Empty Love


empty-header

Relationships are hard.

That’s a simple fact – borne out by divorce rates which continue to hover around the 50% mark.

And then there’s that additional question – for every relationship that “makes it”, how many are actually happy?

How many people get up each and every day, and actively CHOOSE their partner?  How many are grateful for what they have?

Instead of that, I really wonder how many are just going through the motions and living day by day.  Still married on paper, but no longer in mind or soul?

 

All couples are different, but I think the story of a failing marriage is all too familiar.

A couple meet, and fall in love.  Everything is great, or at least good enough that they decide to get married.  And those first few years they are pretty happy.

Then over time, life starts to get in the way.  Jobs, mortgages, bills, kids, extended families.  All the stresses of “everyday life” happen, and this person who started as your friend and lover morphs into something more like a business partner.  Instead of fun and exciting, things become safe, and mundane.  And instead of actively showing each other how much we care about them, we often start to take each other for granted.

Fact for you – MOST couples don’t do a very good job of keeping the romance and the fun alive.

And then one day they wake up, and realize the passion is gone.

 

What Makes a Couple a Couple?

Let’s rewind a bit, to the early days of a relationship; and think about what it actually is that makes a couple a couple.

Is a couple defined by two people who live together?  No, you can live together and just be roommates.  Conversely you can be in a relationship without living together.  So living together has nothing to do with it.

Is it because you are close friends?  Again, no.  Yeah, friendship is an important *part* of a relationship but being a couple implies something more than that.

The term “friend zone” is used to describe when one person is looking for a relationship with another person, but in return they are just viewed as a friend.

When you have feelings for someone and you are stuck in the friend zone, this is seen as a bad thing.

Having it happen with someone you are hoping to have a relationship with is one thing – if things don’t develop into anything more you can just move on.  But when it happens when you are already IN a relationship (or worse, married)?

Well, that sucks all around.  And realistically, I’m pretty sure it’s not what anyone thought they were signing up for when the relationship started.

No, when you are a couple it is implied that each person views the other as something more, something special.  There is a degree of connection that exists, and often this connection is tied to feelings of closeness, affection, and trust.

 

Triangle Theory of Love

A while back I came across the idea of the “Triangle Theory of Love”, and I think it’s brilliant.  Love is a really difficult concept, and if you ask people to describe love, you are liable to get a different answer from every person you ask.  That’s because there are different elements to it.

triangular_theory_of_love

 

This diagram breaks love down into three basic components:

  1. Passion
  2. Commitment
  3. Intimacy

 

When we look at “romance novel” or “movie” love, the focus is always on the passion.  THIS is the part of love that people are often led to believe IS love.

But it’s not.

It’s a starting point, and a component of love.  But passion on its own does not make a sustainable relationship.  If a relationship is based only on passion, eventually it will burn itself out.  So there has to be more.

 

Although passion is great, I think Intimacy is actually a MUCH more meaningful part of love.  Intimacy is vulnerability.  This is where you have let down all the walls, and truly let the other person in.

Passion is a physical connection, which often seems emotional as well.  Intimacy however is something deeper.  I think of intimacy as almost a spiritual connection.

 

Lastly you have commitment.  People talk about commitment as if it’s this great thing, but I’m not so sure if it is.  Commitment is simply saying “I will always be there for you, no matter what”.  It’s the “in good times and in bad times” part of a relationship.  And that part IS important, because there will always be bad times.  There will always be challenges.  So commitment is what keeps you together, even when it’s not easy.  Even when maybe you don’t even want to be.

 

Empty Love

Common complaint for couples in trouble is that they feel like nothing more than roommates.  They are still together, but they are more two individuals occupying the same space.

The passion is gone.  The intimacy is gone.  And the connection is gone.

All that’s left is commitment.  And when that’s all you have left, it’s a very hollow and lonely way to love.

 

Robert Smith (The Cure) sums it up beautifully in the song Bare

 

But holding onto used to be

Is not enough

Memory’s not life

And it’s not love

 

Think about that for a moment – memory is not life, and it’s not love.

When all you have left is commitment, you have empty love.  You have history, memory, and nothing more.

I think THIS is the biggest challenge in long term relationships.  THIS is the problem that happens to SO many couples.

And THIS is why so many relationships fail.

Empty love.

Commitment, when both the passion and the intimacy have gone.

 

Choosing Love

When you have Passion, Intimacy AND Commitment all together, you have a beautiful, incredible thing.

But it’s something that is SO easy to lose.

How does this happen?  WHY does this happen?  And what can we do about it?

 

A while back, one reader (apensiveheart) gave me this comment, and I think it sums things up beautifully:

Love isn’t a feeling. Love is a verb. It is action. It is work. Part of the reason it is so successful and feels so good in the early part of a relationship is because we are willing to put in the work and make the effort to do what our companion desires. Over time, we lose that need or that desire to put that same level of effort in, and things begin to deteriorate. I think we forget just how hard we tried in the beginning simply because the feelings made it feel so easy and natural. We go from asking what can I do for you, to instead asking what can you do for me. The whole dynamic changes because our perspective changes from caring about them to caring more about ourselves.

