Falling in and out of love

Drew Miller Psychotherapist relationship blog

This is not a scientific paper it is the reflections of a sexual and relationship therapist and someone who is fascinated by and has had difficulty and joy with this!

One of the most common and difficult experiences for a two people in a relationship is when passionate love fades and dies, sometimes rather too quickly and painfully. There are countless permutations as to the end of passion, but what remains consistent are the feelings we are left to cope with as well as making sense of what happened?

I’ve long been wondering about the rollercoaster of falling in love and the gradual or sudden death of the passion, the pain of separation and break up.

There are many permutations around this phenomena including frequent repeat, repeat, repeat and ‘love’ addiction’, but also on a more sedate scale the continuation of serial monogamy. All of which is neither bad nor good, but for me fascinating.

I want to first outline common sense ideas we generally understand about the 4 different stages of an intimate relationship.

Stage one

Attraction: Whether across a crowded room or on the tube, or a picture on a dating app ….Boom! Something is triggered visually, often instantly. Maybe eyes meet, or not, but we feel excited, maybe scared but attracted. – a laugh, a smile, a shape, eyes, lips, tone of voice, the way they move or smell and many more.

We talk, we meet, boom, boom, boom. What’s happening? Chemical changes are occurring and we literally, become intoxicated on a powerful cocktail of natural drugs triggered by this attraction. Norepinephrine fills you with raucous energy, serotonin boosts your self-confidence, and dopamine generates a feeling of pleasure. New love is a kind of love addiction but not yet a kind of pathological love addiction. In falling in love, however, the brain is on crack—a dangerous state of mind.

Stage two

Romance and courtship: Aah, many twists and turns, and may die in infancy. However, if it doesn’t, we can become enmeshed and embroiled not to leave out overwhelmed by very powerful emotions.

These feelings are powerful and full of paradox. Love/need/can’t live without. In extreme cases attention is almost completely focused on the other – endless texts/calls/emails etc – we can’t sleep. We worship the other. We do everything to impress them. There is an exhausting repeated desire for sex. It’s hopefully good but even if not, sexual validation is usually paramount. We don’t really know this other person but we do our best to maintain these fantastic feelings as long as possible. They are ‘the one’, but it’s terrifying too. Do they love me? This was meant to be. I have found my home/soul mate. But I will be abandoned? We are the sexiest people on the planet. Can’t everyone see how fantastic we are? Oh God I’m utterly lost. We are riven with nameless fears, our stomach lurches, we have butterflies but it’s wonderful. We don’t want it to stop.

And I don’t want to lose you at this point so lets press on!

You are intoxicated with the best drugs your body can conjure up, and, you don’t want to come down.

Unfortunately, in our intoxicated state we didn’t meet each other as real people. ‘Being in love’ is so good we have idealized and idolized the other. We can’t contemplate imperfection so we try to maintain an idealized state of being by continuing to dramatize and reconfirm our feelings to each other – this ecstatic bond must never end. We say we love each other 10 or 20 times a day and dream up treats and special things for each other, gosh we’re so creative!

Then, uh-oh, usually after about 6 months or so, our love drugs gradually begin to fade and the intoxication is more and more difficult to maintain. Critical evaluation begins to creep in, our idealized other seems to have changed? How can this be? Is it my fault or are they just being stupid and withdrawn on purpose? This feeling is usually mutual although the timing of the love drugs getting back to normal may differ between partners.

Stage three

The power struggle: (H. Hendrix (1993), Symptoms of the power struggle are the increasing rows and arguments. There is often an escalation of blame, anger and confusion that the other isn’t doing what we want. “you’ve changed” “why don’t you tell me you love me” ”you don’t listen to me anymore”. Jealousy and double binds are regular fayre – “you say you love me but you don’t really mean it” (probably true). “where were you when I called”. We notice more and more things we don’t like and wonder where our lost ‘being in loveness’ has gone.

A typical phrase I hear from couples said in tone of sadness and loss …..”I love you but I’m not in love with you anymore” Correct. That’s because the drugs have gone.

In the power struggle couples are fighting it out trying to process blame, anger, fear and resentment. We can’t seem to listen or discuss things. Arguments become more black and white, right or wrong, good or bad, win or lose. Dialogue and the attempt to understand the other person seems beyond possibility. I want the drugs back, now!

Possibly this stage of frustration/anger/fear blame and resentment has as much to do with drug withdrawal and does show the same general symptoms. Lack of the high levels of oxytosin/endorphins/dopamine triggered by ‘falling in love’ have left us feeling flat and empty. The drugs have stopped. Someone or something has to be to blame, it can’t be our fault. Plus – we feel shit about ourselves, feel depressed and our partner doesn’t respond in the same way (is also withdrawing from drugs) which is probably our fault and now I’ve been seen as I truly am.

Maybe I’ve gone too long here about the neuroscience aspect and the biochemical changes, but perhaps it helps to frame the commonality of the falling in and out of love experience.

Stage four

Mature love or break up:

The struggle diminishes in intensity and we finally accept the new status quo and the other person is finally allowed to be themselves and we mutually accept imperfection and make the choice to go on living together. We attempt to build trust and set mutual goals and rules. This will enable safety, security, belonging and many other benefits of partnership. Then within this we experiment more safely to provoke and rekindle a level excitement and passion.


Enough is enough, we made a bad choice or we are dumped. Go again try again – another monogamous relationship I’ll get it right this time.

Interestingly research suggests that many of the same drugs are induced between Mum/Caregiver and Baby in the first 6 months of the baby’s birth. The drugs differ proportionally in some ways, and between men and women, but essentially we are flooded with powerful natural feel good drugs, ESPECIALLY the baby. The baby is rocking! Not only is the baby terrified much of the time but also ecstatic and definitely ‘in love/need’ state, especially with Mother/Caregiver. Perhaps an interesting field for research.

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