What can we do? When couples no longer feel in love!
Couples often come for counselling when they no longer feel “in love”.
The pain they feel is often palpable and so I always want to understand more, I will ask “you don’t feel in love but does that mean you no longer love each other?”.
Most often I find what they both actually mean by not feeling “in love” is that they have been finding it hard to feel love for each other and crucially, whilst they cannot be completely certain they no longer love their partner they are almost always certainly scared that they are no longer loved.
In therapy I will then look to explore both the difficulties in loving the other and the times and situations that leave them feeling unloved. Through looking at specific times and examples we tend to uncover disappointments in communications and it is the importance of these that can leave both feeling unloved and lonely.
Let me bring this to life by presenting a fictitious couple in therapy - J and P.
“Please give me an example of when you both felt upset with each other?”
“I remember last Friday, we were driving to see friends and I said to P how much I was looking forward to the evening. P did not respond and I felt annoyed and I said to P, “you are so rude, you never listen” and then P told me to “just shut up”. I told P to stop the car and I went home on my own”.
“That’s not how it happened. I was driving and suddenly J starts laying into me, saying I am a horrible person. I remember getting angry and trying to stop J from talking as it was getting me upset and the next thing I knew I was being shouted at to stop the car”.
“You are always accusing me of lying but it is you that always lies”.
“It is a well known phenomena that when situations are upsetting people will have completely differing recollections. When police get statements from witnesses to accidents they often end up with completely differing accounts. It’s not that people don’t lie but there are other possibilities. However what I am hearing from both of you is that you are upset by how you experienced each other. It seems you were both disappointed by how you were communicated with”.
“Let’s go through this again - P, can you think back to just before J got upset with you. How were you? What were you thinking about and how were you feeling?”
“It’s not fair, why do we have to start with me - it’s always like this, it’s like its always my fault.”
“Do you think I’m thinking it is your fault?”
“I just don’t know”, P pauses thinking, “maybe but probably not, you are just asking me a question. You are right though that I do feel disappointed and upset because I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong”.
“OK so you think I’m onto something when I talk about you feeling disappointed, going back to my first question?”
After thinking… “Hmmm Friday” P pauses and starts to frown. “It was a horrible day. Fridays can be stressful at work because we have to report on status of things from the week and last week I had ended up pulling a muscle in my back and so I was way behind. Then my computer developed some kind of fault, then my boss thought I had made a mistake with something and I spent ages finding out what had gone wrong and why (it wasn’t my mistake as it turned out) and the in the end I left late. I managed to pick J up on time but I was so stressed. Work has been like this now for ages, there is so much pressure, talk of redundancies, every day people are complaining about something new - I used to love my work but its been getting worse and worse……….. actually I just don’t know how much longer I can continue there……. I’m not sleeping well, I’m sure it was stress that meant I pulled that muscle in my back… but what choice do I have with the mortgage and the children - we both have to work so hard…..” P starts to cry…. “I guess I do remember J trying to speak to me when we were driving but my head was just so full of everything and I felt so stressed”.
“I didn’t know you were feeling so bad, I knew that you were not happy because you are rarely happy these days and I always hope that we can be like we used to be and as Nicholas said, I guess I always feel disappointed and hurt.”
“When I speak to you and you don’t answer it reminds me of how it felt growing up, my parents were always so busy and often my questions were ignored. I know you are not my parents and I am an adult now but it always upsets me”.
So for J & P stresses outside of the relationship are impacting upon how they are together. J’s history leads to taking P’s lack of response personally whilst P takes J’s anger personally. I would want to work with J & P so that if this occurred in future they would be talking about P’s stress and clearing it out of the way so that they could then enjoy their time together again.