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Why the Spark Fades in a Relationship

Fantasy Bond, Intimacy problems, relationship advice
Countless couples complain of losing the “spark” in their relationship. Some chalk it up to evolved differences, a slow growing apart, or sheer familiarity. The wave of “deadness” that can submerge a relationship after the first thrilling months or years have caused many couples to lose hope, and even look elsewhere for the excitement of newfound intimacy. With researchers estimating that 30-60 percent of married individuals in the United States will have an affair at some point in their relationship, it may be time to really examine what causes our affections to wane. What prompts the shift from helpless love to deep disinterest? What turns our heart-racing enthusiasm for another person to boredom and dissatisfaction?

In order to identify the wedge that’s driving couples apart, it’s helpful to understand the concept of the “fantasy bond.” As the major principle of a comprehensive psychological theory developed by my father, psychologist and author Robert Firestone, the “fantasy bond” describes a way of relating that serves as a substitute for a truly loving relationship As my father has written of the fantasy bond, “This illusion of connection and closeness allows [a couple] to maintain an imagination of love and loving, while preserving emotional distance.”

As one woman who was going through a divorce after six years of marriage said, “Growing up I was terrified of being alone, but I also knew that I was afraid of being close to another person. In a sense, my marriage solved my problem: My husband was physically ‘there,’ so I didn’t have to be afraid of being alone anymore, and I acted in ways that kept him at a distance that I could tolerate emotionally.”

The state of physical closeness and emotional distance is what characterizes a fantasy bond. This bond is formed when sincere feelings of love, respect, and attraction are replaced with imaginings of security, connectedness and protection. Though these may all seem like positive attributes of an intimate relationship, placing a priority on form over substance is a key destroyer of any close relationship.

People who engage in a fantasy bond value routine over spontaneity and safety over passion. They go through the motions of being together or involved but without bringing the energy, independence, and affection that once colored their relationship. The risk in fusing our identity with another person is that we often lose the respect and attraction we once held for that person. We also stand to lose ourselves in the relationship, rather than maintaining the unique qualities that gave us confidence and drew our partners to us in the first place. When couples lose these real feelings for each other, rather than challenging destructive patterns in their relating, they tend to either throw away the relationship or sink deeper into fantasy for fear of losing each other or being alone. The good news is these feelings of excitement can be restored.

the-fantasy-bondFantasy bonds exist on a continuum. Some couples are deeper into fantasy than others. Most people fluctuate between moments of being truly close and moments of substituting fantasy for real love. By recognizing the degree to which you engage in a fantasy connection as opposed to a sincere form of relating, you can challenge negative habits and patterns, and experience new and exciting stages of your relationship. On March 20, I will be hosting a CE Webinar on The Fantasy Bond, which will present a model for an ideal relationship that combines emotional closeness and sexual intimacy, while each partner maintains a differentiated and individuated sense of self. In the meantime, here are a few key ways to identify if you are in a fantasy bond and how you and your partner can go about changing it.

Loss of Physical Attraction – When we form a fantasy of fusion with another person, we tend to eventually lose some of our physical attraction to that person. Relying on someone to take care of us or looking to them to complete us puts a heavy burden on our relationship. We start to see the person as an extension of ourselves, and within that framework, we lose some of that “chemistry” that drew us to them. When we view our partners as the independent and attractive individuals they are, we can keep a fresh level of excitement and affection for them.

Merged Identity – When you look at your relationship, can you recognize ways you and your partner step on each other’s boundaries? Do you speak as “we” instead of “him or her” and “I?” Maintaining our separateness and pursuing what particularly lights us up is the best way to be ourselves in our relationships. Rather than driving us apart, this separateness actually allows us to feel our attractions and choose to be together. Think about the state people are in when they first fall in love. They are drawn to each other based on their unique attributes. Their individuality is viewed with interest and respect, qualities we should aim to maintain even decades after being with someone romantically.

