What To Do When You’ve Lost Romantic Feelings For Your Spouse
You might phrase it differently, but when you’ve lost romantic feelings for your spouse, you’re probably feeling something like:
- That spark’s gone. I feel like I’m just going through the motions.
- I’m not attracted to my spouse like I used to be.
- I love my spouse, but I’m not in love with them anymore.
- Over the years, we’ve grown apart. We’ve become different people.
- My marriage hasn’t turned out like I thought it would.
- There’s no passion. No magic. No romance. I just don’t feel it.
That romantic feeling is going, going… gone now. What happened?
First, we need to make sure we are talking about the same things when using words like romance and love. These words can mean a variety of things, and that makes discussing them difficult. Let’s get on the same page. This might bring some clarity to what you’re feeling.
This will be our term for romance. It’s usually characterized by a strong desire to:
- be around your spouse,
- please them,
- enjoy them,
- be sexually attracted to them, and
- overlook their flaws.
This is what people usually mean when they say they are in love with their spouse.
Passionate love has a unique effect on your brain and body chemistry. Those fireworks! But some researchers claim passionate love naturally gives way to a deeper kind of love as your relationship grows. Other researchers argue that passionate love doesn’t have to fade.
Passionate love might come and go, and romance might ebb and flow… but it doesn’t have to disappear from your marriage completely. You might have to be more intentional and purposeful to keep that romantic spark lit.
This will be our term for what people generally mean by the word love. It’s usually characterized by:
- deep feelings of security,
- emotional connection and intimacy, and
- best-friendship in your marriage.
Some researchers call this companionate love.
Compared to passionate love, this love is often considered more stable, mature, and steady. It doesn’t feel as fun, euphoric, or exhilarating as passionate romantic love. But this makes sense. Because researchers have found that this love activates different parts of the brain – even different body chemistry – than passionate love. So, yeah, it actually feels different.
Perhaps your relationship has undergone a normal transition. Maybe it’s been creeping up on you. Maybe it hit you all at once. It’s not a crisis, but it can feel like one if you didn’t expect it. Now you’ve gained some perspective and can be purposefully passionate moving forward.
Perhaps conflict or circumstances have deflated your passionate love. This is less of a relationship transition you can accept and walk through… and more like relationship issues you can expect to work through. (Compassionate love can be the safe context to work through these issues.)
That romantic feeling is going, going… gone. Now, what happens?
You don’t have to pick between passionate love and compassionate love. Healthy, growing, long-lasting marriages have both.
Explore the depths of compassionate love. Enjoy the heights of passionate love as you keep cultivating those romantic feelings. Here’s a practical place to start – back at the beginning.
★ Here Are Some Things To Think About And Try!
Okay, today, you don’t have romantic feelings for your spouse. Look at all your yesterdays. Take a step back, like, all the way back to your wedding day. Rekindle old feelings by reviewing old memories.
1. Remember Why You Married Your Spouse.
Many counselors and therapists recommend listing what attracted you to your spouse in the first place and the reasons you wanted to marry them. What caused you to fall in love? Remind yourself of why you’re grateful for your spouse.
Take time to reminisce about the first time you met. How do you remember it? How does your spouse remember it? Similarly, talk about your first date. Can you recreate it? While on your date, talk through five things you appreciate about each other and your relationship. How did you get engaged? How did you propose/were you proposed to? What were the feelings surrounding that occasion? What was your wedding day like? Did everything go as planned? What were you feeling on The Big Day? What was your first year of marriage like? Share favorite stories. What were you naive about? How has your relationship grown since then?
You know your spouse better today, including their faults, annoying habits, and when they let you down. Yes, reality puts some big dents in romance. Reality also invites you to a deeper love that transcends romantic feelings and builds a stronger bond with your all-too-human spouse. This could be a huge marital growth opportunity.
2. Remember All The Things You’ve Been Through With Your Spouse.
What circumstances have changed since your wedding day? Children? Careers? Stress? Illness? It could be as simple as being busier now. It could be as complex as significant unresolved marital conflicts. Commit to each other to work through any obstacles as a team. And commit to shaking things up a bit. (In a good way.)
Have you talked to your spouse about how you feel? Are you creating the time and space to maintain your marriage so there’s room for romance? This probably doesn’t sound romantic, but frequently the effort comes first. The feelings often follow. You might be surprised by the romance conjured by a planned night out, the habit of taking a walk together after dinner or even scheduled sex. Do something different. Don’t let your relationship get in a rut.
