A frequent reason given for splitting up is “I don’t love you any more”. What actually lies behind that? And: can you get it back? We discussed this with Mag. Erwin Jäggle, a psychotherapist who also deals with couples.
Instahelp: What reasons are there for love going away?
Erwin Jäggle: There have been various attempts to explain this. One interesting insight into the phenomenon of “love”, how it begins and ends, is Imago relationship theory. In this context, “Imago” means the initial picture that people form of one another. It represents the positive and negative aspects of the character of our primary relationships – in most cases parents – and ways of coping with them.
This picture, called the “Imago”, defines all of our relationships. However, mostly our intimate relationships, and this ranges from subconscious selection of the partner with whom we fall in love, through to the breakdown of the relationship with them.
Instahelp: Does this involve some “ideal”?
Erwin Jäggle: When we fall in love, we experience a rush of hormones, and we lose clarity of perception. In this condition we project our relationship-ideal onto a person who, in reality, doesn’t match that ideal. When the hormone rush ebbs away, we see clearly again and fall into deep disappointment, then embarking on an equally subconscious and always embittered power struggle destined to end with internal separation through pain and desperation. Internal separation is the phase in which we no longer have anything to say to each other, but stay together. This is often followed by external separation, the actual end of the relationship.
Instahelp: Are there people with whom that happens faster or more often?
Erwin Jäggle: People who have difficulty accepting themselves also find it hard to hold love for others within themselves. In principle, “Love for you is waning (for me), because I cannot admit love for myself.”
Of course, for some people worries also play a part, mostly anxiety about loss or attachment that allows love to “wane”.
Instahelp: Do partners often mix up the feeling of being in love and love itself? How important is it to recognise the difference, in order to keep a relationship true and steady?
Erwin Jäggle: It’s very important indeed to recognise the difference. The feeling of being in love is a wonderful high, but it only persists for a limited time. Falling in love happens without our having to do much. Many believe that this feeling must surely endure forever in the form of lifelong love. “I need you, you need me” – what could be lovelier? But that great feeling of being in love is based on a hormone rush, which people need to realise only persists for a relatively short time.
Love – yes, what is love actually? Love is about deciding on a particular person. Recently I heard someone say “Love is the internal decision on one person, even if I don’t actually need them. I don’t need you, but I want to be with you.”
Instahelp: In your experience, do many couples often give up too quickly?
Erwin Jäggle: Yes. But you can’t reproach them. Initially they really make honest efforts to save the relationship with methods they have to hand and yet, without conscious acknowledgement, they always descend into a disastrous power struggle and ultimately give up.
Instahelp: What would help to save the relationship?
Erwin Jäggle: People have to recognise and admit to themselves that their partner isn’t there to make them happy. That might sound really unromantic, but that’s the way I see it. You need to get away from the viewpoint “How do you need to change for us or me to be happy” and ask yourself “How do I contribute to things not running for us in the way I might imagine?” And: “What would I have to develop within myself for us to be able to feel that our relationship makes us happy?” I would like to refer to the concept of “conscious relationship” according to Imago relationship theory, which lays out helpful steps. People learn it in workshops or with an Imago relationship therapist.
Instahelp: Can you get love back if, at some point, it’s “gone”?
Erwin Jäggle: If love is really “gone”, I can see scarcely any chance any more. There does still have to be a hidden ember to be able to kindle a fire.
Instahelp: If the hidden ember is still there, what strategies can help?
Erwin Jäggle: If there’s still “something there” then, as before, I advise getting familiar with the concept of “conscious relationship” and applying it. Ultimately it’s about coming clean with yourself and being able to lead a fulfilled life alone too. That way you build upon your own capacity to love and your own attractiveness for your partner. In all circumstances it’s important to take care to engage in respectful and loving communication. Accusations, justifications, cynicism and “barriers” must be avoided. It’s a good idea to put those rose-tinted glasses back on and entertain realistic, positive illusions about your partner and the relationship, recalling what it was to be in love.
Instahelp: How can you know when love really is over for ever?
Erwin Jäggle: You know it …
- …when stultifying indifference has set in.
- …when you now only feel irritated by your partner.
- …when, regarding your partner, you now only see or make accusations of negative aspects.
- …when your predominant feelings are of hatred and the desire to hurt your partner.
- …when you literally and figuratively can no longer bear the smell of your partner.
Picture credits: iStock.com/AndreyPopov