“I Don’t Love You Anymore” Is Not a Reason to Break Up

Falling out of love is one of the most accepted reasons for a break-up.

It shouldn’t be.

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”.

This doesn’t mean that you have to stay with someone forever just because you could make it work.

If you believe you’d be happier without your person, then you don’t have to force yourself to repair the relationship and sacrifice your happiness to save your union.

Why do people fall out of love?

Usually, the reason for our falling out of love isn’t a dramatic one.

You might get distracted by work and lose touch. Everyday annoyances build up — and tip you into Negative Sentiment Override. That is pioneering love researcher John Gottman’s fancy way of saying: You can’t stand your partner anymore.

Negative Sentiment Override = when it starts to feel like you don’t love each other anymore.

Falling out of love = negative sentiment override

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 resentments build up as they do in relationships.

When your partner continues 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.

And keep in mind that not all partners will treat you with respect – even if they like and love you (red flag).

How negative sentiment override affects your fights

When you are in negative sentiment override it’s going to be hard to have productive fights.  You’re angry and annoyed at your partner, you don’t like them very much and they drive. you. insane.

Our smart friend Dr. Patrick Keelan describes it like this:

“[…] [Couples] 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.”

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.

What does negative sentiment override do to your relationship?

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 folding the towels wrong.

And yes, it’s okay to not love your partner 100% all the time. That’s normal. But when 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” your head follows that up with a “Yeah, but…”. Even if their creativity was what drew you to them in the first place.

You have fallen out of love – how do you know if you should break up?

Just because you can’t stand your partner right now does NOT mean 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 an automatic 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 of yours can be reversed, and quite quickly.

How to save your relationship when you’ve fallen out of love

Here is the most important takeaway of this article:

When people fall out of love, they often mistake negative sentiment override for the death of their relationship. But it’s not. There are things you can do to be happy again.

Let’s look at another 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.”

Translation:

  • We don’t connect enough = negative sentiment override
  • We connect regularly = positive sentiment override

That’s good news! This is something you can control.

How you spend your time as a couple affects how connected you feel. So there’s something you can do to heal your relationship even if negative sentiment override is running the show right now.

How to overcome negative 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, actually liking them as a person, 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 piling up – that’s a recipe for disaster.

Likewise, don’t underestimate how powerful a few hours of shared free time can be for your relationship.

What you can do to get out of negative sentiment override

Talk more, do fun things again, show 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, I recommend you read Gottman’s book. It has all the science behind these “easy” solutions.

What to do if your partner doesn’t react to your efforts

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 crumbled-up bed sheets. But it will get easier to spend time with each other again, and if you talk and connect, there is hope that you’ll be able to rekindle your love.

Try to open up to each other. Talk, talk, talk and laugh together. Enjoy good pizza, or whatever your favorite couple activity is. 

You might just remember why you love each other.

Better yet, you might remember why you are badass together — and thinking you’re the most badass couple around is something relationship experts highly recommend.

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 foundation and you want to keep building a life with your person – awesome.

You can turn things around.

You can fall in love again.

You can solve problems and find good compromises.

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.

A book recommendation

If you want a proper strategy for increasing your relationship satisfaction, I recommend John Gottman’s book “The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work”.

Most relationship books leave you with vague advice like “communicate with respect”. Eurgh, thanks for nothing, right? Don’t worry. This book is practical.

Reflection Questions: Can your relationship be saved?

Ask yourself:

  • 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.

Author: Iris

Iris Barzen is a psychologist + productivity coach est. 2013.