The Anatomy of a Relationship Down Cycle


Last week I answered a question from a 20-something woman wondering if the temporary doldrums in her 6-year relationship were a sign of a deeper problem or a natural ebb and flow of a relationship. A woman wrote in with a comment that shed some light on the issue from the standpoint of relationship cycles…that indeed the excitement of first love does wane but it gets replaced with a deeper attachment.

“The phenomenon you have described is termed ‘limerence’ in popular psychology. We all get heady ‘in love’ at the beginning and this wears off after a few years. It’s a natural part of relationships and no; it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have problems. It just means your relationship has matured into a steady, deep love which is much more long-lasting (and probably easier to deal with than your original infatuation, which might have been intense at times!) Unfortunately as a relationship goes on for years and years, the fireworks just aren’t the same anymore.

You might feel ‘limerent’ (fall in love) with many more men throughout your life, as there may be more than one person that you’re naturally compatible with. However be aware that if you enter into these relationships, the feelings of infatuation will also fade away in time and you’ll be in the same predicament again years down the line.

It’s not easy to choose the right person and I don’t have that particular answer for you. But the loss of “fireworks” is normal in any healthy relationship so you know that that’s what you can expect. I hope this helps.”


Great perspective. Thing is in your twenties it can be hard to tell the difference between growing apart and a “down” cycle as you haven’t been through that many cycles yet. It reminded me of a story of a woman who was in a down cycle in her marriage and how she cleared away what was really bothering her to get back on track with her relationship.

I thought it was a good glimpse into what to ask yourself if you notice you are seeking excitement in other areas of your life to make up for the doldrums in your relationship. Her situation is different than the woman originally asking the question, a single woman who was questioning her lack of excitement in a relationship and potential feelings for another man, in that she is a stay-at-home married mom, but her story may shed some light on how to address the issue before it gets out of hand.

“There are definitely times where we both feel a less connected to each other because of life’s challenges. But I feel grateful that usually it doesn’t take much to get connected again, an evening, a conversation, whatever that something might be.

The disconnections show up in irritations over the tiny things that they do. For me, when that happens I say to myself, I need to have a conversation with him. But first I need to have a conversation with myself. This seems like it is bothering me but what is really bothering me?

I recently was in a stage I was feeling particularly out of sync.  I found myself talking to a stay-at-home father at the playground for up to an hour while our kids played. After a month of this, I thought, ‘OMG; I’m dating this guy.’ You get to the point where you’re done talking about things that you talk about with acquaintances and start talking about the things you talk about when you date someone.

I realized I had to ask myself what had changed that was making me act this way. At first I thought it was because I didn’t have control of my time. Combine that with not liking my body at the time and feeling incompetent at everything because I’m not working anymore. There’s all this stuff in your head that tells you why you’re not happy. But when I actually I peeled it all away and asked myself what has changed that I making me feel down, I realized it was something else entirely. This dad was the adult I talked to most because my husband was working so much and I just wasn’t seeing him.

When I realized that, I actually told my husband. I explained this whole thing to him and how I was just feeling terrible. I was feeling alone. I was feeling like I had no connection to him. It had nothing to do with the other guy. I would never choose to spend my time with this man. He’s nice but I don’t want to spend much time with him. I knew that he was looking at me the same way like ‘I’d rather be talking to my wife than you.’

It was almost like by saying it out loud it lifted the cloud from me. It changed the dynamics with my husband and I did not do another play date for like months.

The thing is at the end of the day I want to be with him forever. I don’t want to be with someone else. So when we go through these phases we both talk about it and it’s reaffirming. We can then say, ‘I know that this is an issue,  but we’re going to get past that because we’re going to be together forever.’


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