When Love Stops Working: Getting it Going Again

Couple kissing behind an umbrellaMany people want love in their lives. It is a vital ingredient of being human. We were born through our mother’s body, most likely we nursed on her breasts, and we were held, touched, and attended to; we develop in connection to others. Our survival depends on relationships, and we are not designed to be without them.

When relationships stop working, a personal wound might need to be addressed. Many of us grew up in homes in which various kinds of disconnection occurred. If our caretakers were preoccupied, angry, needy, or impatient, we may have felt neglected at times. We may have lost someone we loved, or have been disregarded or abused. As children, we had to survive this pain. We may have learned to push our feelings outside of our awareness or developed ways to tolerate these disconnects. We bring these survival techniques into our future relationships, and they usually do not work.

Connection and safety are intricately bound. Our relationships trigger primal survival needs. When threatened, the primal fears of an infant emerge. Survival is at the root of our relationships, and it is difficult to play or be vulnerable when you do not feel safe.

When our relationships are threatened or we feel insecure, we may become afraid of abandonment, of being overwhelmed, or of feeling trapped. Those feelings can emerge as rage, fear, longing, or grief, causing us to react negatively rather than respond reasonably. We often do not see where these feelings come from. We have no way to link them to an actual past event. All we know is that something feels awful and we struggle to be seen, heard, and understood. The emotional dance that emerges, born of deep longings for safety and connection, is not logical.

Feeling safe, asking for what we need, and being responsive are paramount to our health and happiness. Safety must exist for both intimacy and play to be present in a committed relationship. While we do not need to delve into the past to change things, it usually helps. We need to start examining and improving our current relational skills.

  • Do you accept too little in a relationship? If you accept too little, it is time to decide that you deserve more and figure out what is stopping you.
  • Are you too demanding? If it always has to be your way, you will need to trust that you can get enough of what you need without misusing your power.
  • Can you ask for what you need? Do you believe that you have impact—that you are worth listening to and being responded to? Why not?
  • What are the ways that you disconnect? Are you willing to re-engage?
  • Do you feel safe and loved in your relationship—safe enough to be vulnerable and to play? What do you need to help you feel safer and more connected?
  • Are you responsive to your partner? This will help your partner feel safe with you.

We are imperfect beings who love and are loved by other imperfect beings. While disagreements and differences are part of life and growth, conflict can make us react negatively to these differences. Deep down, we likely fear losing, not getting what we need, and not being loved.

Are you secure enough to recognize your emotions—while also listening to your partner express emotion—without making them feel wrong? Sustaining a connected relationship (with the right person) requires work and communication. We must feel confident enough to tolerate differences and remain responsive and loving even when we are uncomfortable.

© Copyright 2009 by Jennifer Lehr. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • julia t

    julia t

    August 6th, 2009 at 10:18 AM

    “What’s love got to do with it…Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken” Tina Turner… Damn i love her.

  • Holly

    Holly

    August 6th, 2009 at 2:23 PM

    My relationship stopped working when my husband made the choice to cheat on me with another woman. Is that what I would have ever chosen to happen to me and my marriage? No but for now it is what it is. I can either find a way to accept forgive and move on or not, but no matter what the choice deos now lie with me. I have tried everything that I know to make the relationship work again and still we are not getting it. What else is there to do?

  • Olivia

    Olivia

    August 7th, 2009 at 2:07 AM

    Tired of looking to the past to rehash all of those old mistakes. My new take on life is to look to the future and dedicate myself to not makiing those bad mistakes of the past again. That feels healthier to me now.

  • Cassie V.

    Cassie V.

    August 11th, 2009 at 11:42 AM

    I can’t let things go that annoy me. My mother has told me since I was small I speak without thinking and it’s true. I blurt them out and worry later. My husband and I fight about that a lot.

  • Dionne S.

    Dionne S.

    August 12th, 2009 at 9:19 AM

    The cost of powering your way through a relationship is too high you say. One person has to be or nothing ever gets done. I’m the control freak but that doesn’t make me demanding. It keeps the household wheels turning. When things get left to my husband, they don’t get done.

  • Sugarlove

    Sugarlove

    August 14th, 2009 at 4:35 PM

    But if you always have to have it your way Dionne, there’s no balance. Couples need to communicate without blame or resentment. Does your husband just keep quiet? Silence also speaks volumes.

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