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"I don't love you any more" might not be the end
How to rebuild when your partner says the love is gone.
You knew things weren't great but you'd no idea it had reached this stage. Your partner has either said 'I love you but I'm not in love with you' or come right out with it and declared the marriage over.
You’ll probably be in shock and think your world is crumbling around you. However, trust me, it’s probably not as bad as you fear.
I find more marriages end at this point because the panicking recipient of the news pushes their partner out the door, rather than because of the determination of the other partner to leave.
You have probably made mistakes about the way you handle the news – I've yet to meet someone in your situation who hasn't. What counts is that you identify what isn't working so you can stop and try something different.
This week, I’ve put together some points about what to do and not to do - they are expanded on in my book, I Love You But I’m Not in Love with You: Seven Steps to Saving Your Relationship.
What not to do
1. Talk about love.
It's wonderful that you still love your partner, because it will provide the determination to turn round your marriage, but repeatedly telling them is just a reminder that they feel like they don’t love you.
Don't bring up love again until your partner wants to talk about it.
2. Beg for a second chance.
In your partner's eyes, begging and pleading tends only to reinforce their decision. It does nothing to reframe the dynamic between you.
Your partner will stand back, feeling their sense of alienation increase, and their belief that you’re not the one for them strengthening.
3. Go for a quick fix.
You're on the internet booking a romantic trip on the Orient Express, but this just shows you’re not listening. It makes your partner think you've not taken the enormity of their decision seriously.
4. Use the children.
It's not just you who's going to be heartbroken, but the kids too. You've also read somewhere that children from divorced homes do worse in school – and make sure your partner knows this.
But this tactic will either push your partner further away (because they’ve probably thought of nothing but the effect on the kids and you're suggesting they haven’t) or you’ll be fobbed off with 'they'll get over it' (which makes you mad and causes another row).
5. Label your partner as the problem.
There might be some truth in this diagnosis but telling your partner where they are going wrong is not going to rekindle love, just make them defensive.
It also makes you feel helpless because you can't change someone else.
However, if you think of this as a problem with your marriage – a joint problem – you can start fixing your half.
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What might work…
It might take two people to fix a marriage but you can start the ball rolling. This way your partner is encouraged to want to mend it too. Here's how:
You can never say phrases like these enough: 'I can see you're unhappy', 'I know you're angry' or 'I didn't listen in the past'.
Demonstrate how much you want to understand with follow up questions: 'How did that feel?’ Meanwhile, prompts like 'Tell me more' show you can listen – even to difficult and painful subjects.
Over time, it will raise a small flicker of hope in your partner's heart: change might be possible.
2. Imagine every word they say is true.
For a second, imagine that everything your partner says is right – because in their head, they are.
How does the situation look now? What would you change about your behaviour?
4. Make a concrete plan.
Take everything you've learnt from your discussions since they announced their bombshell and write down what you personally need to do differently – as this will underline your commitment.
Make certain the changes are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed (ie there's a date for completion).
You might like to tell your partner your resolution – it's up to you – but be prepared for them to be sceptical.
5. Be kind to yourself.
It will take time to turn things round and it will be harder if you're not eating or sleeping properly. In addition, it's easy to take your partner's criticism too much to heart and start to feel there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.
In 30 years of helping people in your situation, however, I've yet to meet a couple where it is not six of one and half a dozen of the other and I doubt you're the exception.
6. Get the right help.
An outside eye will help you stay balanced and provide support when you're down. However, choose carefully. Don't confide in your children and drag them into the dispute, and your mother might not be the most neutral observer.
Find a friend who’s been through something similar – but either stayed with, or is on good terms with, their partner – or consult a professional.
In other news, I recently had a wonderful in-depth podcast conversation with academic and author Dr Sam Carr about his work on loneliness. We covered social loneliness, loneliness within a relationship, and existential loneliness. If you missed it, the episode is here: The Silent Epidemic: Loneliness.
As always, if it feels like the right time to start marital therapy, send an email to Tricia (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a virtual or in-person appointment with one of my team of therapists in London, or with me here in Berlin.