Tag Archives: falling out of love

A Passionate vs. a Lackluster Relationship:
The Problem with Emotional Fusion

“Pan Extasy” by Mimi Stuart ©

Do you feel threatened when your partner doesn’t agree with you or behave the way you want?

If so, you may be seeking a type of unity that is both unattainable and undesirable. Although many people in a relationship feel alienated from one another, emotional fusion is more often the problem than insufficient attachment. Emotional fusion occurs when people do not function independently, but are emotionally reactive by being overly acquiescent or rebellious.

Couples use silence, withdrawal, and facial expressions of disapproval to pressure each other to express agreement or approval. These subtle forms of manipulation usually causes people become defensive or to repress feelings and thoughts that are incompatible with those of their partner.

If partners can’t handle having differences of opinion, they miss the opportunity to have energized discussions as two separate individuals. Eventually passion in the relationship disappears, because it can only persist between two separate individuals. While it may seem nice to be in agreement, too much unison usually causes mystery, growth, and passion to fade away and be replaced by predictability and boredom, and/or anger and resentment.

Origin of emotional fusion

Emotional fusion with one’s family of origin often leads to a tendency to fuse with people later in life. When excessive energy is bound in a parent/child relationship, the child becomes emotionally fused to the parent and is unable to function autonomously. Over-attachment, where the child stays substantially merged with the parent, encourages emotional reactivity in the guise of accommodation or provocation. The child thinks, feels, and acts with the parents’ and later the spouse’s potential reactions and feelings in mind.

The child may become a “good boy” or “good girl”, doing and saying exactly what’s wanted, while repressing parts of him or herself that would provoke the parent. Or, the child may become rebellious, often saying and doing precisely the opposite of what the parent desires, in order to try to stake out a sense of individuality.

Often the child alternates between the two extremes rather than developing an organic sense of self based on reflections and experience, not simply one that accommodates or reacts against those on whom the child is dependent.
What’s lacking is an ability to reasonably express thoughts and choose actions without an intention to acquiesce or to rebel against family members.

Both over-accommodation and excessive rebelliousness result from fusion. Emotional fusion replaces adequate separation and real intimacy with a sense of suffocation and/or isolation. If your parent cares about you and gives you adequate space to have your own feelings, thoughts, and some appropriate decision-making power, there’s not much to rebel against. Nor is there an urgent sense to please the parent at any cost.


The pressured partner may accommodate her partner, while repressing her own conflicting feelings and thoughts. However, ongoing avoidance of discomfort, disapproval, and criticism leads to partners drifting apart, because they are hesitant to share incompatible or new parts of themselves. Soon they no longer have anything to talk about.

Repressed parts of the personality then gather energy in the unconscious, and ultimately seep out in the form of depression, sickness, or secret affairs. Repressed feelings and thoughts can also erupt unexpectedly in anger, violence, and even unexpected divorce.


Control, anger, and violence can arise from the inability to calmly and firmly withstand the pressure to merge with another person, or from the inability to tolerate another person’s disagreement or disapproval.

Arguing is often a manifestation of the unconscious attempting to balance togetherness and separateness. Focusing on the other through argument provides emotional contact, while anger and resistance to one’s partner’s wishes promote separateness.

Once one becomes emotionally separate, anger is no longer necessary to resist pressures to merge with the other. You can accept the fact that your partner is disappointed or disagrees with you. You can express disagreement or make requests without being angry or scared. Uncomfortable, yes; but angry, no.

Example of Fused Couple: Paul states he does not want Sally to visit her sister. Sally doesn’t go, but is angry for hours or days. Or Sally says she’s going anyway, and Paul stays angry for days.

Example of Differentiated Couple: Paul says he wishes he could go on a trip with her and is sad that she’ll be going without him. Sally says she’s sorry he’ll be lonely, but it’s really important for her to spend some time alone with her sister. Or Sally says that he’s welcome to join her if he can get away.

Partners are equally fused

Partners who stay together for a long time, say a year or more, are generally equally emotionally fused, although they may not think they are. They just express it differently.

