Not In Love

Patrick from New Jersey

Q: I have been married for 9 years and have two children. Recently my wife told me that she was unhappy with me always working on house projects every weekend. She said she feels like a single parent and that her feelings for me have changed. She does not love me anymore. I have not been trying to avoid my wife or children. I thought it was the right thing to do. I told my wife that I would stop doing things for them and do more things “with” them. My wife hurt me deeply by saying she does not love me. I love her very much and want her to love me again. What can I do to?

A: Patrick. Try to keep in mind that your wife not loving you is not about your lovability, only about your current situation. If she loved you before, she probably now has accumulated too much pain and anger to feel love. Don’t think that she can quickly change that. You will need to first determine whether she will work with you to try to restore a healthier emotional environment in your family. Do NOT make any demands on her to quickly change her feelings and try to love you again. Your best strategy is to reassure her that you understand that she has lost her love for you and you don’t blame her. Then, don’t look for any immediate change of heart on her part. However, if she’s willing to work with you, then see if she will make a lot of plans for scheduling in time together – time as a family as well as time as a couple away from the kids. Also, go to the section of the Marital First Aid Kit that deals with emotional-starvation syndrome. Read it and have her read it. Then try what it suggests.  Patrick. If you do find it difficult to break free of house projects, then consider that you may be very uncomfortable with emotional intensity. If this is the case, consider joining a psychotherapy group that focuses on relationship skills. You would learn a lot but also it would de-condition whatever shame or anxiety leads you to escape into responsibility. It may also be that you have a hard time playing. I don’t know but consider that as well. – Bryce Kaye

Paige from Newelton, La

Q: I have been married for seven years, and my husband decides he does not know if he loves me anymore or even if he loved me ever. What do I do…. let him take the time and make up his mind? This has been going on for three weeks now. I don’t know if I can sit and wonder any longer.

A: Paige. What a painful place in which to be. I’m sorry….but yes, it would be best to let him have some distance. You may negotiate with him that, for the time being, you will be interacting with him less because it is painful to be around his indecision. You may also let him know that, while you will back off some to let him work on his confusion, you will also not put your life on hold forever. Whatever you do, I strongly suggest that you do not give him an ultimatum for making his decisions. If he drags on, you may need to PRIVATELY decide when your absolute time limit is reached (for staying in the marriage). Do not give him a timeframe for making his decision. Give yourself the timeframe instead. The reason I suggest all of this is that he’s already confused. He doesn’t need to be reacting to any control issue with you to further complicate his confusion. You may also gently offer that you are willing to go to a marriage therapist with him, if and when he feels ready. Good luck. – Bryce Kaye

Brandy from Alexandria, La


A:A: Brandy. It sounds like you may be having difficulty respecting him but respect isn’t the only dimension. You may also have difficulty in the long run if you crave stimulation and he’s not going to give it to you. If you have an appetite for intellectual stimulation, adventuring, etc. and that’s not his forte, then it might not be a good match. It sounds like you want him to change. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything necessarily wrong with the way he is. Like I said before, it may not be a good match. But if you can’t respect his values and interests, then that’s a big problem. I would suggest that you need to get yourself to the point that you can accept him for the way he is before you hitch up for the long term. It’s very dangerous (and perhaps dishonest) to commit to a long term relationship expecting to change that person. – Bryce Kaye

Claudia from Dubuque, La

Q: I am in need of an objective opinion and some advice. My husband of nine years has recently told me that he no longer loves me. This has come as quite a surprise to me. I will admit that we have drifted apart for the last two years. We both live very independent lives. We work opposite shifts from one another and have two children ages 1 and 3. Our conversations has been limited to chores and errands and little else. I have tried to engage my husband in considering that we need to try to make changes in our schedule and put forth an effort to be together. He believes that marriage should not take so much “work” and “effort”. He seems to be rather uncomfortable around me at this time. He states that he needs me to give him space and would like me to quickly switch gears and be his friend. We don’t argue and fight when we are together. I just don’t understand how he can so easily give up on our marriage. He states that I am an attractive, successful women and that he just no longer has any romantic feelings for me. I know that I can not make him try or make him love me. But I just know in my heart that if he would put forth some effort we can be very happy again. He is a very good father and a fine person, I have a lot of respect for him. I am just shocked that the man that I have loved so much, for so long has so little consideration for our marriage. Should I just let him go? Should I give him all the space he needs and hope that he finds his way back to me. I just wish that someone other than myself would tell him that a long term relationship takes some work. I feel like I have too much to lose, to just stand back and do nothing. Please advise.

