Falling in love happens organically. It’s exciting, scary, energizing all at the same time. But what happens when the relationship ends, and especially if it’s not what you wanted?
What do you do when you still love the person who no longer loves you?
Do you really just have to wait for time to heal all wounds or are there actions you can take to help that process?
My guest for this Conversation is Wellness and Divorce Coach, Lisa Arends. She writes the blog Lessons From the End Of A Marriage. Arends wrote about how to fall out of love. She identified 14 features about being in love and create an antidote for each of them.
Falling Out Of Love Doesn’t Just Happen
Falling in love just happens. That feeling might evolve over time but there isn’t anything you do to specifically make it happen. Just as that is so, we often expect the reverse to be true. We think that falling out of love just happens. That’s especially if your STBX has done something horrific like cheating, or abuse. There’s more.
“The other part that people struggle with is that they think that time is enough,” said Arends. “If they just wait patiently, that they’ll fall out of love. Time helps but it certainly isn’t everything.”
The good news is that there is lots you can do to speed up the process. It’s similar to recovering from a physical injury: you can sit around and wait or you can go to physical therapy.
Fill The Voids
Of all the antidotes that Arends identified, she believes the one that helps everyone is filling the voids. She has this analogy for that.
“Think about being in a warm bathtub. You’re in there by yourself. You’re perfectly content. Somebody joins you in the tub. No problem but you have to let a little of the water out because otherwise it’s going to overflow. That’s getting into the relationship.
Then that other person leaves. All of a sudden that tub that was full with them in it now only has two inches of water in it. And it’s probably cold. You’re feeling your weight on that cold porcelain. You’re miserable.
You can sit there, and you can complain about what’s missing. You can focus on what’s gone. Or you can turn on that tap and fill the tub again.”
Arends is quick to add that this doesn’t mean that you should rush out and find another person to jump into the tub with you. Rather, it means discovering all the things that bring you joy and excitement that can fill the voids.
Find Activities To Fall Out Of Love
Filling the voids means finding your passions. These are the things or activities that make you feel loved and comfortable.
They might be the things you used to have in your life that you dropped to make room for your marriage. Now’s the time to bring those things back to fill the voids.
It may also mean trying new activities like ones you’ve thought about trying before but have never gotten around to doing.
Arends says divorce is a perfect time to do this because so much is changing in your life already.
“It’s a great time to just go ahead and try something new,” said Arends. “Your comfort zone is long gone. It’s a good time to take some risks, to reach out and try something new.”
Binge-watching the latest on Netflix or Amazon has its purpose but it doesn’t count towards filling the voids. It may stop you from feeling bad in the moment, but it doesn’t do anything to make you feel good. And as soon as you ‘ve finished the series, you’re back to where you started… what am I going to watch now?
One of the hardest parts about ending a marriage is spending time alone. That’s compounded when you have children and you know they’re leaving to spend time with their other parent. You see the weekend coming up, don’t have anything to do and dread even the thought of being alone.
“If all you’re doing is being at home, you’re going to be very aware that they are missing,” said Arends. “Take advantage of the fact that hey, I’m child-free for the weekend. What can you do now that you couldn’t normally do?”
DePersonalize The Situation
Arends says when you’re falling in love, you hear the good things your partner is saying, and you internalize them. You like the compliments. They build you up. They make you feel good.
When your partner falls out of love with you, those compliments change. They often become cruel and heartless barbs, accusations, blaming.
But you’re so used to accepting what your partner has said, that you take these to be true too. They’re not true though. More likely, these statements are reflections of your partner. It’s what your partner needs to say to make it easier for them to leave you.
Arends says you have to depersonalize the situation, realize that it’s not about you.
“My ex-husband was unfaithful, and he said some really horrific things to me,” said Arends. “As I kept talking to other people I was like, ‘oh, yours said the exact same words.’ It’s like there’s a playbook or something. Once I saw how universal that was, I saw this really wasn’t about me. This is what cheaters say. It’s a lot easier to accept that way.”
While depersonalizing what your ex is saying about you is healing, you still need to take responsibility for your choices and your behavior. Arends says there has to be a balance. You can’t blame your ex for everything. Recognizing what you were responsible for within the marriage creates the path for personal growth and applying that going forward.
Take Your Ex Off The Pedestal
When you’re in love you idealize your partner. You cut them a lot of slack for the negatives and bad things. You discount them and don’t see them as red flags. Now’s the time to stop that. Start looking at everything they’ve done through a different lens.
There are times to appreciate the gifts from your marriage but if you’re trying to fall out of love, then now is not the time for that.
“I compare it to gravity,” said Arends. “If they keep fighting themselves, getting pulled back into the gravitational field of their ex, maybe it’s time to look at the bad. Not for a long time but just for long enough to get some of that distance that you need.”
What your ex says and does is up to them. How you respond is your responsibility. This is the time for you to stop listening to their voice telling you that you can’t do something, that you’re not capable, that you’re not enough.
Seeing everything about your ex is not a healthy place long term. It’s too negative but it’s where you need to be to start healing.
Speaking of her own experience, Arends said, “After that initial emotional aspect had been resolved, that’s when I was able to go back and really appreciate the gifts and the positives about the marriage. And, also the gifts from the end of it.”
Get To Know Yourself
My favorite from Arends’ list of antidotes is getting to know yourself again. So many people have told me that by the time their marriage was over, they no longer knew who they were. You might not know what makes you laugh or what feeds your soul.
“Divorce is a really awesome opportunity to figure out who you are apart from anyone else,” said Arends. “If you’re a parent, this is also a critical time for you. Being a parent does become a huge part of your identity but it’s not all that you are.”
Getting to know yourself again doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. Arends says that it often helps to go back in time to when you didn’t have adult pressures. What were the activities that excited you as a kid?
“Part of it is building some of that self-confidence,” said Arends. “Take this time to do things you normally wouldn’t do or things you’re afraid of. It really helps you to see what your capabilities truly are.”
Take Back Your Favorite Places
Who doesn’t have a favorite restaurant, hike or place? We all do but when that place is associated with your now ex, there’s a cloud hanging over it. But it’s a shame to have to cross that off your activity list. Arends has the solution.
“At first I couldn’t even go to those places because it was way too painful,” said Arends. “It would just trigger all those memories. One day I got angry. I was like ‘I want this back. I’m going to take this place back.” So, I invited friend after friend to go hiking with me at that park, intentionally layering new memories over the old ones.”
Arends calls this memory layering. Do it enough and those memories of your times with ex will become so faded you’ll hardly remember them.
An easy fix for you to start working on right away is do what Arends calls scheduled smiles. It as simple as putting something on your calendar, not too far in the future, that you enjoy. Then do it. It could be visiting your favorite coffee shop or it could be bigger like taking a road trip somewhere.
“What I like to tell people is that at any point you should be able to pull up your calendar and have at least three scheduled smiles on there,” said Arends. “It keeps your mind focused on the positive. You always have to be thinking about what’s my next scheduled smile going to be.”
My guest for this Conversation was Wellness and Divorce Coach, Lisa Arends. Arends writes the blog Lessons From The End Of A Marriage and here’s her How To Fall Out Of Love article. Arends also has a YouTube channel.