I want to fall in love with my husband again

We've been through so much: Where did the love go?

By Cary Tennis

Published August 12, 2011 12:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I think that I've fallen out of love with my husband and I want to love him again.

I don't actively look forward to him coming home from work, happy to see him walk through the door. I don't wake up in the morning and smile at his sleeping back just because he's with me. I read something somewhere about "imagine how difficult it would be to be separated from your wife/husband for six months" and I didn't feel much of anything. I can imagine my life without him.

There's nothing wrong with our relationship. We don't fight, we have identical politics, similar tastes, similar financial priorities, we get along like friends. He's the only one who can pull me out of depressive funks. He's never looked at another woman or done anything but love me entirely, unconditionally. I really want to love him unconditionally, like he loves me.

I don't know what's wrong with me and why I can't just love him. I am depressed and filled with self-loathing and have never really been able to accept his unconditional love ... since the beginning I've been prepared for him to leave me as soon as he figures out just what a bum deal he got with me and that he can do better (we were both young and he was very inexperienced when we first met -- see, he doesn't even know all the beautiful, gentle women he's missing out on!).

My love has conditions! If he cheats, I'm out. If I don't want to have sex for more than x amount of time, I'm out. If I slip further and further into feeling "responsible for the household," If if if if ... I'm out. I can't let go of these things and I can't lose myself in love. Our relationship has felt for a long time like I just have to get our little unit through the next thing ... just have enough money to pay the rent, just get out of unemployment for me, then just get out of unemployment for him, then move ourselves and the cats across the country, then save enough money to make it for three months on unemployment, then then then ... and somewhere in there I stopped looking forward to some future time of us fulfilling some romantic dreams together in the future. Then I stopped having dreams with both of us in them. He's almost never in my dreams now.

I guess I remember when I felt like all of this steeling myself and pushing through was for us together, that we loved each other and we were on a little boat (with the cats) in a sea of shit and we would keep our little boat moving forward, us against the world, because we loved each other. But now it's just the boat moving forward because it has to go forward. I'm not sure why ... I know I just have to keep the boat going ...

When we first started dating I had just ended an open relationship. I was in college, very insecure, and when my ex insisted on an open relationship (cuz we were all Marxists, weren't we?) I agreed despite hating the idea. And of course it was awful, it destroyed my (little) confidence. In order to not get hurt, I detached myself emotionally. I guess I did it so well that I stopped loving my ex and then I left him. Maybe that's why I can't love unconditionally? Because the last time I did I got stuck in an open relationship that I stayed in for months after it was clear that I needed to leave, all because I loved completely and couldn't stand the idea of hurting him.

Then I start thinking so much bullshit ... like how can women ever love a man unconditionally without being afraid of losing themselves? Without getting dumped with the dishes and the health of the checking account and keeping the relationship fresh and interesting and coming up with fun things to do so you're not just sitting in the house all day and and and ... . How many women have loved unconditionally and taken care of the "family unit" until their own personhood was so small? How many women (like my mother) aren't even capable of imagining a life on their own because they have always put themselves second, spent their entire lives keeping everything barely taped together, always on the edge of falling apart? Why am I so selfish ... only thinking of the relationship in terms of what I get and making sure that I don't give too much ... a person who really loves someone doesn't keep count. But isn't this just how women give themselves away?

How can I lose myself? How can I lose myself in love? How can I love him again? He loves me totally without conditions. How can I love him like that? I want to look at him and feel in love. All I have now is hugging him before I fall asleep, saying to myself over and over again, "Just love him. Just love him. Just love him. Just love him."

Out of Love

Dear Out of Love,

We are not inexhaustible, you know. We have limits. We will shut down when we reach those limits. Parts of us will go to sleep. Perhaps your love for this man is not dead. Perhaps it has just gone to sleep.

Perhaps you have simply overdone it; you have pushed yourself too hard, you have given of yourself and given of yourself and finally have run out of self.

That is one explanation. The other is this: "Since the beginning," you say, "I've been prepared for him to leave me as soon as he figures out just what a bum deal he got."

How awful it must be to live with that fear. No wonder you are exhausting yourself. No wonder you no longer feel deep, trusting love. How can you love someone completely if you think he's going to leave you the minute he discovers your shortcomings? How can you love someone completely if you don't trust him?

And why don't you trust him? You don't trust him because you don't trust yourself. You don't love him because you don't love yourself.

The logic of it is this: If you don't believe you're worthy of love, then you can't believe that anyone will truly love you, and so it's dangerous for you to love that person because he will leave you.

So even though you say he loves you unconditionally, you don't really believe it. Deep down, you're scared that the minute he really sees you for who you are, he'll leave. So you can't love him. In fact, in a way you have come to hate him, as you hate yourself, your own shortcomings, your own failure to love completely.

So it all comes back to you. You've got to love yourself first. You've got to take a break from this agonizing and backbreaking struggle to prove yourself worthy.

You are worthy. You have to know that. Maybe you should go look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you are worthy. I know that this is the worst cliché of the self-help culture. I know that it sounds ridiculous and is easy to make fun of. Yet I also know that people like you and me torment ourselves until we fall apart. We turn our merciless gaze on ourselves, a gaze under which we wither, and then we turn it on others and they also wither in our gaze. After we do that, what's left? We've scorched the landscape and then we are surprised: Where did all the love go? What have we done?

Somehow we have to find our gaze of nurturing love and turn this on ourselves and others. Where does this gaze of nurturing love come from?

Again and again, I ask myself this. My first response is, Hell if I know. And yet as I keep going it starts to come: We have this thing. We have had it since birth. We have had some kernel of self-love since birth. We have the instinct for survival. We have an instinct for delight, for self-preservation, for pleasure, for breath. We do have this. We can place our hands on our own bodies and luxuriate in who we are, in our own flesh, our own warmth, our own strength. What is love without pleasure? What is pleasure if not a kind of love?

Which brings us to this: Where is the pleasure in your love with this man? It's been all about survival, hasn't it?

Maybe pleasure is your route back to love. Find pleasure in yourself. Love yourself. Trust yourself. If you love yourself, then you are worthy of love. If you are worthy of love, then you can believe him when he says he loves you. You can trust him. If you can trust him, you can let yourself love him again.

Citizens of the Dream

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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