A: Claudia. I would ask him what “space” means and especially how long he needs it. If he can’t be specific about what he’s willing to get back in and work on the relationship, it would not be reasonable to indefinitely put your life on hold. I would suggest letting him know that whatever space he wants needs to be paired with his accountability for when and in what form he will work on the relationship. Otherwise, I would suggest not buying what he’s selling. If he can’t be accountable for his responsibility for working in the relationship, then you need to consider your other options. – Bryce Kaye

Ashley from Vancouver, BC, Canada

Q: I have been married for 8 years now and for the past year feel like I don’t even like my husband any more, never mind love him. So many little things bother me. Is this normal, and will time improve on it? Is there anything I can do to get my marriage back on track?

A: Ashley. No, it is unlikely that time alone will improve things. In fact, continuing as is will likely lead to more negative feelings. Obviously I can’t tell what’s eating at you but I would look in 3 areas if I were you: 1) Am I getting pursued by him and is he curious about how I think and feel? If not, check out the emotional deprivation section in the Marital First Aid Kit. 2) Do I feel controlled by his agenda and am I being proactively assertive in initiating and negotiating my own agenda in the relationship. If you’re under-assertive and not sufficiently pro-active, you will get turned off because of your own need for autonomy. If this is the case, then get into therapy. 3) Is my husband overly dependent to the extent that I’m feeling smothered?. Does he seem able to take care of himself or is he constantly seeking reassurance? If so, then confront him about needing to go to a counselor together. I hope this helps. – Bryce Kaye

Faye from Scottsdale, Az

Q: How can a marriage be brought back together when one says they love you but they are not in love with you? At one time that person was madly in love with the other person.

A: Faye. Most partners in a marriage lose the in-love feelings within 3 years. That’s in most marriages and it’s not because anything is wrong. The really good marriages involve a transition to what I call “sentimental loving” based upon respect, honesty, and judicious risk-taking with each other to keep things lively and exciting. I don’t know if there’s anything else at play in your situation but I would suggest that you not get hung up on the “madly in love” thing. Instead, you need to ask whether the other person is pursuing intimacy with you, respecting you, and putting in effort to work the relationship. If love is occurring within such a context, be grateful. If not, then work on how you both are treating each other. Don’t focus so much on the passion because that’s the end product, not a productive place to start working on the relationship. – Bryce Kaye

Candy from New York, NY

Q: If one partner falls out of love for various reasons is it possible to regain that feeling again?

A: Candy. The answer is usually not (if you’re talking about the real “in love”). But bear in mind that almost all committed couples living together will lose the “in love” feeling anyway within 3 years. What most of the more fortunate couples do is to make a transition to a different kind of loving that I like to call “sentimental loving.” Don’t worry. Sentimental loving can still be hot and passionate at times. However, most sentimental loving is based on much less illusion than the “in love” feelings. Sentimental loving will vary over time and even sometimes be eclipsed by other feelings. And, sentimental loving can be rebuilt many times if both people work responsibly and with respect.- Bryce Kaye

Bill from Ronkonkoma, NY

Q: I am very much in love with my wife. The problem is we have 4 kids and I have worked so much the past few years my wife has grown distant from me. She says I’m a great provider, good father to our children, sex is great, but she is no longer “in love” with me. She wants to separate because she is not happy, but we cannot afford that and she will not move in with her mom. Since these feelings she has had, I have made several adjustments to give her space like work my 2nd job 3 nights a week instead of 4, when I come home relieve her from the stress of taking care of the children and letting her go and do what she wants when I get home. This does not seem to be working and she even stated to me “I think I need to see if there is anyone out there for me”, but I will not tolerate living at home while the woman I love so much is searching for a new love. But on the other hand I cannot leave my 3 daughters (5,5,8), they mean the world to me and I know they would be devastated. Every night I come home I get an upset stomach because of the coldness from the woman I so dearly love. She says she wants nothing more than to be in love with me but she can’t control her feelings. I’m very scared and stuck, I don’t know what to do. Can you help?