This is one of my core beliefs about love – it’s an action, a choice.  If we want to maintain intimacy and passion, we need to work on it.

And I guess this is the real value of commitment.

Commitment ISN’T about staying together no matter what.  Commitment does not mean accepting empty love.

Commitment means always choosing your partner, each and every day.  And not just choosing them, but also putting IN to the relationship.

Working on it – working on intimacy.  Working on passion.  Making ALL aspects of love a priority in your relationship, and doing your best to prevent it from failing.

 

When relationships fail, couples often say that they “fell out of love”.  Or they still love each other, but they were no longer “in love”.

I think they are talking about empty love.  Commitment, without passion or intimacy.

When that happens, I think the fault lies with the person who fell out of love.  Because love is not supposed to be passive.  It’s not just something you “feel” one day, and not another day.

Instead, I believe each person in the relationship is responsible for their feelings of love for their partner.  Part of that commitment involves nurturing that love.

Waking each day, and looking at the good side in the relationship.  Appreciating their partner for who they are, instead of who they aren’t.  And working together to improve the things that need to be improved.

When people “fall out of love” they often believe it’s some sort of incompatibility with their partner.  Or it’s a sign that something is wrong in the relationship.

But love isn’t just a feeling.  It’s not supposed to be passive.

So if they aren’t actively choosing love, each and every day; the person they should really be blaming – is themselves.

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12 thoughts on “Empty Love

    • Well, I’m not sure if I like the word “work”, because of the negative connotations that come with it. But sustained love over the long term definitely requires effort. And consistent effort over time.

      I think a huge issue is when people think love should always “just happen”, or always be easy. Really, is there anything in life of value that’s easy? If you want to be good at something, don’t you expect that you will have to practice it? And what is practice, other than actively putting in effort?

      With everything in life, we should be trying to “be better”, to improve over time. Why is love any different?

      I think it’s because people get confused. They get caught up in passion, and in thinking that IS love. And passion is something that is mostly feeling, and mostly chemical. But it WILL eventually fade. And when it does, that love had damned well better have grown beyond that – into intimacy, and commitment. Not to say that passion isn’t important, because it is. When the intense chemical side of passion has faded, people need to consciously replace it with intentional passion. Passion that is nurtured, and comes with intimacy. THAT type of passion doesn’t have to fade, unless you let it.

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  1. There have definitely been times that the only thing that has kept me in this marriage is obligation, pure and simple.

    For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. That’s what I committed to.

    Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not content to stay stuck in a passionless, non-intimate state, so my husband and I work at that part.

    But were it not for that sense of obligation I have to the commitment I made, I probably would no longer be married.

    Sometimes the commitment IS all that’s left. But that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

    If you lose your commitment though…all bets are off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree that commitment can help you get through hard times when other things have broken down. And it can give you what you need to help you rebuild the intimacy and passion.

      And I guess that was the point of the post. All three aspects have to be there, and you have to be working on maintaining them. When you don’t? That’s when problems arise.

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  2. Nicely said Drew. I think people sometimes forget that it is the effort that makes things worthwhile. When you can get things with no effort or no work, they just don’t seem as worthwhile, and that certainly includes relationships. I have often said that I would never want to be “filthy rich”, where I could have whatever I wanted, as that would take the “specialness” out of having or getting things. When you can just point and say “I want that” and get it with no effort, it just doesn’t have the same value. You made the clear in this post. Nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When things come too easy, there is never any appreciation. And also, when things come easy people don’t know how to handle it when it stops being easy.

      I completely agree that “struggles” give you the perspective that allows you to appreciate what you have.

      Seeing the relationship between effort and results is HUGE. It shows is that we DO have some control over our lives. And it shows us that effort is worth it.

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks for your quote. You gave me that over a year ago and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your blog never fails to provide insight on life and relationships Drew. I can confirm from personal experience how easy it is to reach the stage of ‘Empty Love’ and from there becoming (inevitably?) yet another notch in the divorce statistics.

    Having been married almost 20 years both I and my now ex-wife had for the past several years taken each other for granted. We had become room mates, albeit friendly ones. Our focus had turned away from each other. Interdependence had turned to independence. We shared neither passion nor intimacy and it appears only I retained any commitment through misplaced loyalty.

    Given the poisonous mix of FOO issues, midlife and conflict avoidance in both of us, it’s hardly surprising in hindsight that one of us (my wife) sought the missing intimacy and passion in the arms of another. I still haven’t come to terms with the loss of our relationship a year after our divorce.

