What do you do when love disappears? (Either your love for your partner or your partners’ love for you.) This is perhaps the most painful and least understood relationship dynamic of all. In this episode, you’ll learn about what causes this experience, and what you can do to bring the love back.
Episode Table of Contents
Episode Introduction: When Love Disappears
What do you do when it feels like love disappears? Your love for your partner, your partner’s love for you? Stay tuned to the Deeper Dating podcast to learn what causes this dynamic and what you might be able to do to transform it.
Hey everybody, welcome to The Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page and today I’m going to talk about the feeling like your love has disappeared or like your partner’s love has disappeared or is disappearing, which is one of the strangest and most troubling and most misunderstood dynamics in our relationship lives.
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Okay, so let’s jump right in. I think that that experience of feeling like a new love you have or an old love you have or that someone has for you just somehow is disappearing is one of the most troubling, disconcerting, displacing and painful experiences we can have. It’s like the loss of home.
The Beatles wrote this lyric they said, love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight. What a painful thought. But what I want to say about that is that it’s not true. What love has is a complex habit of appearing to disappear overnight, but it doesn’t disappear. Love doesn’t disappear that easily. Does it go subterranean? Yes.
I’ll never forget an experience with an ex of mine. We were having a really difficult time, very, very painful time and it had lasted for a while and I remember looking at him at one point and just saying, “Do you still love me? I’m not sure if you still love me anymore.” And he said something so wise that I have never forgotten.
“It’s like when the sun goes into eclipse, it’s not that the sun isn’t there, it’s that you don’t see it anymore.”
And he said, “I don’t see my love for you now, but I know it’s there. It’s like the sun in an eclipse.” And Oh man, that was so wise. That was really very powerful. Not easy to hear, but so much easier than this feeling that the ground could just disappear under you.
And because we are not trained to understand that love goes subterranean. Like if you could imagine a brook or a stream that’s there, beautiful, gurgling, moving, and then it kind of goes underground as water can sometimes do.
Playing Hide and Seek
And then you think it’s gone, but it’s not gone. It’s still moving. It’s there, but it’s under the earth and it can come up again. But we are not taught that that’s so, and the truth is that love is so deep and so profound and so complex and touches on our very kind of survival mechanisms, our greatest places of joy and our greatest places of pain, dependence, shame.
All those different things so profoundly that we don’t get to steer its course in any linear way because it’s bigger than our conscious mind. It’s deeper and there are times it goes subterranean. I didn’t know that that was true for a really long time.
So what I’m going to talk about today is I’m going to talk about that experience of love going subterranean, but feeling like it’s disappeared or disappearing. And I’m going to talk about that in relation to when that happens in dating, early dating, when it happens as we’re building a relationship and when it happens in an ongoing relationship.
Obviously there’s such richness here and complexity, it’s something we’re going to be talking about lots more in lots of different ways. But I want to kind of hone this down to this deeply disconcerting experience.
Walt Whitman wrote a poem, I think it was called, On The Terrible Doubt of Appearances, and this terrible doubt when it appears that your partner’s love is gone or that your love is gone, and what causes that kind of eclipse experience and what we can do about it when that happens. So let’s dive in. When does love go subterranean?
When Love Goes Into Hiding
It can go subterranean when we’re afraid. It can go subterranean when the joy, the intensity and the profundity of it becomes so great that we just have to block it out because it’s getting too big there. So we kind of like freeze or numb. That happens a lot.
That’s something that happens interestingly for couples sexually when their relationship deepens, they find that they’re sexually attracted to each other, they’re dating, and then at a certain point the bottom kind of drops to a deeper level and all of a sudden sex becomes awkward and uncomfortable.
And it’s because the sexual expression has not matched this kind of lowering of the depths, the bottom of love. And they think, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? I don’t feel like I want to have sex now or I feel like I want to have different sex or I feel like I don’t even want to orgasm or have sex. I just want to hold this person or I don’t even know what I’m feeling.
But I kind of feel like crying now and I don’t know what it is.”
All of these kinds of things that happen that make us feel like, “Oh, is my turn on disappearing?” So that’s another thing is that when the profundity greatens, love can feel like it’s disappearing. Another time that this happens is when we reach a stage of deeper commitment and deeper risk.
And I remember in my relationship with Greg at a certain point, he said to me, “So Ken,” We lived in different States at this point. He lived in New Jersey. I lived in New York and he said, “So I’m buying a bigger house and it’s going to be an intermediate house because my kids are in high school.”
Where Is The Love?
“So we obviously can’t live together because your kid is in school too. But I’m going to get a bigger house and it’s going to have rooms so that there’s room for all of us to be together on the weekends.”
Now, what a beautiful, wonderful thing that is? But I want to tell you what I felt when he said that. Nothing but numbness. I thought, where has my love gone? That’s a really inappropriate response. But I felt nothing but numbness and fear because it was a big step and my insides had not yet accommodated to it.
