Are You Falling Out of Love, or Has New Relationship Energy Just Faded?

Photo: Stocksy/Lucas Ottone
Marked by belly bubbles and cheek-to-cheek smiles, budding romance is among the most intoxicating of human experiences. So much so, in fact, that there’s a dedicated term for the surge of emotions (and the resulting physiological response) that you might experience while crushing on a new partner: new relationship energy, or NRE. But much like the honeymoon phase, that feeling certainly won’t last forever. And as it fades, it can cause some of that relational spark to disappear along with it… which could leave you wondering: Am I falling out of love, or just getting comfortable with my partner?

Part of the reason why new relationship energy hits so strongly—and why its absence can feel just as profound—is because it’s quite literally a chemical high. When you’re first starting to date someone, there is often a rush of feel-good neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and oxytocin, released in the brain, says Gigi Engle, ACS, CSE, CSC, certified sex coach for dating app 3Fun and author of All The F*cking Mistakes. NRE is the resulting feeling of “euphoria and tremendous excitement that many of us experience when we are [dating] a new partner,” says relationship and polyamory educator Emily Matlack, co-host of the Multiamory podcast and co-author of Multiamory: Essential Tools for Modern Relationships.

“New relationship energy is the feeling of euphoria and tremendous excitement that many of us experience when we are [dating] a new partner.” —Emily Matlack, relationship and polyamory educator

But because NRE is not equivalent to love (even if it often precedes it within a relationship), its fade is also not the same thing as falling out of love, either. In fact, NRE eventually has to disappear in order for a relationship to evolve and for the people in it to move toward deeper emotions—ones that aren’t rooted in excitement and novelty so much as they are in intimacy, trust, comfort, and vulnerability.

Experts In This Article

As bell hooks writes in All About Love, “love is an act of will, both an intention and an action.” Whereas, NRE is more or less a chemical experience outside of your control. And while NRE will eventually subside, you’ll only fall out of love if you disengage with loving actions—if you stop showing a partner care and affection, avoid spending quality time with them, or stop embracing compromise, whether because you’ve determined you don’t share the same goals or values, or are otherwise incompatible.

What it looks like when new relationship energy fades

No matter how happy, fulfilling, sexy, and joy-filled your relationship may be from the outset, NRE fizzling is as inevitable as paying taxes or getting a text from your ex (which is to say, totally inevitable). “The high-on-love sensation isn’t sustainable, and eventually, you will settle back into your baseline of emotions,” says Engle—which, to be clear, is a good and healthy thing.

As Matlack puts it, “while it can be great and fun to experience NRE for a time, it is also really nice to have those feelings fade so you can experience the other stages in a relationship.”

As NRE starts to disappear, you’ll get the opportunity to learn just how multidimensional your partner may be. The transition is typically accompanied by people starting to see a partner’s flaws after months of only seeing their potential, says Leanne Yau, creator of Poly Philia, a social media project dedicated to education and entertainment on polyamory and non-monogamy. That means, when NRE softens, you’ll start to get information about your partner that you can use to determine whether you actually want to continue dating this person, she says (that is, when your perspective isn’t clouded by the excitement of novelty).

But, how long will NRE last, exactly? Typically, just a few weeks to a couple of months, according to sex educator and writer Zachary Zane, author of Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto and sex expert for dating app Archer. Though Engle notes that, in some relationships, it can last for years. The exact timeline depends on how often you’re seeing each other, how much time has passed since you last experienced NRE, the other relationship(s) you may be co-experiencing, and more, she says.

How to tell whether you’re falling out of love or just comfortable in a relationship

There is a huge difference between falling out of NRE with a person and falling out of love with a person. While the latter is likely to cause the relationship to end (at least on a romantic level), the former is a natural and normal progression of a relationship, says Engle, and can lead to a lot of comfort and joy.

Unfortunately, there is not a quick or easy formula you can use to say with total certainty whether you’re falling out of love with someone, or are simply going through a phase (meaning, not lasting) of feeling apathetic or just comfortable within a relationship sans NRE, says Matlack.

That means answering the question will require some self-reflection. To start, think about how you feel about making plans with your partner. “If you dread making date plans with your partner or doing so starts to feel like a chore, those are signs that you haven fallen out of love,” says Zane. When NRE fades, you may start to spend less time with your partner, Matlack says, but most commonly, that’s because you neglected other obligations and plans while wearing your NRE-colored glasses, and now, you’re just picking those back up again—and not because you’ve stopped having interest in spending time with your partner (which would be more indicative of lost lost).

“If you feel genuinely happy or safe when you are with your partner, those are signs that while the NRE may have faded, you likely haven’t fallen out of love.” —Matlack

Next, think about how you feel about your partner when you’re spending time together. “If you feel genuinely happy or safe when you are with your partner, those are signs that while the NRE may have faded, you likely haven’t fallen out of love,” says Matlack. Whereas, if you find yourself listing off a series of negative adjectives about your state of mind when you’re with them, that’s a symptom that you two are not acting in loving ways toward each other anymore, and it may be time to move on from the relationship, says Yau. “If you stop respecting them, stop seeing them as an equal, or feel contempt toward them when you’re together or apart, those are also signs you’ve fallen out of love,” she says.

Typically, when NRE fades, you will start to have a better understanding of the person with whom you’re cultivating a relationship, as opposed to only seeing (or assuming) positive attributes, says Yau. But while you may be noticing or becoming more aware of your partner's not-so-great traits, if it’s just a case of NRE fading, you’ll still be able to notice (and gush over) your partner’s positive traits, too.

You can end a relationship regardless of whether love or NRE is fading

It’s worth clarifying that if you start feeling neutral about a partner for any reason, you have every right to end the relationship if you so choose, no matter how long you’ve been with them. “Sometimes people will start to feel neutral toward a person for whom they once had an incredible amount of new relationship energy or love,” says Yau. That’s normal and okay—and also, it may be time to end the relationship. Despite the popular misconception that relationships should only end when the people involved all but hate each other, it is reasonable to choose to end (or de-escalate) a relationship that just feels meh.

“A relationship doesn’t have to be ‘bad’ or ‘toxic’ for it to be the wrong one for you,” says Matlack. You may even retain love for your partner, and still choose to end the relationship because it ultimately isn’t serving you. “If you and a partner’s dynamic is marked by a lot of conflict and little resolution, you’re hitting perpetual roadblocks, or you’ve realized that you have fundamental differences in values, wants, or needs, then it may be time to move on from the relationship,” says Matlack.

The takeaway

Regularly reflecting on how you feel toward a partner and the relationship you’re building is a great way to date and love with intention. While observing changes in your feelings towards someone may be scary at first (“Oh no, has the honeymoon phase ended?”) it’s not always cause for concern.

In the case of NRE fading, for example, it’s common for those initial lusty emotions to give way to deeper, more sustainable ones in their stead, says Engle. Meanwhile, because love is built on a foundation of loving actions, if you find that you are starting to fall out of love with your partner (and it isn't just a fizzling spark), then falling back in love may be as simple as actively choosing to act in caring, communicative, and affectionate ways toward them.

If NRE is fading into something that’s just less appealing to you, or you’re no longer interested in co-creating love with your partner, that’s okay, too, says Matlack. In fact, simply recognizing that both the options of remaining with this person and breaking up with them are equally available to you at any point in time may offer you valuable insights into what you’d like to do—and whether those feelings of loving connection may indeed still be percolating in the wake of NRE.

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