A: Dear Bill, Your situation is an extremely hard one. If your wife truly wants to separate, then you will need to accept this and work with her on the logistics to do so. However, if she will not move in with her mother and cannot afford to separate, then you should not be inflicted the agony of her sexual pursuit of others while living with you. One suggestion I would have is to let go of any demands or expectation that she try to be “in love” with you. You describe a home situation that would quickly squash these feelings in most couples: She’s tending to 3 small children and you’re working nearly around the clock. How often have you and she been together for fun, AWAY FROM THE CHILDREN? “In-love” usually doesn’t stand a chance when people compress themselves into so much responsibility for a long period of time. Read the Marital First Aid Kit’s emotional starvation syndrome. Does it apply? If so, try the intervention if you’re wife is still willing. – Bryce Kaye

Randy from Victor, Mt

Q: My wife is telling me she is not “in love” with me anymore and is wanting a divorce or to at least move out and get some counseling to try and figure out why she is not “in love” with me. I am in love with her and don’t want to let go of our relationship. We have three children and I don’t want them to live in broken homes. we got married young and I think she feels she missed out on some things in life. I don’t want to get a divorce but I don’t want her to move out either what can I do?

A: Randy, I’m sorry but your best strategy is to accept her right to choose and to resist pressuring her. Although she may get divorced, the respectful route is also your best possibility (not probability) of a possible reconciliation. The more you show that you can respectfully give her distance, the more attractive you will be in her ambivalence. It’s important at this point to avoid showering her with messages of affection and proclamations of your love. That would likely repulse her now. Instead, you might give her a standing invitation to get into marital counseling with you if she changes her mind. Then don’t belabor the point. Remember, you only have a little bit of influence, not control. It may not turn out how you want but it’s the best route for her and for you as well. – Bryce Kaye

Diane from Chicago, Il

Q: I’ve been married for 22 years. I hate my husband. He comes home from work screaming at me and calling me names. I work fulltime and cook an elaborate dinner every night. He tells me I do nothing for the family. I want to leave but we have 3 boys. One in college and 2 in high school. I don’t want them to have a difficult time in school. I think I could make it till my youngest attends college. I dread being alone with my husband. I dream about being without him. I keep telling myself I am a good person but he tries to make me feel terrible. I love my children but he gets them against me. My middle son says I shouldn’t talk back and then he wouldn’t’ yell but I say I am an adult and don’t have to be told what to do. Please help me.

A: Diane. Your relationship is obviously in very bad shape. The way you frame the situation, you don’t even specify that you want anything from your husband except out. You tell your story like you’re trapped and you can’t wait until you get out. If that’s the way it really is, then be sure to get your support from a women’s support group. However, you might want to invite your husband to see if he would be willing to go get some professional help. Even if the two of you only want an “arrangement” to last only until the kids are gone, it sounds like you both might aspire for a more respectful arrangement than the one you have. It’s time for both of you to decide if you’re willing to bring in a professional to restore some peace. – Bryce Kaye

Susan from Mount, Mn

Q: I have been married 10 years. Over the years I have found much personal growth, and have realized that I married my husband for the wrong reasons. We couldn’t be more different, although I respect so many things about him. He has proven to be a wonderful husband and a great father, and compared to some men I know, I shouldn’t complain. I love many things about my husband but do not feel that I am in love with him. We see life differently. I am frustrated with his immaturity, low self esteem, and little ability to be honest with himself. These personal traits have always been a problem for me and I have no sensual attraction to him because of it. The hard part is that his good traits are also very important to me. My husband truly adores me, and is being hurt by my lack of adoration to him. I have no sexual attraction to him at all and he is having a hard time with that. He tries to live with it but it has caused quite a few fights. We have been to therapy, which in my opinion did not do much for him, because of his lack of understanding of deep emotional issues. I on the other hand am afraid of breaking up our family (we have a 5 yr. old daughter) and have told myself that I could live with what I have. I’m not sure how good this may be for anyone. Can you help?

A: Susan, I’m sorry it has taken so long for my reply but North Carolina has been frozen under snow for about the past week. Ordinary life came to a frozen halt. As to your question, I’m afraid there’s only limited help here because it sounds like you do not respect an important part of your husband’s character. You paint a picture of him as being dependent and unwilling to address his fears and irresponsibility. With this picture there is usually a large amount of dependence that develops and is placed on the more mature (organizing) partner. As one partner continues to be child-like (even though they remain affectionate), the more organized partner starts feeling too maternal. Usually, people in this predicament feel like they have an extra child to look after. Sexual feelings usually are lost toward the dependent partner because there is insufficient separateness of identity. What healthy adult wants to feel sexual towards a dependent child? This is an extremely difficult pattern to change because it is largely the result of the personality structure (technically the super-ego) of the dependent person. My advice would be: 1) Avoid having an affair. Your marital relationship, as you describe it, can lead to strong feelings of attraction outside of the relationship. 2) Give up the mandate that you have to feel “in love”. Instead, aspire to establish a relationship of “respectful loving.” Since the latter is not possible while your husband is running away from seeing himself, consider seeking a joint counselor who is also well versed in personality theory and possibly EMDR therapy as well. There are vast differences among counselor/therapists. A very good one might be able to make the difference to jump start your husband’s growth. Even if you get a good one, realize that the time scale for personality change is several years at least. Finally, if all else fails, realize that you have an existential decision about whether or not to stay in the marriage. Good Luck – Bryce Kaye