Letting yourself go physically or mentally – When we reach a level of comfort in a relationship, we may tend to care a little less about how we look and how we take care of ourselves. We may be more likely to act out without regard or consideration for the ways we not only hurt our partners but ourselves. We may gain weight or engage in unhealthy habits, drinking more or exercising less. These habits aren’t just acts of comfort. They are often ways of protecting ourselves from sustained closeness. They often serve to shatter our self-esteem and push our partners away. They also tend to have a deadening effect on our relationship, weakening our confidence and vitality.

Failing to share activities – Early on in our relationships, we are often our most open, excited to try new things and share new adventures. As we fall into routine, we often resist novel experiences. We become more cynical, skeptical, and less willing to do things with our partners. It is important to take our partner’s passions and interests into account and to engage in activities that we really share. Love doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As psychologist Pat Love has said, “You have to show up.” Slowing down and taking time to relate is essential to sustaining intimacy. Consistently doing things that your partner perceives as loving will also help keep the spark alive.

Less personal relating – When you do take the time to relate to your partner, do you still talk about anything meaningful? Have conversations become more practical or less friendly? It’s important to be open and share our lives with those we love. In doing so, we really get to know them. We feel for them as people, independently from ourselves. This helps us to stay close to each other on a real level as opposed to out of obligation. It helps us to form and strengthen a friendship that allows us to be less critical when giving feedback and less defensive when receiving it. All of these efforts nourish our loving feelings, overthrowing cynicism and upholding our attractions.

Harboring anger – When we are with someone for a long time, we tend to catalog their negative traits and build a case against them that leads us to feel cynical. Try to notice if you’re harboring anger or resentment. Are you acting this out in subtle ways? Dealing with problems directly from a mature and open stance will save you from stifling your feelings of compassion and love. Honest communication can be tough, but it helps you to truly know your partner, rather than seeing him or her through a negative or critical lens. When we get into the habit of swallowing our feelings and turning against our partner rather than stating how we feel, we are skating on thin ice. Even when we start to feel close, we will often be quick to become critical the minute our partner does something that rubs us the wrong way. When we feel free to directly say the things that annoy or anger us, we are better able to let them go. The more we develop our ability to do this, the more emotionally close we feel to our partners. The advantage of voicing your thoughts is that you stop viewing your partner through a fog of cynicism. When we face the degree to which each of us acts out the above patterns, we can start to challenge them.

When we fail to do this, our emotional connection to a person can fade, and all we are left with is the form that makes up a fantasy bond. Reigniting our relationships can be as simple as carrying out those small, caring acts that make our partners feel acknowledged and loved for who they are. Taking steps each day to counter these habitual patterns leads us down a path that is much more fulfilling, much braver, and much more real.

Learn how to break free from a Fantasy Bond in our eCourse, The Fantasy Bond: The Key to Understanding Yourself and Your Relationships

20 comments

  1. Sometimes love is just one sided and its all one person becoming so involved and cariing about pleasing his girlfriend, wife, or partner that you lose sight of yourself. What Im saying is maybe in instances such as this there never was a true mutually loving relationship, I know mant people that suffer from this and sadly I believe my relationship is one of them. When you fonally do realize it was a one sided relationship the emotional and physical shutdown starts, you begin to thi

    • I have been in a relationship for an year now and I’m having this feeling… My love for him is fading nothing excites me anymore… Sad sad sad

      • I have also been in a year long relationship and am feeling lonely, unappreciated, and inadequate. And I don’t know how to change how I feel.

        • I feel the exact same way after 1 year. It’s like all the enjoyment we once shared has vanished, and we’re strangers that live together. Constantly arguing, no intimacy, i feel more lonely within the relationship than when i was single. He plays computer games so i doesn’t have to talk to me. Very sad.

  2. A year and 7 months later and I am also in the same boat as the four people above. This time, I was convenienced I had found my true soulmate. But everyday I am proved wrong. He just wants more and more “space.” And I just want more and more love. It’s extremly sad to think about what’s happening to “us.” Ive said this before, but I don’t ever want to be in another relationship again. I’m better alone anyways.

