If you’ve been with your husband for 18 years and you’ve only recently found yourself to be not in love with him anymore, I’d say that’s kind of fantastic and, really, pretty rare. In long-term relationships, like marriages that have lasted more than a decade, there’s a cycle of falling in and out of love. I’ve heard that the key to avoiding divorce is for both people in a marriage to not fall out of love at the same time. As long as one spouse still feels the “in love” sensation – even if it’s temporary – the relationship has a fighting chance. It’s when both fall out of love at the same time and neither person falls back in love before one or both of them loses hope and motivation, that the marriage is doomed.
From the sounds of it, this falling out of love sensation is new for you – maybe a first round of the in-love-out-of-love cycle (which, again, after 18 years of marriage is kind of extraordinary and maybe you should share your secrets) – and your spouse wants to fight. Sure, the way he wants to fight doesn’t sound super efficient (what does “he’d change” even mean?), but the fact that he isn’t countering your revelation of not being in love anymore with a “me too” is encouraging. He wants to fight for your marriage, and there’s nothing you’ve said in your brief note to indicate that it isn’t worth fighting for.
So, what do you do? Well, first, accept that what you’re feeling is pretty normal. Over the course of an 18-year marriage, I’m sure you’ve had challenges (because what long marriage hasn’t?!); I’m sure there’s been suffering and boredom and frustration. I hope, though, that there’s also been joy and excitement and closeness. Can you look at the life you’ve created together and feel proud about any of it? Can you feel a sense of accomplishment? (If not, maybe this feeling of being out of love with your spouse isn’t as recent as you say it is, and that’s a problem.) If you can feel some positivity about your marriage, let yourself celebrate those high points. Then, think about what it is you feel is missing. Can you articulate it? For a lot of people who have been in long marriages, it’s a general feeling of restlessness, boredom, and wondering – at this midpoint of life – what other paths might await. Is the second half of your life just going to be more of the same? This can be an uncomfortable thought for many people.
Again, all these feelings are normal and they don’t mean your marriage is doomed. But if you can articulate some things that make you feel dissatisfied with your marriage/your spouse, that’s the first step toward crossing the hurdles and finding the passion again. Some potential things that may be affecting you are: not feeling attracted to your spouse anymore; feeling a lack of an emotional connection; physical intimacy has waned; you don’t spend enough quality time alone together; you don’t prioritize fun. If you’re having trouble articulating what’s affected your recent falling out of love, a marriage counselor can help. A marriage counselor can also help address the underlying issues once you’ve pinpointed them. Because there is a reason you’ve suddenly fallen out of love after 18 years together. And barring a serious betrayal or complete apathy about the union from both parties, there is potential to save the marriage and to re-ignite the flame that fueled your love in the first place.
Maybe you really are simply ready to throw in the towel and move on, but I think 18 years together is worth some self-reflection about how you arrived at this juncture. Both your husband AND you deserve some attention and a fight to save what you share together – or to see if you can re-claim what you once shared. Life is hard, it’s full of suffering and loneliness and disappointment. If you’ve been lucky enough to have a companion to share in some of the burden of life’s challenges along with appreciation for and celebration of its many joys, you may not be aware of how hard that is for many people to find. Don’t be so quick to throw it away.
Yes, falling in love or being in love is a wonderful feeling. But it’s fleeting. Real, long-lasting love doesn’t always have sparks flying or leave you with butterflies in your stomach. Sometimes the strongest love is the one you’re considering walking away from; it may not be what makes you jump out of bed in the morning, but it’s what holds you up throughout the day, even – or especially – in moments of crisis when you want to collapse. If you think your marriage has gotten stagnant though and you miss a reason to jump out of bed, work on that. See a counselor if you need help figuring out how (you can also peruse the self-help section of your local library or bookstore for guides to re-establishing a connection with your spouse), but don’t walk away just because you’ve recently fallen out of love. That would be like selling a reliable car because it needs an oil change or it’s run out of gas. There may still be many miles left in your ride. Don’t walk away before seeing how a tune-up might make things feel fresh again.