I’ve worked with many, many couples who say that the reason their marriage ended or is about to end is because they’ve “fallen out of love.” They say something along the lines of, “You know…I still love him I’m just not in love” or “I want her to be happy, I just can’t see us together anymore.”

Couples typically struggle to explain what they feel when they are no longer “in love” with each other. I really believe that people feel “out of love” for a couple of reasons: confusion about what it means to be in love and confusion about what a long-term relationship looks like.

What it means to be in love:

People often confuse the initial stages of a new relationship with those feelings of being “in love” when a rush of chemicals is actually the cause of those feelings.

When you first start falling for someone the chemicals in your brain make some major changes. In fact, some of the chemicals in your brain, like serotonin, dopamine and cortisol, are the same chemicals that are implicated in mental health disorders. Luckily, these chemicals stabilize themselves over time, but it can take up to a year. For a full year your serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol levels can make you do really weird things.

-Stay up all night thinking about that special person
-Do whatever you can to please that person (It’s all about you, baby!)
-Realize special little things about that person (such a captivating smile!)
-Try to better yourself because of your love for him or her

And the list goes on and on. Don’t believe me? Google “How to know you’re in love” and see how man results say you shift focus from yourself to someone else. The problem is, over time, we lose that other-focus. Our chemicals have to stabilize to maintain our mental health and well-being. And while the stabilization process is good for us, it can make us think we’ve fallen out of love.

What a long-term relationship looks like:

It’s interesting when we look at characteristics of being “in love” that are listed on numerous blogs. Over and over again the theme is that when you’re in love you focus much more on the other person than you do on yourself. Again, thank dopamine for that.

And, that’s so much easier to do at first! Man, those chemicals are nice! But, eventually, once they stabilize, remaining “in love” has much more to do with choice then a chemical reaction.

In a long-term relationship, the infatuation stage gains some stability and the commitment stage should start to take over. But people don’t often know about this part. They start to think that they have fallen out of love when its no longer easy (or the norm, or their habit) to put their needs/drives/desires in second place to their spouse’s.

How “falling out of love” affects marriage:

I’ve had countless couples tell me that I’m wrong about those “butterfly in the stomach” feelings going away. They tell me that you’ll always have those if you really love the person you’re married to. But, please hear me when I say that you will not.

Can you be attracted to your spouse long after you marry? Oh my goodness yes! And, much more so than the day you said “I do.” But the, my heart skips a beat when you walk in the room feeling eventually decreases. Remember much of what we feel at first is a chemical reaction.

Eventually, to maintain a happy marriage and to still feel in love after many years, you have to move from “I feel so in love” to “I’m choosing to love you…even though you annoy me sometimes.”

Truthfully, we don’t fall out of love. We fall out of selflessness.

If you really want to feel happy and in love, you have to act loving toward one another. You have to choose to forgive quickly, to pay attention to the details, to aim to serve your spouse, and to look for ways to put your spouse’s needs above your own.

The fact that this gets a little more difficult over time does NOT mean that you are no longer in love. It just means that your relationship has moved from the initial stages to the committed stage. Commitment to your spouse doesn’t begin and end on your wedding day. It begins again every morning when you wake-up sleep deprived and every day after work when you’re worn out and dealing with household responsibilities. Day by day you can let your commitment grow and day by day you can aim to serve your spouse and demonstrate your love to them. By the way, if you make the conscious effort to show your spouse some love, you’ll feel a whole more in love then you do now.

While marriage is in many ways a refining process, marriage can also be quite enjoyable. If you’d like tips on feeling a little more in love, I encourage you to download my free guide. Becoming One gives you practical tips for growing in intimacy and you can grab your copy right here.

Blessings to you and may your marriage continue to grow in love!