  3. A year and a couple of months and my relationship is becoming a fantasy bond. He no longer acts or does the things he did when we first met. I started getting upset when i started noticing and it lead us into arguments. He is always tired to do things which i understand but when we first met he had the same job and i feel like tired or not he didn’t mind doing things or going anywhere. Now its different. We have broken up numerous times (well close) and talked so much about our problems that now the relationship just doesn’t feel the same. Ive asked him if feelings are lost or if he just doesn’t love me the same but no he says feelings are still there and he loves me a lot. So idk i love him too but the whole relationship just doesn’t feel thw same

    • Have you broken up with him? Does this kind of feeling pass overtime? Because I have exactly the same situation. I feel like I am the only one always wanting to be with him, talk to him. Maybe he thinks I’m too needy so he’s starting to back off a little. We’re okay but I feel like we’re not. I just miss the old us. Do I have to endure it or maybe it’s time to leave?

  4. The spark kinda faded a bit from my relationship too, we are still together though but we are taking a month off of seeing each other and then having an awesome date at the end of the month to see if we can bring it back because we both don’t want to end it, we would rather do our best to bring back what we once had than throw all that has been good away

  5. This all sounds great, but I still don’t know what I should do. I feel I’m the one drifting. I’m kind of caught not knowing whether I actually don’t love him anymore, or I do still love him and something is just majorly lacking in our relationship. I’ll talk to friends and family about it, but that never helps. They ask questions to try and gauge whether I love him or not, but nothing ever matches up. It’s always the same answer, which doesn’t help me because my feelings on this haven’t changed. My boyfriend and I have completely different love languages, so that doesn’t help any. Maybe he just isn’t expressing love the way I respond to? Maybe a break would help us sort out some of our issues? Totally at a loss as to what to do. We had such a wonderful relationship, I don’t want to let it go just yet.

  6. I feel as if im the only one who tries so hard to make our relationship work, but its worthless how can i respect a man that calls me horrible names, disrespects me in public and speaks to me like he wants? How can i love a man that shows no affection

    • You’re not alone. The past few months, i noticed the change in him.. The way he talks to me, no respect at all! And he doesnt say sorry, coz for him he was only kidding.. But i hurts you know :’/
      There are times he wud make a comment or say something in public and people wud stare at us because they cudnt believe a man wud tell his woman those kind of stuffs.. And he’ll just laugh. deep inside me, it’s not funny.. not at all.. im just waiting for that day when i’d just walk away, no explanations, i’ll just leave..

      • Sarah, I am in the same boat. Am I dating your BF?? Everything you just said sounds like my relationship right now. I have been dating my BF for about 8 months now and I am so ready to walk away. We live together so it makes it harder. The things he says to me are mean. I tell him how mean he is and even write my feelings in letters to him. He still keeps disrespecting me. The way he talks, how he treats me, and in public I hate going anywhere with him. I just dont go no where anymore. I baught a house and he keeps telling me for him to leave I have to call the cops. I told him I would move out next time we argue to brakeup point. I want to be done but I dont want to go through the drama. He tells me he will be out to get me in every way if I brake up with him. I dont want to lose my job, or go to jail or lose everything I have cause of a looser who dont have nothing at all who wants what I have! He quit his job and no longer working so now I feel like I have to support him. I really really really want out of this. I dont know what to do. I feel like i am forced to stay in this relationship.

  7. I am from a place which is more traditional than Middle East. Society sucks! I was dating several women four years ago and I was a kind of playboy – a sweet-talker with fair income, okay personality and travelling from place to place. I was feeling tired of this and I wanted to settle. One girl from my native place proposed me online. I know her from childhood and I also kind of liked her. And in two months time I completely fell for her. I lost my appetite, turned soft, used to cry and same things happened to her. Initially, it was like river flowing through our hearts. God, I can never write it in words. But gradually she couldn’t express her feelings, being traditional. I was quite romantic on other hand. It started to fade away. This year after four years I had to call it off in January. It was not going well. I don’t regret it. I have again turned into playboy. I date everyone these days – college students, women of my age, elder women, married women with no ethnicity, religious, class, age or any other bar. I am lost! And perhaps I want to settle. I feel like I have gone wild. I can’t control myself anymore. I want love and contentment. That is what is missing.

