On Your Mind: Relationship broken or just bored?

My husband and I have been married for 9 years and we have two small children. I really do like and respect him, but I’m worried that I’ve fallen “out of love” with him. Lately I feel myself avoiding intimate situations with him, and last week I fought off a strong urge to message an old boyfriend, who I know (via social media) got a divorce recently. I don’t know if this is just run-of-the-mill boredom or if something is really broken in our marriage. We get along fine most of the time, but I feel like I’m with a roommate and not a romantic partner. How can I figure this out?

By Elizabeth Steckel, MS, NCC, LPC

With February’s romantic association with love and relationships, I think your question may be on many people’s minds. For most of us, relationships are one of the single most important aspects of our lives. You clearly value your marriage but are questioning if “this is all there is?” Perhaps it seems like the passion is gone, but is the love gone?

Let’s start with exploring the word, “love.” In searching for a definition of love, it becomes clear that there are many types of love. Merriam-Webster lists several definitions for love as both a noun and a verb, capturing love from many angles. From a relationship stand-point, the definitions that seem most relevant include: “attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers,” “affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests,” “to hold dear: cherish,” and “to thrive in.” These definitions remind us that love is not simply passion but is multifaceted and complex. Furthermore, love evolves.

Just as we grow and develop, the type of love we feel for another person grows and develops. You mentioned that you and your husband have been married for 9 years — think about how your lives have changed and all the ways you’ve both grown. With all these life changes, it’s normal to question if you have “fallen out of love.”

Jumping back to February and Cupid’s arrow, ancient philosophers, mythology, and modern day psychology give us insight into what we may often notice about the love we feel in relationships. Eros, or passionate, sexual love, is what many people today would think of as “love” for a significant other. What is important to consider is that while eros is that romantic attraction felt at the beginning of a relationship, the intensity of this passion tends to decrease to some degree. Thus, eros alone cannot be counted on to sustain a relationship.

Other sustaining aspects of love to cultivate in a relationship come from being open and authentic with each other and striving to overcome our weaknesses and uphold each other’s higher good. In other words, along with eros or passion, intimacy and commitment may together compose what feels like a fulfilling, enduring love.

Dr. Robert Sternberg, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, describes many styles of love, with “complete love” involving passion (as described above), intimacy (“closeness, connectedness and bondedness”), and commitment (“the decision that one loves a certain other, and…one’s commitment to maintain that love.”)

It may be helpful to you to construct a timeline of your relationship, starting with when you first met. On your timeline, make a note of life events, as well as what you recall about elements of passion, intimacy and commitment in your relationship as they have perhaps ebbed and flowed. Think about specific activities that you once or currently engage in together that have fostered feelings of closeness and warmth.

With children, you probably struggle to find time for the two of you. After children enter the picture, couples find most of their interactions centered on the children and keeping the day-to-day household tasks running, much as you described feeling like roommates. Time together as a couple, without children, is imperative for the health and longevity of your relationship, so plan to prioritize couple’s time. While research indicates that couples’ satisfaction with their marriage declines after having children, with effort and possibly marital therapy, marital satisfaction can be improved.

Children, however, are not the only factor in marital dissatisfaction. Interests, hobbies, friendships, or involvement in community may have gone by the wayside. Without these aspects of one’s identity and self-care, depression and a lack of passion can set in. Likewise, an uneven distribution of labor in the home pulls couples apart. When we feel overwhelmed, bored or unfulfilled, passion for our significant other and life suffer.

Social media must also be a part of this discussion as is it comprises a large part of many people’s daily lives and relationships. While social media can be used to bring people closer together, it also has the ability to create distance in relationships. People tend to present themselves and their lives from the best angles, leading us to see the highlights of their lives.

In our face-to-face interactions with these same people, we might actually see and hear about the struggles each other faces, providing a more balanced and accurate view of life. If we do not keep this in mind, social media can contribute to making plenty of comparisons and inaccurate judgments about our own lives, leading to dissatisfaction in relationships and in overall life.

Love and relationships are challenging, however, strengthening a partnership is rewarding work. Ozark Guidance offers behavioral health services for individuals struggling with relationship issues. For more information about services for you or for you and your husband as a couple, visit our website at www.ozarkguidance.org or contact us at 479-750-2020.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click here to read more questions and answers in the On Your Mind category. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.