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The way we fall out of romantic love

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  May 22, 2013 10:40 AM

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Tolstoy famously opened "Anna Karenina" with the line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It seems, however, that the same may not be true for unhappy marriages.

Psychologist Joanni Sailor at Cameron University in Oklahoma interviewed eight people who’d fallen out of love with their spouses and, in a study published this month in the online journal The Qualitative Report, found consistent pattern of devolution across the relationships. The subjects repeatedly made comments pertaining to a loss of trust, of intimacy, and of feeling loved, and they tended to echo each other in the way they talked about the emotional pain and the negative sense of self they felt during the waning years of their marriages. And while most of the marriages declined gradually, the respondents consistently identified what Sailor refers to as a “pivotal moment of knowing,” when suddenly it became clear that there was no love left in their marriages.

"And I think at that moment it was like a stick just snapped,” one person said. It was over. It was flat done.”

Table 1, which begins on page 8 of the paper, collects respondents' comments. Some of these are pasted below:

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

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Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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