  8. My husband and I have been together for 12 years and have 2 kids. I feel like we are just roommates that occasionally have sex every month or two. We don’t kiss, hold hands, sit on the couch together and watch a movie, etc. When we go out to eat without the kids we just sit there. Many times he is on his phone playing games, texting, etc. while I eat in silence. We just make occasional small talk. He’ll go in the living room and eat while the kids and I eat at the table. I’ve been questioning whether or not we are still in love. I love him, but it feels like a friend love. We argue/bicker a lot and I don’t feel like we ever resolve conflicts because we both think the other is in the wrong. We just stop fighting, he acts like nothing happened, and I get quiet and don’t talk much for a few days until I get over it. He is very confrontational and I am not. I’ve had to tell him a couple of times that I wasn’t a child and not to treat me like one when we are arguing, not to cuss because I’m not, not to yell because I wasn’t, etc. I just feel like we have two totally different personalities. I don’t know if he’s gotten worse or if I’m just less tolerant now after years of dealing with it/sick of it. We’ve been in the “friend zone” (that’s the only way I know to describe it) for about a year or two and now I don’t know how to get out of it. He’s attractive, but I don’t feel like kissing him, snuggling with him, etc. because it feels awkward now. I’ve told him how I feel and he says he loves me and wants to fix our marriage. He says he just got comfortable. He’s sitting at the table now, being more helpful around the house/with kids, we haven’t fought in 3 weeks (a record for us), but how long can that last? I’m sure he’s just biting his tongue and that can only last so long. Can personalities really change forever if that’s all you’ve ever known/done? How can we bring the spark back if I don’t really feel like doing any of those sexy, intimate, passionate things? Making out and having sex just doesn’t appeal to me. Is there any hope?

    • Atleast he’s willing to make an effort to fix everything. my man doesnt.. he told me, he’s not gonna change or budge anything coz he reckons that’s been how he is eversince..
      he fooled me, he let me fall in love into this person who is the opposite of him.. i shudve known earlier.. i feel so stupid. they call us women ’emotional freaks’ when it’s an ear that listens, and a heart that cares is the only thing that we need from them.. the reassurance that no matter what happens, they wud still be there for us. *sigh FML

  9. So I have been with my bf for almost 6 months we live together and he has some issues with depression and stuff he sat me down 2 weeks ago and said that having a relationship is stressing him out adding pressure and he needs space to do what he wants basically but said he didn’t want me to move out the tension is horrible one day its great next day its not all we do is fight but he is so calm and like I’m so sorry I just need to be selfish right now and have fun and do what I want its not like I want in another relationship or date any other girl but I Dont want to have the pressure of making sure your happy with me BULLSHIT he said if I left he would miss me so much and be lonely like using me to make sure he isn’t sadder like are you serious turns everything around on me and out all day and night some times he answers and tells me where he is and stuff but today was our biggest fight yet I want to be done but its hard I had relationship issues before so I didn’t date for 3 years I saw people but if they ever got close I ran but he got my heart because he was a good person I Dont even know who this person is now jokes about exes, talks to this one girl “just a friend”, goes places without me no invite ever and I always do stuff with him he wants his space to hang with his friends like seriously OK so do that but just disrespects me says shit he should I want to leave the apartment I think that would help but can’t because money wise kind of stuck I don’t know what to do any advice???

  10. I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years and we have a 10month old. I still love him but it seems all he wants is sex, I work full time and a full time mom. He talks with his sons’ mom from another relationship about anything and everything he has not talked me about anything for two years. I feel like I’m a failure, don’t know what to do he gets mad and threatens to leave everytime I don’t want sex, which is never lately.

  11. 😪 im the one who got broken up with and im really trying to figure out why. She wants me ome day then doesnt the next and it hurts. She acts like she cares and loves me so much but just says she doesnt want to be in a relationship and i am so scared of losing her for good so i keep fighting for her. She says she doesnt feel the same but doesnt want to lose me either. Its a very confusing situation and have no idea how to handle it

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