Keeping love alive: Why is it so hard?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated January 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In each relationship, we practice love skills, hoping to get better at loving and accepting love from others. If we all stayed with the first person we ever fell in love with, we'd likely miss out on the person we truly work well with — a potential long-term partner. 

At some point, many of us want a safe connection with a person we love. We're ready to settle into the comfort of a coupled life. So why is love so hard to keep alive?


Why is love so hard?

Why does love hurt so much? The love between romantic partners is complex, and many reasons contribute to the difficulty of keeping the bond strong. To know how to keep your love alive, it can be helpful to understand why love is so hard in the first place. 

It may be easier to quit than to work on it

It’s not uncommon for people to enjoy the head-spinning experience of falling in love but shy away from doing the actual work of a relationship. This requires focusing on another individual's health, success, and happiness besides your own. As with learning a new activity, giving up can be easier than struggling through the new, hard, or frustrating parts, but if you never move past the first stages to the more established stage of your relationship, you never learn to improve and sustain your relationship skills.

Improving and/or maintaining a relationship requires effort and motivation. It takes energy to pay attention to your partner. Also, relationships can be scary since they're often uncertain; many people may feel compelled to end a relationship before they get hurt. 

You might be unsure of what love really means

Love is hard to define. And it seems to mean something a little different to each person. Plus, we all have different love languages. The difficulty in pinpointing what love really is and what to expect from a love relationship may make you uncertain as to whether the person you are with is who you really want to spend your life with. Or you may have difficulty knowing how to tell if another person is acting in a loving way toward you. This is especially true if you didn't get all the love and care you needed as a child. 

People can be selfish

Self-preservation is a natural tendency. In fact, it's a biological need. That means you are inevitably selfish in some ways, and so is your mate. Love isn’t easy, and the only way to keep love alive is to give love, and learn to compromise. If you can find pleasure in giving love to your partner rather than constantly seeking love, then your relationship may stand a good chance of thriving. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

The stages of a relationship

Love may be hard, but you can make it work. It is an active process; it doesn't happen without effort in the long term. It's helpful to understand the predictable stages relationships progress through

First is the honeymoon or infatuation stage. This stage is defined by a surge of romantic and (sometimes) sexual feelings. You crave to be with your partner, lust may dominate the dynamic, and you feel “high” from New Relationship Energy (NRE). This stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. Generally, decisions about a future with your mate should be delayed since neither of you will likely be thinking rationally at this stage.

As infatuation decreases, the next stage brings a more realistic assessment of compatibility. Your partner may no longer be on a pedestal, and you can begin to evaluate them from a more realistic perspective. If they are a good match, there should still be plenty of passion and sexual attraction in this stage, but you can at least think clearly as you evaluate your partner’s other characteristics. 

If you stay together once the chemistry simmers down, you and your partner might begin to experience power struggles. This is a test of your communication and conflict-resolution skills. As you step back and take a breath, you redefine your roles within the relationship. This can be a stormy stage. Often, couples call it quits during this stage as it becomes clear they are not compatible.

Relationships may end due to failure to communicate, inability to fight fair, or false expectations about what real relationships look like.

The power struggle stage can last from a few months to a few years.

When couples survive the power and identity struggles, they enter into the long-term love stage. There is a cyclical nature to the long-term relationship. Healthy love in the long term undulates. It waxes and wanes. Couples experience phases of being in love but also experience lulls. 

Some days, they may feel like roommates. On other days, they may irritate one another. There may be periods of mediocre sex and even dry spells. Successful couples embrace the highs and lows of this phase to avoid common pitfalls. They savor good times and endure bad times.

Long-term love may be difficult because it means you will need to tolerate periods of not feeling close. There may even be an absence of loving feelings and intimacy for a while. Commitment replaces the feeling of love, and you may be challenged to take the initiative to get back on track.

How do I keep love alive?

Now that we’ve established that love travels through predictable stages, let's look at how you can keep it alive.

  • Be active, not passive. Over time, you may become used to your partner and feel safer. Safety in a relationship is good. But it could also lead you to lose gratitude for your relationship and stop doing things to actively be loving. Remember that love is not simply a feeling, but an active process.
  • Accept that not everything is in your control. Your relationship will not be a fairy tale. It's real life, and real life comes with pain and struggles. If you accept them at the onset, then you can deal with them in a way that benefits both you and your partner.
  • Focus your efforts on what's already good about your partner. Help them succeed where their strengths are. Appreciate those things. You cannot change your partner, so don't focus on the things you wish you could fix, and don't argue about them. 
  • Keep having sex. Regular sex, if sexual attraction is a part of your relationship, is one of the best signs of a good long-term relationship.
  • Pay attention to your health. Do what you can to feel and look good.
  • Fight fair. Aim for resolution, not “winning” an argument.
  • Be vulnerable and a good listener. Tell your dreams and fears and listen when your partner tells you theirs.
  • Do your research if you hit a rough spot. Would counseling or coaching help? What books or blogs can you follow that will help push you through to brighter days?
  • Tell your partner what you need. Don't indulge in the fantasy that they somehow know what you want. Get used to simply telling them.
  • Manage your stress. You can't be mindful of your own needs or your mate’s if you're mindlessly or robotically going through the motions due to stress.

Online therapy for couples

Some couples need help from a therapist in order to navigate the difficult times in their relationship. But making time for an in-person session can be challenging, especially when both partners work full-time. This is where remote counseling from platforms like BetterHelp comes in. Online therapy is not only more convenient. It also offers lower pricing than in-person therapy because online therapists don’t have to pay for costs like renting an office.

Online therapy is a new and exciting way for couples to receive counseling. A qualitative study found that clients considered the experience to be overwhelmingly positive, commenting on how immersed they felt in the therapeutic process. Some couples reported that feeling more “distant” from the therapist also made them feel more in control and comfortable. Ultimately, couples felt that the online process enhanced the therapeutic alliance, which is the single greatest predictor of therapy success.

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor reviews

“William is a gem, tender-hearted and genuine. He has helped me with many things: relationships, grief, self-care amongst many other aspects of me and my life. I couldn't be happier. I strongly recommend him and this program.”

“Nicole is amazing. As a queer nonbinary person, I was concerned about finding a therapist who would be able to understand the issues I was facing, but Nicole totally got me. She has been able to help me realize what I want out of my life and relationships and helped me have the strength to advocate for myself. I'm so grateful for her help.”


Relationships require dedication and commitment from all parties involved to stay healthy and productive long after the initial butterflies die down. Love can be hard work, but it is usually worth it in the end to have a faithful, caring, and passionate partner.

Online therapy can be an exciting option for couples wanting to improve their relationships, especially as it can be difficult to find time in two busy schedules for in-person therapy. BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped numerous individuals and couples with relationship issues. Answer a few quick questions to get started.

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