I wasn’t paying much attention to the background music until I noticed the lyrics. The singer was explaining to his son that he and his mother had “fallen out of love.” It was normal, the father said, something that just happens. Before the second stanza, tears began to stream down my face as I remembered hearing similar explanations as a child. If it is so easy to fall out of love, why can’t people fall back into it? How do you fall back in love when the feelings fade?
Love is known for its emotional intensity. If the emotional intensity is high and positive, we call it love; high and negative, we call it hate. With this understanding, it’s no wonder why counterfeits such as infatuation and lust masquerade as love. But while love is bathed in emotion, it is not random and uncontrollable, like a hole in the floor we “fall into.”
At its core, love is an action and a decision. We don’t fall in or out of love. We either walk in love or walk away from it.
If you find the intensity of love fading, look at the direction you’re walking. Sometimes, the steps we take away from love are barely noticeable; other times, we run away at full speed. Either way, it is a choice.
How do you fall back in love?
Researcher Dr. John Gottman states, “Certain kinds of negativity, if allowed to run rampant, are so lethal to a relationship that I call them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Usually, these four horsemen clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.”1
If we learn to recognize these stages of marital decline, we can choose to walk in a different direction. Here are four ways to “walk” to fall back in love with your spouse.
1. Walk in love with your words.
We were going to be late again. I sat in the car, fuming, watching the garage door with intensity, willing my wife to appear. When she finally came out, a dozen criticisms flashed through my mind. Why does she always do this?
But, walking in love with our words means we “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
I was mad, and I wanted to lash out with criticism. Instead, I bit my tongue and gave a normal, nonconfrontational response.
“Are you ready, Freddy?” I asked.
“Yeah. Sorry that took me so long,” she said through breaths that told me she had been running.
“I don’t know when we’re gonna have lunch today. I packed you some snacks so you don’t get a headache later. It took me forever to find my bag.”
Man, did I feel dumb. My critical attitude blinded me to the truth and almost made me miss the care she was trying to give me.
2. Walk in love with your thoughts.
Criticisms usually start as attempts to help the relationship. We long for things to be better, so we complain and try to instigate improvement. But if we’re not careful, criticisms quickly morph into something far more sinister. Soon, instead of criticizing an action, we start to attack the person behind the action.
“You don’t care about me like I care about you. If you did, you’d be on time.”
Once we allow thoughts like that to take root, criticism morphs into contempt. Gottman calls contempt a “sense of superiority” over one’s spouse. It colors every interaction with disrespect and makes it difficult to see the good in your spouse.
If contempt has begun to take hold in your relationship, you need to work to combat the negative stories you tell yourself. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and look to uncover the positive reason for their behavior. Even if your spouse is wrong, chances are they do care and are not intentionally trying to hurt you.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
3. Walk in love with your posture.
As you may have guessed by now, I like to get to places on time, which means arriving at least 10 minutes early. My wife, however, sees that as an inefficient use of time. She would much rather spend those extra 10 minutes knocking something off her never-ending task list.
The different ways my wife and I view time have been the source of many conflicts over the years. Unfortunately, when criticism goes on for too long, defensiveness sets in.
This was evident one morning as I sat quietly at the kitchen table, scrolling through the news, while I waited for my wife to finish getting ready to leave. Something I read caused me to sigh, but my wife assumed my exasperation was directed at her for not moving faster.
Defensiveness clouds our vision. To protect ourselves, we assume the worst. We see conflicts where there are none and respond preemptively. The more deeply entrenched defensiveness becomes, the harder it is to see the good in our spouse. Eventually, we can’t even remember the happy times we once shared. When that happens, we may start to rewrite history.
“We fight every morning.”
“We’ve been married for 10 years, and they’ve all been miserable!”
“We were never in love.”
Before we know it, all we see is pain.
That morning, I realized what my constant criticism had done. It wasn’t enough for me to stop criticizing her; I had to ask forgiveness for the damage I caused. With genuine repentance and forgiveness, our postures can soften and our defenses lower.
“Put on then … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:12-13).
4. Walk in love by seeking help.
Couples dealing with severe defensiveness might try to forgive, but trust has been so badly broken they report an emotional numbness, as if they’ve secured their hearts behind stone walls.
These couples can walk in love again but must often take time to recharge themselves emotionally first. A good support system of friends and counselors can help you reconnect with God and have the energy to reengage with your spouse. Even something as simple as spending time on an enjoyable hobby can help you be more willing to try again.
Often, couples focus so closely on their spouse’s flaws that they forget their spouse was never designed to fulfill all their needs. Only God can do that. When we try to get from our spouse that which we can only get from God, we inevitably get disappointed.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV).
Fall back in love by rediscovering your friendship
Gottman’s research shows the most important factor in a couple’s ability to maintain loving feelings is the quality of their friendship. Unfortunately, for many couples, friendship is the first thing to be sacrificed on the altar of busyness.
If you want to learn to enjoy each other again, or simply never “fall out of love” in the first place, focus on your friendship. If you’re having trouble finding time together, drop out of some activities, give the kids a bedtime, or change your job. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you have time to enjoy each other as friends. Go on dates, find new hobbies together, garden, fish, or dance. Anything, as long as it’s fun for both of you.
Early in our marriage, my wife and I would spend the weekends exploring parks on our bikes. Two cross-country moves later, our bikes had become permanent dust collectors in our garage. When we finally dusted them off for a Saturday afternoon ride, we couldn’t understand why we had ever stopped. We had so much fun.
My wife and I still bicker over running late from time to time, but mostly, we just laugh about it. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what time we get to wherever we’re going as long as we’re walking (or riding) in love on the way.
1. Gottman, John Mordechai, and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Harmony Books, 2015.
Copyright © 2023 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Orlando, Florida. You can learn more on their site, YourEverAfter.org.