- Try some of these 100 Cute Date Ideas So You Never Get Bored Again.
- Talk through The 50 Best Marriage Tips Of All Time From 50 Relationship Experts. What do you already have down? What do you want to start working on?
- Move beyond clichéd convos. Pick a question or two a day from these 200 Questions for couples.
- Let the big brains at Harvard give you some spicy Tips To Improve Your Sex Life, or Keep The Spark Alive In Your Marriage with advice from these other big brains.
- Change up your bedtime routine with these 10 Things Happy Couples Do Before They Go to Sleep.
3. DANGER ZONE.
Gut-check time. Have you entertained romantic feelings for someone other than your spouse? It’s difficult to have romantic feelings for two different people simultaneously. It can be subtle at the start. A friend or co-worker seems fun and interesting. Maybe you see some qualities in them you feel your spouse is lacking. That romantic feeling for your spouse starts to wane. This is the Danger Zone.
If this is the case, you need a reality check. You know your spouse, warts and all. It’s unfair and unrealistic to compare your spouse to someone you know comparatively on a superficial level. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it.
See those “feelings” for what they really are and refocus on your spouse. Nourish your relationship with your spouse and see what happens to your romantic feelings.
4. Start with you.
Maybe this isn’t about your spouse at all. You might be experiencing some changes in how you look at yourself and your life. Several things could cause this. You might not be experiencing success in your career like you’d hoped. Maybe you’re feeling the burden of financial stress. You could be dealing with physical or mental health issues. This could be a season of life thing. You could simply be aging and not handling it in a healthy way.
Do a personal inventory. You might need to take a good, honest look deep inside yourself. Many things may have changed or shifted inside of you, affecting how you feel about your spouse. You might not have noticed slow, silent repositioning in your perspective or personality. It might be helpful to enlist a trusted friend in answering these questions. See your primary care physician if you haven’t had a check-up in a long time. Our physical health and our feelings are bound up together. Don’t be afraid to seek out a counselor or therapist if you feel like you can’t quite understand what you’re feeling. Your spouse will thank you.
You’ve lost romantic feelings for your spouse. How you respond is critical.
Some people want a romance-based relationship. Ask yourself if that’s a reality-based relationship. You might not always feel that heady, passionate love. But as you experience that heavy compassionate love, the romantic feelings that follow might surprise you.
Don’t be afraid to take a hard look at yourself. Ask yourself the tough questions. Respond in a way that’s healthy for yourself and your marriage. Seek out help where needed. Lost romantic feelings may be complex, but they may also be very simple. Taking these steps is a great sign, and there is hope!
TAKE THE GUESSWORK OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
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Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable?
Some things in marriage are inevitable, like conflict.
But wait. Isn’t the point of marriage to avoid conflict? To live in marital bliss and peace, happily ever after?
It’s commonly thought the less you fight, the healthier your marriage. As a matter of fact, both researchers and counselors seem to agree some conflict is not only inevitable, it’s normal. And it could even be good for your marriage.
That word: conflict; it’s tricky. Some might be tempted to picture marital conflict as a knock-down, drag-out, throwdown of debate and insults in the effort to “win.”
But if we’re to thrive in our marriage, it’s necessary to reframe how we think about marital conflict.
Conflict is simply disagreement. It’s a temporary inability to see eye-to-eye. Sometimes it involves strong feelings. But in no way is conflict some kind of omen for dysfunction. It’s just gonna happen, even in the healthiest of marriages. It’s, well, inevitable.
Side note here: There’s something to be said about the frequency of conflict in your marriage. If you find yourselves constantly at odds with each other, this could spell trouble. And it’s a possible sign that either: A. You aren’t handling conflict in a healthy way, or B. Other dynamics are eating away at your marriage. If this is the case, it may be a good time to consider seeking help from a professional marriage counselor.
So when it does come around (and it will), every married couple is tasked with handling conflict in healthy ways.
But how do you get there? Keep these ideas in mind:
- You and your spouse wear the same jersey. You’re on the same team. Even teammates have different ideas of how to get the ball down the field. But at the end of the day, you both share the same goal: Resolve the issue at hand and keep your marriage strong.
- Attack the problem instead of each other. In other words, keep the goal the goal. Nothing gets accomplished when you go after each other’s character. Avoid those four nasty responses to conflict described by researcher John Gottman: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.1 They kill communication and suck the life out of your marriage.
