Are you in love with your husband?
For years, I was pretty sure I wasn’t in love with mine. The thought scared me, so I didn’t allow myself to dwell on it. But sometimes in the midst of life, it would pop into my head, unbidden. “I’m not in love with my husband.”
If I’d allowed my mind to go down that path, I was afraid I would get to a point where I had no choice but to face this reality and then act on it. If I allowed myself to think about it, I was afraid everything else would be stripped away, leaving me only with the reality that I’d never been in love with Big Guy. And then, I would have to wonder why I had stayed so long in a marriage where I wasn’t even in love with my husband. I wasn’t sure I could bear to think about having wasted so many years of my life, so I stayed entrenched in my cocoon.
Other women have written to me to say the same thing. “I’m not sure I’m in love with my husband anymore.” “I don’t think I was ever really in love with him.” “Is it possible to fall in love again?” “Is it possible to fall in love with someone you aren’t sure you’ve ever loved?” “What if my entire marriage is based on a false foundation?”
Limerence, not love
What does it even mean to be in love? As a young woman, I thought being in love and loving were the same thing.
When my husband and I began dating, there was definitely chemistry between us. We were absorbed—with each other, with the idea of being in love, with having a relationship. That was love, right?
Wrong. What we were experiencing was limerence, that emotional and mental state of thinking about the other person constantly. We experienced physical attraction, hope for the future, and romantic or sexual fantasies about being with the other person. In other words, it is infatuation.
Being in love was exciting. I would sit by the phone in case he would call. (This was back in the old days when not only did you not carry your phone with you away from home, the phone at home was attached by a cord. “Sitting by the phone” meant, literally, sitting by the phone.) I wondered how my first name would sound with his last name. During the first two weeks after we began dating, I skipped three of my favorite college classes just because being with this guy was more important than learning and pursuing my own goals.
Limerence, this stage of infatuation, was what it meant to be “in love.” But what happened to this feeling?
Building a life
Plain and simple, limerence was replaced by life. Big Guy and I developed a shared life together—as boyfriend and girlfriend, as an engaged couple, and then as husband and wife. The details of living began to fill up. Instead of cleaning his apartment and cooking to impress him, I let him have a sticky bachelor kitchen floor and eat from the same pizza box three days in a row. Instead of taking me out for an extravagant meal at a romantic restaurant followed by a movie, he would ply me with popcorn and cola in front of a football game.
As limerence left us, daily life was still there. We resumed the regularly scheduled programming that had been interrupted by our infatuation with each other. I went to classes again. We did our homework. We got back to normal—only it was a new version of normal that included another person.
For the next ten years, we experienced one infatuation after another: getting engaged, being newly married, having children, buying our first house. Just as things would settle down into a new normal, along came something else. The first decade of our relationship was filled with one new experience after another that we could fall in love with.
And then . . . we suddenly were no longer building new parts of our life. We were just trying to keep up with the parts that were already there. There was nothing new to fall in love with. No more limerence to connect us to hopes and dreams. I was so used to being infatuated that I didn’t know what to make of not having that feeling. This when I began to wonder, “Am I in love with him? Was I ever?” Not coincidentally, it was when the refusal and gate-keeping began. I had connected the feeling of being in love with someone or something with interest in sex.
How do you shake that “oh, no, I’m not in love anymore” feeling?
If you find yourself concerned because you no longer feel in love with your husband (or wonder if you ever were), it’s important to find a way to move past this so you can get on with the work of growing your marriage.
So what can you do?
- Recognize that you most likely were in love in the beginning of your relationship. If you don’t remember, it may just be that life layered all over the top of those memories—which is exactly the way life works sometimes.
- Think about being in love as a stage, not a lifelong state of being. I used to be annoyed when I would hear someone say, “Oh, after all these years, my heart still goes pitter-pat when he walks in the room.” I never believed it. Now, sometimes it happens to me—but it’s about sexual anticipation, not about being in love.
- Find new adventures to fall in love with—with your husband. Our first ten years were one exciting new thing after another. If it’s important to you to keep that “in love” feeling, find new things that you and your husband can fall in love with together.
- If you find yourself stuck by the worry that you aren’t in love or that you were never in love, deal with it. Spend time in prayer. Seek counseling. Dealing with my fear of “what if I was never really in love with him?” was an important part of my own healing process in moving past my gate-keeping and refusing.
- Recognize that a good marriage doesn’t have anything to do with being in love. Too often, I hear “I was never really in love with him” followed by “so I think we shouldn’t stay married.” The two don’t have to have anything to do with each other. The fact that arranged marriages can be successful shows us that being in love isn’t necessary in building a good marriage.
- Allow yourself to think about what this means for your marriage. If you aren’t in love with your husband (and even if you question if you ever were), why does it matter? Why do you think a marriage needs to be about being in love? A marriage is two people becoming one flesh, living a shared life. All the details of paying bills, raising kids, figuring out where to spend holidays, cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night, teaching kids to drive, worrying about finances and jobs, the endless loads of laundry, staying up late waiting for a teenager to arrive home, the snow blowing and mowing . . . those are things that layered together to make our shared life. My shared life with my husband has been built by all the experiences we’ve lived together—not by infatuation.
- Stop thinking of love as a feeling. Love isn’t how you feel. Love is what you do. When my children were small, part of how I knew how fiercely I loved them was that I knew I would die to save them—my willingness to act was love, not just feeling all gooey inside. Loving has very little to do with being in love. Love is a verb. It is a decision—even if it’s a decision you make every single day. You love by doing, not by feeling.
I admit that there are times I miss the romance and the extravagant gestures of being in love with Big Guy. I miss the love notes and the cute little things he would pick up for me at the mall. I miss wanting to do his laundry for him and wash his kitchen floor. But these things weren’t about love. They were about limerence, infatuation, and wanting to impress each other so we could have a future.
You know what? It worked. We got that future. We are living it every single day.
It no longer bothers me to think about not being in love with my husband. True love isn’t about impressing each other. It isn’t about feeling giddy and daydreaming about each other.
Loving is sacrificial.
Ephesians 5 compares the relationship between a husband and a wife to the relationship between Christ and His Church. Christ loved us by serving us, to the point of dying a painful death. Loving us was not easy. Love, true love, is not an infatuation. It is a giving, a serving, and a sacrificing.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:25-28)
I have a husband who tries to love me like Christ loves the church.
Why would I want to be “in love” when I could have love, true love, instead?
Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Shared at To Love, Honor, and Vacuum