Mike & I are celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary this July. I would love to say that our marriage has always been strong, fun, romantic, and as happy as the earliest days of our relationship but… well, come on. Keeping the fire burning steadily for a couple decades or so is a challenge. And as most couples do, we hit some really tough patches where it was sometimes really painful to even be in the same house with each other. There were times we wondered if we were going to make it, or if trying was even worth the effort.
There seems to be a time in many marriages, often around the five to seven year point of the relationship, which can be a painful time for couples. A dynamic starts to form, characterized by feelings of emotional and even physical distance, caused by accumulated hurts, irritation or frustration with one another, or sometimes simply feeling like you are growing apart. Those things you once shared in common are no longer enough. It is also when you have settled into a life and routine together. The excitement of the newness begins to fade, replaced with boredom, routine, and sometimes multiple wounds from unresolved conflicts. This is the phase of a marriage where even the things that initially brought you together can begin to tear you apart. It is a time when many couples divorce and is often referred to as the seven year itch.
I wish the seven year itch was a myth or that it did not affect us, but we were no exception. We had a very painful two years filled with hurt, conflict, confusion, and anger. The feelings of love were fading and were being replaced with pain. It was difficult to turn toward one another and felt easier to isolate, create diversions, and to turn toward other things that would have made us feel needed, loved, or complete. But we also knew that was not an option. Fortunately, we also knew this is a stage all marriages go through and, once on the other side we would be stronger from fighting for each other. It is a tough time, but there are survival skills that will be useful in your arsenal.
We have written a lot about the relationship issues cops (and others) face, such as addictions and mental illness, infidelity, abuse issues, and the pressures of police work on couples. But this is about beating the odds of simply drifting away from each other – or overcoming the drift if it has already started – and the resultant sensation you’ve “fallen out of love.” In fact, allowing distance to grow between you and your partner in some cases may actually precede the other problems and contribute to their development. And so, the first and most important step we always give people, the one that all the future steps are built upon, is…
See love as a behavior, not a feeling.
As a couples’ counselor the number one statement I hear from clients is, “I’ve fallen out of love with my partner.” All relationship counselors have heard this and our answer is universal: “Yes, all romantic relationships go through this, and it is not a reason to end the relationship.” Now there might be some good reasons to end the relationship, and there might be good reasons for falling out of love, but in and of itself having “fallen out of love” is not one of them. You’re in my office, you’re trying to make it, so let’s work on getting past “fallen out of love.”
The first step is changing the way you think of love from primarily an emotion you feel to the actions you do (or have stopped doing) for each other. Look at the common sentence, “I love you.” Now, diagram it.
Okay, just kidding… sorry about the junior high English flashback! Anyway, the word love is a verb; an action word. Something you do. Now, that is not to say that the feelings of love - the emotions you experience – are not legitimate or real. They are. But what happens is the boredom, routine, irritations, accumulated hurts, etc begin to wear on you and displace those love feelings you had for your partner. As they do, you begin withdrawing the actions of love; all those things you used to do that made them feel special to you and gave you satisfaction merely from doing them. Your partner, in turn, often does the same and you both settle into different, more self-absorbed, routines until neither of you love (that is, commit to doing the behaviors of love) each other anymore. Add the stresses of work, raising kids, family obligations, and trying to keep a social life going and is it any wonder couples start to feel estranged living under the same roof?
The bad news is how common drifting apart really is. The good news is how easy it can be for motivated couples to overcome! If you can wrap your head around the idea of loving each other as a behavior, the rest is simply taking a strategic response to defeat it. In our next article we build upon this one, with deference to the unique issues being a police couple can impose, by outlining our easy – fun even - strategic response.
About the Authors:
Althea Olson, LCSW has been in private practice in the Chicago suburbs since 1996. She has a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University providing individual, couple, & group therapy to adolescents, adults, and geriatrics. Althea is also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management & is a certified divorce mediator.
Mike Wasilewski, MSW has been with a large suburban Chicago department since 1996. He holds a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University and has served on his department’s Crisis Intervention & Domestic Violence teams. Mike is an adjunct instructor at Northwestern College.
Mike & Althea have been married since 1994 and have been featured columnists for Officer.Com since 2007. Their articles are extremely popular and they now provide the same training and information in person throughout the United States. This dynamic team was recently featured at the at the 2010 & 2011 ILEETA Conference & Exposition.
Out of their success has come the formation of More Than A Cop where the focus is providing consultation and trainings on Survival Skills Beyond The Street.