Falling out of love is one of the most accepted reasons for a break-up.
It shouldn’t be.
My boyfriend and I have fallen out of love many times in our 11-year relationship.
It hasn’t stopped us from staying together and working to fall in love with each other again. When love dies, you bring it back to life.
You can fall out of love with someone, but you can also fall in love with them over and over again.
Because loving someone is a choice. That’s what people mean when they say “relationships are hard work”.
Why did we fall out of love?
Usually, the reason for our falling out of love wasn’t anything dramatic.
We’d get distracted by work and lose touch. Everyday annoyances and hurts would build up — we’d tip into Negative Sentiment Override. Which is pioneering love researcher John Gottman’s fancy way of saying: We couldn’t stand each other anymore.
Negative Sentiment Override = when it starts to feel like you don’t love each other anymore.
Dr. Patrick Keelan, registered psychologist, explains sentiment override like this:
“ Sentiment override refers to the couple’s overall perspective on each other and the relationship which they carry with them into each interaction they have […].
Their perspective on each other stems from the quality of their relationship friendship.“
So there’s good and bad sentiment override. When you fall out of love, that’s negative sentiment override.
When you spend quality time with each other to connect, you’ll get what is called positive sentiment override. It means that you two like each other. You see each other in a positive light.
Obviously, we think that people would choose a partner they liked. Which mostly they do, but it’s hard to like someone when you resent them because you had to do the laundry again.
When they continue to irritate you by loading the dishwasher wrong and committing other everyday sins, it‘s hard to look at your partner and feel all lovey-dovey.
Which means that when you’re fighting, it’s hard to have productive fights: you’re angry and annoyed:
“[…] They will bring this negative perspective to their discussions of issues. This makes it much more likely that the couple will have negative thoughts and feelings about each other during these discussions.”
That’s when things turn into negative sentiment override. Now don’t worry — it’s curable and we’ll get to that later. But first, let’s look at some more negative side effects of not liking your partner very much.
The result of negative sentiment override
Once you’ve tripped over into negative sentiment override, you’ll find it much easier to spot negative things about your partner.
This is not good. We need a bit of a rose-colored lens we see our partner through, otherwise, we’re not going to be happy.
Here are some things you might hate about your partner right now:
- He never cleans up his desk. I hate that he’s so messy.
- If she says “tomahto” one more time I’m going to scream!
- They didn’t make a doctor’s appointment again. Why do I always have to run after them? Anne from work seems like an organized person…
When thoughts like these prevail for a long time, that’s bad for your relationship. Obviously. It’s easy to stop loving someone when you’re always angry about them never doing the laundry.
Sure, it’s okay to not love your partner 100% all the time. That’s normal. But once you tip over into negative sentiment override, it’s so easy for the bad feelings to pile up.
The worse you feel, the harder it will be to spot positive things about your partner. The fact that they picked you up in the rain goes unnoticed. When your friends compliment your luck because your partner is “such a creative person” is always followed by a “Yeah, but…” in your head.
When people fall out of love, they often mistake negative sentiment override for the death of their relationship
So, what can we do to get out of negative sentiment override?
Let’s look at this quote from Dr. Patrick Keelan as our starting point:
“ […] if the couple does not spend enough time connecting […], their perspective on the relationship and toward each other will be negative.”
We don’t connect enough = negative sentiment override
We connect regularly = positive sentiment override
The #1 thing you can do to feel in love with your partner is to spend quality time connecting with each other. Note that Dr. Patrick Keelan didn’t say “if the couple doesn’t solve their hardest relationship issues they’ll never be happy.”
Thinking positive thoughts about your partner, liking them and feeling in love with them depend on you two spending quality time with each other. It’s as simple as that. But of course, it’s easy to lose touch in our everyday lives. Don’t underestimate how dangerous this is.
Less positive moments with each other while the bad ones keep on piling up → recipe for disaster
Likewise, don’t underestimate how powerful a few hours of enjoyable free time can be for your relationship.
How to save your relationship when you’ve fallen out of love
Just because you can’t stand your partner does NOT indicate it’s time to break up.
Let me repeat that: Things not feeling romantic between you anymore, that’s not a reason to break up.
You searching for feelings and finding that you have no love left for this person does not mean it’s time to break up.
If you’re having a crappy time most of the time, that’s not a reason to break up.
That’s a warning sign.
It means that if you keep going down this path, you will (and probably should) break up eventually.
BUT: These bad feelings can be reversed, and quite quickly.
Talking more, doing fun things again, showing your partner that you appreciate them. That will tip you into positive sentiment override again.
Which will make it so much easier to find solutions to your relationship problems.
If this sounds too simplistic, read Gottman’s book that has all the science behind these “easy” solutions.
In the beginning, it might feel disappointing to try and spend time with your partner. They might not be enthusiastic — remember, they too might not like you that much right now.
The first few times you go on dates might not end with you passionately crumbling the sheets. But it will get easier to spend time with each other again, and if you talk and connect, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start to feel love again.
That’s what happens to me and my partner of 11 years all the time. Last year we had one of our worst crisis of all time. We had never been so close to throwing in the towel. But we had a small weekend getaway planned and so we took the trip.
During those three days, we opened up and talked, talked, talked. We ate Italian pizza and sweated on our motorbike in the 35°C degree heat. And we remembered why we loved each other. Better yet, we remembered why we were badass together — and thinking you’re the most badass couple around is something Dr. Gottman highly recommends.
How do I know if my partner isn’t right for me?
Just because it’s possible to turn most relationships around does not mean that all relationships should be saved.
You shouldn’t stay with someone who is bad for you. Or keep a crappy relationship going just because you could.
But if you used to have a solid relationship you can turn things around.
You can fall in love again. A lot of problems can be fixed.
Most relationships can be saved if they have (or used to have) a foundation of shared values, respect, and trust.
If you used to have a good time together, made each other laugh — there’s a good chance you can do it again.
Not all hope is lost.
The real how-to
I recommend John Gottman’s book “The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work”.
It’s what my boyfriend and I turn to. You know how most relationship books leave you with vague advice like “communicate with respect”? Barf! This book is practical. It’s the first book that’s actually making a difference in my relationship.
How to know if your relationship is fixable
- Was there a time when your relationship was actually good? When you made each other laugh and were crazy about each other?
- None of you is verbally or physically abusive?
- You hate a lot of things about your partner now, but you used to like and respect them a lot?
If your answer is “yes” to all of the above, I’d guess your relationship is fixable. If you want to fix it, that is.
Also published on Medium.