Have you ever heard these words?
- “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”
- “Something’s just gone out of the relationship.”
- “I’ve lost that loving feeling.”
- “It’s not you. Something is just missing.”
- “I think I need to move out.”
Love has always been an elusive emotion. Sometimes we fall, unexpectedly in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way about us. Sometimes love is mutual and we feel ecstatic to finally have found our soul mate, but then, out of the blue, we find out our partner is pulling away. Sometimes we hear it in words like those above. More often we feel it in the way they act or the way we feel.
Where we once felt cherished and loved, like we were the most important person in our partner’s life, all of a sudden, we feel a chill in the air of what we thought was love everlasting. One person becomes more irritable and angrier. I’ve written a whole book about it called The Irritable Male Syndrome, which I’ve just made available as an e-book.
Although two people may fall in love at the same time, its often one person who closes down and their partner feels blind-sided. If its ever happened to you, you know it’s the worst feeling in the world. You feel like you’ve been gutted. Your brain goes haywire. You want to throw up. You want to go to sleep and never wake up. You want to fly away and never come back. At least that’s how I remember it when I began to feel the love slipping away in my marriage.
One of the reasons I became a psychotherapist and marriage counselor was so I could learn how to keep that pain from ever happening to me. Yet it did, not once, but twice. Its more than embarrassing to be a marriage and family counselor and being married and divorced twice. I realized I had a lot to learn about sex, love, and intimacy if I was ever going to have lovelife I dreamed of having.
My first clue to a new understanding of relationships came when I read about the ACE studies. This was research conducted by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego. Over seventeen thousand adults participated in the research, making it one of the largest studies of its kind in the world. They asked 10 questions about childhood abuse, neglect, and abandonment and found that two-thirds of the study participants reported at least one positive answer and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. When I took the quiz, I found I had four ACEs, including growing up with an absent father and having a parent who suffered from mental illness. These are not uncommon experiences for many of us.
What was surprising was how these early childhood experiences impacted our adult lives. For instance, those with an ACE score of 4 or more are twice as likely to be smokers, 7 times more likely to be an alcoholic, 10 times more likely to have used street drugs, and 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide.
I was able to learn about the 5 Stages of Love. I met Carlin and we’ve been joyfully married for nearly 40 years now.
And to the point of this article, people who have experienced even one adverse childhood experience have greater difficulty in their love lives. In simple terms, ACEs mess up our love maps. If we come from a family where our parents didn’t have a healthy love relationship with each other or where there were other significant stresses and strains, we often go “looking for love in all the wrong places” and choose the wrong partner. Or we push away a potentially good partner because the “chemistry just doesn’t feel right.” Or we make demands on a partner that they can’t meet. Or we become fearful and clingy and our partner feels trapped.
Does any of this make sense to you? In counseling people for more than fifty years, I’ve found there is one core reason why the passion and love go out of a relationship. I call it the Cling-Escape cycle. It goes like this. One person feels their partner is beginning to pull away. They become anxious and fearful and try and cling more tightly. Clingyness registers in the partner’s experience as a restriction on their freedom. The feelings are usually unconscious at first.
But once the cycle begins, things escalate. The more the person clings, the more the other person wants to escape and the tighter the other holds on, as if for dear life. Fights occur, which breaks the cycle and may temporarily bring the couple back together. But, things will get worse again until you break up or you do the one thing that can save your relationship.
The one thing is simple, but it’s not easy. The simple answer is you must replace fear with love. You must escape from the Cling-Escape cycle. The clinger must let go and begin working on their own fear. This often means going back and looking at your past ACEs and healing them. The escaper, must also do the same. Too, often one person wants to fix the other. “If only he would….” And then there’s a whole list of things a partner wants the man to do. “If only she would…” And then there’s a whole list of things a partner wants the woman to do.
Simply put, your partner’s passion will return when your own passion returns. That means doing the hard work to address your fears and heal the wounds that are at the root of our relationship fears and allow love to flow freely again. One core fear is being left or abandoned. The other core fear is being trapped in a destructive relationship. I have a counseling and a coaching program that helps save their relationship from going under and helps you rekindle the passion that’s been lost. If you’re interested in learning about them, drop me a note to Jed@MenAlive.com and put “Saving my relationship” in the subject line and I’ll send you the details.