- Be aware of how you speak in a conflict. Avoid using harsh start-ups, launching into a tirade with your emotions driving the boat. Don’t start sentences with “You…” Instead, use “I” statements to own your feelings and opinions.
- This is going to require some listening on both your parts. Listening is key to working toward a resolution.2 Since you share the goal, you share in the solution. Listen to seek to understand the other person’s view, even if it doesn’t align with your own thinking.
- Know when to forgive, and perhaps more importantly, when to ask for forgiveness. It deters the lingering effects of a conflict, even when a solution is found.3 Forgive and leave the offense there.
If you and your spouse experience conflict in your marriage, don’t fret.
It doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It’s just a part of life and a part of the marriage journey. And evidence even suggests that conflict can be positive for your marriage.4
Although conflict is inevitable, it provides an opportunity for making change where it needs to be made. And working through an issue to find a solution creates a stronger sense of connection and intimacy between couples.
Don’t let conflict throw your marriage off track. Maximize it to find solutions and strengthen your marriage.
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1Gottman, J., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting Marital Happiness and Stability from Newlywed Interactions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60(1), 5–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/353438
2Lachica, N., Stockwell, A., & Gamba, J. (2021). What did I just say? An individualized behavior skills training for listening behaviors of adult participants in romantic relationships. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2021.1922664
3Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R. H., & Davila, J. (2004). Forgiveness and Conflict Resolution in Marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 18(1), 72–81. https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-318.104.22.168
4Deutsch, M., & Coleman, P. T. (2000). The handbook of conflict resolution : theory and practice (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.
Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse
I have been a resentful spouse. My spouse has also resented me. Coming up on 28 years of marriage, my wife and I have five children, and we’ve seen it all. From socks that never made it to the hamper, to financially disastrous decisions, to weaponized sex, to disagreements about parenting, to not getting simple tasks done around the house, to navigating personality quirks. And did I mention infidelity? Yup, infidelity.
There are tons more examples, big and little. It’s not a contest. Whatever brought you to this blog is the biggest thing in your world. Nobody is dealing with resentment exactly the same way you are. But no matter why or how you arrived at this blog, resentment is a tumor in your marriage, and without proper treatment, it will keep growing.
Tumor?! Why would I refer to resentment with your spouse as a tumor? Resentment is a negative emotion that builds up over time. If you don’t deal with it, it will poison more and more of your relationship. It will come to dominate your marriage, making romance, compassion, and intimacy all but impossible. And the sooner you catch it, the easier it will be to treat.
Resentment cannot be taken lightly, but it does have a relatively straightforward solution. Each spouse will have to communicate – probably in a series of conversations. Each will have to express themselves appropriately and honestly. And each will have to listen to the other in good faith. The goal is to compromise and implement a plan. The plan will no doubt be revisited and modified. Resentment should yield resilience.
Compromise and a Plan
The beauty of compromise and a plan is that they’re tangible and measurable. Ideally, as you see your spouse working toward compromise and following the plan, you can be confident. Perhaps confident enough to let go of some resentment and rekindle that spark you once felt. And when your spouse feels that spark, it’ll feed their efforts. Watch that positive cycle go!
So how can you put together a plan and work toward compromise? Here’s a 6-step process you can use as a guide. This isn’t an end-all-be-all on how to stop resentment. But instead, use these steps to help guide you and your spouse toward a compromise and a plan you both agree on that works for your relationship.
A Plan for Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse
1. Catch it early.
It’s much easier to manage and process through resentment before it builds.
2. Communication is everything.
This assumes you feel safe communicating in your marriage. You might need an older, wiser mentor couple. You might need a therapist or counselor. And you might need to establish some rules:
- Each person gets to speak uninterrupted for 10 minutes.
- Try to separate the person from the behavior.
- Use “I” statements: I feel, I need, I’m hurting.
- Don’t escalate with volume, tone, sarcasm, or words meant to just inflict hurt.
- Focus on being a good listener. Remember your body language.
3. The source of the resentment in your marriage needs to be front and center.
- “When you do _____ it makes me feel _____.”
- “I’m having a hard time moving past _____.”
- “I don’t think you understand how much _____ hurt me.”
- “We’ve talked about changing _____, but it hasn’t changed.”
4. Compromise is the goal. Both spouses need to win so the marriage wins.
5. Develop a plan for handling the situation(s) in the future. Write it down.
- Think through different scenarios and have a plan for them.
- Set goals.