So when that happens, we often feel like, “Where’s the love? Where’s the excitement? What is wrong with me?” But once again, it’s that love is a more profound experience than we let ourselves acknowledge.
Here’s another thing that happens in early and I guess into dating a little bit and it’s what I call the wave. It is what I call the single greatest saboteur of healthy new love that exists on the planet. And here’s what it is. It’s when love feels like it’s disappearing.
You meet somebody, you’re attracted to them, you’re interested in them, you’re excited, this seems really good. You start to fantasize about possible future and then you tell yourself I’m fantasizing to what you know, all that good stuff that happens in the beginning of a relationship.
Then all of a sudden this person’s like really available, all of a sudden you lose interest, you become bored, you become irritated…. their nose hairs all of a sudden are obvious. Their laugh becomes irritating. You want to go back to the thrill of the hunt and you feel like, “Where’s my desire?”
The Wave of Distancing
Now this dynamic robbed me of being able to have a relationship for decades until I learned what it was and how to handle it. It’s what I call the wave of distancing. Whenever I give a talk including to big groups of people, I ask people, “How many of you experience this?”
And I would say between half and two-thirds of the people in the room at least will always raise their hand. It’s wildly disconcerting. And when this happens, you feel like, “Well, my feelings are gone. I don’t know what that is. Maybe they’re just not sexually exciting to me. Maybe I’m bored by them.
Maybe they’re not a good match, or maybe I am just really screwed up in bed with intimacy, but whatever it is, the bottom has dropped out and I’m not feeling those feelings. It would be torture to stay in this relationship without those feelings and it would be unkind to the other person and it would be inauthentic. So let me just get out of here right now while I can.”
This is something I did so many times and it’s something so many of us do, but it’s the wrong thing to do. What has happened is that for whatever reason our love has gone subterranean. And if we can at those moments back up a little bit, and I want to say something about sex here, but I’ll say it in a moment.
Back up, give ourselves space and room to breathe. Not ask too much of ourselves.
Slow things down if we need to slow things down but not flee and still find ways to enjoy this person. This claustrophobic suffocation experience of newly growing intimacy will fade and pass and the breezes of affection will come back.
The Moon Behind a Silver Dollar
And your feelings almost definitely will start to come back. And when they do, you’ll have a deeper understanding of whether or not this match is right for you. But we are not taught that that’s the case.
It’s a funny thing like you could see the moon and you could hold up a big full moon and you could hold up a silver dollar to your eye and then you don’t see the moon anymore. And the silver dollar is so small and the moon is so big. But because of how we’re positioned, we stopped seeing it.
When we have a growing love, our fear can be like a silver dollar where we literally don’t see the moon anymore. And so many of us flee at that point.
And so many of us have had the experience of having our partner flee. What the hell is wrong? Like we’re getting closer, we’re connecting and all of a sudden they’re gone. And these are some of the reasons why, but I want to give another reason why that happens. And it’s around sex and it’s also a little bit around drinking or drugs.
And this is what I want to say about that is sex without kind of equal amount of safety is like miracle grow for our terror of intimacy. Sex without an equal amount of psychic safety will make us regress and one of two things are going to happen.
After the sex, we’re either going to want to get out of dodge and get away from there so we can breathe again, or we’re going to get needy and clingy and insecure. And it makes sense because sex is such a profoundly intimate act and the level of safety has not yet matched the level of intimacy.
So one thing that makes that happen is drinking in early dating. So if you drink in early dating and you have sex before you feel safe and before you’re ready, chances are that afterwards, both or one of you is going to experience fear of intimacy symptoms.
Now, that’s not always true, but it’s something to really, really, really be aware of because it’s true for many people and it’s something I’ve seen a lot. So then the relationship deepens and the connection deepens and let’s say you get past the wave, both of you get past the wave, which as I said, for those of us that suffer with this, it takes a good deal of compassion and space.
But the miracle, the miracle, the miracle is that the wave is a wave and waves pass. And this is an example that I’ve given. When I quit smoking cigarettes, when I got that wave of wanting to smoke, it felt like truth. It felt like biological truth. It felt like emotional truth. I should have a cigarette.
Like NOW – I need it, I want it and it’s right that I have that cigarette. And if I did not get seduced by that wave, which thank God I ultimately didn’t, it would crash over me and then it would pass and then I wouldn’t want a cigarette anymore. And my vision would be clearer. And that’s what happens with the wave.
So let’s say we get past the wave and we are now into a deeper relationship. Well, when we hit a point where there’s a point of deeper commitment, often we will feel that kind of love going subterranean. There are other things too.
Rupture and Repair
If we start feeling afraid, if we start feeling unseen, if old trauma triggers itself, if we are afraid to show our deepest self and we kind of hide that self, all of those things, will make love begin… the feeling of love, begin to disappear. But the amazing truth is, and this is a piece of it, is that as love can feel like or appear as though it’s going away, it also reappears.
