into the anxiety and loose my presence. At the same time I know that he is a very kind person but those experiences makes it difficult to trust that. Probably related, I have had no sexual desire for years.

      I grew up with a very authorative father who I just had to obey. In my mind I wonder if there is a connection between my severe reaction to my boyfriends anger and my father’s behavior, or if basically anyone would react like I do when facing my boyfriend’s anger (that my reaction is intrinsically very healthy) I have not been able to feel my way forward here. How did you reach the realization that the anger was about your parents?

      Reply
      • ALOT of introspection!

        My parents divorce was quite traumatic for me.

        It has taken me years and years and years to unravel it all. To learn about healthy relationships, to build my self esteem, to overcome my fear of abandonment, to know that I am loveable, to be able to sit with uncomfortable feelings and not run away….I could go on and on. As I have moved through all that I have been able to pay more attention to my reactions, to become more curious about them and to try and understand why I am behaving or feeling a certain way.

        It is not a easy or fast process.

        Be kind to your self!

        Reply
  6. I loved this. Everything you write is so helpful. I’m recently pregnant for the first time. I know the intrusive thoughts are because of this transition. At first I was so very excited and felt even more in love with my husband. But lately I’ve felt a bit unattracted to him and am obsessed with his overweight stomach. What can I do?

    Reply
    • Recognize that it’s a projection and ask, “What is this thought protecting me from feeling?”

      Reply
  7. Sheryl is such a bleasing to read you, go on with the amazing writing that frees our hearts to give the real precious human love.
    Best wishes

    Reply
    • Thank you, beautiful Marina! Your comment brought a big smile ;). x

      Reply
  8. What would be your advice to someone in their first relationship (first everything) with no honeymoon stage and struggling with RA as it’s difficult to know if it really is RA or just fear of a break up or lack of knowing what one wants?

    Reply
    • Keep getting to know yourself through journaling and therapy so that you can learn to trust yourself more.

      Reply
      • I guess I just want to find the way to love and peace in my current situation even if it is all wrong (no connection and no love). I just don’t understand how I cannot find my inner contentment though other people can. I have a very good man, I just don’t know how to make it work and not feel so unhappy.

        Reply
  9. I just watched the Mister Rogers movie a week or two ago! I’m not a movie person at all, so I rarely make an attempt to watch any, but I knew I wanted to see that one. It was wonderful and, ever since then, I have been watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episodes on Youtube almost daily. I also ordered a book of quotes by him. What I didn’t seem to absorb as a child I’m now trying to! It’s also just a very comforting way to settle in for the night.

    I’m very excited to listen to the podcast with Sarah!

    Reply
    • What a beautiful way to settle in for the night and reparent your inner child!

      Reply
  10. I have a friend a bit younger than me (she’s 23 and I’m 26). She’s had a few boyfriends in the past year, and the latest one she’s really falling hard for. She told me that while they’re a great match and they’re having so much fun, she’s afraid of learning something she didn’t like about him that would mean they would have to break up. (The last relationship fell apart because he wasn’t ambitious or outdoorsy enough, and the boyfriend before that because he was struggling with his sexuality.) In response to her disclosing her fear that she’d discover something she didn’t like, I said, “Well you will find something you don’t like; that’ll happen with anyone. It just boils down to whether it’s a dealbreaker or not.” She paused and didn’t seem to like my response – or maybe thought my response indicated that I was settling.

    It just made me think of the lessons I’ve learned while with my fiance (it’ll be 7 years in 2020), which were hard to learn and went against all I was told about love and relationships. It also made me think of how the culture promotes the pursuit of butterfly love, and encourages people to jump ship once differences or difficulties arise. Are there things I don’t like about my fiance? Yes, and there are things he doesn’t like about me. True love – the stuff our grandparents lasted on – wasn’t based on everything aligning perfectly, or the love being effortless; it lasted on choosing the other person, believing in their goodness, prioritizing their wellness, seeing their ugly side (provided it doesn’t include red flags) and deciding to bring love and compassion to their dark areas. Because we’re fed a very different story from a very young age (especially millennials like me), it takes conscious rewiring to meet these difficulties, and any anxiety about love, with curiosity and a mindset of learning.

    Reply
    • This is so very wise and very beautiful. Thank you for sharing here, A. Your voice is appreciated.

      Reply
  11. I have lived with my husband for 30 years, though we didn’t marry till year 18. In that time we have fallen in and out of love with each other numerous times! But underpinning this there has been an incremental deepening of the underlying love and friendship.

    In a recent post entitled Love Stories; happily ever after or true partnership? I wrote:

    “The love that endures the decades is not the sentimental, delusional stuff of glossy romance. Time has exposed unexpected strengths and skills, but also vulnerabilities and inabilities. There is nowhere to hide.

    In this narrative, the rich colours of joy and contentment, of achievement and fulfilment, are intertwined with the darker shades of despair, of doubt, of dashed dreams and struggle. These form a resilient rope of experience that connects us ever more deeply, yet never binds.

    To live this long this close is to witness both the best and the worst of self and other.