- The plan is the accountability and enforcement, not the spouse.
- You can always revisit the plan and modify it where necessary.
6. Last but not least, start again with a clean slate. In good faith, you move forward.
The clean slate is going to be the hardest part. You’re hurt and you’re defensive. You’re in survival mode. Trust may have been broken. But if you really want to deal with resentment in your marriage, you have to move forward in good faith, with patience, believing the best, and extending grace. And hopefully, you will watch the downward spiral of resentment slowly stop as the positive emotions pick up some momentum.
For my wife and I, we’ve gone so far as to say, “THAT marriage is over. We start a new marriage TODAY.”
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5 Ways to Tell If You’re a Passive-Aggressive Spouse
Has your spouse accused you of being passive-aggressive? Maybe they say you’re manipulative. Maybe they tell you that you never speak your mind. Sometimes it may seem like you’ve gained the upper hand in disagreements, but it still feels like the relationship never wins. Are you passive-aggressive or being falsely accused? Well, let’s look at a few ways to shed more light on whether you’re passive-aggressive or not.
What is passive-aggressive behavior?
Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D says, “Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.“1
Think of it this way: You’re expressing your negative feelings aggressively, negatively. Often, this asserts your control, power, or desire to punish your spouse. However, it’s done passively or indirectly. If you’re not directly naming it, your spouse may not be sure what the real issue is.
Aggressive doesn’t necessarily mean loud, forceful, or demonstrative. But it is often intentional and pointed directly toward your spouse.
Different Levels of Passive-Aggressiveness
1. Passive-Aggressive Moments.
Many people have moments of passive-aggressiveness. Sometimes, you just don’t have the emotional energy to deal with a conflict, so you use passive-aggressive behavior to keep control of the issue. You may not demonstrate this behavior often, but every now and then, you might pull it out of your bag of tricks. You probably know it’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but the alternative at the moment isn’t worth it.
2. Passive-Aggressive Habits.
Being passive-aggressive is your primary way of addressing issues with your spouse. You may even find it hard to initiate a conversation about an issue head-on. You may have become “effective” at passive-aggressive behavior. It seems to get you what you want.
3. Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder.
The American Psychiatric Association defines this as a “pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations.” 2,3 This person feels impossible to tackle conflict with. Their passive-aggressive nature spreads throughout every part of their life.
What does passive-aggressive behavior look like?
Here are some ways being passive-aggressive may play out.
1. Sarcastic, snarky comments.
On its own, the comment you make may sound like a compliment. But the context is clearly meant to be negative. You and your spouse haven’t had a real conversation in weeks, but you hear your spouse chopping it up with one of their friends. You say, “You two sure do have a lot to talk about.” On its own, it seems innocent. Perhaps you’re hoping they feel the sharpness of your emotions. You feel neglected, maybe a bit jealous. However, instead of coming out and saying what you feel, you make a sarcastic remark.
2. Half-doing tasks.
Your spouse’s schedule has changed, and they aren’t doing things around the house, leaving it to you. You resent their schedule change, or you feel like they’re taking you for granted. Instead of bringing it up, you half-heartedly do the tasks like yard work, laundry, or cleaning. It’s obviously not up to standard. You’re trying to prove a point.
3. Silence or distance. (I struggle with this one.)
You gain control by not talking about anything of substance. Your conversations become surface-level or just about facts. Nothing personal or vulnerable. You build a wall between you and your spouse. You’re expressing your anger, resentment, displeasure, etc., through silence. This gives you control of the situation or at least makes you feel like you’re in control.
4. Agreeing, but not really agreeing.
Your spouse wants to go to the in-laws, but you don’t want to go. Your spouse knows you don’t want to go, and you can’t even believe they’ve asked you to come along. Instead of sharing your true desire, you agree to go not out of compassion or being a team player but out of resentment. You’re upset because they should know that you’re not ok with going.
5. Ignoring, putting off, or procrastinating.
Your spouse has asked you to do something. Your negative feelings toward your spouse may have nothing to do with what they’ve asked. However, you choose to express your negative emotions by continually putting off their request while never sharing the real reason.
Signs You May Be Passive-Aggressive… Self-Reflection Questions
While you self-reflect, consider…
- How do you address conflict in your marriage? Do you clearly communicate your thoughts, emotions, and desires, or do you drop hints? Do you exhibit any of the previously mentioned behaviors? Is ist possbile that you simply avoid conflict while sending sharp signals that there is conflict?