    Notwithstanding it was my wife’s ‘choice’ to have an affair it’s heartbreaking that neither of us were willing to ‘make the effort’ before it became too late but of course it’s only when it has become too late that we realise both of us needed to ‘make the effort’… a long time ago.

    The story of a failing marriage IS all too familiar but maybe, just maybe, your blog will have altered the course of at least a few failing marriages for the better, before they too reach the point of no return.

    I dearly hope so.

    Keep up the great work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jon – thanks for the comment. I haven’t seen your name before, have you been reading for a while?

      Your story really hits home with me, because it’s SO common. But it seems like something that should be so avoidable.

      I’m a big basketball fan, and the NBA has a rookie orientation program where the rookies meet with guys who have stories about “the dark sides” of being a professional basketball player. There are a lot of “common” stories. Guys who get caught up in the money, and end up bankrupt, guys who get caught up in the easy access to drugs, sex, etc. There are a lot of cautionary tales out there on common things that happen, that can destroy peoples lives and careers.

      Marriage should have something like that.

      Yeah, I know, some places have “marriage encounters” type things. But they talk more about different personality types, and common conflicts.

      But I don’t think there is ANYTHING to prepare people for the REAL problems marriages face. The common ones. Hedonic adaptation, taking each other for granted, stopping “putting in” when the marriage is settled. Communication issues. Conflict avoidance. The reasons people will have affairs (often the people who do are people who never thought they would).

      There has to be SOME way of letting people know, and understand these things BEFORE it’s too late.

      I don’t know.

      I guess maybe that’s a big part of why I do this. We are all different, but the mistakes we make are pretty familiar and common. And if we could learn about them in advance, maybe we could recognize what is happening before marriages, families, and lives are irrevocably changed.

      Like

  4. ‘When relationships fail, couples often say that they “fell out of love”. Or they still love each other, but they were no longer “in love”.

    I think they are talking about empty love. Commitment, without passion or intimacy.

    When that happens, I think the fault lies with the person who fell out of love. Because love is not supposed to be passive. It’s not just something you “feel” one day, and not another day.

    So if they aren’t actively choosing love, each and every day; the person they should really be blaming – is themselves.’

    This really struck home with me because those are the exact words (cliche, I know) my ex used on the day he announced our marriage was over. I was working with a therapist trying hard to save our marriage, but he simply wasn’t willing to put in the effort; he didn’t choose to love me.

    It took me a long time to realize this. Being the well-adjusted, confident person I am , I assumed the fault was mine, that I wasn’t enough. But that wasn’t it at all. He made a choice. I used to wish he hadn’t been able to choose for both of us, but now I find I like who I am and what my life is like better than when I was always worrying about what would make him happy. It’s been a long road, and I look forward to seeing where it takes me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it’s surprising how common the story of a “failed marriage” often looks.

      “Falling out of love” is a choice. Maybe not an intentional one, but it’s still a choice.

      Related to my latest post about living in fantasy land, I think there are a LOT of people out there with really broken notions of what love actually is.

      People want it easy. They want the feelings, without the investment. And when the feelings change they want that quick dopamine hit of passion that comes with “new love”.

      I think that the people who want love to be easy, and want everything in life to be easy are basically pretty f*cked up. To me that speaks to emotional immaturity, and I think at the end of they day, those are people who will never be happy with anything life gives them.

      To me, it’s pretty simple. Everything in life is better when you work at it. That’s a simple rule, and it applies across everything in life. And the more effort you are willing to invest in something, the more you are likely to get out of it.

      Another thing about people who want everything in life to be easy…

      …I don’t think they are actually looking for relationships. When I think relationship, I think of a partnership where two people are building something together, and sacrificing and compromising for each other in order to achieve a common goal. To me, THAT is what a healthy relationship looks like.

      When someone isn’t able or willing to choose love? Then that person isn’t looking for a partnership, they are actually looking for someone to take care of them. Their needs and their wants are the real focus. It was always more “me” than “we”.

      And that doesn’t make for a healthy situation for anyone.

      I’m glad you can look at your life, and be happy with you. That gives you a huge advantage that may people don’t have.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. It’s taken me three long years to get here. And it’s like you have either a) met my ex, or b) heard my therapist talking about him wanting everything to be easy. He got engaged to the woman (the latest in the long line of emotional affairs) not long after our divorce, but it didn’t last long. I get the feeling from things he said and my son intimated that their relationship wasn’t “easy” either. C’est la vie.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, a painful lesson for me (and many) is that it doesn’t matter how much you love someone, or how much you want something to work out.

        You can do all the “right things” and still have your relationship fail miserably, because one person isn’t enough.

        Both people need to want it, and be willing to dig in and work. Both people need to be willing to look in the mirror and face their own issues for the benefit of the relationship.

        And if that doesn’t happen, one person cannot carry things for long.

        But maybe that’s for the best. Maybe these experiences, if we use them to learn and improve, are what makes us who we are.

        As you said, c’est la vie.

        Liked by 1 person

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