I love you, but I’m not In Love with you.

If you’ve ever thought, said or heard this, you know how incredibly painful this statement can be. If you become aware that you have lost your feelings of romance and passion for your partner, you may feel torn between two impossible options- devastate the one who remains your partner and friend, or live forever in a passionless marriage.

If these words are spoken by your spouse, you may feel rejected, heartbroken, and scared that you are going to be left with a miserable or failed marriage. You feel helpless to fix things because the problem is that your lover’s heart has grown cold. You can’t make someone love you. But “I’m not in love with you anymore” is not as hopeless as it sounds.

If you have not seen healthy and successful marriage up close, you may easily be fooled by the cultural fantasy of love. In fantasy love, we are always passionate, always find an answer to our conflict, always feel safe and respected and loved. If these conditions are not present, we have “fallen out of love”. In TV and film, when couples are not in love anymore they break up. This makes for good entertainment, but it does not teach us how to create real, lasting love.

In real healthy and happy marriages, people disagree. They get hurt, they sometimes act their worst with each other. They move through periods of feeling like they don’t really connect, can’t agree, don’t like each other, and certainly don’t feel particularly romantic with each other. There’s a touch of “I don’t love you anymore” inside many happy, healthy long-term marriages. It’s a phase. You can get the “In love with you” back.

Partnership, friendship, romance and passion are all different aspects of a committed love relationship. Any one or more of these qualities can be absent at times during a marriage. While this lack is worthy of concern, even alarm, it is merely a pointer to where you need to be working right now … even if it means accepting the state of your relationship as lacking that quality for the time being, and remaining faithful … even if it means working your tail off alone to grow your marriage.

Because it can change. In fact, the one thing you can count on is that your relationship will change. It can change for the better, and is more likely to do so if you work on it effectively. If you don’t know how to begin, start by reaching out to someone who has a happy long-term relationship. They know things, not the least of which is how hard it can be sometimes. Ask about their strategies for getting through the hard times.

There are books and seminars and workshops and all kinds of counselors from whom you can learn, even if you are doing this on your own, without your partner’s help. Just be careful to get your advice only from those (including therapists) who have been successful in long-term happy marriage. It’s real. It’s out there. And you deserve nothing less.