Some counseling sessions are just down right startling. I distinctly recall this one couple and the way they entered their first session at their initial intake looking unusually happy –perhaps some nervous energy, I thought. He wiggled in his seat and checked out my degrees, licenses, and certifications and other objects in the room. She sat with her legs crossed foot bouncing softly waiting for me to ready my clipboard. Intakes, the first session where routine questions are asked of therapy clients to evaluate therapeutic needs/issues, are one of my favorite parts of conducting therapy. I find that during an intake, people give you so much information in their language. I often listen more to their tone, observe body language and listen closely to the specific words client’s choose than I do to there actual verbal responses they give to my intake questions. This couple told me a lot in their intake—more than I expected.
She sat legs crossed away from him, arms tightly folded across her chest, and did a great deal of involuntary eye rolling when I asked about the state of their relationship (typically a sign of contempt). He was very direct in his answers, seemingly detached from his wife, sat forward in his chair leaning over towards me—almost asking me with his body language to “ please fix this for me”.
As I dove deeper with questions, the wife boldly interrupted me and spilled out what I was already thinking about her “Let me save you some time—I think I have fallen out of love with my husband and I don’t know what to do about it.” Naturally, I reacted like a therapist—calmly and accepting. The husband …not so much. He angrily started ranting about” how he had given up so much for her, provided well, did “everything” she wanted, and this is what I get?” The energy in the room became volatile. I took it down a few notches and thanked them both for such honest sharing—and asked for everyone to take a deep breath.
This couple is not the first or the last to say these words “I think I fell out of love with him/her.” The therapist in me begs the question what does it mean when we say we “fall in love”. Teasing it all apart— I discussed what love means to me by definition in my very first blog post “ Love Letter’s to my Daughters”-I see it as lifelong. We all know what infatuation is—it’s a short lived, intense, fleeting (albeit passionate), surface, crush. Falling in love is definitely a far different process—and it’s different for everyone. It goes beyond the initial feelings of infatuation; it’s a getting to know process, story telling, a bearing of and melding of the souls so to say, a growing fondness and affection, a desire to be with one another more and more, it’s endearing and lasting. So then what does it mean to fall out of love? Can someone actually fall out of love? Is it possible?
I will not imply that there is a right or wrong answer here—just an open and curious discussion and a sharing of my singular opinion. Given my time spend conducting therapy, I think the answer is no. People don’t fall out of real love—they simply become disenchanted with their partners for any multitude of reasons and they lose sight of the things they loved about them. Contempt (like I saw in the wife’s eye rolling I spoke of above) means a person can no longer stand a person after issues have gone on too long, feelings have not been addressed properly, and there is an exhaustion and resentment overshadowing the relationship. Contempt smothers love—it pushes it away. The love remains, but there is a disbelief that it could ever exist again in it’s previous form. Falling out of love may simply be language for all that was good is lost beneath all that is bad. I will say, often times when couples talk about falling out of love, there is still a deep love for one another, but a realization that neither is willing to put in the time and effort to correct the issues that need work-to unearth their love again. Sometimes, people want to walk away and that’s a choice too.
My personal take is that love remains once established if it was in fact real love in the first place. Sometimes people enter a relationship and think they fall in love but it’s based on false personalities, dishonesty and misrepresentation, a crisis for one person or the other, or band aid reaction for a wound or from another broken relationship. That isn’t real love.
So, I see my role as a therapist to remain steadfast in my desire to believe that love is forever—and this may play out differently for every couple. Some may rekindle what was buried beneath a magnitude of issues, some may choose to part –having past their personal “point of no return.” Some may be hurt or damaged too much to save. It really just depends on what each individual and the couple as a pair wants—it is a choice. I guess the notion that you can so easily “fall” out of something so incredibly deep as love is not a believable premise for me. Maybe because it’s my job to believe, maybe it’s because I am fortunate to know real love, maybe it’s because I have seen love lost and found again time after time. Maybe because it’s my job to believe in and have faith in the power of love. I couldn’t think of anything better to stand for.