    There is something truly profound in knowing that your loved one has, at the very least, caught glimpses of your shadows, your demons, and not run screaming for the hills. I call this ‘embracing the 5%’. Sometimes I think it is harder to accept this gift than it is to give it.

    With the passing of time, I have come to understand that love exists not ‘despite’ our human imperfection but rather ‘because’ of it. The beautiful ability for true compassion is nourished by this understanding, not by the sterility of perfect people living perfect lives.

    To know another deeply is also to know how much you can never know; exquisite closeness and unfathomable distance co-exist.

    https://www.passagetojoy.com/love/love-stories/

    Reply
    • This is so incredibly beautiful, Gina. Thank you so much for sharing it here.

      Reply
  12. I find it the most challenging when me and my husband argue. Which is often. Which also doesn’t help my anxiety because I think “if we were truly inlove we wouldn’t argue this much. There would be more harmony” which I do really believe. When we argue I also think if I just loved him more I wouldn’t get so upset with him and have thoughts like “I don’t want this relationship. This sucks so much. I’m so unhappy. I don’t love him enough to get through years of this”. It all triggers my relationship anxiety that much more because it reminds me that I lack love for my husband. Our relationship didn’t start with an exhilarating honeymoon stage. I had maybe 2 weeks of those “honeymoon feelings” and that was it. I really wish we had had or I had had more butterflies in the beginning because I feel I wouldn’t doubt this as much. I’m so thankful for this blog because I would feel so alone and so crazy. I’m thankful I can come here and vent which is what I’m doing because my husband is locked in the washroom as I’m in the living room feeling bitter about how much we argue. Thanks for reading.

    Reply
    • C,

      My fiance and I argue a fair amount too. They say it’s healthy to argue because it means you’re still invested in the relationship, and it sorta makes sense too because your partner triggers you in a deep way, and you do the same to him. I have the same horrible thoughts after an argument. Just know that you’re not alone, and keep trying to repair the emotional safety after the argument. If the arguments are frequent, there’s likely something inside of you that needs healing. Part of it is probably attachment injuries, since most people with RA are anxious-preoccupied or avoidant. Peace.

      Reply
      • Thank you for your comment. It is reassuring in itself to know I am not alone in these feelings. It could be true about the arguing, it’s just so discouraging. All my relationships prior to my marriage had failed. I idolized love and romance and it was my life goal to find true love. My first heart ache ripped a hole in my heart and in my soul. It took me years to recover even when I’d find other lovers I still felt so attached to my first love. It’s like I had never fully healed from it. I wonder if all the wounds and disappointments in love has caused this relationship anxiety. Or my high expectations in love might have something to do with it too. I just sometimes wish I was experiencing love for the first time again. Like when I had my first love. It was so alive and new and exciting. I envy people who’ve married the first person they’ve ever had true feelings for because there’s no old wounds and damage from past loves and hurts. My first love had so much PDA and romance. Now when I see couples who embody that, I get so depressed. Praying for the light at the end of the relationship anxiety tunnel. Thanks for listening. God bless

        Reply
        • Wow, C – reading your comments (especially the last one) I do wonder if maybe I sleepwalked. It could have been me. I can open whole new levels of anxiety in my mind, like:

          -TRIGGER ALERT-

          Are A and C and myself just supporting each other in our lies?

          I feel I had no butterfly phase at all (how I envy your 2 weeks) and a lot of times I worry I am settling. In my case meaning I found a partner that I find is good looking, is a good man, will be a good father, has a great family and great values and I do get along with just fine. But we don’t have endless conversations about our future or how to end world hunger, we don’t just go out dancing the two of us … I could go on forever. I can tick off EVERYTHING that is mentioned on this homepage that could mean you suffer from RA. What a mess.

          And I can also only repeat what you are saying, C: thanks for “listening”.

          Reply
          • Hi Magda, I also have that same thought like “are we just supporting each other’s lies and convincing ourselves?”
            I started reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. (It’s a great read) and even in that book he says how true love cannot begin until that “inlove feeling” goes away. Which he also says, (he’s a very experienced marriage counselor) usually fades within two years. Which then leaves people needing to choose to love each other and to learn to speak each other’s love language. It reassured me.
            Yet I can definitely relate to you saying you can open new doors of anxiety in your mind. I get very triggered seeing couples on social media. I see countless examples of what looks like true love. Saying beautiful things about each other and how amazing and inlove they are with each other .. it’s a huge downer and depressor for me. I just long to feel madly inlove with my husband. Some people truly seem to have it so I get confused and depressed. Not to mention, almost every night I have dreams (I’m a vivid and consistent dreamer) of other men I fall inlove with. So I wake up most mornings feeling depressed and battling the thoughts in my mind. Why can I feel inlove with random men in my dream life and yet not feel those feelings in real life with my husband!? It’s horrible.
            Feeling for you and everyone else suffering with RA and just anxiety itself. God bless ❤️

            Reply
  13. Hi! Does remembering the feeling of being in love help you recover it? I’ve found in the past that when I’ve fallen prey to overthinking, remembering the feeling that I am currently missing helps me break out of my headspace. But it’s tricky because you can’t think yourself into a feeling. You have to just remember it. Does this sound legitimate to you?
    Thanks Sheryl!

    Reply

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