For example, it’s not accidental, although it may be unconscious, that a man who seeks his own space chooses a woman who yearns for connection. If she didn’t seek connection, there wouldn’t be any. If he didn’t seek space, there wouldn’t be any. They both need the other to find some sort of balance. Yet, the man may believe that the problem is all hers—she is simply too needy. The woman believes that the problem is all his—he fears intimacy. They’ve both selected the ideal person either to learn from or to blame.

Problems with fusion:

1. No sense of identity

Increased emotional fusion paradoxically creates both a greater need for more togetherness in one person and an urge to flee in the other person. Sometimes one person experiences both. Feelings of being trapped, controlled, and smothered, or isolated, unsupported, and unloved infuse the relationship.

The problem is that neither partner can maintain his or her sense of identity in the presence of the other. When one disagrees or neglects the other, the other takes it personally and becomes reactive by withdrawing coldly or picking a fight. Alternatively, partners may quickly accommodate each other, repressing their own feelings and thoughts, which eventually leads to resentment or a diminished sense of self.

2. Needing emotional validation

Most relationship difficulties result from attempting to avoid anxiety. Often, when we’re anxious, we seek validation from others. Others then feel obliged to give us validation, because they feel uncomfortable with our anxiety. Validation is an attempt to soothe the other’s anxiety in order to soothe our own. Such validation differs from compassion and appreciation, which are freely-given expressions of kindness, enjoyment and gratitude toward the other, rather than attempts to mitigate distress.

3. Diminishing boundaries

With increased fusion, boundaries between people dissolve, and anxiety becomes increasingly infectious. “As boundaries dissolve, there is increased pressure on people to think, feel, and act in ways that will enhance one another’s emotional well-being” (Kerr and Bowen, p. 77). Well-being cannot be provided by another person without diminishing that person’s selfhood and independence. So, the expectation of providing for someone’s well-being ironically increases pressure, anxiety, and disappointment.

4. Controlling behavior

If your sense of identity or well-being depends on what your partner thinks, it’s natural to try to control your partner. Above all, it becomes critical to minimize anxiety and to continue securely in the emotional attachment. Controlling behavior, however, stifles all spontaneity and freshness in a relationship.

For example, people who complain of sexual boredom often feel threatened by the display of new sexual behavior by their partners and therefore ridicule or reject such attempts, which are ways of trying to control a person. Or they may hesitate to try something new themselves for fear of their partners’ disapproval.


To resolve the anguish of emotional fusion, individuals need to become more highly-differentiated, that is, emotionally separate, and therefore, less reactive. Differentiation will (a) permit a person to get intensely involved without becoming infected with the other person’s anxiety, and (b) eliminate the need to withdraw or control the partner to modulate a person’s own emotional well-being. Even if only one person becomes less reactive, the relationship will improve.

Ironically, emotional objectivity and separateness allow us to be more intimate and passionate. Someone who is differentiated doesn’t fear intimacy or solitude. While we want to be considerate of others in our interactions, we don’t want to negate ourselves by endowing others with too much power. When we are not excessively worried about another’s reactions, we can be truly intimate, that is, we can express ourselves, our thoughts, and our emotions more freely and deeply. When we are more confident in ourselves and less hindered by our partner’s anxiety, we can grow emotionally, sexually, and intellectually, often enticing our partners to do the same. When someone is confident with a positive attitude, rather than cautious, fearful of rejection, or controlling, that person becomes more attractive and is able to ignite passion more easily.

When we take care of and are responsible for our own emotions, we can be intimate without pressuring others to validate or soothe us or to do what we want. By not allowing other people’s anxiety to infect us, we remain emotionally separate and objective, which paradoxically allows for greater connection and intense intimacy. Relationships are desired for enjoyment, not to be controlled to fulfill a need.

Existential aloneness

Underlying emotional fusion is caused by a fear of being separate and alone in the world. As we face and accept our own existential separateness, our tolerance for being alone increases. Our disappointment in others diminishes, because we relinquish unattainable expectations that our partners will save us from our basic separateness and mortality. Paradoxically, our oneness with others, not just our partners, increases as we accept our separateness.


We need to recognize how our reactivity toward others is driven by our own anxiety and sense of aloneness. Part of this process is realizing that we can never be fully united in thought and feeling with another person. Once we genuinely accept our existential separation from others, we can more fully enjoy the fleeting connection with others, without grasping to get more of it, and without resisting it to avoid the pain of its eventual loss.

