6 August 2008

Once the love has gone, does it ever come back?

I have been in a relationship for 4 yrs. We live together and have a 5mth old baby, but I think the love has gone, and I can’t tell him. Once the love has gone, does it ever come back?

Evelyn Kuang

Hi Leah,

Thanks for your question. I understand that you’re in a very difficult situation with a child involved. It is a curious thing how each person defines different types of love for themselves, and how they keep that type of love alive across the years with another person- a parent, a child, a friend, a lover, a spouse etc. Unfortunately, I cannot give you a straight answer as to whether your love will come back, nor can I tell you whether that love ever disappeared in the first place. However, I can explain some things about the way relationships work, and how they are maintained which hopefully will give you some insight into your own situation. In the end, you should trust your instinct, and do what is best for yourself.

There are different kinds of love, and one love can grow into another type of love, such as a very passionate love into a companionate kind of love. This shift often happens in a romantic relationship, where it starts out very intensely, sometimes obsessively, and it can almost feel like you’re floating on air- you seem to always want to be with each other and there is a lot of physical chemistry. Some people call this « puppy love », and it can be a wonderful thing to experience. However, this type of love is often very physically, emotionally and mentally draining, and hence, does not last. But, that doesn’t mean that your love is necessarily gone- its just calmed down from a firing roar to a gentle simmer, which like a stew, can grow more tender and delicious the longer it simmers.

Now the change in the way that love is expressed (from passionate to companionate) can seem like a really devastating thing- you might spend less time in the bedroom, or go on less romantic dates, and it may seem like that initial spark is gone. That is something I call the novelty factor when encountering most new things/people/places. The thing to watch for is whether you feel your love can stand the test of time: two people living compatibly under one roof, and can happily raise a healthy child together in your case. So the definition of companionate love is an expansion of passionate love, which, in addition to romance and sexual chemistry, is associated with functionality, partnership and the growth of a deep and special friendship unlike any other. You begin to understand, accept and appreciate all the different identities and social roles your partner may encompass. Sure, it is not the sexiest thing to see your partner bending over cleaning a toilet, or changing your baby’s diapers, or tending to an unsightly rash on their bum, but there is a certain tenderness and unique intimacy that comes from knowing someone so well, and from the fact that this person trusts you and feels comfortable to expose themselves to you from all different sorts of angles. Your relationship becomes even closer, as you get to know your lover better and better through those everyday chores and intimacies that they wouldn’t just show to anyone.

What keeps a love alive? People are constantly changing, as we are fluid beings who need to change as we grow and enter different stages of our lives. A couple has to adapt, accept, support each other’s ambitions, respect each other’s constantly changing desires and needs, and be willing to compromise half and half, each person’s schedules in order to fit couple time in, as well as stay in close proximity to each other, or make a consensual decision to do long-distance temporarily if need be. The trick is, this compromise should not feel like a burden, nor should it feel like a sacrifice of one’s own identity or desires as it merely consists of shifting around the things in life that you love best so that you can keep them all- your ambitions, your lover, your kids, your pet, even your favourite spice collection! That sounds small and maybe a bit trite, but these are the little things you end up loving, and that keep your sense of individuality in a relationship.

Of course, that is one possibility. There is also the possibility that this relationship won’t work out. I would say, that if after reading the above, you don’t feel even slightly reassured or confident that your relationship reflects the above description, then perhaps your relationship has taken an unexpected turn. Passionate relationships of course, can also fizzle out too. Like the simmering pot of stew, sometimes it burns out, and that is okay too. It can be very difficult to come to terms that your romance has come to an end, but if you’re really sure of it, consider yourself courageous to have recognized that something is wrong, and done something about it. Chances are, ending it now when you are still on friendly terms, may give you both the chance to remain friends afterwards, which would also be only beneficial for your mutual child. Many people drag out relationships they knew should have ended months ago, simply because they were too afraid to say something, or didn’t listen to their gut instinct.

Then again, before a final separation, there are different things you can try to do to rekindle the passion that was there in the first place. Having an honest, heart-to-heart discussion with him about what exactly makes you unhappy in this relationship can help. For example, you could say do you think we’re as close as we used to be? Do you think we spend enough time together? etc. If you are going to do that, I would recommend catching him at a time where he is relatively relaxed and not on his way out the door.

Other issues to address- with him or without him- include : What do you think he did that could have made the love go away? What about what you have done yourself? Have you both been too complacent about your relationship and taken each other for granted? The point here is not to blame each other but to find out what happened to your relationship and what has changed for the worst so you can change it. Do you still take time for your couple, and are you still each other’s priority? Do you still strive to be the best you can be to continue to impress your partner? When was the last time you took vacation together? Or did something spontaneous? All these questions, when answered, can guide you towards what can be done to improve your relationship.

In the end, I think you should definitely give it some time, consider what I have written, and consult some friends/family.

I hope this has helped you and please don’t hesitate to ask if you have more questions in the future.

For AlterHeros,