Have you been blindsided by an unhappy spouse who suddenly announced, “I don’t love you anymore”? If so, then you know that these words can split a marriage wide open, along with the heart of the partner who may not have suspected that anything was wrong.
Like most spouses in your situation, you may be confused and struggling to understand what those five ominous words “I don’t love you anymore” really mean. Let’s look at four of the possibilities:
1. Your Spouse May Have Confused Feelings
The most common situation is that the partner has doubts about his feelings. A more accurate wording might be: “I don’t think that I love you anymore, but I’m not absolutely sure.”
If this is what your spouse means, you can often use this doubt, even if it’s only a very small doubt, to buy time for your marriage. Your spouse may be more likely to agree to go to marriage counseling while he takes additional time to determine if he really wants to leave the marriage or not.
Rather than framing an appeal to your spouse as doing you a favor, say instead, “Please don’t throw away your investment of time in our marriage yet.” This request reminds him that he’s losing something if he walks away.
Help him recall all the energy, hard work, and dreams he has invested in the marriage so far. He may conclude that it just makes good sense for him to wait until he’s absolutely sure about what he wants to do.
2. The Romance May Be Gone
Another meaning the words “I don’t love you anymore” can have is that your spouse feels she loves you but that she is not IN love with you any longer. This is usually extremely difficult for the other spouse to comprehend. How can she say that she loves you but not in a romantic way, more like a friend or sibling? What does she mean?
When she says “I love you, but I’m not IN love with you,” she may feel that she has been the main one trying to keep romance alive. She may have told you that she wished you communicated more or would take more initiative in planning romantic or fun things to do. She has probably tried to initiate discussions about her needs or how the two of you could feel more bonded.
It’s likely that in the past your spouse has suggested you both go to marriage counseling, all to no avail. She probably feels that her pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Her perception may be that you don’t value the relationship because you have been unwilling to make changes that are important to her.
She eventually may resign herself to the fact that you aren’t going to change. Her feelings of sexual desire and romantic attraction often diminish over time until the passionate spark is no longer there. She still cares about you, but she doesn’t feel romantic toward you any longer.
It’s impossible to predict which sparks can be fanned back into flames. Some spouses will leave anyway, saying that it’s too late, that the other spouse has waited too long to start taking acton. Other spouses may be deeply touched by the partner’s depth of feeling and efforts to change. They may agree to stay in the marriage and see what’s possible with both partners working on the relationship.
3. Abuse Almost Always Puts Out the Flame
A third possibility is that your spouse has shut down loving feelings towards you because of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. It’s not hard to predict that partners who are threatened, slapped, verbally put down, constantly criticized, and unappreciated would not be likely to have loving feelings toward the abuser. Often they have no other choice but to leave the marriage in order to protect themselves and their children.
If you have a history of being abusive in any way to your spouse or children, it’s time to find an experienced therapist to help you. You will want to look at yourself in the mirror of a trained professional’s eyes. Often abusers themselves were abused as children. Abusive behavior was ingrained in them at a very young age.
If this is your case, know that you can’t help the environment you grew up in. What you can do is to make sure your loved ones are protected from it. Often people act out unconsciously the patterns they were taught as kids, only to perpetuate the cycle by acting the same way with their own families. The good news is that this vicious cycle can be stopped if you are willing to get help.
4. Addiction Can Kill Love
A fourth possibility is that if you have an addiction, your spouse may have had all he can endure. Addictions can take many different forms. Common addictions include alcohol or drug abuse, gambling, sexual addiction, and compulsive spending. Any of these behaviors can destroy a marriage.
The pain, confusion, and problems associated with living with a spouse who drinks until she passes out on the sofa each night can certainly dull romantic excitement. More often than not, the person drinking or using drugs doesn’t think she has a serious problem.
When the person is confronted about the drinking or drug use, a standard comeback is “I’m not an alcoholic (or druggie) because I can stop anytime I want to.” This is called denial, and many marriages have been wrecked because of it. For there to be any glimmer of hope that the marriage can be salvaged, the spouse with the addiction must be motivated and willing to seek help.
In an ideal world, your partner would be able to tell you in a clear, coherent fashion what his experience in the marriage has been, at what point his feelings for you changed, and why. If your spouse can do this, you’re fortunate.
Since people vary in their depth of self-understanding and the ability to communicate feelings, you may have more difficulty in getting immediate answers to your questions. And your spouse may still be trying to put all of the pieces together himself. When he says he doesn’t know why his feelings have changed, he may be telling the truth.
You may never know everything involved in your partner’s shift from being in love with you to not wanting to be in the marriage, but it’s important to understand what’s happened as much as possible. That’s where counseling can help.
You can tell your spouse that whether your marriage makes it or not, you need to process what has happened and take responsibility for your part. State that it will be really difficult and painful for you if the two of you end your marriage without even trying marriage counseling.
Your goal in entering counseling is to learn more about yourself and your partner, to improve your relationship skills, and to buy time for the marriage while you tackle the problems. That puts you in the best position to explore why the embers of love have died and to see if they can be fanned into flames once again.
Tips adapted from the book Keep Your Marriage: What To Do When Your Spouse Says “I don’t love you anymore!” by Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D. and Lee Hefner. Available as an e-book at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com., where you can also sign up for the free Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine. Contact Nancy at .