Passion requires being in the moment and letting go of fear and control. While there is a place in long-term relationships for planning and thinking about the future, there is also a place for being free of those thoughts and letting spontaneity and desire reign. Passion is a feeling of being alive, alert and excited in the midst of the unknown. By breaking away from predictable routine and control over your partner or over yourself , you can allow a little unpredictability back into the relationship. Embracing the unknown—or anxiety—with a positive attitude, you can turn it into excitement, desire, and passion.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I never get to go skiing anymore because of my partner.”

Recommended References:

Kerr, M. & Bowen, M. (1988). Family Evaluation: The role of the family as an emotional unit that governs individual behavior and development. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York.

Schnarch, D. (1991). Constructing the sexual crucible: Paradigm-shift in sexual and marital therapy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Embracing Each Other, by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone

How to predict a divorce or the breakup of a relationship

"Content of Character" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Content of Character” by Mimi Stuart ©

How do you tend to respond to your partner’s benign comments about the weather, the news, or your surroundings? Do you often make cutting or critical remarks or ignore his or her comments? You may think that this is an insignificant issue. However, John Gottman’s research shows that the quality of every-day interaction makes all the difference in the world in the success of any relationship.

Among couples who get divorced within six years of getting married, one partner or the other is either ignored or receives a negative response 67% of the time. On the other hand, among couples who are satisfied with their relationship, the response to their partners’ actions and comments were negative only 13% of the time. They responded positively 87% of the time!

This is highly significant and shows that a relationship thrives or dies in large part as a result of all those brief moments and minor communications throughout the day.

Bids and turns

Gottman calls verbal attempts to make a connection “bids,” and he categorizes the responses people make as either a “turn toward” the partner or a “turn away” from the partner. When you turn toward a person, the person feels valued, whereas when you turn away from a person, he or she may feel invisible or not valued.

Here are some examples of bids and responses:

Bid: “Dinner’s ready.”
Turn away: “Spaghetti again?”
Turn toward: “Thank you, sounds great.”

Bid: “Wow, it’s cold today.”
Turn away: “Well it is winter in Idaho. We’re not in the tropics.”
Turn toward: “Yep, it sure is cold.”

Bid: “How do you like my new shirt?”
Turn away: “Are you kidding me? What did you pay for that?”
Turn toward: “Love it. Where did you get it?” Or “Interesting design. You always look good.”

Bid: “I’m so tired from work.”
Turn away: No comment.
Turn toward: “I’m so sorry, anything I can do to help?”

Bid: “Sorry I’m late.”
Turn away: “You’re always late. It’s driving me crazy!”
Turn toward: “I’m sure there’s a good reason. I hate to bring this up, but I think we should figure out a way where I’m not waiting for you so much. It’s starting to get really frustrating for me.”

Contempt vs respect

Contempt is the number one factor leading to unhappy relationships and divorce. When your response “turns away” from a person through neglect, criticism or a negative tone of voice, you express contempt or lack of regard for that person.

“Turning toward” a person does not mean that you have to agree with all comments made or become obsequious. It simply means showing that you are listening and responding with respect. As long as you don’t criticize or ignore your partner, you can disagree all you want.

When people repeatedly respond negatively or ignore their partners’ comments, there is often an underlying issue, such as resentment, feeling unappreciated, or a lack of self-empowerment in their lives. These issues are best dealt with through honest reflection and candid communication, not with passive-aggressive contemptuous behavior.

Sometimes a person is simply busy or focused on a project and does not want to be interrupted. Even in such situations, take the time to use a kind tone of voice when saying something like, “Do you mind if we talk later because I’d really like to finish this project. Thank you.”

Often couples don’t know why they have “drifted apart” or “fallen out of love” over the years. They need to realize that relationships wither or flourish depending on the daily care shown in how they respond to their partners’ attempts to communicate and connect. If you want your relationship to flourish, make sure you respond to bids for connection with kindness.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Changing Relationship Dynamics: ‘It’s too late to start telling my boyfriend to let me know when he’s coming home late because our communication patterns have already been established.’”

