Often couples find that the peak of their feeling of “being in love” occurs during engagement, the wedding ceremony, and the first months of marriage. They do not believe that it is even possible for this intense, wonderful emotion to wane. But eventually this emotional high subtly shifts as life begins to take over.
At some point in their marriage, one or both partners no longer “love” each other as much as they did at first – and certainly not as much as they want to. Irritation begins to replace those romantic feelings. Angry exchanges are followed by regrets.
We Cannot Simply Decide that We Will “Feel in Love.”
We cannot “will” ourselves to feel love for our spouse. Nor can we “will” our spouse to love us.
And when a person does not feel “in love” with their spouse or sense “love” from their spouse, the reaction varies. Some become aggressive in trying to “solve the problem” — often pushing their partner away in the process. Some lash out in anger. Some “nag” and almost continually coach their spouse on how they should be acting to make the marriage better.
Dangerous Patterns Develop
When a couple comes to me (often in desperation), they have developed a pattern that feels good “in the moment” – but has resulted in frustration, anger, and even bitterness.
This “new norm” of interacting with each other evolved slowly, but has now become the natural flow of their conversations, actions, and emotions. Each considers the other person to be the problem. “I am simply reacting to what they say and do” or “If only he/she would change, our marriage would be great!”
After listening to a couple recount their own version of the last two or three arguments, it soon becomes evident that the specific situation does not really matter. Their conversations have become a habit with each one “pushing” the other’s button, with a very predictable reaction.
My question to them becomes: “How is that working for you?”
Both agree with a passion: It is NOT working at all!
If I Do Not Feel in Love, What Can I Do?
Although we cannot will ourselves to feel the passionate, emotional love that we crave (and at first experienced), we can take several steps in that direction.
We can will ourselves to VALUE our spouse.
How? Many secular research studies have demonstrated that most couples need to show their spouse that they value them through words or actions at least five times more often than giving a complaint or criticism.
This is so hard to do – especially if we have developed a habit of rolling eyes, using skeptical tone of voice, or purposefully ignoring our spouse.
How can we value someone who irritates us or treat us with contempt?
This is almost impossible to do on our own. We need to see our spouse through God’s eyes, from His perspective. He holds our spouse in high regard. He can provide us with His perspective of their value.
We can then begin to purposefully seek ways to treat our spouse as another child of God – as a fellow heir of all God has to offer.
Practical Ways to Create a New Pattern
Often we find that we tend to discount the positive character qualities and actions of our spouse because we are looking for reasons to be irritated. If they do something kind to someone else, our response is one of “why not me?” We tend to focus on ourselves and our needs instead of the positive aspects of our spouse.
Be purposeful in making a positive comment about our observation.
Place value in the commitment and marriage relationship itself.
In most workplace situations, we find ourselves more engaged in our responsibilities and relationships when we are invested in the future of the career and the company. We use the term “short timer” to describe someone who has already provided a date of separation and not thinking long-term. They are no longer interested in their future there and are merely “putting in the time” until their last day.
We can have the same view of our marriage. If we are not placing value in our own commitment to the marriage, our spouse, and our own vow to God, then our perspective slips into finding reasons to separate and leave. Every irritation is another notch on the memory that we will use some time in the future.
If we instead place value on our spouse and the marriage, we look for reasons to forgive, to plan for the future, and to invest our time, energy, emotions.
We are willing to take risks because we have confidence that the future is important.
Place value in “us”
By valuing our spouse, even though we do not “feel” in love, we are raising the importance of the relationship above our own interests. We begin to realize that our interpretation of their behavior has been skewed by our negative attitudes and expectations.
The result? Studies show that by making a decision on placing a higher value on our spouse and our relationship than ourselves, that sense of “being in love” will begin to return.
The question we need to ask ourselves: Is it worth the risk?
After all, how is what you are doing working for you?
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil 2:3-4
After working as a Chemical Engineer for 36 years, Steve Fox took early retirement so that he could focus his full-time attention on helping others to discover how to improve or repair their marriages as well as other family relationships. Steve also helps others begin to “dream” about what will help them become fulfilled in their career and life.
Steve earned an MA in Counseling from LSU and is now a National Certified Counselor and Counselor Intern with Crossroads. He has worked with couples on a ministry basis for over 20 years and has a counseling focus with couples, families, career coaching, and addiction counseling with families.
Steve’s complete bio can be found here.