I know I’m supposed to love you but I hate you right now.
I wish I could tell you I’ve never thought that thought. But I have.
A whole bunch of counseling wisdom later, I can tell you that my “hate” was really just a massive pile of “hurt” that grew fangs and turned into “anger.” It started spewing blinding flames of blame. And it had a deafening battle cry of shame.
Funny… I thought my husband was such a monster… but the dragon in the story was actually me.
I was angry at him for turning me into this version of myself.
Furious that he backed me into a corner where I felt I had no choices.
Devastated that he couldn’t see, didn’t care, and wouldn’t listen.
I didn’t think he loved me anymore. And I certainly didn’t think I loved him. How did we fall out of love?
From that pitiful place full of lies I told myself, it was simple to justify the affair. It was easy to explain my behavior. I even wondered why nobody else felt sorry for me too.
Welcome to the land of delusion. Perspective is skewed there – reality viewed through the lenses of hurt and pain. There’s no way you can possibly see things objectively and so it feels like there’s only one way out.
We don’t really fall out of love
Hard truth here: we don’t really “fall out of love.” We intentionally step out of love. Or perhaps we carelessly walk away from it, one seemingly inconsequential step at a time. If you’re not making intentional forward progress in your marriage, you’re stagnant at best… and nothing good happens in a stagnant relationship. Stagnant turns to sad and unfulfilled faster than you realize.
Nobody stands at the altar and says, “you know, in a few years, it’d be great if we could stop caring about each other’s needs, fall out of love, and get divorced.”
No way! We start off with “forever” in mind. Time passes. Complacency happens slowly. Sneaky. And then one day you realize, I don’t love you anymore. I don’t feel like you love me anymore either. Are we done here? We have so much life left and we both deserve to be happy. (This is right, by the way, but we fail to realize that we deserve to be happy with each other. The world’s campaign for divorce is compelling and when you’re desperate, that way out starts looking good.)
When you’re at the end of your rope, love isn’t something you feel. It’s something you choose.
You see, at rock bottom you don’t have the luxury of a full tank of loving kindness to draw warm fuzzy feelings from. You don’t have funny stories to tell together, or even something to look forward to. You have hurt… pain… anger… betrayal… confusion… distrust… discouragement… shame… sadness… isolation. No wonder so many people feel that they fall out of love.
At that point, loving one another is a choice.
Before you bail here because that sounds depressing, I urge you to stay.
Loving your spouse is a choice every day
Some days are harder than others. I promise it won’t be that hard forever.
But if you want there to be a forever, you have to choose to love each other even on the days it feels impossible.
You will not feel loving feelings towards your spouse on days like this.
If you expect to, you will be frustrated and you will quit.
Even a simple “I love you” will feel like it weighs 10,000 pounds when you say it.
But… don’t stop saying I love you
Because eventually, even if you fall out of love, after choosing to love your person over and over and over again, those feelings of love will come back. It might take a month, or even a year. You won’t even notice it at first. Maybe the first realization you have is “wow, I don’t think I called him a name today.” Or you might find yourself actually laughing at something he said. The rebuilding is slow. Brick by heavy and broken brick.
Marriage is the hardest job on the planet. We are flawed people sharing our humanity and our bathroom sinks with one another. It’s going to be messy. It’s going to feel easier to quit. The world is going to tell you it’s better to quit. Maybe it is. But we didn’t quit, so all I know is the fight to make it better. And I can say with every fiber of my being that the sweetness of our chapter 2 is worth every slammed door and tear that fell in chapter 1.
If you’re in a fall out of love:
Choose to stay in the game.
Stay in the house. Stay in the bed. Burn the plows – don’t toss around threats or start planning the next phase of your life without each other. Keep your focus forward and choose actions and words that will build each other – and your marriage – up one step at a time.
Give each other grace.
You’re going to blow it and so is he. It doesn’t mean you’re monsters or are trying to sabotage each other. New patterns are hard to establish, and 100 times harder when you don’t trust or love each other. It’s going to be messy. Breathe through it, dust yourselves off, and try again.
Tell each other what you need to feel loved, and be willing to do those things for your spouse.
Someone has to be the first to yield. There is no winner in a standoff contest – only sad losers. “You make me feel loved when you help me get the kids ready for school.” “You make me feel loved when you ask me about my day and really listen, with your phone off.” “You make me feel loved when you don’t bring up ______ when things are tense.” Listen when they speak, honor the other person’s feelings even if you think they are ridiculous, and be willing to invest the time and energy to make them feel loved. If you can’t even utter the words “I love you” right now, here are 101 ways to say it without actually saying it.
If you never want to fall out of love:
Keep the love tank – and your own tank – full.
Nothing good happens when those reserves run out. Stay healthy and stay connected to each other. Those little things that make your spouse’s eyes light up? Do them, with wild abandon, whenever you can. There’s no shame in dropping a blatant hint or request if you need something done for you, too. We all need help knowing how we can be a better partner.
Remember that words matter.
When something is wrong, address it. If you feel misunderstood, say it more clearly.
It’s not their fault for misunderstanding you – it’s your fault for miscommunicating.
OUCHIE! This is one of the hardest truths I’ve ever had to learn. Here’s a better way to think: it’s my responsibility to communicate my thoughts and needs effectively to my people.
Keep good company.
Who in your life lifts and supports you as a couple? Family, friends, church, a mentor? Those people are worth their weight in gold. They will encourage you when you need it, speak truth especially when you need to hear it, and celebrate every step of the journey with you, good, bad, or ugly.
Your feelings are valid – but they can’t make your decisions
You may not feel loved or loving. But if you operated the rest of your life based on feelings like this, you’d never go to work, you’d never eat healthy food, you’d definitely never exercise, and you probably wouldn’t keep any relationships at all.
As hard as it may seem, if you fall out of love it’s critical to base your actions on your future and not your feelings. While feelings are real, and we do have to acknowledge and honor them, feelings are fickle. And in my very real experience, most negative feelings I experience are magnified by my own insecurities.
At my most broken and insecure, do I really want to trust that version of me and let her drive the ship? Am I really going to let that girl make my major life decisions?
Dig deep and choose to stay in a place of love
Tap into the strongest version of yourself – the mentally tough one, the compassionate and understanding one, the one driven by purpose and not by ego. What would she say? How would she act?
She would do something kind, and say I love you, even if it’s through clenched teeth. She would swallow her pride and curb her attitude, listen sincerely and respond without pettiness or sarcasm, and choose to take a step forward.
It takes work. Especially if you don’t feel loved or loving in this moment. But imagine: there will come a day when you look back on this season with gratitude that you chose to stay in a place of love. Your future and your family’s future is worth the fight.
PS: It takes help and community to come back from a fall out of love. We enlist coaches for our businesses and health and so why not invest the time and money in a counselor for your most valuable relationship?
In addition – I’m not a counselor, but I like to send encouragement and helpful tested-in-battle tips to your inbox once a week. Just subscribe and you’ll be on my list. Cheering for you, always. <3