Read “Five Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘There’s nothing we can do to stay in love.’”

Opposites attract:
“Can’t you ever stop and just sit down with me!”

“Muwan” Mayan Collection by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Long-term intimate relationships bring out a person’s strengths and weaknesses and therefore can offer tremendous opportunities for growth.

Development of personality traits

People tend to develop certain personality traits and habits as a way to thrive in their childhood environment. People become introverts or extroverts, serious or fun-loving, accommodating or contrarian in response to a confluence of factors. The culture we are raised in, family structure and dynamics, critical events, and genetic disposition all contribute significantly to the way we behave. For example, we may navigate through life by blending in and not making waves, by withdrawing into books and our own imagination, or by being active and engaging the people around us.

Undeveloped traits

Our primary personality traits feel as though they are who we are. “I am quiet.” “I am outgoing.” But they are only part of who we are—the part of us that is the most highly developed, the most practiced, and the most ingrained in our neuro-network.

As a result of developing certain qualities, we generally tend to neglect opposing qualities. For example, an introvert feels comfortable alone but awkward at social events. An extrovert feels comfortable with people, but feels bored and empty when there’s no outside stimulation.

Usually, we feel satisfied with our personality traits until life somehow reminds us of how limited we are. Trauma, tragedy, life struggles, and falling in or out of love are the most common events that challenge us to become more whole and balanced human beings. These are often the turning points in our lives.


It so happens that we often fall in love with someone who holds some of the qualities we have neglected or pushed aside. After the initial stage of falling in love, people often polarize, that is, they step back into the personality traits they feel comfortable with and accentuate those qualities in response to their partners’ opposing qualities.

For example, the introvert complains, “Can’t you ever stop having a good time and just sit down with me?” While the extrovert retorts “Why don’t you ever talk to new people?”
When your primary personality traits are attacked, you become entrenched in the defensive. Each drives the other into more extreme positions, causing a downward spiral in the relationship. Questioning turns into attacking. “You never go out!” says the extrovert. “You can’t sit still!” says the introvert.

Finding Balance

Given sufficient necessity or desire to evolve, people have an opportunity to mitigate their extreme natures, to avert the frustration and disappointment that so often follows the fire of a romantic or intriguing beginning triggered by the attraction of those opposites. Here are three keys to developing balance in oneself and in the relationship.

1. Develop the other side.

We have to consciously work on ourselves to become more balanced if that is desired. Without swinging to the opposite extreme, we should consciously develop the other side. Someone who is sweet and accommodating should start making the difficult phone calls rather than asking his or her partner to do so, e.g., dealing with the lawyers and accountants, or making the call to someone who has charged too much. Someone who is tough and direct can try to show some compassion.

2. Honor the other person’s differences.

We must appreciate, and not belittle, our partner’s opposing personality trait. Contempt simply puts the other person on the defensive. People are more likely to risk change when they feel support and love.

3. Lovingly encourage the other person’s attempts to develop new trait.

We can encourage, but not force or manipulate, our partner to develop the new trait. Encouragement works best when it is light-hearted and lacks emotional heat or pressure. It is also important not to criticize or make fun of our partner when he or she is attempting new skills.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “The Introvert and the Extrovert: ‘You always stay home!’”

Read “Enantiadromia: ‘It drives my partner crazy that I’m ‘too’ polite. I think he is too blunt.’”

Read “He tells me to stop being so emotional. Does he want me to be cold and unfeeling like him?”

“I’ve fallen out of love with her.”

"Song of Spring" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Falling in Love

Falling in love involves an unconscious as well as physical and chemical response to another person, which is much more compelling than simply finding someone to be attractive and compatible. Often, when we fall in love, we get a feeling of wholeness because we have met someone who carries qualities we lack in an irresistible way.

For example, a practical, rational man falls in love with a spiritual or emotional woman, even though most women of that type annoy him. Or a strong, assertive woman falls in love with a sensitive, artistic man, even though she finds most such men to be weak.

The conscious mind seeks similarity and is repelled by the opposite. The unconscious, however, seeks balance, and is drawn to the qualities one needs most, but only when they are expressed in an acceptable and appealing way.