Liz from Orlando, Fl

Q: My husband recently informed me that he is not in love with me. I am having a hard time dealing with this, as I am in love with him. I think he should leave because I cannot understand why he would want to stay with someone he is not in love with and I do not want him here if he is not in love with me. It is making it harder for me to deal with everything, even day to day things, with him around. I am very confused. My whole belief system has been based on the fact that you stay married if you are in love with that person and you leave if you are not in love any longer. I do not think falling in love is something you can “get back”. What should I do?

A: Dear Liz: I highly recommend that you start revising your belief system. Most couples go through “tunnels” in their relationships where love becomes an inaccessible feeling for a period of time. Your husband may or may not be aware of other feelings that are blocking his love. Psychological boundary problems, shame, depression, identity crisis, anxiety, and other ambivalences can eclipse love in a relationship. It would be very premature to conclude that the relationship should be over. However, it is time to get to work to uncover what emotions have been going on at a deeper level. Getting professional help would probably be a good idea. Liz, you would do well to back off from demanding love as a condition for staying in the relationship for the immediate future. Responsibility at this stage is more important than passion. Will your husband work honestly and diligently to explore what may be getting in the way of his loving ? Try to avoid the paradox that by putting up a demand for immediate love, you might squelch any chance of it. Imagine demanding immediate sexual passion from someone. The performance anxiety thus created often leads to impotence (male or female). In time, you will see how honestly your husband works with you. If he does work hard to understand his feelings and work them out, chances are good that he can grow sentimental love for you. Sentimental loving is what most long-term couples have after they’ve converted from the “in-love” phenomenon that usually only lasts for several years. If you don’t believe me, pick up Maggie Scarf’s book Intimate Partners. Most good marriage counselors know that “in-love” needs to be converted to a different kind of loving in order to last the decades. If your husband will not work to explore his feelings and to find out how to improve the relationship, then that would be a good time to consider leaving. – Bryce Kaye

Ken from Bourne, Ma

Q: My wife and I have been married for 13 years and are now going through some very difficult times. She has recently told me that we are all through and that there is no hope, that she is too far gone. She is a sales person with many male clients and she has become too close, in my opinion with one of them. I have stated my objections and she just says “get over it” and is unwilling to make any changes to help the situation. She also told me that she is no longer “in-love” with me. Although she says that she loves me, adores me and thinks I am a great guy and father. She has also said that if we were to split that she could fall in love with that one client. It is very disheartening to hear her say these things and to act so distant from me. We have problems no question, but I also think that these problems can be overcome with a lot of work. We have 3 beautiful children and I don’t want to split up this family. She seems very focused on the “I’m not in-love with you” aspect of the whole situation and I just don’t know what to do. I am hopelessly and passionately in love with my wife and don’t want to lose her. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Ken, I’m afraid your situation is a sad one that is all too common. All you can really do is invite your wife to seek professional help along with you to rebuild the feelings in your marriage. As you describe it, she may already have developed “in love” feelings for the third party. If she is covertly building a relationship with the other person, you will not be able to repair the foundations and boundaries in your marriage. You can’t control that and shouldn’t try to. She is an adult who gets to make her own choices – even if they are misguided. However, you can set some limits in your own mind. You need to ask yourself how long you will stick around for her if she does not emotional reinvest in your relationship. Without threatening her with it, make up your own mind as to how long you will wait to see if she changes her mind about reinvestment. When that time has elapsed and she still has not chosen to get help with you, then you need to really consider separation. You might also seek a consult with an attorney along the way, partially to help you adjust to focusing on your own welfare. Meanwhile, invite your wife to go with you to meet with a professional counselor. Not being “in love” is a rather superficial reason for giving up a long-term relationship. The reason is that most good long-term relationships go through different phases of love, resentment, and other feelings like a train goes through tunnels. Also, most good relationships will eventually fall out of love anyway while they hopefully transition into a different form of “sentimental” loving based upon mutual respect, intimacy, and common history. The fact that this has not happened for you both may be that one or both of you haven’t known how to manage your personal boundaries to keep the relationship growing. Good luck. – Bryce Kaye