I'm currently in a long-term relationship where, after a difficult year of dealing with depression, my partner has claimed to have fallen "out" of love. However, she tells me that she is committed to trying to make things work. Is this feeling really something that can be regained over time? Or is now a point where one has to make the decision to love the person they're with?
Thank you for your question. Your experience is not uncommon, and the answer lies in a number of articles about love that have previously appeared on Science of Relationships (e.g., My partner has been less affectionate lately, what gives?). Love is defined in so many different ways—it sounds as if your partner does love you, just not in the way that she used to.
Recently, our own Dr. Amy Muise wrote about the difference between two forms of love, passionate and companionate, and why the shift from passionate love to companionate love can be disappointing for some. Passionate love is the “hot and heavy can’t get enough of you love” that most people label as that “in-love” feeling. Over time, this form of love changes to include a more companionate love, much like a friendship sort of love that is less intense but deeper. As you can see, these two types of love are different—you can have one or the other, or both at the same time. Because you have been dealing with depression, this likely has taken a toll and changed perceptions of romance and passion in your relationship. This change, however, does not necessarily mean that you will not have a happy and fulfilling relationship together. People’s feelings do change over time, and reigniting passion is possible.
One classic theory about commitment, the Investment Model,1 proposes that satisfaction, the amount you have invested (e.g., time, money), and quality of alternatives to the relationship (other partners, being single versus together, etc.) strongly predicts long-term commitment to relationships. Note that love itself is not in this equation. Your and your partner’s satisfaction in your relationship can obviously relate to how much you love each other, but the “type” of love it is really varies from partner to partner. If you are both satisfied with a deep, companionate love and this makes you both more committed to and invested in each other, then there is nothing wrong per se. However, if you or your partner are dissatisfied with her change in passionate feelings, then communicating with each other about ways that your feelings of satisfaction can be improved may help (assuming you are both committed to being committed!). What things does she do that make you happy? Do you like it when she offers to cook dinner together? Does she like it when you make the bed in the morning while she is in the shower? Communicating and then going out of your way to do even little things that you know your partner likes may increase her (and your) satisfaction and ultimately strengthen your commitment (and maybe even love) to each other.
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1Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the Investment Model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172-186.
Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.