They say that love is a process of rupture and repair and this is kind of a magic thing if we can give ourselves space.
In a relationship, when we give our partners space, when they give us space, when we’re tender with each other, when we’re kind, when we’re willing to have adventures together, when we support each other, when all of those things happen, love can feel like it’s going to reappear and like it does reappear. And that’s a really magical thing.
Now when we’re in an ongoing relationship, there’s another thing that happens and that is the numbness of day to day life. And Eli Finkel, brilliant researcher showed a diagram at one point in a TED Talk of what happens to the vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of spousal relationships.
And that’s gay, straight, everything, everything. And what it is, is if you could picture a gradual line heading down hill. And that’s what happens to the aliveness and the quality of communication and the actual quality of the relationship as described by members of the couples.
And that happens to almost everybody. And why is that? Because it takes work to kind of dig down and find the freshness again and again in a relationship.
The Gottman’s wonderful, brilliant researchers on relationships, talk about a concept that they call bids. And a bid is when you’re in a relationship and folks, this is true of every, every, every precious relationship in our lives.
So bids are, you look at your partner and you say something like, “Oh wow, look out the window. Is that such a beautiful sunset?” That’s a bid. And your partner is on their phone and they go, “I’ll look in a minute.” And at that minute, the color goes away.
You have lost that bid. You have made a bid, your partner missed it. The more bids you catch, the more intimacy there is. Every bid lost, especially important ones, creates a tiny bit of numbing, a tiny bit of disappearance of the freshness and the aliveness of that intimacy.
And every bid seen, caught, and handed back with consciousness and presence enriches the feeling of love.
And it’s an amazing, amazing thing. You can go through days and days of like just a mundane kind of existence with your partner, and then there’s a moment where you remember how sexually attracted you are.
There’s a moment where he or she just touches you in a gentle way or does something really kind or just takes your hand. They’re just holding hands. The feelings come back and it’s not like you thought you didn’t love this person anymore.
But the feelings of that kind of very alive intimacy had gone subterranean and at that moment they come alive again and we get to do that. And what we don’t know, and it’s such a beautiful and profound truth, is that so often when we think love has disappeared, it has not disappeared.
A Reflective Space
It has gone subterranean for deep reasons. And it can reappear, and will reappear, when we allow space for ourselves, allow space for our partners, make the extra effort to make room for them and to think about them and to think about their experience.
When we apologize for things we’ve done wrong, here’s a really, really, really, really big one. When you take space for yourself, I don’t know if you find this, I find this, when I take space for myself, I take time to meditate or take a walk or just kind of have space.
I begin to think about the people I love and realize bids I dropped and realize why I love them and think of really nice things that I’d like to be able to do for them that I just hadn’t thought of, or remember things that they said that I never followed up on it. And that only happens when I’m in a reflective space.
So there’s a softening of heart that happens when we give ourselves that space for reflection. And without it, our hearts become kind of flinty and hardened. And that’s often when love goes a little bit subterranean.
Forgiving, that’s another one. If you’re in a relationship, sex, absolutely loving, caring sex, hot, wonderful sex brings back feelings of love. So this experience of the love going subterranean, love eclipsing and then love coming back is part of the ride of the journey.
And as we grow in intimacy, we grow to appreciate more and more that we can reclaim love that feels like it’s disappeared. Have you ever had that experience of love feeling like it’s disappeared? And have you ever had the feeling of love, feeling like it reappears?
The Exquisite Magic of Intimacy
It’s a worthy thing to think about what makes love reappear for us. Again, I’m not only talking about times where it feels like love has completely disappeared, I’m also talking about those times in day to day life where we’re just not particularly feeling it because we’re busy. What are those things that make love reappear? What can we do? And another issue is …
How do we make love reappear when it comes to love of ourselves?
For me, time and space and time for reflection is when love reappears most easily. In relationship, it’s with extra kindness, extra seeing and being seen. So often we think love is lost and we move on but it’s not lost. It’s waiting to be reclaimed and waiting to be re-seen and re-witnessed. And that’s kind of, this is part of the poignant bittersweet and exquisite magic of intimacy.
With every person in your life who feels like a treasure and it feels like love has gone somewhat subterranean, you can reclaim it in so many cases and all of us can, and that is a gift that makes our entire life richer.
So thank you so much for listening. Please go to deeperdatingpodcast.com, join my mailing list. Please subscribe, leave me a review. Enjoy these insights, enjoy these ideas. When you go to Deeper Dating Podcast, just click on Ask Ken and you can leave me a message telling me any reflections or any experiences that you have with these exercises and a number of those I will actually air on the podcast if you like.
So, thank you all and I’ll see you next week on The Deeper Dating Podcast.