Being in love creates an anticipation of fulfillment because the unconscious senses the possibility of becoming whole, if only we could integrate those unfamiliar qualities that reside in the Other without rejecting our own primary personality. The initial falling in love, like infatuation, overwhelms us with a feeling that involves a chemical response akin to being intoxicated. We’re in a state of awe and wonder regarding our partner, which often inspires our partner to feel confident, happy, and open — three enticing qualities that keep the magic going.

Falling out of Love

Later in the relationship, the chemical cocktail of oxytocin and dopamine from the initial romantic attraction wears off. At that point, unless we are the exception and continue to cherish our partner and integrate some of those needed contrasting qualities of our partner, those same qualities that drew the unconscious in often start driving us crazy. The conscious mind is back in charge, viewing our partner’s differences with negative judgment.

For example, the practical, rational man can no longer stand his partner’s emotional melodramatics. Or the strong, assertive woman is now turned off by her partner’s vulnerability.

The irony is that as partners reject those contrasting qualities, they polarize into extremes, exhibiting their opposing qualities in an increasingly unattractive way. No wonder many people ask themselves, “What happened to the person I married?”

The rational man becomes cold, causing the emotional woman to become histrionic in an effort to get him to show his emotions. When he finally does show his emotions, they are the emotions of anger and resentment, not love and compassion.

Or the strong woman becomes demanding and tough, causing the sensitive man to feel helpless and unseen. “Be a man!” she demands, which only causes him to feel utterly impotent. She loses her opportunity to gain some needed sensitivity; he misses out on developing some needed strength.

Love as a Chosen Attitude

How we treat another person affects the other person’s confidence and often causes him or her to gain or lose desirability in our eyes. The more we appreciate our partner, the more he or she carries the qualities we fell in love with in an enticing way, and thus, the more likely we are to get that loving feeling back again.

The conscious act of love involves choosing to have an attitude of appreciation for our partner, and particularly for his or her differences as we did when we fell in love. Thus, love is in large part dependent on our intention, appreciation, and action.

Invest in the Person

To reclaim the feeling of love, both partners need to choose to invest their time and energy in their relationship, particularly where their most stark differences lie. That doesn’t mean that they should spend every minute together, becoming fused and codependent. However, they both must choose to make their relationship a primary focus in their lives by doing some of the following:

1. Respect each Other: We need to speak as though the other person has influence over us, without being dismissive or condescending. We need to repeatedly interact with each other in ways that show that we think the other is competent and capable. Again, this requires that we don’t let our conscious preferences, such as being practical, sensitive, or tough, be in charge of our reactions.

2. Plan the Future: When couples no longer talk about their dreams, hopes, and plans, this often indicates that their relationship is in decline. Talking about plans for the future—this weekend, next year, and twenty years from now—creates anticipation for the future as a couple. Current difficulties are easier to deal with when couples have something to look forward to.

3. Trust:
A loving relationship is based on trust, that is, on having faith that our partner is dependable, honest, and faithful. Showing faith and trust in our partner often helps develop trust. We do this by gradually disclosing more about who we are to the other person without fearing that we will be judged and rejected, and without manipulating the other person into approving and agreeing with us all the time. We must also have the discipline to avoid re-actively criticizing our partner when he or she discloses personal thoughts and feelings.

4. Enjoy:
Enjoying the other person’s company with his or her differences is an important feature of love. We should get pleasure from doing things together and from supporting and caring for the other person.

5. Take Action: Doing things for another person can be an expression of love. We can create feelings of love through acting out of love, rather than passively waiting for those feelings of infatuation to overcome us. If both people are passively waiting to feel in love again, they are likely to be disappointed.

6. Be Affectionate: With loyalty, affection, and faithfulness, intimacy deepens into something even more meaningful than the initial feelings of falling in love.

7. Cultivate Passion: Sustaining passion requires intense engagement, fascination, and thinking about the other person with desire. This is something we can actively conjure up rather than passively waiting for it.

Sustaining love is an art, which requires conscious cultivation. Yet, it can be deeper, more meaningful, and just as passionate as the initial infatuation. It starts with our own conscious choice to appreciate and enjoy the differences between us.

