While relationships end for a variety of reasons, more often than not, in the end, one or both members of the couple realize that they’ve fallen out of love.
“It takes work to stay in love, and if you don’t put in the work to keep the romance alive, it will fizzle,” says relationship expert and couples therapist Nicole McCance.
The “work” often involves a combination of open dialogue as well as a commitment to change. It’s hard, McCance says, but it’s not impossible.
If you’re worried that you or your partner is falling out of love, look for these five common signs.
#1 There’s no sexual desire
McCance says that not having sex isn’t a sign in itself — a lot of couples don’t have sex, but it’s not because they don’t want to.
“If you’re not having sex but you’re busy with the kids or with work, or you’re in a situation where having sex isn’t easy, like if you’re living with your in-laws, that’s normal,” McCance says. “But if you haven’t had sex in a while and it’s not bothering you, that’s a red flag.”
Love is directly tied to intimacy and attachment, and when you no longer desire your partner (or your partner no longer desires you), that means the emotional connection is gone.
“Sex is important, not just because it’s part of a healthy relationship, but because it bonds people together,” says relationship expert April Masini.
#2 You fantasize about a life without them
In the first flush of love, most couples enjoy making plans for the future. Whether that involves a traditional setup including marriage and kids or a long-term plan to travel together, the point is you envision yourself doing it with them. Once you can picture your life without this person and you like it, it’s a pretty clear sign the love has faded.
“If there’s no attachment, there’s no love,” McCance says.
#3 You start to go out a lot without your partner
“If you notice a change in interest in your partner’s company, that’s a sign that the relationship is winding down,” Masini says.
This is especially notable if you’re choosing to go out alone on weekends or evenings when you and your partner would normally have a date night. The message clearly states that you’d rather hang out with someone else.
#4 You feel lonely
Even if you don’t love your partner anymore, we all crave love and connection, McCance says. And when that’s not there, loneliness sets in.
“You might even find yourself attracted to other people physically and that may surprise you,” she says. “But that’s a warning sign that something’s missing from your current relationship.”
#5 You’re getting your love from somewhere else — but you don’t even know it
This one is more esoteric and requires self-analysis and awareness.
“I’ve worked with a lot of couples who don’t even notice that they’re not in love anymore because they have small kids and they get so much love from them,” McCance says. “The void is filled by the kids. That’s why so many marriages fall apart when the children individuate around their teen years.”
Can you fall back in love?
The good news: yes, people can fall back in love. The bad news, McCance says, is that it takes a lot of work and commitment to therapy.
“It’s not easy, especially when there’s a lack of sexual attraction,” she says. “It takes a willingness to want to do it because a lot of the lost love is rooted in resentment that people carry with them for a long time.”
That’s why it’s so important to be open with one another and address those concerns of hurt early on, instead of holding onto them and allowing them to turn to bitterness.
“Often, our partners don’t know they’ve hurt us, and years will go by and that hurt will build. You have to let them know how you feel,” McCance says. “And when they communicate with you, don’t take it personally by making it about you.”
There’s also the matter of making visible gestures to keep the love alive, Masini says. It sounds superficial, but “letting yourself go” by abandoning grooming practices that were a big part of the early days of your relationship sends a sign that you just don’t care to put in the effort anymore.
“Romance is no different than any other project — if you let it go, it’s going to run on its own for a while, but then it won’t,” Masini says. “Take care of yourself and take care of the relationship. Compliment, nourish and show pride in your partner. And date night, as cheesy as it sounds, is crucial to longevity in love.”