One of the hardest moments that I see when I work with couples is when one person says that they aren’t in love anymore. It can be crushing when we think that we must be “in love” to have a good relationship, and that if we aren’t, something must be wrong. The truth is that love takes many shapes and forms, and part of being IN love is remembering how to DO love.
Falling Out of Love
The people that tell me they’ve fallen out of love with their partner usually can’t pinpoint the exact reason. It tends to be a combination of things, like the honeymoon stage ending, getting wrapped up in day to day life, and feeling like they’re in a rut. They still LIKE their partner, but don’t feel love how they want to. This is the mistake. Love isn’t only a feeling, it’s an action, too! And we can take ourselves out of love without even noticing it.
One reason we step back from love is because we feel hurt, which is bound to happen in any close relationship. We step back out of survival, to protect ourselves from any further pain. It’s an instinctual way of meeting our basic need for safety, security, and assurance. Ironically, we need to feel safe in order to feel pleasure (love), but we can’t when we are focused on surviving. The more we pull back, the further we get from our partner and the feeling of love.
We all have emotional triggers, based on our experiences and how we internalized them. The beliefs we create around those experiences eventually guide our decisions and actions. If you’re not getting what you want in your relationship (like feeling in love), it will help to look at what you’re doing and what’s causing this action. Is there something triggering a survival instinct?
Emotional triggers are events, things, experiences, or people that cause the mind and body to react. You’ll know you’re triggered when you feel an intense emotional shift regardless of your current mood. You can be fine in one moment, but when your partner says or does something, you feel an immediate shift. It could be physical or emotional tension, anger, or even sadness. You’ve been triggered.
When you’re triggered, your fight or flight stress response kicks in and you move into survival mode. I also call this “protection” mode. You put up walls to keep yourself safe and you respond from behind them. Some common triggers in relationships could be that your partner is distracted by work, is on their phone all the time, spends too much time focusing on the kids, or doesn’t touch you anymore. If you perceive your partner’s actions as negative or threatening, you’ll find yourself behind that wall. It’s a coping mechanism designed to protect you, but it’s doing nothing to protect your relationship.
An Alternative to Building Walls
You build walls around yourself because something has happened to you or you’ve seen something that required them. You needed them to keep you safe. In a relationship, though, the walls serve as nothing but barriers to what you desire. Love and connection require you to come out behind that wall. It’s an act of courage to surrender and welcome closeness back into your life, and one that may be scary at first. Taking this action though, is what “doing” love looks like. It’s opening the gate and letting someone in.
I like the gate metaphor, because a gate allows you to have boundaries while still being open to letting someone in. You get to decide. Opening the gate to your partner is an opportunity for you to practice meeting your higher need for love and connection, versus closing off to satisfy the lower need of certainty. You don’t need to be IN love when you can DO love.
Love is an action word as much as it is a feeling, and acting from love is a powerful gift to both you and your partner. Practice opening your heart, and seeing your partner from this place. Notice when you are reacting or moving back behind your walls, and do something different than what you’d normally do. How can you open the gate, rather than close it? As you keep stretching and learning and evolving, your love will become deeper and stronger, and you’ll learn to soothe your triggers with love.