As the rational man in our example opens his heart and expresses some emotion, his partner may learn to contain some of her emotion rather than gushing, which will benefit both partners and the relationship. As the strong, assertive woman accesses some sensitivity and restrains her desire to be in control, she makes room for her partner to become self-empowered and less driven by his vulnerability. Ideally, both partners strive for more balance within themselves, which is part of the journey toward individuation.

Often, the more we embrace and try to integrate our partner’s different way of being, the more our partner will gain a more balanced way of being as well, resulting in both partners blossoming into more whole and individuated people.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “We broke up because of sexual incompatibility.”

Read “I always fall madly in love; we do everything together; and then, out of the blue, I get dumped.”

Read “Falling in Love & the Unconscious: ‘I’m crazy in love. But friends say I’m setting myself up to be rejected again.’”

Five Keys to a Great Relationship:
“There’s nothing we can do to stay in love.”

"I'll Give You the Moon and the Stars" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Sustaining a fulfilling, long-term relationship is tricky because it requires several essential qualities that may seem contradictory. Most problems in relationships occur because one of these crucial elements is missing or they are out of balance. All five of the following elements are critical in all fulfilling relationships, and particularly in long-term passionate, love relationships.

1. Respect — Show Respect

Frequent irritability, criticism, or contempt destroys the connection and love in a relationship. John Gottman’s research shows that unless respect is shown at least 80% of the time, the relationship will spiral downward toward misery and divorce.

Most of us occasionally get short with a loved one, and should quickly apologize for any rudeness. It is essential that we show that we value, respect, and appreciate our loved one on a daily basis.

2. Self-respect — Respect Yourself

Frequent self-criticism or an unwillingness to stop disrespectful behavior from others invites disrespect. The fear of speaking up and being rejected encourages further rudeness.

Demeaning self-criticism should be changed into constructive, positive self-talk. We must show that we have respect for ourselves, and therefore, stand up to rudeness, even if it is not in our nature to do so. While others aren’t perfect and may be rude occasionally, we must stop such disrespect instantly and on each occasion with a comment, such as, “Excuse me?” or “That tone does not work for me,” or “You’re pushing me away. Please say it more politely.”

3. Independence — Retain Self-Reliance

Being too dependent on another person to meet our emotional, financial, or intellectual needs oppresses the relationship and stifles the passion.

While it is not necessary to maintain absolute independence or contribute equally in every area, we should aspire to be self-reliant in most areas, as well as to think autonomously and retain our own interests. Nurturing our individual work, passions, and relationships with friends and family vitalizes the soul and prevents us from becoming overly needy and dependent on a loved one.

4. Kindness — Be Caring

Living a self-absorbed life leads to a hollow and desolate heart. Independence does not preclude kindness, generosity, or caring. In fact, it allows one to give out of a sense of fullness rather than a sense of need.

The joy of being considerate, giving, and supportive to our loved ones is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Making someone you love happy or simply making his or her life a bit easier often provides the greatest joy of being in a relationship.

5. Shared Enjoyment — Have Fun Together

A relationship based solely on daily practicalities and responsibilities loses passion over time.

Fun, romance, and adventure keep the relationship vitally alive. Daily appreciation, laughter, and interaction foster a healthy, happy, passionate relationship.

Balance — Strive for All Five

Most of us tend to emphasize two or three of the essential elements of a fulfilling relationship but lose sight of the importance of two or three others. Balancing all five elements — respect, self-respect, self-reliance, kindness, and shared enjoyment — is critical for sustaining a fulfilling, long-term passionate relationship.

Relationships are full of ups and downs and are never in perfect balance. We must continuously strive toward maintaining or reestablishing harmony and balance.

Unfortunately, it is not all up to one person. It takes two to tango, but only one to get out of step. Yet, balancing these five vital elements in all of our relationships makes our lives and relationships more fulfilling and robust.

Relationships are like a dance
It’s as much about your patience, kindness, confidence,
and sense of rhythm as it is about your partner.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “’My parents were so dysfunctional, I don’t even know what a good relationship looks like.’ Dance as a metaphor.”

Read “Positive Bonding Patterns: ‘We never fight, but we don’t talk anymore and there’s no more passion.’”