- Do you have negative thoughts about your spouse that motivate how you respond to them? How do they know those thoughts? Or do they? Is it possible you have built-up anger or resentment that comes out through simple requests?
- Do you usually control the when and where you deal with marital problems? You may be using passive-aggressive behavior to control or manipulate your spouse instead of working together.
Understanding how you deal with issues in your marriage can help your marriage thrive through difficult times.
If you come to the conclusion that you are a passive-aggressive spouse, that’s progress! Even if you don’t, this can open up meaningful conversations with your spouse to figure out how to handle conflict well in your marriage. The ultimate goal here isn’t about pointing out faults; it’s about transforming conflict in your marriage into building blocks for intimacy. Becoming a better version of yourself in that process is a strong byproduct I’ll take any day.
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How to End Passive Aggressive Behavior in Marriage
Newsflash: Sometimes your spouse is going to make you plain mad.
(Not to mention you’ll inevitably do something to annoy the heck out of them.)
Something is said, something is done without you being informed, something is left undone…
And the blood starts to boil.
Being angry is perfectly normal, and usually, things can be worked through. Mistakes and misunderstandings are a normal part of any relationship, especially a marriage.
But it’s how a person responds in their anger that can help find a resolution or derail the marriage train. Passive-aggressiveness in marriage not only throws the relationship off its tracks, but it’s also downright destructive.
Passive-aggressive behavior in marriage is when a person expresses anger or annoyance in an indirect way.1
- One person forgot to put the dishes away. The other says, Wow, look at all these dishes in here. Sure would be nice if they were in the cabinet where they belong…
- One said something that embarrassed the other last night in front of friends. The embarrassed person hasn’t spoken a word to the other since thinking their silence will wake their spouse up to what they did wrong.
- One spouse left their dirty socks on the bed when they came home. The other nonchalantly throws them in the trash can and walks away with a smile.
A passive-aggressive response in marriage is marked with quiet bitterness. It’s often a way to punish the offender emotionally, letting them “wallow in their sin” for a while. The “offended” seemingly avoids the conflict while putting the “offender” in a place of guilt, shame, and discomfort. It’s a power-play, a form of manipulation, and a highly ineffective way of dealing with conflict and strengthening a marriage.2, 3
Just in case I haven’t been too clear on this yet: Passive-aggressiveness is not good for a marriage.4
And yet, we all tend to act passive-aggressively at times. Fortunately, you can avoid it.
How can you and your spouse end passive-aggressive behavior in your marriage?
Talk about the importance of checking your anger before you respond.
It’s essential to pause and examine your emotions. Ask yourself, Okay, how am I feeling toward my spouse right now? I’m obviously frustrated. But am I being bitter? Am I trying to make my spouse feel ashamed or guilty? Am I expressing my feelings in a healthy way?
Agree to avoid dwelling on it.
This is when you replay the thing that has offended you over and over again in your mind. It builds negative energy and makes you even angrier the more you think about it. Decide together to talk about an issue directly, respectfully, and in a timely manner.
Practice addressing an issue directly.
Establish some ground rules for working through more serious issues respectfully. Agree to sincerely express emotions with each other. To avoid ruminating, it might be helpful to have a 24-hour rule. If either of you has any beef with the other, you’ll address it in a civil manner within 24 hours.
Have weekly check-in meetings to resolve hanging issues.
Establish a regular time to meet together over coffee and simply connect. Use that time to calmly get anything out in the open that needs to be hashed out.
- Hey, would you mind putting up the dishes tonight? I think it might’ve been forgotten yesterday.
- Do you remember that thing you said last night? It was a little embarrassing. I know you didn’t mean harm, and I totally forgive you already. But I just wanted you to know how I felt.
- I know this is silly, but leaving socks out really bugs me. Would you mind throwing those in the hamper when you come in from work?
Consider what you each are holding back from the past.
Is there something between you and your spouse in the past that causes passive-aggressiveness to creep into your marriage? Or perhaps from a previous relationship? We sometimes don’t even realize how these events shape how we handle present issues. Wrestling with them isn’t easy, but it helps you.
Choose one of these strategies to work through and talk about as a couple this week. There’s always room to strengthen your marriage, and figuring out how to eliminate passive-aggressiveness is a major step to take toward a healthier relationship.
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2 What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior? What Are Some of the Signs?
3 What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior?
4 Exhausting Silence: Emotional Costs of Withholding Complaints