Falling in love is an experience we idealise; a state of being we are told will bring us the ultimate happiness and satisfaction in life. It’s an aspirational goal for the lonely, broken-hearted and singularly defeated people. It happens so spontaneously, so “in the moment”.
There is no work nor preparation involved. Is there any wonder we yearn for those unencumbered early stages of in–love feelings? So much so, that we constantly seek them, both in and out of our primary relationships
In an in-love state, compromising, selfless, pleasing and attentive behaviour is exhibited. Once the in-love state moves into the natural next phase love, challenges begin, as differentiation asserts itself: “I like sleeping in on a Sunday, so no more lovemaking on Sunday mornings”, “That fine top you wore when we fell in love is way too revealing. I don’t want you to wear it any longer… ”
Adjustments and adaptations are made, and they live happily ever after…
Except for the many who stumble out of love. Did you know that lack of love is the most commonly cited reason for divorce, followed by infidelity and lack of communication?! You may wonder how you fell from bliss into abysmally dark and distant feelings and finally into indifference. Emotional indifference is the direct opposite of love.
When love is intensely emotional with a sexual connection, the minute indifference creeps in, that is the end of love — you have flatlined. When you have very few strong positive emotions and several negative emotions towards your partner and your relationship, this epitomises “romantic disengagement”, also known as “marital disaffection”.
Perhaps you are moving into marital disaffection after years of conflict, disappointments and dissatisfaction. You feel a gradual deterioration of love and emotional attachment, a decline in care –– all related to your indifference to your partner. You are emotionally divorced. You want to leave your relationship, as you find it stale or boring, or you no longer find your partner attractive –– or you feel neglected.
But you stay, because you feel there is still some love left, you fear abandonment and the loneliness, and you worry about the impact on the children and societal stigma. Yet his/her controlling behaviour, lack of responsibility taking and emotional support finally drive you into indifference.
A woman described this gradual process to me. After her second child, she felt enormous anger and disappointment in her partner, as he did not assist her at this critical time. She found herself moving into not caring any longer, and became hopeless. She stopped nagging and fighting with him. When she got involved in a two-year affair, she did not feel as if she was cheating, as she had romantically disengaged from her husband and felt she had fallen out of love with him.
I wonder how you deal with marital disaffection: do you file for divorce, resign yourself to a poor marital life, cheat, or work hard to overcome your relationship problems?
If you’re feeling somewhat anxious reading this blog, stop, breathe, and check how stable you actually are in your intimate relationship.
My recommendation to you is this: track your own progression from romantic disengagement and marital disaffection to indifference.
Here is a three-stage model of disaffection presented by Kerston (1990) for you to measure yourself against:
Stage 1: Qualities of your partner that you found positive are increasingly perceived as negative. You feel disillusioned with the marriage and disappointed in your partner. However, you’re not thinking of ending your relationship yet. Instead, you take responsibility for your relationship stuff and try to please and accommodate your partner. You want to keep your relationship/marriage intact due to social, cultural, religious, familial and financial pressures.
Stage 2: Now your feelings of disillusionment dissipate, and your feelings of anger intensify. You begin to assert your opinions, feelings, and behaviours instead of pleasing your partner. You become preoccupied with your partner’s negative qualities and lose sight of her/his positive qualities. But you’re still assessing the costs and rewards of marriage.
Stage 3: Your strong feelings of anger and hurt are replaced with indifference. You become more public about your unhappiness, and you make infrequent efforts to solve marital problems. However, you feel sorrow and pain for your relationship breakdown and pity for your partner. You go into therapy. Perhaps not to repair the relationship, but rather to seek professional help to elegantly leave the relationship, relieve guilt or be reassured by a professional that leaving is the right thing to do.
The fact is, few people fall back in love again. Few recover from romantic disengagement and indifference.
My recommendation to you is this: track your own progression from romantic disengagement and marital disaffection to indifference. Catch yourself quickly. As you feel your heart hardening, your thoughts about your partner turning nasty and your energy and desire to fight diminishing, go to a therapist. Love is supposed to hurt in the kindest and caring manner. When you stop feeling this glorious pain, get out.